The reporter who broke news of World War II
Clare Hollingworth 1911–2017
Clare Hollingworth was just three days into her first job as a reporter when she scored the biggest journalistic scoop of the 20th century. In 1939, the 27-year-old was working as a part-time correspondent in Poland for Britain’s Daily Telegraph when she drove across the border into Nazi Germany to get a sense of the rising tensions between the two nations. On her way back, a gust of wind lifted a piece of the tarpaulin that had been erected on the roadside to screen off the valley below. Hollingworth said she spotted “literally hundreds of tanks, armored cars, and field guns.” Realizing Germany was about to invade, she telephoned her editor with the news, which ran as a front-page story the next day. Three days later, on Sept. 1, 1939, she awoke to the sound of German bombs exploding. It was the start of World War II, and the beginning of Hollingworth’s five-decade career as a war reporter.
Born in central England, Hollingworth developed an interest in war through her shoe-factory-owner father, who took her to visit historic battlefields in Britain and France. “From an early age, she flouted conservative English norms by quitting a finishing school and breaking off an engagement to a family friend,” said The Washington Post. With World War II looming, Hollingworth went to work in Poland for a charity helping refugees from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. On a trip back to London, she persuaded the Telegraph’s editor to send her to Poland as a reporter and went on to report from the war’s front lines in Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and North Africa, said BBC.com. Hollingworth proved herself to be “tough as nails.” Embedded with Allied troops, the 5-foot-1 journalist dodged bullets and Nazi patrols, slept in the open desert, and learned to parachute and pilot a plane.
Hollingworth would “rack up plenty of other journalistic exploits,” said The Atlantic. She covered Algeria’s war of independence in the 1950s and the Vietnam War in the ’60s, and in 1989— at nearly 80—was spotted in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, climbing a lamppost for a better view of the Chinese regime’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. Had her eyesight not failed in her 80s, Hollingworth would have happily kept reporting from the front. “I must admit,” she said in 2011, “that I enjoy being in a war.”