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Culture Re-View: The female journalist who first broke the start of WWII

Clare Hollingworth
Clare Hollingworth Copyright Clare Hollingworth Collection
Copyright Clare Hollingworth Collection
By Jonny Walfisz
Published on Updated
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1 September 1939: The Scoop of the Century

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As you may know, the 1st of September is widely considered the day the Second World War began. After annexing Austria and invading the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia, Adolf Hitler ordered German troops to mobilise on the Polish border. On this day in 1939, Germany invaded Poland. World War II had begun.

This isn’t an article about how the war started though. For today’s Culture Re-View, instead we’re focusing on the journalist who got in there first. How one plucky English reporter got the information out before anyone else that the Nazis were advancing into Poland to get the “scoop of the century.”

Clare Hollingworth was born in 1911 in Leicester. As a child, she spent the First World War on a farm in the Leicester countryside. Afterwards, her father took her on trips to see historic battle sites in England and France, encouraging her interest in warfare.

She studied Croatian at Zagreb University through a scholarship at the London-based UCL. She began her writing career working for the New Statesman before receiving a position at the Daily Telegraph in August 1939. Despite her junior level, Hollingworth was sent to Poland in her first week.

In Katowice, Hollingworth convinced the British Consul-General John Anthony Thwaites to lend her a car. She directed the chauffeur to drive her over the border on 28 August. There, behind a hessian screen, she discovered the massive build-up of German troops attempting to evade detection.

AP/AP
The German Army rolls its cavalry into Poland, Sept. 3, 1939.AP/AP

Reporting her findings back to the Telegraph, the newspaper ran with the headline: “1,000 Tanks Massed on Polish Frontier”.

With this story, Hollingworth became the first journalist to break the story of Germany’s imminent invasion. Four days later, German forces entered Poland. Hollingworth was the first person to report on the invasion, phoning the British Embassy in Warsaw. To convince the embassy officials, she pointed her phone out of the window to capture the sounds of the soldiers and tanks advancing.

Thanks to her phone call and subsequent article for the Telegraph, Hollingworth was the first to officially report the beginning of World War II. The United Kingdom issued an ultimatum to Hitler to cease the operation. When the UK had received no response by 3 September, Britain and France declared war on Germany.

Kin Cheung/Copyright 2016 The AP. All rights reserved.
A guest displays a newspaper copy with Clare Hollingworth, at her 105th birthday partyKin Cheung/Copyright 2016 The AP. All rights reserved.

Hollingworth continued to report on the war from Poland for a while before going to Romania to report on King Carol II's abdication. Over the war, she reported from Egypt and Algeria as well. After the war, she continued to report from the scene of climatic historic moments including the King David Hotel bombing in Jerusalem, the Algerian War and the Vietnam War.

On 10 January 2017, Hollingworth died aged 105 at her home in Hong Kong.

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