Dar­ing put her on front line, front page

With­out the in­trepid correspondent, ‘no bat­tle­field was com­plete’


In early 1939, peace ac­tivist Clare Hollingworth ar­rived on the Pol­ish-Ger­man bor­der to aid Jews and other refugees flee­ing from the Sude­ten­land, newly an­nexed by Nazi Ger­many. On a brief re­turn to her na­tive Eng­land, the 27-yearold Hollingworth — who once pro­fessed to “en­joy be­ing in a war” — was hired as a part-time correspondent in Ka­tow­ice, Poland, for the Lon­don Daily Tele­graph.

Af­ter three days on the job that Au­gust, the cub re­porter landed one of the big­gest jour­nal­is­tic scoops of the 20th cen­tury: Hitler’s im­mi­nent in­va­sion of Poland, mark­ing the out­break of World War II.

Ms. Hollingworth, who died Jan. 10 at age 105, had driven into Ger­many to get a bet­ter sense of the im­pend­ing dan­ger. With­out di­vulging the rea­son, she asked to bor­row a diplo­matic ve­hi­cle from her ex-lover, the Bri­tish con­sul in Ka­tow­ice, know­ing the Union Jack on its hood would get her across the heav­ily re­stricted bor­der.

On the re­turn leg, she was passed by dozens of Ger­man mil­i­tary dis­patch rid­ers on mo­tor­cy­cles.

“I was driv­ing back along a val­ley and there was a Hes­sian screen up so you couldn’t look down into the val­ley,” she told the Tele­graph more than 70 years later. “Sud­denly, there was a great gust of wind

which blew the sack­ing from its moor­ings, and I looked into the val­ley and saw scores, if not hun­dreds, of tanks.

“So when I got back I said, ‘Thank you for lend­ing me your car.’ And he said, ‘Where did you go, old girl?’ So I said, ‘I went into Ger­many.’ He said, ‘ Stop be­ing funny.’ And I said, ‘What’s more, I got a very good story: The tanks are al­ready lined up for in­va­sion of Poland.’ He went up­stairs and sent a top se­cret mes­sage to the Foreign Of­fice.”

Ms. Hollingworth called the Tele­graph correspondent in War­saw, and he filed a front-page story pub­lished on Aug. 29, 1939, un­der the head­line “1,000 tanks massed on Pol­ish bor­der. Ten di­vi­sions re­ported ready for swift stroke.” Three days later, she awoke to the sounds of Ger­man planes and Panzer tanks in­vad­ing Poland. Af­ter no­ti­fy­ing her edi­tors, she called the Bri­tish Em­bassy in War­saw and de­clared, “It’s be­gun.”

So also be­gan a five-decade ca­reer in which Ms. Hollingworth cov­ered hos­til­i­ties from Al­ge­ria to Viet­nam, from Greece to Ye­men. “No bat­tle­field was com­plete” with­out her, the Bri­tish au­thor and war correspondent Tom Po­cock once re­marked.

Ms. Hollingworth, who also helped un­mask Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence agent Kim Philby as a Soviet spy, died in Hong Kong, where she had lived since the 1980s. Pa­trick Gar­rett, her great-nephew and bi­og­ra­pher, con­firmed the death but did not pro­vide an im­me­di­ate cause.

Of­ten dressed in a tai­lored sa­fari suit and some­times pack­ing a pearl-han­dled re­volver, Ms. Hollingworth marched with troops, wit­nessed fire­fights, trav­eled to rebel hide­outs and rode along dur­ing aerial bomb­ing runs. In Kash­mir, mo­tor­ing across a bridge that had come un­der shelling by Pak­istani troops, she gushed to a col­league, “Now, this is what makes life worth liv­ing!”

She thrived on the adren­a­line and on prov­ing she could keep pace with the men who made up the vast ma­jor­ity of war cor­re­spon­dents.

Dur­ing the North African desert cam­paign in World War II, Bri­tish com­man­der Bernard Mont­gomery (“some­thing of a women-hater,” she later wrote) ex­pelled Ms. Hollingworth from his press con­tin­gent, say­ing that women did not be­long on the front lines. She then em­bed­ded with Amer­i­can troops un­der Gen. Dwight D. Eisen­hower’s com­mand in Al­giers.

“It was es­sen­tial to be able to go with­out wash­ing, sleep in the open desert and live on bully-beef and bis­cuits for days on end,” she re­called in “Front Lines” (1990), one of her five books. “Many male cor­re­spon­dents got them­selves sent back to Cairo be­cause they could not take it.”

To pre­pare her­self, Ms. Hollingworth slept on her apart­ment floor. Although just a hair over 5 feet tall, she learned to para­chute and pi­lot a plane. She could iden­tify shell and bul­let types from their in-flight acous­tics.

Dur­ing the blitzkrieg in Poland, she drove around the coun­try for weeks to re­port on the ag­gres­sion, stay­ing just ahead of ad­vanc­ing Nazi troops. “When it grew too dark to drive, I stopped, ate some bis­cuits, took a pull of whisky, and curled up for the night with my elec­tric torch and re­volver on the seat be­side me,” she told Gar­rett for his 2015 ac­count of her life, “Of For­tunes and War.”

In the early 1960s, she re­ported for the Bri­tish pa­per the Guardian on the Al­ge­rian guer­rilla strug­gle against French rule. In his his­tory of the Guardian, jour­nal­ist Ge­of­frey Tay­lor de­scribed Ms. Hollingworth “lit­er­ally march­ing to­ward the sound of gun­fire and reg­u­larly walk­ing alone through the cas­bah.”

When right-wing French paramil­i­taries stormed a ho­tel in Al­giers and kid­napped a Bri­tish re­porter in 1962, Ms. Hollingworth ral­lied a group of foreign cor­re­spon­dents to fight back.

Po­cock re­called in his book “East and West of Suez”: “Clare turned like Joan of Arc to the rest of us stand­ing with our hands up — ‘Come on!’ she said, ‘We’re go­ing too! They won’t shoot all the world’s press!’ So we all marched out and started climb­ing into the jeeps.” The fight­ers re­leased the jour­nal­ist.

Ms. Hollingworth con­sid­ered other fe­male war re­porters, such as Martha Gell­horn, the glam­orous wife of Ernest Hem­ing­way, and Clare Boothe Luce, who mar­ried the pub­lisher of Life and Time mag­a­zines, pam­pered elit­ists.

In­se­cu­rity may have helped fuel the im­pres­sion. Gar­rett noted that Ms. Hollingworth spent decades as a low-paid free­lancer be­fore se­cur­ing a staff po­si­tion with the Guardian, and later the Daily Tele­graph, when she was in her 50s. She also strug­gled at the type­writer. One ed­i­tor said her first drafts read more like com­mu­niques than nar­ra­tives. She re­lied on her sec­ond hus­band, Bri­tish jour­nal­ist Ge­of­frey Hoare, to pol­ish her sto­ries.

But her cu­rios­ity, stamina and vast ar­ray of sources — in­clud­ing gen­er­als, diplo­mats, gov­ern­ment min­is­ters, so­cialites and rebels — helped her pro­duce a steady stream of sto­ries for Bri­tish and U.S. pub­li­ca­tions, in­clud­ing the Econ­o­mist, Time and the Chicago Daily News.

Among her friends and con­tacts were Don­ald Ma­clean and Philby, mem­bers of Bri­tain’s no­to­ri­ous Cam­bridge Five spy ring that pro­vided in­tel­li­gence to Moscow. In Jan­uary 1963, Philby — who worked in Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence and also had a cover as a jour­nal­ist — failed to show up at a Beirut din­ner party that he and Ms. Hollingworth were sched­uled to at­tend.

Amid deep­en­ing sus­pi­cions about Philby’s loy­al­ties, Ms. Hollingworth tracked down port records and dis­cov­ered that, on the night of the din­ner, Philby had boarded a ship for Odessa in the course of de­fect­ing to the Soviet Union.

The scoop seemed so sen­sa­tional that, fear­ing a li­bel suit and un­der pres­sure from the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment to conceal what would be one of the most sen­sa­tional scan­dals of the Cold War, the Guardian’s ed­i­tor sat on the ar­ti­cle. Only when that ed­i­tor was ab­sent did Ms. Hollingworth per­suade his deputy to run her story. Three months later, the gov­ern­ment con­firmed Philby’s de­fec­tion.

Ms. Hollingworth’s last ma­jor post­ing came in 1973, when she was named the Tele­graph’s China correspondent, cover­ing the death of Mao Ze­dong and the power strug­gle that fol­lowed.

Late in life, she re­flected on a ca­reer spent on the ra­zor’s edge, not­ing that she was 900 feet from the King David Ho­tel in Jerusalem when Jewish ter­ror­ists bombed the build­ing in 1946. Ninety-one peo­ple died in the blast.

“I en­joy ac­tion,” she told the Tele­graph in 2011. “I’m not brave, I just en­joy it. I don’t know why. God made me like this. I’m not fright­ened.”

Ms. Hollingworth was born in Knighton, Eng­land, on Oct. 10, 1911. Her fa­ther, who ran a shoe fac­tory, was a his­tory buff and sparked her in­ter­est in war­fare by tak­ing her to visit the bat­tle­fields of Crecy, Poitiers and Agin­court.

From an early age, she flouted con­ser­va­tive English norms by quit­ting a fin­ish­ing school and break­ing off an en­gage­ment to a fam­ily friend. She be­came a sec­re­tary for a group af­fil­i­ated with the League of Na­tions, the short-lived pre­de­ces­sor to the United Na­tions.

With World War II loom­ing, she took a job with a Bri­tish refugee sup­port group that sent her to Poland. Ms. Hollingworth was cho­sen for the as­sign­ment, which re­quired an overland train trip through Berlin, thanks to a Ger­man visa left over from a ski va­ca­tion in the Alps.

Her per­sonal life con­tained its own share of drama. She mar­ried two of her sundry lovers — au­thor Van­deleur Robin­son, from whom she was di­vorced, and Hoare, who died in 1965. In a bid to end what she had learned to be Hoare’s wom­an­iz­ing, she con­fronted his girl­friend with a Ger­man Mauser pis­tol, ac­cord­ing to Gar­rett’s book. She later con­verted to Catholi­cism.

Mostly, Ms. Hollingworth’s life was de­fined by an un­quench­able wan­der­lust. In her 60s, while on as­sign­ment cover­ing the rel­a­tively staid do­ings of the Bri­tish De­fense Min­istry, she was known to show up at the of­fice with a bedroll and ask her edi­tors, “Any foreign trips go­ing? Any wars?”


Clare Hollingworth broke the news of World War II’s start.


To pre­pare her­self for con­di­tions she would face while on as­sign­ment, Clare Hollingworth slept on her apart­ment floor. She also learned to para­chute and pi­lot a plane.


“I en­joy ac­tion,” Hollingworth told an in­ter­viewer in 2011. “I’m not brave, I just en­joy it. I don’t know why. God made me like this.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.