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Of Fortunes and War: Clare Hollingworth, first of the female war correspondents Paperback – 10 May 2016
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About the Author
Patrick Garrett was born in Britain but has spent most of his working life abroad. His career in television news included work the BBC, CBS & NBC. Having been inspired to travel by his aunt Clare, journalism took him to warzones and troublespots in the Caucasus, Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia.
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Living history has always interested me, and Clare is certainly that. From wars, terrorism, spies and pillow liaisons, Clare has had an eventful life - and that is an understatement. I thoroughly recommend Of Fortunes and War, whether you have heard of Clare or not. Everyone has their own story to tell - and Garrett has told Clare's in an honest and VERY interesting way. Enjoy!
From her "scoop of the century" - the outbreak of the second world war - to the handover of Hong Kong, with numerous and turbulent points in between, hers has been quite a career.
This is an entertaining, informative and sensitively told biography of a remarkable woman described as “first of the female war correspondents”, and a role model for many. She was indeed a pioneer, although as Garrett makes clear, she wouldn’t necessarily be flattered by that, since she preferred to be judged by her abilities as a fearless reporter, first to the story, and not by her gender.
The author shares Hollingworth's tenacity, undertaking his own journey of discovery, revisiting many of her old haunts and contacts, piecing together her story at a time when Clare’s memory was not as sharp and she retained an old hack’s reluctance to divulge sources - even to her great nephew!
Her heyday was he time of “gumshoe journalism”, and as a fellow journalist it is a joy to be immersed in that world, when reporting depended so much more on hard graft and instinct, often with more than a little skulduggery, and frequently revolving around the local watering hole. Only towards the end of her career did she acquire a computer, wanting to be connected, though Garrett describes how it mostly sat unused in her small Hong Kong apartment.
Media and journalism have been revolutionized since her day, though many of the fundamentals remain the same - particularly in trying to distinguish truth from misinformation in conflict zones. Reading this book did leave me wondering what she would have made of today's world of social media and instant news, and asking myself whether for all the noise and spin, we are necessarily much better informed than when she was jumping from one conflict to another, methodically working her sources?
Though I do like to think that Clare’s instinct for a story and determination to be the first, so well told by Garrett, remain the driving force of modern journalism.
Clare is now 104 and still alive, still living in Hong Kong. It is a sad postscript to such a distinguished career that she now survives on charity, Garrett describing how she became a victim of an apparent con-artist who cleaned out much of her savings, and has never been properly brought to book.
The first female rookie to announce the outbreak of the Second World War in August 1939 even before some of the Polish authorities knew; a wordsmith of the desert war, of Suez, of one of many conflicts in 1965 between India and Pakistan (later Bangladesh in 1971) where the battle sounded like a game of rugger at a public school, the Indians knowing their adversaries personally from pre partition days and calling them with their old endearing nicknames; Malaysia – described as a useful preview of the tactics the US forces with helicopters would be exploring in Vietnam; Algeria, Aden, the Six Day War, two turns of Vietnam, first in 1965 and later during bloody 1968 at the end of the Tet offensive, where despite all the firepower available, the “military initiative remained firmly in the hands of the Vietcong”, and the “hearts and minds” campaign was lost; an expert on defence; present in China (and in the comfort of Hong Kong “keyhole watching”) during the Cultural Revolution until 1976, when the Chinese “walled the foreigners out”, successfully corralling all into “an expatriate bubble”, trying to decode any vague party information which by the next day could become treason; of spy scoops on Burgess, Maclean and Philby – the last two she knew them and their wives very well; even about business: a woman whose call and complete passion to duty during her entire life was almost as disciplined as a commando, to fly off for the next big story around the globe, rather than staying home taking care of a family. Garrett admits perhaps her sole fear or paranoia in life, was missing out on a news event.
Hollingworth, or Clare as the biographer continually refers to her, encountered the majority of those who had to be known, missing some stories, but she was living legend of the twentieth century. Though no spring chicken demanding to be kept abreast of satellite technology in her trade, she never forgot her initial footwork, the importance of the Arab saying of “smelling the breezes”, of being on location, making new and pursuing past trusted acquaintances, and producing something extra, perhaps initially absurd – which was bound to make some editors and politicians to howl with irritation about that batty aging woman again.
Occasionally she was very wrong: she predicted in her book The Arabs and the West The Arabs and the West–which received favourable reviews, that King Farouk of Egypt would be deposed in a communist uprising, but sometimes her to the point conclusions were acceptably correct – the most revealing was light years before its time, like Old Moore, predicting the present hegemonic power of Putin’s Russia long before the break up of the Soviet empire. Equally historically relevant today, despite missing the Iranian revolution in January 1979, she secured perhaps the last interview with the Shah now in exile, after the first together with his first spouse, Princess Fawizia, sister of Farouk, in 1941, blaming his courtiers for not daring to keep the monarch fully aware of the growing opposition, and looking ahead to Khomeini in power, demanding strict Islamic law, and speculating how liberal, emancipated Iranians, particularly young girls, would eventually come to reflect on the changes in their country.
In reply to the volume’s subtitle the “first of the female correspondents” the biographer might stress the comment sounds frightfully attractive, but sadly inaccurate: that first gong goes to Sarah Wilson for the Daily Mail reporting from Mafeking, in 1900, during the Boer War; indeed, today’s great role model Kate Adie (whose past favourite is Martha Gellhorn) was closer to the mark when presenting her as a “pioneer”; more correct as Garrrett stresses great aunt Clare was a rare specimen for her time, and in her family.
He does present her life in a more complete manner. Tales of her two marriages to Vandeleur Robinson and much later to Geoffrey Hoare of the Times, an early broken engagement, as well as her male friends are revealed - which Clare abstained from describing in her autobiography. I suspect she refused this because she was writing a book of her professional life, and anything personal was private; besides for a person of that generation, her private life was separate and distinct from her work, and was not what she expected the public should have a right to know. While understanding her elderly relative, Garrett shows that as fully committed to her work, her personal life was always intermixed with her profession, and it was absurd not to speak of the former, as silence is bound to incite rumours and falsehoods.
Clare had many male friends – in wartime she lived in the desert with Alan Moorehead and Alex Clifford of the Daily Express and Mail respectively, and as well as her two husbands, Christopher Buckley of the Telegraph, and her editors, her passion to be at the heart of the news, her refusal to be held back or to get her piece to London by any means, made her so alluring to all. They loved her and being with her so much even to assist her round off her finished written reports, something she was better at explaining in the bar between professionals.
More interesting was her relationship with her female colleagues. To those clad in Chanel or in “pale beige silk and trimmings” who idly worked as a hobby she sniped and had no time, while to her professional rivals: Eve Curie – daughter of Pierre and Marie Curie of Nobel Prize fame, the US Clare Boothe Lucie, Virginia Cowles, Martha Gellhorn – wife of Hemingway, and the fearless redhead Morley Lister for Time, there existed respect and admiration, but real dogged competitive rivalry, and the inevitable bitchiness, like sows eager to gain as much kudos from the same limited trough space -but in the case of Lister there was the addition personal friction for a mutual lover.
Among the greats she had little much to like for the slightly younger Margaret Thatcher, who was unable to listen but hector and shout Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography, Volume One: Not For Turning, or the future US President George Bush, but of all the people she had more than a passing liking for Premier Edward Heath. She, unlike Thatcher who sensed he was a repressed homosexual, understood as his recent biographer failed to put over that he treated everyone – men and women alike, and Clare admired him for this honest equality, never offended for not being treated as a woman.Edward Heath: A Singular Life She also understood his angry sense of humour, and was able to reply in kind – which surprisingly Sailor Ted chuckled for realising that here was a very different woman. This makes both fellow individuals of the same generation quite complex and difficult to pigeonhole.
If it took over sixty years for Nicholas Winton to receive his due as the “British Schindler”, as member of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia (BCRC), this honour never came to Clare, another member based over the border in Poland. Was this because she was a woman, or as Garrett brings further light that since journalism was often the main cover story for the secret services – one of the institutions which Hitler regularly attacked (as well as the BBC, and the Salvation Army!), it suited the authorities to keep silent. It was hinted, for instance, by Yvonne Kapp, a member of the British CP, that Clare had worked for MI6, though both MI5 and MI6 were required to investigate why of those foreigners seeking exile she was giving greater priority to Communists. Because she was a Communist? There is a coincidence that she knew Kim Philby socially and was charmed by him since the 1930s, though there is no proof that either worked together, nor she had joined, or was associated officially with King’s Street. So did Kapp spread the story of Clare’s work with MI6 because she wished to misinform or redirect any accusations away from Communists?
When Yugoslavia split in 1990s several professional journalists showed anger with younger hacks who wanted to do more than help with humane and medical help, but to take up the gun. During the Second World War Clare’s her great nephew discovered she worked more than as a journalist in the Balkans. Besides penning articles, she moved in and out of states illegally which she had been expelled; she provided “discreet intelligence” -information of enemy movements and sketches of German insignia, and equipment; and took part in sabotage activities similar to those of the SOE.
Furthermore, to the irritation of British diplomats, such as the “Dobbie” Dobsons (based on Andrew Watson) in Olivia Manning’s Fortunes of War in London Fortunes Of War (Three Discs) [DVD] Cairo in the War: 1939-45, pseudo-appeasers or “sticks in the mud” she offered realistic reports about what was really occurring – showing that Bulgaria in 1941 was fast moving towards an alliance with the Axis, and as her details and suggestions were so often spot on, it became embarrassing to have her silenced. So did she get a kick out of doing more than writing, or was she also using a cover story for other purposes?
If after 60 years Garrett has unearthed certain “secret” answers about the BCRC, he suggests Clare could have been used; and then says the archives of the Kremlin, of former Communist East European countries (even of China) might reveal more what they knew or imagined about her. It might, however, be best for those countries to let sleeping dogs lie, as it might open up further questions of the post-war past when innocent Communists – the Slanskys in Czechoslovakia, were ordered by Moscow to be framed in show-trials for the simple charge of having exchanged greetings with foreigners.
Patrick Garrett’s labour of love product about Clare is brilliant. An excellent history for professional journalists, a necessary analysis for students of Twentieth century history, and for young women wishing to follow her example in journalism. But oh dear, on the down side besides no photos, the book lacks a bibliography, or an index which is essential for anyone other than a general reader wishing a regular fix of excitement.
Clare Hollingworth’s life showed that normal things may occasionally not seem as normal as they may appear. If one cannot always watch your back, Clare demonstrated it is safe to be “fearless”, and “stupid” when one is young, living one’s life to the full. She could not be a mother at home, because her family was everywhere she was needed.
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