Badass is a label that is thrown around a lot these days.
I am guilty of it myself: badass woman embraces her flaws, badass woman shuts down the trolls, badass woman braves the cold. But there are some women truly deserving of that epithet.
British journalist Clare Hollingworth, who died this week aged 105, was one of them.
The peace-activist-turned-war-correspondent was most well-known for breaking the news of one of the most world-altering events of the 20th century: Hitler’s imminent invasion of Poland, i.e. the outbreak of World War II.
Having been hired as a correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph only a few days earlier, the 27-year-old Hollingworth did what any fierce, fearless female would do: she called her ex-lover (who just happened to be the British consul-general in Katowice, Poland), asked to borrow his car, and drove from Poland into Germany, using the Union Jack on the hood to get across the restricted border.
Her ex thought she had been joking about going to Germany, she told the Telegraph decades later, right up until when she got back.
“So I said to him, 'May I borrow your car?’ And he said, 'Where do you want to go, old girl?’ and I said, 'I want to go into Germany’. And he said, 'Aren’t you a funny old girl. Of course you can borrow my car’... So when I got back I said, ‘Thank you for lending me your car.’ And he said, ‘Where did you go, old girl?’ So I said, ‘I went into Germany.’ He said, ‘Stop being funny.’ And I said, ‘What’s more, I got a very good story: The tanks are already lined up for invasion of Poland.’ He went upstairs and sent a top secret message to the Foreign Office.”
The next day’s Telegraph front page read:
1000 TANKS MASSED ON POLISH FRONTIER.
TEN DIVISIONS REPORTED READY FOR SWIFT STROKE.
FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT.
Three days later the Germans invaded.
Hollingworth spent the next five decades covering wars zones, from world wars to civil wars, from Africa to Asia to the Middle East. She denied being brave; she just wasn’t frightened, she said. The woman lived for adrenalin and adventure, marching with troops, traveling to rebel hideouts, and learning to fly planes and parachute. She was described by journalist Geoffrey Taylor as “literally marching toward the sound of gunfire and regularly walking alone through the casbah,” and was reported to have rallied her fellow foreign correspondents to successfully fight for the release of a kidnapped journalist in Algiers in 1962. B-A-D-A-S-S.
She found herself in many harsh environments and near-death situations, but the girl was tough as nails. “Many male correspondents got themselves sent back to Cairo because they could not take it,” she wrote of the North African desert campaign in her 1990 book Front Lines.
Of course, working in the period that she did, Hollingworth received a great deal of pushback because of her gender. The Washington Post writes:
“During the North African desert campaign in World War II, British commander Bernard Montgomery (“something of a women-hater,” she later wrote) expelled Ms. Hollingworth from his press contingent, saying that women did not belong on the front lines. She then embedded with American troops under Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s command in Algiers.”
She also faced pushback from her proper English family. Prior to becoming a journalist, she attended domestic science school in Leicester, which she hated, and was in an engagement to a "suitable" young man, which she broke off.
She spent the last decades of her very long, very full life living in Hong Kong, where she periodically slept on the floor, just to keep from going soft. Even five years ago, in an interview celebrating her 100th birthday, Hollingworth told the Telegraph she was ready to go should the foreign desk call. And, badass that she was, she would want it to be risky.
“I should look through the papers and say, 'Where’s the most dangerous place to go’, because it always makes a good story.”
All images via the @CelebrateClare Twitter account
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