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DANGER MAKES THE BEST STORIES

  • Written by  Margaret Miller Curtis
DANGER MAKES THE BEST STORIES

Newspapers serve as a kind of glue that helps hold communities together, whether it is a small community or the larger community of a world of nations. My mother, once a newspaper writer in Marianna, was born in 19ll, the same year that Clare Hollingsworth, the first woman war correspondent, was born in Leicester, England. Neither of their fathers would have imagined that their daughters would someday report news, because only men did that in either country at that time.    

Clare’s father, a wealthy man, expected her to grow up and marry someone within their own social group. He failed to realize he had already put other dreams into his daughter’s head when he took her along on his tours of various battle grounds. He made the trips interesting by explaining what had happened where and why. He pointed out the battle lines that were drawn, as well as the mistakes that led to defeat, or the actions that brought victory. He made war stories sound like a lot more interesting than the stories she read in books for children      

He insisted she attend a Domestic Science college, which she heartily detested. Adventure attracted her far more than did romance, and she did not want children, because she knew having children would interfere with the kind of life she wanted. Instead, she accepted a job as a secretary with the League of Nations in Worchester, where she was drawn into political circles, and even encouraged to run for Parliament. 

Again, she mapped out her own path, and traveled to Warsaw to help Czech refugees. In 1939, she helped thousands of Jews and other minority groups escape from Nazi Germany by arranging British visas for them. Her reports of those experiences led to a job in London with the Daily Telegraph, which in turn, sent her to Poland. At age 27, she was a tiny woman, only 5’ l” but a monument in spirit. Looking for a story, she decided to make herself a spy.

 Equipped with wine, flash-lights, film and a borrowed a car, she drove to the Polish/German border to see what was going on. As she drove along a hillside, she saw a wall made of tarpaulin erected on the German side of the road, obviously meant to hide what was in the valley below. As luck would have it, wind blew away a piece of the tarpaulin and she shot a photo of an enormous build-up of military machines, lined up, battle-ready on the border facing Poland.     

At first, the staff of the Daily Telegraph did not believe her when she phoned them about the build-up, so she held the phone receiver out of her hotel window, so they could hear the noise of tanks and troops as they rolled past in the street below. When her story was printed, it was the scoop of the year, and she became the first female war correspondent in the world. Even though many other women followed her lead, she was always considered the best. She reported with a woman’s eyes, remarking on details men might consider unimportant, like the stink of garbage in the streets of Jerusalem or a woman crying alone on a deserted street.

She was known as a ferociously hard worker, and was once overheard to say, “When I’m on a story, I’m on a story. To heck with anything else, husband, family, friends, or anyone.  I won’t rest until I get to the bottom of it.” 

She said she was neither brave nor naïve. She was simply curious, and if she had a typewriter and toothpaste, she was willing to go anywhere. She earned a pilot’s license and learned to parachute jump. She said, “I can do anything a man can do, including using a man’s loo and sleeping on the floor.”

When she married Geoffrey Hoare, another journalist, they were only a short distance away from the King David hotel, where they were staying, when it was blown up, killing 91 people. She lost all her possessions, as well as a place in her mother’s will. Her mother complained that she would not leave her money to a daughter irresponsible enough to stay in a hotel that would be blown up. 

During the war, she met General Montgomery, but disliked him as he opposed giving formal accreditation and recognition to women correspondents. She met General Dwight (Ike) Eisenhower in Algeria while writing for the Chicago Party News. For that paper, she also reported from Palestine, Iraq and Persia. She was the first war correspondent to interview the Shah of Iran. She also covered the outbreak of hostilities between Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem after Britain relinquished control of Israel.

During the Cold War, she reported on the defection of Kim Philby, a journalist, who she saw boarding a Soviet ship in 1963. Fearing a libel suit, the Daily Express refused to print her story, making her furious, because the Guardian, a competing newspaper got the scoop instead.

In 1967, the Daily Telegraph sent her to cover the Vietnam war, which she correctly predicted would end in a stalemate. She became friendly with the natives there, who gave her a more accurate report of what was happening than could be obtained from government sources.

In 1989, she reported the Tiananmen Square protests from the balcony of her hotel room, which overlooked the square.

When working in Algiers for the London England Standard newspaper, she met Tom Pocock, who became her biographer. He wrote, “I remember one time when we were going up to the front line in an Indian Army jeep, we had to get over a bridge that was being shelled by the Pakistanis. Every twenty seconds, there were big shells exploding by the bridge.”

An Indian army officer said, “Let’s wait for one, and then make a dash for it.”

I said,” Oh my goodness! Let’s keep our fingers crossed,” but Clare turned around, her eyes shining like a young girl’s at a dance, and said, “Now, this is what makes life worth living.” She was absolutely thrilled to bits.”

Living a rugged, dangerous life and calling no place home seemed to suit her, and certainly did not appear to affect her health. My mother died at the age of 87 in Marianna.  At the age of 105, Clare died in her apartment in Hong Kong.

 

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