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The year was 1965. India and Pakistan were embroiled in a full-scale military struggle over the disputed territory of Kashmir. The issue was sensitive for both governments and all efforts were made to disseminate news in a way that would not erupt into an unnecessary wildfire. In India, then Minister of Information and Broadcasting Indira Gandhi made sure no reporters were allowed into the war zone.
In this atmosphere of hushed military developments, a 54-year-old female British war journalist managed to convince Gandhi to be given direct access to the war-torn area of Jammu and Kashmir. Clare Hollingworth, the journalist who barged into the territory that had been kept off bounds for reporters, had made a name for herself in Europe some 20 years ago when she broke news of what, in retrospect, is perhaps the biggest occurrence of the twentieth century — the Second World War.
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“The Indians are short of radar, and by day Pakistani F-104 supersonic fighters can, and do, make reconnaissance flights with little fear of being hit,” she reported fearlessly from the battlefront. According to a report, in one instance during the war coverage, as she crossed a bridge under shell fire along with her male colleagues, she is said to have exclaimed: “This is what makes life worth living”.
Hollingworth’s stint at the India-Pakistan war was just one among several of her noteworthy coverages of battlefields across the globe including that in Greece, Algeria, Palestine, Vietnam, China and the Middle East. She started off as a journalist for the Daily Telegraph and then in the course of her professional life wrote for The Guardian, the Herald Tribune and the Wall Street Journal. She was the first journalist to have interviewed the Shah of Iran and reportedly the last one to do so.
However, what etched Hollingworth’s name in the hall of journalistic fame was when she broke news of the start of World War II. Hollingworth was in her twenties then and was just about a week into her first job at the British newspaper, the Daily Telegraph. She was on her way from Germany to Poland when she happened to notice German troops readying up for their military incursion into Poland. She immediately reported to her editor and her article was out the following day, reporting the start of the historic war of the 20th century that tore apart Europe.
A reporter with a passion for the most dangerous stories, she had once told the Daily Telegraph in an interview: “I must admit I enjoy being in a war”. Her love for journalism superimposed everything else as she rebelled against her family to join a profession that was considered “a frightfully low trade” by her mother. Neither did her job make marriage easy to her as her first husband divorced her for desertion. Added to the tough personal life were the occasional arrests and accusations being made of being a government spy. None of these stopped her from leading the life of a globetrotter, striving hard to get access to those nooks and corners made particularly difficult for journalists to reach.
Hollingworth passed away on January 10 having lived a daring, adventurous life of 105 years. As the Daily Telegraph had reported on her birth centenary, “Hollingworth should be dead, a dozen times. She has braved the battlefield more often than most veterans, gone alone into enemy territory and evaded arrest by fascist henchmen.” Yet such was the passion for journalism, that she continued reporting well into her 80s and would have gladly liked to end life in the same capacity.