A Few Outstanding Women War Correspondents: Background information when reading I Was Told to Come Alone

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I Was Told to Come Alone

My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad

by Souad Mekhennet

I Was Told to Come Alone by Souad Mekhennet X
I Was Told to Come Alone by Souad Mekhennet
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2017, 368 pages

    Jun 2018, 368 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

A Few Outstanding Women War Correspondents

This article relates to I Was Told to Come Alone

Print Review

Souad Mekhennet is one of many women journalists who have entered dangerous situations to try to inform the world about conditions in a war zone. A few of the most influential and best-known, now deceased, are listed below.

Kathleen Kathleen "Kit" Coleman (1864-1915) covered the Spanish-American War for the Toronto Mail in 1898. The Ireland-born mother of two had been hired by the paper in 1890 in response to Canada's emerging "New Woman" movement, and was originally tasked with writing columns related to things that might potentially interest the paper's female readership: fashion, housekeeping, advice, etc. Coleman's outspoken writing quickly attracted a wide audience and she was given more responsibility, tackling everything from politics to domestic violence. When the Spanish-American War broke out she lobbied to be sent as a correspondent, and received accreditation from the U.S. government, thereby becoming the first accredited woman war correspondent in the world. Her presence was opposed by most other correspondents (who were all male) and military personnel. She persevered, however, and arrived just before the end of the war. Her accounts of the war's aftermath and its impact on those who fought it made her a world-wide celebrity.

Clare Hollingworth Just days after becoming an accredited reporter for the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, Clare Hollingworth (1911-2017) was in the right place at the right time to land "the scoop of the century." Sent to the boundary territory between Germany and Poland, she was on a road that was bordered by cloth, blocking her view to the surrounding countryside. A breeze lifted enough of the material for her to see that the German troops were massing and about to invade Poland. Dashing off her report, she became the first person to break the news of the impending incursion that would begin World War II. She continued as a correspondent, covering almost every front in Europe and Africa during WWII before reporting from the front lines of the Algerian War (1954-1962) and the Vietnam War (1954-1975). Her investigations exposed the Soviet spy Kim Philby in 1963. She wrote five books during her lifetime; her memoir Front Line was published in 1990.

Martha-Ellis-Gellhorn American Martha Ellis Gellhorn (1908-1998) began her writing career compiling a report for the United States government on the Great Depression (her account of which, The Trouble I've Seen, was published in 1936). In 1937 she accepted her first foreign assignment, covering the Spanish Civil War for Collier's Weekly (where she began an affair with Ernest Hemingway, whom she eventually married and subsequently divorced). Impersonating a stretcher-bearer in WWII, she witnessed the D-Day landings and went on to report on events such as the Nuremberg trials. She was on the front lines during the Arab-Israeli wars (1967) and the Vietnam War. The author of many books and novels, her most famous work may be The Face of War, a collection of her war correspondences published in 1959. She continued covering conflicts into her 80s, covering the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989.

Wisconsin native Dickey Chapelle (1919-1965) started her career as a photojournalist for National Geographic during WWII, and is believed to be the first American female war photographer. Although technically women weren't allowed in combat zones, she covered the U.S. Marines' landings on Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Sneaking on to the beach during one incursion, upon returning to her tent she complained about all the mosquitoes buzzing around her head – only to be informed that those were sniper bullets; as a result, her tagline became "Under Fire on Iwo Jima." She continued reporting on wars throughout her life. In 1956 while covering the Hungarian Revolution she was arrested and jailed for over seven weeks by the Communist authorities. Her autobiography, What's a Woman Doing Here?, was published in 1962. She became the first female reporter to be killed in action in 1965, when a nearby mine detonated and she was hit in the neck by a piece of shrapnel.

Kate Webb (1943-2007) was working as a cub reporter and secretary for the Sydney Daily Mirror when in 1967 she abruptly resigned and flew to Saigon, where she offered her services to United Press International (UPI) as a freelance journalist. She was the first reporter to reach the U.S. Embassy in Saigon during the Tet offensive (1968), and was appointed to run UPI's Phnom Penh bureau soon after. She was captured by the Viet Cong in 1971 and believed to have been killed — The New York Times published her obituary — but she unexpectedly emerged from the jungle after 23 days in captivity. In her 1972 account, On the Other Side, she describes the rigors of her detention including interrogations, forced marches and bouts of malaria. Webb worked for British publications from 1977 until her retirement in 2001, covering conflicts around the globe in such far-flung places as Sri Lanka and East Timor.

Picture of Clare Hollingworth by Sully, Francois
Picture of Martha Gellhorn from U.S. Postal Service
Picture of Kathleen "Kit" Coleman by Kathleen Blake Coleman Fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada

Filed under People, Eras & Events

Article by Kim Kovacs

This "beyond the book article" relates to I Was Told to Come Alone. It originally ran in August 2017 and has been updated for the June 2018 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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