Wednesday, January 11, 2017

World War Wednesdays: The Scoop of the Century: Clare Hollingworth

Clare Hollingwood in 1932
     I'm sad to report that we've lost another of history's most important people, and even sadder to admit that I hadn't heard of her before today. After reading her incredible story in the obituaries being posted online, I thought it important to make her name known to anyone who, like me, had not yet come across it.

     Her name was Clare Hollingwood and she was born on 10 October, 1911 to middle-class parents in an English village where her father ran a boot factory that was founded by her grandfather. Interested in politics, she studied Croatian at Zagreb University, international relations in Switzerland, and Slavonic studies in London. Following that, she worked as a secretary and then at a British newspaper's refugee charity in Poland while writing occasional articles about the tense political situation in Europe. Her work must have been exceptional, because friends convinced her to focus on journalism rather than politics.

     While working in Poland, Clare arranged for the evacuation of more than 3,500 political and Jewish refugees to Britain, which earned her the the nickname "the Scarlet Pimpernel" in the British press. According to her biography, written by her nephew, she had a natural talent for dealing with reluctant officials, incomplete information, and managing complicated logistics. After having saved thousands of lives by regularly circumventing British immigration bureaucracy, her time with the agency came to an abrupt halt in July 1939. While the exact reason is not clear, her nephew believes that Britain felt she had opened the doors to potentially dangerous immigrant spies and enemies of the state in her efforts to save the lives of people being persecuted by the Third Reich. Within a month of returning to Britain, she secured a new job as a war correspondent for the Telegraph and quickly returned to Poland, this time staying with a diplomat friend from the Foreign Office in Katowice, at the German-Polish border. [Interestingly, this is the same town where my good friend and Holocaust survivor lived, and she also was a witness to the earliest events in Germany's invasion of Poland.]
Hollingworth (left) with the Consul General's car she borrowed to cross the Germany-Poland border in 1939, South China Morning Post
     With the knowledge that war could erupt at any minute, Clare took advantage of the influence of a diplomatic flag on 30 August, 1939, when she borrowed her host's car and "motored off alone into Nazi Germany" to stock up on wine and aspirin. Driving back along the border, a fabric partition separating the two countries flapped briefly in the wind, revealing "scores, if not hundreds of tanks... thus I saw the battle deployment." (she later reflected on the event in her autobiography)

     After making that horrible discovery, she immediately understood its implications: "I guessed that the German Command was preparing to strike to the north of Katowice and its fortified lines and this, in fact, was exactly how they launched their invasion in the south." At that point, however, Poland was thought to still be in negotiations with Germany. 

     Three days later, on 1 September, 1939, Clare was awoken at 5 A.M. by the sound of tanks rolling past her window. She quickly called her editor, as well as the British and Polish Foreign Offices, each of whom responded with disbelief given that they believed the negotiations to still be ongoing. Frustrated with the response from the British Embassy, she actually dangled the phone out the window so that the official could hear the terrifying rumble for himself. "Listen!" she implored. "Can't you hear it?" After hanging up the phone with him, she called the Telegraph's Warsaw correspondent, who then dictated her story to London. When the story of Germany's invasion of Poland was finally filed, Clare's name was not included on the byline as was common practice for newspapers in those days. Here's what the original looked like:
The Telegraph
     At twenty-seven years old and as a rookie reporter, Clare Hollingwood truly had the scoop of the century. Amazingly, her remarkable life and career only continued from there: as the Nazis moved into Poland, she scrambled to escape their advance, often sleeping in cars, and eventually made it to Romania. Following that she spent much of her life on the front line of numerous major conflicts, including those in the Middle East, North Africa, and Vietnam, for British newspapers. During her remarkable career, she established herself as a fearless, talented, and respected journalist and won numerous awards for her work. She died on 10 January, 2017 at the age of 105 in Hong Kong, where she had been stationed as one of a few Western journalists sent to China in the 1970s. 
     Many thanks to TIME, CTV News, and the Telegraph for information and images. Further reading on this story can be enjoyed at: and
     I hope you found this story to be as incredible and inspiring as I did. Women like Clare are proof that it is not just the men who get to make history, and that heroes come in all forms.
     Thanks for reading,
     Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

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