Woman who told the world WWII had started dead at 105

Veteran British war correspondent Clare Hollingworth attended the celebration to mark her 105th birthday at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club (FCC) in Hong Kong on October 10, 2016.
Photo: ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images.

Clare Hollingworth has died at 105, and there’s a fair chance you have no idea who she is. But it’s a pretty neat thing to have in your obit that you’re the one who told the world that World War II had started.

It was she who spotted German forces amassed on the Polish border while travelling from Poland to Germany in 1939, the BBC says.

She was all guts and war was her business. She covered war in Vietnam, Algeria, and the Middle East.

“If you put me in a rickety lift, I’d be terrified. It’s just that I don’t feel frightened under machine-gun fire. The excitement of the job overcomes it,” she said about the life as a war correspondent.

She also broke — or at least tried to break — the story of British spy Kim Philby, the BBC says. He was a high ranking member of British intelligence who was providing secret information to the Soviets. But her paper wouldn’t run her story.

BBC Hong Kong correspondent Juliana Liu wrote a tribute today:

She had her own corner table at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, where she had visited daily. And until just a few years ago, according to club lore, she had her passport and bag packed, ready to go for the next breaking news story.

She was an inspiration to all, but was especially inspiring to the growing cadre of women correspondents. In her long, distinguished career she paved the way for us. She proved that being female was no obstacle.

Clare was larger than life. But what I will always remember is her zest for life. At her 105th birthday party in October, we – her friends, family and colleagues – toasted her with champagne.

When offered her own glass, she relished it with as much enthusiasm as she lived her very full and trail-blazing life.

In a tremendous obituary today, The Guardian notes that she’d hoped to be asked to cover the first Gulf War. She was 79 then.

In its obituary, the New York Times seems not only to be noting the passing of a journalist, but also a type of journalist.

Ms. Hollingworth was never so happy, she often said, as when she was roaming the world equipped with little more than a toothbrush, a typewriter and, if need be, a revolver. Embedded long before the term was applied to journalists, she slept in trucks and in trenches, at times buried up to her neck in sand for warmth on cold desert nights. She once held off an armed Algerian policeman by threatening to hit him about the head with a shoe.

Had her eyesight not begun to fail some 20 years ago, it was a life, Ms. Hollingworth made clear, that she would gladly have continued to the end of her days.

“I must admit that I enjoy being in a war,” she told The Telegraph in 2011, on the eve of her 100th birthday.

In 1989, though nearly 80 and nominally retired, Ms. Hollingworth, attired in a safari suit, her working uniform of choice for 60 years, was spotted in Tiananmen Square shinnying up a lamppost for a bird’s-eye view of the government’s violent crackdown against civilian protesters.

She periodically slept on the floor of her home in Hong Kong well into her 90s, just to keep from going soft.

Before becoming a reporter, she helped rescue people in the path of Hitler’s forces by arranging British visas for them.

That’s not a bad item item for an obituary, either.