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Published: 22:00 BST, 13 January 2017 | Updated: 01:52 BST, 14 January 2017
Femme fatal: Clare Hollingworth was a glamorous Thirties socialite
The men in the fields stared up, while I, remembering machine-guns, sheltered close to a hayrick. Three bombers slipped out of a cloudbank, high and leisurely. There was the familiar sound like doors slamming, the puff of shells wide of their mark and then the tremor of bombs . . .
With those words, my remarkable great-aunt reported the opening hostilities of World War II, as Hitler's forces invaded Poland on September 1, 1939.
Clare Hollingworth was not only the first female war correspondent to cover the global conflict, she was the first reporter on any newspaper to break the news of the German attack. She was 27 and had been a journalist for less than a week.
When I was growing up, many years later, great-aunt Clare was a legend in our family. Her tales of derring-do fascinated me. So when I discovered a battered trunk, plastered with shipping labels, gathering dust at the back of my parents' attic, of course, I was intrigued.
I prised it open and out spilled Clare's wartime campaign medals, passports scattered with Nazi stamps, Russian identity papers that had belonged, it transpired, to a Soviet spy, rolls of film, statements from a string of foreign bank accounts and torn photographs of former lovers.
Clare was not only the first female war correspondent to cover the global conflict, she was the first reporter on any newspaper to break the news of the German attack
In her later years, Clare rarely talked about her emotions and claimed never to have had a 'personal life'. She preferred to play up her passion for politics, diplomacy and the military.
But in her 20s, she had been the subject of much gossip — and my researches revealed that even 60 years later, a significant number of elderly women survived who had never forgiven Clare for leading their menfolk astray.
My great-aunt, it seems, left a trail of broken hearts in her wake.
As a young journalist, she knew how to catch a man's eye and how to flirt, and was ready to use her sex appeal to gain an advantage.
Pictures show her like a heavily styled femme fatale, with bobbed hair, eyes shadowed with dark mascara and painted rosebud lips.
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Clare always insisted she hated these photographs and grumbled that posing with a diamond ring and pearl necklace made her look 'like a jewellery advert'.
Born in 1911, she was the daughter of a well-off travelling shoe salesman from Leicester. One of her earliest memories was being taken, aged four, by her father to see the nearby bomb damage from a Zeppelin raid.
She went to a private prep school and then a girl's boarding school in Eastbourne, before moving to a grammar school near her home for a broader education: she was already serious about studying history and languages.
Aged 16, she won the school's prize for elocution. Eighty years later, she still always spoke as though she was making an important announcement on the BBC — clear, forceful projection, a piercing tone, rolled Rs and never a dropped syllable.
When she was just 23, she had a passionate affair with Vandeleur Robinson, a moustachioed, bespectacled intellectual ten years her senior. He was married, but his knowledge of foreign affairs fascinated Clare.
In her later years, Clare rarely talked about her emotions and claimed never to have had a 'personal life'
After Robinson's wife divorced him for infidelity, he and Clare moved into a Chelsea flat and became immersed in European politics.
They married and went to Prague, then to Katowice in Poland, where they spent the late Thirties helping more than 3,000 Jews to escape the Nazis. She worked with the British Consul General in Poland, John Thwaites, and had a brief affair with him.
Clare also helped those Austrians and Germans who had opposed Hitler and feared for their lives to cross the border disguised as peasants. She would supply them with vegetables, and sometimes a chicken or two, to make them look like poor farmers.
In Britain, newspapers began to call her the Scarlet Pimpernel, after the character in Baroness Orczy's novel who helped aristocrats flee the French Revolution.
She developed a telegram code, as she applied to London for emergency visas. 'Jewellery' meant a Jewish refugee, 'carpet' meant a Catholic. 'Pickles' were political activists: 'Eight small and 22 large mixed pickles' referred to the members of banned organisations and their children, whose lives were equally at risk.
Her sheer energy and enthusiasm for saving lives was her downfall. British security services feared Communists or even Nazi spies were being smuggled across the Channel on Clare's visas.
As a young journalist, she knew how to catch a man's eye and how to flirt, and was ready to use her sex appeal to gain an advantage
She was recalled to Britain, where she marched to Fleet Street and charmed her way into the editor's office at a national newspaper.
Dispatched as a freelance foreign correspondent to Berlin, she bought new luggage from Harrods and flew out on August 26, 1939 — landing just hours before Hermann Goering, head of the Luftwaffe, banned all civil flights in German airspace.
She and two fellow journalists were held at the airport by Nazi officials. 'After our bags, books and papers had been taken, we sat like three fowls on a perch, wondering whose necks would be wrung,' she reported.
She was released and, heading to Warsaw, joined her boss, Hugh Carleton Greene (later to become director-general of the BBC) at the Hotel Europejski.
In Warsaw, the mood was relaxed, but Clare was certain that Germany meant to invade.
The next day she returned to Katowice near the German border, persuading her Consul General former lover, John Thwaites, to let her stay in his spare room.
She crossed into Nazi territory in his diplomatic car, with the Union Flag fluttering on the bonnet. 'I must say the border guards were a bit surprised,' she said.
Clare stopped to stock up on German products such as electric torches, photographic film and wine, all difficult to find in Poland.
Then, driving alongside a valley, where a hessian screen had been pitched by the Nazis to hide the view, she got the greatest scoop of her news career.
'Suddenly there was a great gust of wind that blew the hessian sacking from its moorings,' she wrote. Looking down on the valley, she saw, 'scores if not hundreds of tanks'. This was the German invasion force.
Clare helped those Austrians and Germans who had opposed Hitler and feared for their lives to cross the border disguised as peasants
In Katowice, Thwaites did not believe her, until she produced the torches and wine that proved she had been in Germany.
She called her boss, Greene, and on Tuesday, August 29, after three days as a foreign correspondent, Clare got her first front page story. On September 1, she woke at 5am to the sound of anti-aircraft fire as the Polish defences struggled in vain to bring down the first waves of Luftwaffe bombers.
She phoned Greene again: he later described her call as the most dramatic moment of his life. Then she rang a diplomat friend at the British Embassy in Warsaw, Robin Hankey. He told her she was talking rubbish — Poland and Germany were still in negotiations.
Clare held the receiver out of the window so Hankey could hear the battle for himself.
Disbelief still gripped Katowice, with many Poles telling themselves this was an exercise. Then, at lunchtime, a huge blast rocked the streets. A German bomb had hit an ammunition truck at the station, causing colossal destruction.
Clare refused to admit she had retired and always denied having a pension
Clare said she 'felt that the war, which had been slow to start, like a car on a cold morning, was now beginning to run'.
As Clare and Thwaites sped out of the city, his car was spotted by a German fighter pilot, who dived and strafed them. They escaped, but a nightmarish journey to Warsaw followed — three days of dodging Germans and lying low.
By the time she reached the capital, Clare's boss Greene was long gone. She consoled herself by rescuing a bottle of champagne from his fridge.
For the next three weeks she lived rough in occupied Poland, often sleeping in a borrowed car with a handgun beside her, and filing reports when she could reach a phone. She was the only British journalist in the country.
Greene had retreated to Bucharest in neutral Romania, where he was living in high style and writing daily front page reports.
Facing certain arrest or worse if she stayed in Poland, Clare joined him — just days before the Soviet invasion from the East that sealed Poland's fate.
After a month of cheating death and rarely sleeping in the same place twice, she granted herself a few days off, 'lying soft' as she put it, at Bucharest's marble-and-gold Athenee Palace. Within a year, every intelligence service in Europe had agents at the Athenee. The city was crawling with spies. Clare frequented it, but kept a penthouse flat in the city centre.
Early one October morning, after a wave of arrests, two policeman, a soldier and a sinister plain-clothes man banged on the door of Clare's flat and demanded she accompany them to the prefecture of police, under suspicion of espionage.
She had no intention of going willingly. Having just stepped out of the bath and started to dress, she threw off all her clothes and announced to the visitors on the other side of the door that she could not possibly go with them naked.
Clare is surrounded by friends and admirers at her birthday party at Hong Kong's Foreign Correspondents' Club in October 2016
Clare later remarked: 'While it may be possible to undress a woman against her wishes, it is utterly and incontrovertibly beyond masculine ability to dress a woman against her wishes.' While the police tried to decide what to do, Clare secretly phoned the British Legation, and spoke to Robin Hankey, relocated from occupied Poland.
Arriving at the flat to insist the thugs leave Clare alone, he discovered her in a dressing gown and nothing else, sipping coffee.
During the next four years, she reported on the war all around the Mediterranean. She covered the Italian defeat in Greece, travelling by donkey and on foot. Though she was a woman alone, she said she never felt afraid: the men were never 'forward or unpleasant'.
She claimed 'shot and shell don't scare me'. The only time she felt in danger in Greece was when she produced a packet of cigarettes.
HER 'TWIN' KIM PHILBY AND THE LIE SHE NEVER FORGAVE
Clare Hollingworth knew the Cambridge spy ring traitors Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean in Paris, but it was their ringleader, Kim Philby, who was her close friend.
Kim Philby (pictured) was delighted to tell Clare Hollingworth they shared a birthday
When they met in the Thirties, Philby was delighted to tell her they shared a birthday and after that he always called her his 'twin'.
They socialised in the bars of the Normandy and St Georges hotels in Beirut, where Philby lived.
By the late Fifties, he was drinking himself unconscious, but Clare told friends she still found him 'very attractive'.
When he disappeared on a warm spring evening, Clare immediately discounted theories that he might have stumbled over a cliff.
She guessed he had defected — and realised for the first time that he had been tricking her for 25 years.
To her fury, her story for the Guardian, hinting heavily that Philby was the so-called Third Man in the Cambridge spy ring and that he had been spirited away to Russia, was not published for fear of a libel action if he reappeared.
Her greatest anger, however, was reserved for Philby, when she discovered that they were not 'twins' at all. He had lied to her about his birthday.
'They had not seen any for days. I could only throw them in the air and let them fight for them.'
But she was hardly chaste.
Though she and her husband, the intellectual Vandeleur Robinson — who was back in London, also working as a journalist and taking lovers — remained on friendly terms, divorce was inevitable.
She should never have married Van, she said after they finally parted in 1942 — a torrid romance would have been much more satisfactory.
Clare was always attracted to men in uniform — the higher their rank, the better. In Athens, she took a shine to Major-General Michael Gambier-Parry, former aide-de-camp to George VI, who was captured soon after in North Africa by the Italians.
And she spent two days in a deserted railway carriage travelling to Istanbul with Lord Glenconner, an eccentric British adventurer on a mission to buy up arms before they fell into German hands.
Still, she liked to brag that 'a good gin and tonic gives me more pleasure than any man'. She could be a tease in other ways.
In Cairo, intimately involved with journalist Christopher Buckley, she decided after a long lunch that she wanted to climb the Great Pyramid. Buckley, who was older than Clare, preferred to have a rest.
She hiked up and down on her own — then told him coquettishly she had left her notebook at the top: would he mind awfully retrieving it?
When Robin Hankey was sent in 1941 to the British Embassy in Tehran, she followed him there, where she landed another scoop — the first interview in a British paper with the new Shah of Iran.
When the monarch learned that Clare had been a friend in Egypt of his brother-in-law, King Farouk, he insisted she dine with him and bring him all the gossip from Cairo.
She reported on the build-up to the Battle of El Alamein — until General Montgomery banished her. 'I'll have no women correspondents with my army,' he raged. 'Get rid of her! She can't stay.'
And at the war's end, she was in Crete, where German forces were holding out despite their capitulation on the mainland.
Clare drove straight into the German HQ, confronted the senior officers and made them listen to the BBC German service, which was reporting the surrender. After that, they handed over their arms.
Clare was one of the first British journalists to be sent to Vietnam after the U.S started bombing the Communist Viet Cong
Europe was at peace, but there was war in Palestine, and by early 1946, Clare was in Jerusalem, reporting for the News Of The World and The Economist.
The atmosphere was so tense that a melee of crossfire could be set off by a car backfiring.
Life in the shadow of terrorism was more frightening than the battlefield, she said. 'You don't know when you're going to be shot at or when the building's going up in smoke.'
Her second marriage, to journalist Geoffrey Hoare — an expert bridge player, with more than a passing resemblance to Fred Astaire — might have seemed to tame her.
They married in 1951, after years of living together, and moved to Paris, where she helped to look after his teenage daughter and tended the garden, which was overgrown with weeds.
But a glance at a shopping list from the time reveals that Clare had lost none of her swashbuckling energy. To clear away the undergrowth, she decided she needed a flame-thrower, and ordered one from England. And when she discovered that her husband was having an affair with a newspaper colleague, Joan Harrison, she stormed into their offices and pulled a German Mauser pistol out of her handbag.
Brandishing it in her rival's face, Clare promised to kill Joan if she slept with Geoffrey again.
Though she was a stepmother, she never had children of her own. 'I would so greatly prefer the noise of the guns in Beirut to children,' she told a friend. 'Am I wicked?'
By the Sixties, she was back in war zones — first in Algiers, where she would frequent the casbah, a hotbed of terrorists that no other journalist dared enter.
When guerrillas burst into the Hotel Aletti and took Clare's colleague, John Wallis, hostage, she marched up to the gang leader and ordered him in bad French: 'Monsieur, if you do not release our colleague at once, I will have to hit you on the head with my shoe!'
Bemused, the terrorists promptly let him go.
Clare was one of the first British journalists to be sent to Vietnam after the U.S started bombing the Communist Viet Cong.
But she did not report the war from the comfort of an air- conditioned hotel. Instead, she boarded a U.S. helicopter and joined missions up the Mekong Delta to evacuate wounded troops or launch attacks on Viet Cong villages.
In the early Seventies, after her husband's death, she moved to China, becoming a foreign correspondent in Beijing. A decade later, she relocated to Hong Kong, and for the rest of her long life reported from there.
Clare refused to admit she had retired and always denied having a pension. Even approaching the age of 90, she would sleep on the kitchen floor once a month to keep herself tough — 'in case I have to go on assignment again'.
When Prime Minister Tony Blair flew into Hong Kong during the last days of British rule, Clare was one of the local worthies invited to his official reception. She recounted the event with glee the following day.
'He wanted me to come and discuss China with him when I'm next in London,' she said. 'That's very unlikely! I'm far too busy when I'm in London.'
Adapted from Of Fortunes And War by Patrick Garrett (Thistle Publishing, £12.99). To order a copy for £11.69 (10 per cent discount) until January 28, 2017, visit >mailbookshop.co.uk or call 0844 571 0640. P&P free on orders over £15.
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Source : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4118222/You-t-arrest-m-naked-pioneering-war-correspondent-Clare-Hollingworth-report-Germany-s-invasion-Poland-told-police-accused-spying.html