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Of For­tunes and War

Pa­trick Gar­rett (Two Books, £10.99)

It was one of Clare holling­worth’s fel­low jour­nal­ists who said: ‘the only qual­i­ties es­sen­tial for real suc­cess in jour­nal­ism are rat-like cun­ning, a plau­si­ble man­ner and a lit­tle lit­er­ary abil­ity.’ holling­worth is best re­mem­bered for re­port­ing the mass­ing of Ger­man tanks on the Pol­ish fron­tier in late 1939, which sig­nalled the start of the sec­ond world war.

this jour­nal­is­tic scoop re­quired all the qual­i­ties spec­i­fied. the fron­tier be­tween Ger­many and Poland could only be crossed by flag-fly­ing diplo­matic ve­hi­cles. she had a brief af­fair with the Bri­tish con­sul-gen­eral and, the fol­low­ing morn­ing, man­aged to bor­row his of­fi­cial car and (quite im­prop­erly fly­ing his flag) cross the fron­tier, where she spot­ted the tanks and re­ported the story that would make his­tory. Quite a coup for a 27-year-old woman on her third day in her first job in jour­nal­ism!

Even be­fore this, and for some time af­ter­wards, she had shown some­thing of her dar­ing spirit by help­ing to evac­u­ate refugees from Cze­choslo­vakia, Poland, Ro­ma­nia and other coun­tries in the line of the nazi ad­vance, many of whom feared for their lives be­cause they were Jews or Com­mu­nists. In­deed, holling­worth was in­stru­men­tal in bring­ing so many Com­mu­nists into the UK that the se­cu­rity ser­vices viewed her with sus­pi­cion and opened a file on her; it was ironic that, soon, they were re­cruit­ing her as one of their own sources.

Jour­nal­ism, how­ever, re­mained her main oc­cu­pa­tion. hav­ing started with the Daily Tele­graph, she went on to write for the Daily Ex­press and other news­pa­pers, be­fore re­turn­ing to the Tele­graph.

Among the war zones from which she re­ported were north Africa (dur­ing Rom­mel’s ad­vance on Egypt), Greece (dur­ing the civil war), Al­ge­ria (dur­ing the in­de­pen­dence strug­gle—‘a neat lit­tle war with a good ho­tel’), Aden (dur­ing pro­longed ri­ots), In­dia and Pak­istan (dur­ing bor­der dis­putes), Pales­tine (where she nar­rowly es­caped the King David ho­tel ex­plo­sion), Viet­nam (dur­ing the Amer­i­can in­ter­ven­tion), China (where she was bored) and var­i­ous Cold war lo­ca­tions.

her close as­so­ci­a­tion with Kim Philby gave her a special link into this last con­fronta­tion. Ev­ery­where, she hob­nobbed with the pow­er­ful and in­flu­en­tial: Gen de Gaulle, Gen wavell, ted heath, De­nis healey, Ge­orge Bush sr and henry Kissinger were among the contacts she used un­hesi­tat­ingly.

On oc­ca­sion, she also em­ployed her diplo­matic contacts to en­able her to evade cen­sor­ship by send­ing her copy through the diplo­matic bag and she fre­quently used tourists and other trav­ellers as ‘car­rier pi­geons’ for her re­ports.

she was proud of be­ing given a mil­i­tary uni­form with ‘war cor­re­spon­dent’ epaulettes, as well as a li­cence con­firm­ing that, if cap­tured, she should be treated as a pris­oner of war as ‘his sta­tus was that of an army cap­tain’. It was not sur­pris­ing that her love life was er­ratic; al­though mar­ried more than once, she had no chil­dren and ad­mit­ted she ‘pre­ferred the noise of guns to that of chil­dren’.

Un­til the end of her 105-year­long life, she kept her pass­port and a case by her bed, main­tain­ing she was on a ‘re­tainer’ rather than a pen­sion from the Tele­graph.

the au­thor is her great-nephew and, in this com­pellingly read­able biog­ra­phy, he rightly ad­mires her courage. how­ever, with that went a mav­er­ick spirit that might not have made her an easy col­league. John Ure

Clare Holling­worth was the first cor­re­spon­dent to re­port the out­break of the Sec­ond World War, which was de­scribed as the ‘scoop of the cen­tury’

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