From a single gust of wind, Clare Hollingworth reaped the journalistic scoop of the century.
Ms. Hollingworth, the undisputed doyenne of war correspondents, who died on Tuesday in Hong Kong at 105, was less than a week into her first job, as a reporter for the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, on that windy day in 1939.
Driving alone on the road from Gleiwitz, then in Germany, to Katowice, in Poland — a distance of less than 20 miles — she watched as the wind lifted a piece of the tarpaulin that had been erected on the German side to screen the valley below from view.
Through the opening, Ms. Hollingworth saw, she later wrote, “large numbers of troops, literally hundreds of tanks, armored cars and field guns” concealed in the valley.
She knew then that Germany was poised for a major military incursion. Hastening back across the border to the Polish side, she telephoned her editor with the news, a world exclusive.
The date was Aug. 28, 1939, and her article, published the next day, would become, as the British paper The Guardian wrote in 2015, “probably the greatest scoop of modern times.”
On Sept. 1, Hitler’s forces invaded Poland, marking the start of World War II.
For the next four decades, Ms. Hollingworth (who over the years contributed articles to The Telegraph, The Guardian, The International Herald Tribune and The Wall Street Journal) covered World War II from Eastern Europe, the Balkans and North Africa; the Greek and Algerian civil wars; hostilities between Arabs and Jews in the waning days of the British mandate in Palestine; and the Vietnam War, among other conflicts.
Often under fire, occasionally arrested and possessed of such a keen nose for covert information that from time to time she was accused of being a spy — both by local governments and by the British — Ms. Hollingworth was friend, or foe, to seemingly everyone in a position of power in the world at midcentury.
She obtained the first interview with Mohammed Reza Pahlavi after he became the shah of Iran in 1941, and what was very likely among the last, after he was deposed by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979.
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SOURCE: NY Times, Margalit Fox