Updated: Nov 11, 2020
Clare Hollingworth 10 October 1911 - 10 January 2017
August 1939, German troops poised to invade Poland, somewhere in their midst a female reporter poised ‘T & T’ (toothbrush and typewriter) ready to capture the moment that would change world history. Decades later in Tiananmen Square, the same woman now approaching her 80’s can be seen hanging from a lamp post in pursuit of a better view of the crackdown.
Clare Hollingworth was born on a farm in Leicester on 10 October 1911, a charming country setting overcast by the outbreak of WWI. Raised in this polemic environment, Hollingworth was to spend her long life courting chaos, waltzing through warzones, the safari suit clad embodiment of a fearless generation. Watching the German bombers buzz over the farm on their way to devastate Loughborough, Hollingworth was imbibed with the desire to report on the extraordinary events that unraveled around her. Much to the chagrin of her mother who said “she didn’t believe anything journalists said and thought they were only fit for the tradesman’s entrance” providing a scepticism that served only to mould the young explorer. She later attended a domestic science college in Leicester, which concreted her suspicion that housework was for other women. Instead her curiosity was drawn to the battlefield tours organised by her Father. In this spirit, Hollingworth became a secretary at the League of Nations Union before studying at London University’s School of Slavonic Studies and the University of Zagreb.
In 1938 she found herself in Nazi occupied territory distributing aid to Czech refugees. She had written the occasional article for the New Statesman and during a visit to London in August 1939 was offered a post by Daily Telegraph editor, Arthur Wilson.
Political tension mounted in Europe and the border between Poland and Germany allowed only diplomatic vehicles to pass. Regardless, Hollingworth was low on wine and other essentials and so borrowed a car from the British consul in Katrowice and shot through the exclusion zone to Germany to stock up. On her return, she passed through a valley cordoned off by scaffold and hessian screens, the wind whipped one back to reveal German troops and tanks directed at the Polish border. Her report was on the front page of the Daily Telegraph by 29th August 1939. In the first week of her new vocation as a journalist, she had her name on one of the biggest scoops of the 20th Century. And things were just beginning to get interesting, like the female Indiana Jones, Hollingworth spent her 11 decades hot on the pursuit of adventure, discovery and truth. As well as report under fire she could swim, ride, parachute, fly a plane and shoot. Sleeping with a gun and her passport under her pillow, usually on the floor to stop her body “getting soft,” fully clothed and with two ready packed suitcases, one for cold climates and one for hot climates, ready for any assignment.
Hollingworth reported on conflicts in Palestine, Algeria, China, Aden and Vietnam. After the war, she wrote for The Economist and The Observer. In 1946, she and her second husband Geoffrey Hoare were at the scene of the King David Hotel bombing in Jerusalem, which killed 91 people. She later was said to have refused to shake the hand of the Irgun leader Menachem Begin, who later became Prime Minister of Israel, due to his role in the event. In 1950, based in Cairo she started work for The Guardian. Visiting Algeria she made contacts with the Algerian National Liberation Front and reported on the Algerian War in the early 1960s. In Beirut 1963, she investigated Kim Philby, a correspondent for the Observer, after he was seen departing for Odessa on a Soviet ship. The Guardian's editor, Alastair Hetherington, fearing legal action, witheld the story of Philby's defection, before publishing it on 27 April 1963. She was then appointed the Guardian's defence correspondent, the first female in the role.
1962 she was named ‘Woman Journalist of the year.’
1982 appointed OBE by Elizabeth II for ‘services to journalism.
1994 winner of the James Cameron Award for Journalism.
1999 lifetime achievement award from UK programme ‘What the Papers Say.’
2017, 10th January aged 105 Clare Hollingworth made the news for the last time, although her words live on eternal “I don’t feel frightened under machine gun fire. The excitement of the job overcomes it.”