Journalist who broke story of Nazi invasion of Poland, Clare Hollingworth, dies aged 105

The war correspondent who broke the news of the Nazi invasion of Poland that triggered the start of World War II has died at the age of 105.

Clare Hollingworth died on Tuesday in Hong Kong, where she had been living for the last 40 years, according to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC).

In a statement the club said: “The FCC is very sad to announce the passing of its much beloved member Clare Hollingworth at age 105.

“Clare had a remarkable career as a foreign correspondent, beginning with the scoop of the century when she reported the start of World War II.”

FCC president Tara Joseph said Hollingworth was a “tremendous inspiration to us all” and a “treasured member of our club”.

 

Hollingworth was born in Leicester in 1911.

She had been working as a freelance for the Daily Telegraph in Poland for under a week when she revealed first that tanks were massing in Germany.

The story made the front page of The Telegraph on 29 August, 1939. Just three days later, Germany invaded Poland and war broke out.

In the following decades, Hollingworth reported on conflicts in Palestine, Algeria, China, Aden and Vietnam.

She continued to write into her 90s and authored five books about her experiences as a war reporter. A biography of her life written by Patrick Garrett and titled Of Fortunes and War was released in 2016.

Telegraph editor Chris Evans said: “Clare Hollingworth was a remarkable journalist, an inspiration to all reporters but in particular to subsequent generations of women foreign correspondents.

“She will always be revered by all of us at The Telegraph. Our sympathies to her friends and family.”

Journalists paid tribute to Hollingworth on her 104th birthday in 2015.

Evening Standard editor Sarah Sands said at the time: “Clare is an inspiration to all journalists but particularly to women. She was charismatic and daring and we all wanted to be her.”

Radio 4 Today presenter John Humphrys: “It was one of my first assignments and I’d been sent to East Pakistan. I’d never met her before. She was certainly scary. She didn’t suffer fools gladly. She didn’t show any sympathy to my 20-year-old naivety.

“We were waiting for something to happen and she just vanished. Wherever the front line was, she’d be on it.

“There was a certain amount of jealousy as she came back with a story that we all wished we had. She used to have contacts everywhere, from generals to prime ministers.

“She was regarded by everyone as the most formidable foreign correspondent around, not just of women but out of everyone.”

Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore: “Clare Hollingworth was one of the greatest reporters of the 20th century, and famously scooped the competition by reporting the German invasion of Poland in 1939 before anyone else did, for the Daily Telegraph.

“When I became editor of the Sunday Telegraph in 1992, Clare was still writing for us, covering China from Hong Kong, and I often had cause to draw on her wisdom and knowledge. She is a legend in journalism and was a trailblazer for women reporters.”

BBC foreign correspondent John Simpson: “Clare made an extraordinary impact in journalism. Who did the first interview with the Shah of Iran? Clare Hollingworth. Who did the last interview all those years, 30 or 40 years later, after he fell?  Clare Hollingworth. And she was the only person he wanted to speak to. And that’s really the measure of the woman.”

CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour: “Many of us who have come afterwards, and the generations afterwards, look back and are proud to remember that it is not us pioneering. It’s them. It’s Clare and that band of women who really did it for us.”

Sky News special correspondent Alex Crawford: “She was the standard bearer of reporting at an age when it just was not usual, was not normal, to be female in a hostile environment, and she did it with complete panache and skill and success. She is exactly what every female war correspondent wants to be aspires to be like.”

Extracts from Of Fortunes and War, a biography of Clare Hollingworth by Patrick Garrett,

Gleiwitz is also Polish again, and is today called Gliwice, but in August 1939, when Clare passed through, it was a hive of distinctly German activity.

‘Driving alongside a valley, where a hessian screen that blocked the view had been pitched alongside the road, ‘suddenly there was a great gust of wind which blew the hessian sacking from its moorings.’ Clare looked down into the valley and saw for the first time ‘scores, if not hundreds of tanks.’ Before her were arrayed the forces of von Rundstedt’s Army Group South, supported by Reichenau’s 10th Army.

 ‘1,000 tanks massed on Polish border, Ten divisions reported ready for swift stroke,’ shouted the headline. Predicting the outbreak of the Second World War was still ‘not bad’ for someone only three days into their first journalism job.

***

Not only was the Telegraph the first paper to know that Poland was at war, but it was also in the odd position of informing the Polish Government.

Clare called her friend Robin Hankey, the Second Secretary of the British Embassy in Warsaw. ‘Rrrrobin,’ she began. ‘The war’s begun!’ Hankey told her that she was talking rubbish as the two governments were still negotiating. So she held the phone out of the window so that Hankey could hear the sound of battle for himself.

***

Clare played an important part in rescuing around three thousand people from under the very noses of the Nazis.

Hidden at the bottom of Clare’s old trunk, a document written in German gave the first real clue about this dramatic period in spring 1939 Packed in an old school-issue foolscap cardboard folder was a beautifully crafted appreciation certificate, which stated that it was being presented as a gesture of gratitude by refugees to whom Clare had rendered aid in the Polish city of Katowice.

In Katowice, Clare was arranging for prominent, high-risk individuals to be smuggled across the border without the Germans’ knowledge. Clare helped to make arrangements for some to be disguised as peasants. Clare was later dubbed ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ by various British newspapers who reported on her skills smuggling out the very people the Gestapo were hunting.

Comments

1 thought on “Journalist who broke story of Nazi invasion of Poland, Clare Hollingworth, dies aged 105”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

3 × 2 =

CLOSE
CLOSE