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  • Writer's pictureJames McGee

Clare Hollingworth

The death was announced earlier this week of Clare Hollingworth at the age of 105. If the name is not familiar, Hollingworth was one of the truly great war correspondents. It was she who, in 1939, on the eve of World War II, broke the news that the Germans were about to invade Poland.

Though she didn’t set out to acquire the scoop of the century. She stumbled across it by accident.

Less than a week into her first job as a stringer for the Daily Telegraph, Clare was driving alone along a stretch of road linking Gleiwitz, in Germany, to Katowice, Poland when her eye was caught by a length of tarpaulin that had been erected along the side of the road and loosened by a gust of wind. Stopping to see what the hessian might be concealing, she peered through the gap and to her amazement found herself confronted by thousands of troops, tanks and artillery, all of which were facing the Polish border.

Three days later, Hollingworth watched as tanks began rolling into Poland. When she phoned the Second Secretary at the British Embassy in Warsaw to relay the information he told her it couldn't be true as negotiations between Britain and Germany were still continuing. Hollingworth’s response was to hang the telephone receiver out of the window so that the disbelieving official could listen to the sounds of the Germans invading.

Over the next four decades. during which she wrote articles for, among other publications, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The International Herald Tribune and The Wall Street Journal, she continued to cover the world’s conflicts, not only the Second World War but also the Greek and Algerian civil wars; the hostilities between Arabs and Jews in the waning days of the British mandate in Palestine, as well as the war in Vietnam.

Fearlessly brave, she often came under fire, was frequently arrested and accused of being a spy by assorted governments including HMG.

She was one of the first Western journalists to report regularly from China and opened The Telegraph’s Beijing bureau there in 1973.

It’s been written that she was never happier than when she was roaming the world equipped with little more than a toothbrush, a typewriter and, if need be, a revolver. Fully prepared to rough it in search of a story, she slept in trucks and in trenches and even buried up to her neck in sand for warmth on cold desert nights. She once, it’s reported, held off an armed Algerian policeman by threatening to hit him about the head with a shoe.

On her 100th birthday, she is reputed to have told The Telegraph that she rather enjoyed being in a war.

Frankly, it would be impossible to do her extraordinary life justice in a few lines here so if you’re interested in learning more about this extraordinary lady I’d refer you to just one of the many obituaries that have been written in the wake of her death. One of the best is from The New York Times. Here’s the link:

There's also a very good piece on the BBC website: As well as the above, there's an excellent biography, Of Fortunes and War by Patrick Garrett, should you wish to read about her in more depth.

If you click on the cover, that’ll take you to the relevant Amazon page.

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