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  • Writer's pictureWendy Percival

Mystery Letters - coincidence or connection?

Today English Heritage is unveiling one of its famous Blue Plaques in memory of WWII secret agent Noor Inayat Kahn, who was brutally tortured and murdered by the Nazis. She was posthumously awarded the George Cross in 1949.

I remember reading about Noor – or ‘Madeleine’, to use her code name – while researching the third novel of the Esme Quentin series, The Malice of Angels, which was inspired by the work of WWII secret agents, known as Special Operations Executives, or SOEs.

Noor’s mother was American and her father was descended from, Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore, the last Moghul emperor of Southern India (pay attention, here - this comes up later in the post! 😉). As such, Noor was technically an Indian Princess.

Sarah Helm’s excellent book, A Life in Secrets, is the story of Vera Atkins, the woman whose job was to recruit and deploy the SOEs into occupied France. Vera took her responsibilities very seriously and after the war, was diligent in her quest to find out what had happened to every single one of her charges.

Noor’s story was one of the most complex cases to crack and one which Vera took to her heart. You can read a summary of Noor’s life and death on English Heritage’s website.

But if the subject interests you, I’d urge you to read Sarah Helm’s book as it’s fascinating, gives a much more detailed account and shows the pains Vera went to discover the truth about the SOEs she’d sent behind enemy lines.

As I mentioned, I knew about Noor from coming across her during my research for The Malice of Angels. But I’ve since stumbled upon another connection within a family history context – something which has always been a complete mystery.

Amongst my husband’s parents’ personal papers were two tiny Indian letters, apparently posted in 1847, along with a translation of the addressee, Lodd Girderdofs Govindofs at Madras and a brief explanation of who he was. We’ve no idea who wrote it, as my husband doesn’t recognise the handwriting.

(You can find out more about the letters in a previous post I wrote, An Indian Mystery)

The accompanying note explains that Lodd Girderdofs Govindofs “was a very wealthy Hindu merchant who loaned the Rajah of Mysore money with which he employed the soldiers of the East India Company to drive Tippu [sic] Sultan out of Mysore.”

We haven’t yet worked out why my husband’s family had the letters – we don’t know of anyone who served in India, was born there - or even what the letters say (there seems to be a difference of opinion as to whether they're in Gujarati or Telugu).

But… to add a tantalising little snippet to the story… When Noor was recruited by the security services, in the interests of security and to disguise her Indian heritage, she took on her mother’s maiden name (her mother was born Ora Ray Baker) and called herself Nora Baker. My husband’s paternal grandmother’s maiden name was also Baker.

Just a coincidence? It’s a common name after all. Or maybe… there’s a connection?

Scenario suggestions welcome!


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