22. The Hazardous Job of a Clandestine Wireless Operator
Princess Noor Inayat Khan’s mission as a clandestine wireless operator in German-occupied France was extremely hazardous. It grew ever more dangerous as the war progressed and the Germans’ ability to detect transmissions rapidly improved. Clandestine wireless operators had to hide as best they could as they tapped out messages in code, and string up aerials disguised as clothes lines in attics. They then had to wait, sometimes for hours, for a reply, or at least an acknowledgment that their message had been received. As they did that, German signal vans were on constant patrol to try and pick up and triangulate the location of clandestine transmissions.
A wireless operator who stayed on the air for too long could lead the Germans straight to his or her location. So wireless operators like Noor had to constantly move around, and flit from transmission site to transmission site as inconspicuously as they could. That was no small feat. German military patrols, the Gestapo, and collaborationist French police frequently stopped and searched people, and back then, transmitters were bulky contraptions that filled a suitcase. In 1943, when Noor accepted her assignment, the life expectancy of a clandestine wireless operator in Nazi territory was just six weeks.