Back in the field in August of that year, she borrowed a car from an ex-boyfriend in the British Foreign Service, surmising that the Union Jack on the vehicle would get her into Germany without trouble. She was right.
“The border guard was a bit surprised when they saw the Union flag flying on the car, but they let me in,” she told the Telegraph in 2011. “I stopped to buy aspirin and white wine and things you couldn’t get inside Poland. And then I was driving back along a valley and there was a hessian screen up so you couldn’t look down into the valley. Suddenly, there was a great gust of wind which blew the sacking from its moorings, and I looked into the valley and saw scores, if not hundreds, of tanks.”
She drove back to Poland and told her ex-boyfriend. He wired the government in London. Hollingworth, meanwhile, filed her dispatch to the Telegraph reporting Hitler’s invasion of Poland—breaking the news of the start of World War II. She was 27 years old and had been a working reporter for three days.
The story, which ran without a byline under the heading “From our own correspondent,” according to the newspaper custom of the day, is often described in the British press as “the scoop of the century.”
It would prove to be more than beginner’s luck. Hollingworth, who died Tuesday in Hong Kong at the age of 105, went on to rack up plenty of other journalistic exploits over the course of a long career. In 1942, Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery barred female reporters from the front lines in Egypt, so Hollingworth got a credential from an American magazine, Time, so she could continue reporting. (Hollingworth didn’t have much regard for Clare Booth Luce, a journalist who married Time founder Henry Luce, nor for Martha Gellhorn, the swashbuckling war correspondent who was for a time married to Ernest Hemingway, regarding them both as prissy elitists, according to The Washington Post.)
In 1946, Hollingworth and her husband, a Times of London Middle East reporter, were 300 yards away when members if the Irgun, an Israeli right-wing paramilitary group, bombed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, which was the offices of the British Mandatory government in Palestine, killing 91.
In the 1950s, Hollingworth reported on the Algerian war of independence. She was present there in 1962, when Algerian fighters burst into an Algiers hotel to kidnap an Italian journalist. Finding him absent, they attempted to abscond with British reporter John Wallis instead, likely to execute him. Hollingworth—who stood a mighty 5-foot-3—promptly led a charge to take him back.
“Clare turned like Joan of Arc to the rest of us standing with our hands up—‘Come on!’ she said, ‘We're going, too! They won't shoot all the world's press!’” recalled journalist Tom Pocock. “So we all marched out and started climbing into the jeeps.” Wallis was let go.