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Tributes paid to journalist who revealed start of World War Two, Clare Hollingworth, as she turns 104

By Dominic Ponsford

The journalist who broke news of Germany’s invasion of Poland turns 104 tomorrow.

Leading journalists have come together to pay tribute to Clare Hollingworth and to remember her impressive career as part of a project led by PR company Burson-Marsteller. It also seeking to promote a biography of Hollingworth written by her great-nephew, former BBC journalists Patrick Garrett, called Of Fortunes and War.

Hollingworth was working as a freelance stringer for the Daily Telegraph in Poland when she revealed first that tanks were massing in Germany and then broke news of the invasion itself.

Journalists Sarah Sands, John Simpson, Alex Crawford, Christiane Amanpour and John Humphrys are among those who have paid tribute to her on the eve of her birthday.

Evening Standard editor Sarah Sands:

Clare is an inspiration to all journalists but particularly to women. She was charismatic and daring and we all wanted to be her.”

Radio 4 Today presenter John Humphrys:

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It was one of my first assignments and I’d been sent to East Pakistan. I’d never met her before. She was certainly scary. She didn’t suffer fools gladly. She didn’t show any sympathy to my 20-year-old naivety.

We were waiting for something to happen and she just vanished. Wherever the front line was, she’d be on it.

There was a certain amount of jealousy as she came back with a story that we all wished we had. She used to have contacts everywhere, from generals to prime ministers.

She was regarded by everyone as the most formidable foreign correspondent around, not just of women but out of everyone.”

Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore:

Clare Hollingworth was one of the greatest reporters of the 20th century, and famously scooped the competition by reporting the German invasion of Poland in 1939 before anyone else did, for the Daily Telegraph.

When I became editor of the Sunday Telegraph in 1992, Clare was still writing for us, covering China from Hong Kong, and I often had cause to draw on her wisdom and knowledge. She is a legend in journalism and was a trailblazer for women reporters.”

BBC foreign correspondent John Simpson:

Clare made an extraordinary impact in journalism. Who did the first interview with the Shah of Iran? Clare Hollingworth. Who did the last interview all those years, 30 or 40 years later, after he fell?  Clare Hollingworth. And she was the only person he wanted to speak to. And that’s really the measure of the woman.”

CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour:

Many of us who have come afterwards, and the generations afterwards, look back and are proud to remember that it is not us pioneering. It’s them. It’s Clare and that band of women who really did it for us.”

Sky News special correspondent Alex Crawford:

She was the standard bearer of reporting at an age when it just was not usual, was not normal, to be female in a hostile environment, and she did it with complete panache and skill and success. She is exactly what every female war correspondent wants to be aspires to be like.”

Burson-Marsteller is urging people to use the Twitter hashtag  #CelebrateClare and has also produced this video:

Extracts from Of Fortunes and War

Gleiwitz is also Polish again, and is today called Gliwice, but in August 1939, when Clare passed through, it was a hive of distinctly German activity.

‘Driving alongside a valley, where a hessian screen that blocked the view had been pitched alongside the road, ‘suddenly there was a great gust of wind which blew the hessian sacking from its moorings.’ Clare looked down into the valley and saw for the first time ‘scores, if not hundreds of tanks.’ Before her were arrayed the forces of von Rundstedt’s Army Group South, supported by Reichenau’s 10th Army.

‘1,000 tanks massed on Polish border, Ten divisions reported ready for swift stroke,’ shouted the headline. Predicting the outbreak of the Second World War was still ‘not bad’ for someone only three days into their first journalism job.


Not only was the Telegraph the first paper to know that Poland was at war, but it was also in the odd position of informing the Polish Government.

Clare called her friend Robin Hankey, the Second Secretary of the British Embassy in Warsaw. ‘Rrrrobin,’ she began. ‘The war’s begun!’ Hankey told her that she was talking rubbish as the two governments were still negotiating. So she held the phone out of the window so that Hankey could hear the sound of battle for himself.


Clare played an important part in rescuing around three thousand people from under the very noses of the Nazis.

Hidden at the bottom of Clare’s old trunk, a document written in German gave the first real clue about this dramatic period in spring 1939 Packed in an old school-issue foolscap cardboard folder was a beautifully crafted appreciation certificate, which stated that it was being presented as a gesture of gratitude by refugees to whom Clare had rendered aid in the Polish city of Katowice.

In Katowice, Clare was arranging for prominent, high-risk individuals to be smuggled across the border without the Germans’ knowledge. Clare helped to make arrangements for some to be disguised as peasants. Clare was later dubbed ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ by various British newspapers who reported on her skills smuggling out the very people the Gestapo were hunting.

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