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’