Clare Hollingworth, a British war correspondent who was the first to report the Nazi invasion of Poland that marked the beginning of World War II, died in Hong Kong on Tuesday. She was 105.
The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Hong Kong announced her death, calling her a beloved member with a remarkable career, which included "the scoop of the century".
A determined journalist who defied gender barriers and narrowly escaped death several times, Hollingworth spent much of her career on the front lines of major conflicts, including in the Middle East, North Africa and Vietnam, working for British newspapers. She lived her final four decades in Hong Kong after being one of the few Western journalists stationed in China in the 1970s.
Hear what she had to say about being at the front line of various conflicts:
She won major British journalism awards, including a "What The Papers Say" lifetime achievement award, and was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.
The scoop that launched her career came in late August 1939, when she was a 27-year-old rookie reporter in southern Poland, barely a week into her job with Britain's Daily Telegraph.
The border was closed to all but diplomatic vehicles, so she borrowed a British consulate official’s car to drive into German-occupied territory. She saw tanks, armoured cars and artillery massing.
She recounted in her autobiography that burlap screens beside the road, “constructed to hide the military vehicles, blew in the wind, thus I saw the battle deployment”.
Returning to Poland, she filed her story, but her name was not in the byline – a common practice for newspapers in those days. She scored another scoop when the Nazis launched their invasion three days later on 1 September. Her first call was to the British Embassy in Warsaw, but the official she talked to didn’t believe her.
“’Listen!’ I held the telephone out my bedroom window. The growing roar of tanks encircling Katowice was clearly audible,” she recounted in her autobiography. “’Can’t you hear it?’” She then called The Telegraph’s Warsaw correspondent, who dictated her story to London.
A Female Journalist in a Male-Dominated Field
As the Nazis moved into Germany, Hollingworth scrambled to get out of Poland, sometimes sleeping in cars, eventually making her way to Romania.
She started with working as a secretary and then at a British refugee charity in Poland while writing occasional articles about the looming war in Europe. Friends influenced her decision to focus on journalism rather than politics.
During her five months with the charity, Hollingworth played an important role in helping an estimated 2,000-3,000 refugees flee from the Nazis to Britain by arranging visas for them, a fact that Garrett unearthed in research for his 2016 biography of his great-aunt, Of Fortunes and War.
Though she carved out a career in what was then a male-dominated field, Garrett said she looked back on her achievements matter-of-factly.
She hated when women were given special treatment because it made women a "hassle", which made it harder for other female journalists trying to cover wars, Garrett said. "She thought that everyone should be treated the same.”
Hollingworth wrote for many publications in her career, including The Economist, The Manchester Guardian and The Daily Express.
Hollingworth was close to danger for decades. In 1946, she was standing 300 metres from the King David Hotel in Jerusalem when it was destroyed by a bomb planted by militant Zionists that killed nearly 100 people.
She moved to Hong Kong in 1981. She had intended to stay there temporarily as she wrote a book about Mao Zedong, but decided to stay to watch the negotiations over Britain’s return of Hong Kong to China in 1997 and never left.
Hollingworth wrote articles for The International Herald Tribune and Asian Wall Street Journal well into her old age. She was known for visiting the Foreign Correspondents’ Club every day, where her domestic helpers read newspapers to her because of her failing eyesight, and where friends and admirers helped her celebrate her 105th birthday with cake.
(The story has been edited for length.)