Are you a brave person? Is courage a quality people would associate with you? Who would you nominate as the bravest person you know? Or the bravest act you have come across?
Enough of the questions. Courage is an odd thing; one person can be physically brave and emotionally timid, while another is intellectually brave while not risking anything that might lead to injury, even if this includes attempting a steep climb or a plunge into cold water.
Then there are the select few who seem to possess courage in all aspects of their activities. As I write, the Russian activist and opposition leader Alexei Navalny is on a flight to Moscow, having spent 5 months in Germany recovering from an attempt to poison and kill him him by the Russian authorities. It is almost certain that he will be imprisoned on arrival for yet another trumped-up charge, and it will not be the first time that he experiences the inside of a Russian jail.
Yet Navalny has said all along that once he recovered he would return to Russia. Is he crazy? Is he stupid? Or is he simply brave enough to continue his campaign to expose the rot and corruption in Russia that starts at the very top? I know I would not be in his shoes for all the tea in ….Moscow?
Another extremely brave person hit the headlines this week. She is long dead, executed by the Gestapo at Dachau in 1944 following intensive interrogation, severe deprivation and torture, during which she revealed nothing to her captors – not even her own name. Reader, I can now reveal it. (I’ve always wanted to write that). She was Noor Inayat Khan, code named ‘Madeleine’. The first woman wireless transmitter in occupied France during WWII, she was trained by Britain’s SOE and assumed the most dangerous resistance post in underground Paris.
Noor was the daughter of an Indian Sufi mystic from a noble family; she was born in Moscow in 1914 and when war broke out the family moved to London, and then on to France in 1920. They managed to escape occupied France, arriving back in the UK by boat in 1940. Noor was a poet and writer of children’s stories but chose to abandon her pacifist ideals to fight the Nazis.
She became the first female radio operator to be sent to occupied France in June 1943, sending vital messages back to London from behind enemy lines. She was captured later in the year and imprisoned for 10 months prior to her execution. Noor is the first woman of South Asian descent to have a blue plaque honouring her in London; it was unveiled at her wartime London home in Bloomsbury in August 2020. There is also a statue of her in Gordon Square, Bloomsbury.
Noor’s life has already been chronicled in a book: Spy Princess: The life of Noor Inayat Khan, by Shrabani Basu. Now a TV drama series is being made about her.
This week I was privileged to meet another person exemplifying great courage; she is unlikely to ever be famous but is much closer to home. She is an ICU nurse at south London’s St George’s Hospital near to where I live, treating extremely sick Covid patients. I think she must be the bravest person I have ever met.