Clare Hollingworth: grande dame of war reporters

Clare Hollingworth in her war correspondent's uniform - note the shoulder flash

Clare Hollingworth in her uniform – note the war correspondent epaulettes

Only a week ago, I was writing about Women war reporters and ‘immersion journalism’ and a few days later, Clare Hollingworth, the ‘grande dame of war correspondents‘ died at the age of 105. She is truly one of the women who could have inspired the short story and illustration in a Woman magazine of 1945 about war reporter ‘Julie Wilson’.

In the 1930s, she went to Katowice in Poland, where she and her husband helping 3,000 Jews to escape from the Nazis, as well as Austrians and Germans who opposed Hitler — a role that earned her the Fleet Street nickname, ‘the Scarlet Pimpernel’.

She then talked her way into Daily Telegraph and landed in Berlin as its freelance foreign correspondent on August 26, 1939 — hours before Goering banned all civilian flights in German airspace. Days later she had her first scoop, though not with her own byline, by breaking the news of Germany’s invasion of Poland.

The Imperial War Museum holds Clare Hollingworth's epaulettes

The Imperial War Museum holds Clare Hollingworth’s epaulettes

Her litany of scoops is incredible: the first interview in a British paper with the young Shah of Iran in 1941; getting behind enemy lines in Egypt in 1941 — when she wasn’t even supposed to get anywhere near the front line; working for Time magazine after Montgomery banned her; learning to fly during the war; covering Palestine and Jerusalem (where her hotel was blown up) after the war, for the News of the World and the Economist; being the first to twig that Kim Philby had defected to the Soviet Union – though the Guardian wouldn’t print it for several months for fear of a libel suit; What the Papers Say award in 1962 for her astounding coverage of the Algerian war; covering Vietnam; the first female defence correspondent at the Guardian in 1963; the first resident China correspondent for the Daily Telegraph; watching the Tiananmen Square uprising in 1989 from a balcony of the Peking hotel.

In Leonie Mason's short story, Julie Wilson is an official war correspondent

In Leonie Mason’s short story, ‘Julie Wilson’ is an official war correspondent

She was given the James Cameron Award for Journalism in 1994 and a lifetime achievement award at the What the Papers Say awards in 1999.

In between all this, her great nephew, Patrick Garrett, has recounted many love affairs and how she threatened another journalist who was having an affair with her husband with a Mauser pistol that she pulled from her handbag.

From 1981 she had lived in Hong Kong with a regular table at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, where she celebrated her 105th birthday in October with champagne.

There are two books about Hollingworth: her 1990 autobiography, Front Line; and the 2015 biography by Patrick Garrett,  Of Fortunes and War: Clare Hollingworth, First of the Female War Correspondents. The Imperial War Museum has taped interviews with Hollingworth from 2001.Her choice of luxury for Desert Island Discs in 1999 was paper and pens (with thick nibs).

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