The Woman Who Broke the News of World War II
Clare Hollingworth scooped the world on the invasion of Poland
Any woman wanting to be a war correspondent faced plenty of obstacles. These included a belief they couldn’t handle the stress of warfare and the concerns regarding whether special facilities were necessary. Even if a woman gained access to a war zone, she often was limited to covering the “woman’s angle” or stories about civilians behind the front lines. Yet a British woman scooped the world in reporting the outbreak of World War II.
Born in 1911, Clare Hollingworth lived on a farm near Leicester, England. Her parents insisted she attend Leicester Domestic Science College, which she said “caused me to hate having anything to do with housework.” So instead, she told her parents she’d like to be a journalist, which they considered a “frightfully low” occupation.
Hollingworth took an intensive course in internal relations in Geneva. By 1934, she was a regional organizing secretary for the League of Nations Union, a peace group established in Britain in 1918. She earned a scholarship to the School of Slavonic Studies at London University. In 1938, she went to Czechoslovakia to help refugees fleeing Austria following Nazi Germany’s annexation.
The following year, Germany occupied Czechoslovakia and Hollingworth ended up in Katowice, Poland, to assist Czech refugees. She helped an estimated 3,500 people escape during her four-and-a-half months there, often using “block” visas that allowed admitting multiple people to the United Kingdom. The British government became concerned about Hollingworth’s zealousness in helping refugees. Its Passport Control Office wrote that her procedures were “entirely irregular and, in fact, subversive” to efforts to control refugee admission to England.
She returned to England in early August 1939 and, having written freelance articles for some British magazines, set out to find a job as a reporter. By August 25, her experience and familiarity with Poland led the Daily Telegraph to hire her. The next day, she flew to Poland via Berlin. The Berlin airport seemed largely deserted on landing, except for German fighters parked “nose to tail, like black insects,” she wrote in her 1940 book, The Three Weeks’ War in Poland…