Clare Holling­worth

The scoop of the aw­ful cen­tury

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

THEY called her the doyenne of war cor­re­spon­dents, and she might have even let that slip from time to time. But it would’ve been out of char­ac­ter to let some­thing go by with­out cor­rec­tion. She was a pushy broad, and would have been the first to say that, and put it ex­actly like that.

Doyenne? She slept on the ground, fella. Some­times un­der the ground, when she would bury her­self neck-deep in the desert sand to keep the cold off o’ night. She car­ried with her a pass­port, which she rarely had trou­ble con­vinc­ing some ap­pa­ratchik to give her, a typewriter, and a pis­tol. She was a re­porter. She was a writer. She was a war cor­re­spon­dent. An inky wretch for all oth­ers to ad­mire.

Doyenne, you say? Dis­patches say she hated when women in com­bat zones were fussed over. That made them a has­sle. And made things even more dif­fi­cult for women re­porters in her era. (Monty tried ship­ping her out of North Africa in 1943. She got around him, too.)

Clare Holling­worth died this week at 105. Her by­line hasn’t been in the papers much in the last sev­eral decades, as you can imag­ine. But back in the day, she was a glam­orous star of the news busi­ness. She cov­ered the Al­ge­rian war in the 1950s, the Viet­nam war in the 1960s, and the Mid­dle East like sand. Who was the first per­son to in­ter­view the new Shah of Iran when he took over in 1941? Clare Holling­worth. Who was the last per­son to in­ter­view him af­ter he fell? Clare Holling­worth. She “re­tired” from war when she be­came a cor­re­spon­dent for the Tele­graph in Bei­jing. But even into her 90s, she’d call the news desks in Lon­don to re­port on the lat­est.

But only age kept her from the war zones.

“I en­joy ac­tion,” the lady told the BBC once. “I en­joy be­ing in a plane that’s bombing some­thing, or be­ing on the ground in the desert when they’re ad­vanc­ing.” Some­body needs to do it. It cer­tainly won’t be us.

The story goes that a young Clare Holling­worth, newly hired by the Daily Tele­graph, was wan­der­ing around in some con­tested bor­der area on The Con­ti­nent one day when she got a glimpse of some­thing she shouldn’t have. The bor­der was be­tween two coun­tries you might have heard of: Ger­many and Poland. The year was 1939.

Time magazine de­scribed the scene:

“Know­ing that war may be im­mi­nent, and bol­stered by the pres­ence of a diplo­matic flag, she bor­rowed her host’s car, and ‘mo­tored off alone into Nazi Ger­many’ to stock up on wine and as­pirin. As she drove back along the bor­der, a fab­ric par­ti­tion sep­a­rat­ing the two coun­tries flapped mo­men­tar­ily in the wind, ex­pos­ing ‘scores, if not hun­dreds of tanks’ in the val­ley be­low. And there was her first big scoop: the out­break of World War II.”

Yes, she was the re­porter who first called in the out­break of the Se­cond World Catas­tro­phe.

The head­line the next day: 1,000 Tanks Massed on Pol­ish Fron­tier; 10 Di­vi­sions Re­ported Ready For Swift Stroke; From Our Own Cor­re­spon­dent.

She was wrong. There were only nine di­vi­sions. But, hey, cub re­porters make mis­takes all the time.

CLARE Holling­worth was an old school jour­nal­ist inas­much as she didn’t mind do­ing right when it was more than called for. She wasn’t go­ing to sit back and just re­port the facts when she could do more. Ac­cord­ing to the New York Times, she aided thou­sands of refugees from Cze­choslo­vakia who were fleeing the Nazis. She wrote of their plight for Brits back home, and even ar­ranged for Bri­tish visas for the refugees.

But the rea­son she’ll be re­mem­bered? She was on the ground when World War II com­menced. The story goes that when she was fi­nally awak­ened by bomb­ings on Sept. 1, 1939, she called the Bri­tish Em­bassy in War­saw. “The war has be­gun!”

The oh-so-Bri­tish an­swer: “Are you sure, old girl?”

At which point she sim­ply opened the win­dow and held the re­ceiver out so the em­bassy folks could hear the Ger­man tanks roar­ing by.

Against all odds, and against most of her col­leagues’ reck­on­ing, Clare Holling­worth lived to be 105 years old. Em­pha­sis on lived. From Poland to China, from Al­ge­ria to Viet­nam, from one cri­sis to another, her ed­i­tors said she al­ways seemed to be in the right place at the right time. Or maybe the wrong place at the right time. And du­ti­fully re­ported on it all.

What a re­porter. What a char­ac­ter. What a re­mark­able life.


Clare Holling­worth

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