tv Judith Mackrell The Correspondents CSPAN January 24, 2022 6:45am-7:16am EST
and today i am so excited to be welcoming judith mackrell. thank you so much for being with us. well, thank you for joining me. tell me. where are you right now? so i'm in london and in my study which is at the top of the house lovely big space where i do nearly all of my writing kind of your escape. that's your happy place. absolutely as long as the book's going. well right myself to my desk. yes, that totally makes sense. well, i am so thrilled to be talking to you today about the
correspondence. it was so inspiring not just i i worked in news as a journalist, but beyond that just as a female to see what these incredible women did. um, you're a journalist as well. how did you come about writing this book? because i know you normally cover dance and things of that sort, right? yeah tutus rather than tanks. all right, exactly. yeah. yeah. i mean for 30 years. i worked as a dance and but i began writ. photographers i guess 2007 i think and got the bug. and and got the bug not only because it's thrilling to write a book rather than meet the deadline with a 600 word review but also because with each subject, you know, you you immerse yourself in a whole area. that's new and you know, it feels like doing a history degree with each one and this
war book. i i've always been fascinated by second world war. i think i'm of that generation where the war actually shaped our childhoods tremendously. you know, my brother's read more comics there were very patriotic british war films all over the television. but we never learned about it in school, you know, it was too too much like recent history, huh? so so i was very conscious of it, but i was also aware that there was a lot i didn't know about it and it i'd always kind of wanted to come to terms with it to immerse myself that period and when i first came across one of my women helen kirkpatrick almost the least. well known of them. i was so impressed by her as one of these few female journalists who'd actually made their way to the front lines of the second world war. that i wanted to find out if there were more of her and once i found out that yes, there was
this. small group of incredibly valiant women who'd battled against all the army regulations that were trying to keep them away from the battle zones. once i really said all found their own ways to the war and had risen heroically about battles civilians, you know all the aspects of war. i knew this was a book. i wanted to write. oh, yeah, absolutely. it's just like i said, it's inspiring and it reads kind of like you almost see it like a movie playing out, you know that this scenes are so vivid and and you can picture it. so tell me how you ran across these six women because they're not names that you would just know about weirdly. i was out in paris doing an assignment as a dance project interviewing the choreographer christopher wheelden used to work a lot with new york city ballet and he was doing a new production of american in paris.
and we got talking about his main character who was based on the american heiress peggy guggenheim. who featured in the book i was then currently writing about women who had lived in venice. and christopher said oh there's a brilliant book that i've been using for my research. he said which is a history of the ritz hotel in paris. the hotel on plus fondue and he said there's some really wonderful anecdotes about the women i was then writing about but in fact it was the chapter on world war ii that really gripped me because it had this fantastic anec data that helen she'd been among the very first allied journalists to be allowed into paris after it was liberated in august 1944. and she had been invited the next day to lunch at the ritz by ernest hemingway. and it was you know, very big
boozy occasion. there were about six hundred male journalists there and hemingway was all full of, you know, basically he'd liberated paris so and and wine and brandy was being bought out from the rich cellars that they'd managed to hide from the nazi's and it was a you know, fantastic and everybody's war stories were getting drunker and more preposterous as the went on but at a certain point helen said, you know, basically sorry guys. this has been wonderful but this is still news outside in the streets that i need to report. and hemingway was you crazy sit down sit back down, you know, you'll never again be able to say that you launching with hemingway at the ritz the day after paris was liberate didn't you and she got up to leave and then and also her going actually she scooped a story that none of those men got near which was
that basically she there was a service of thanksgiving being held at notre-dame cathedral that afternoon. led by general degaulle and three of the other french generals and she decided to go there to see what was going on and there was a huge crowd outside the cathedral and the goal pitched up and the other generals in a huge car and everybody cheered and saluted very emotional. moment. at that point no one knew that the germans had left behind 50,000 troops in paris. he kind of harry the allied troops, you know prevent them taking over the city. and all around notre dame even inside the cathedral snipers were hidden. to try and assassinate to go. and they started shooting on the crowd outside everybody. there's a stampede obviously
into the cathedral to try and take shelter accepted to cause the snipers were there. and as helen reported actually only 25 people were killed in the end, but it was nearly a complete massacre. and so of course her story was plastered all over the chicago daily news her paper the next day and as far as she was aware, there was only one other journalist a bbc correspondent radio correspondent who was also there and well, i'd never heard of this incident when the girl was nearly murdered before and i'd certainly never heard of helen and i think who is this extraordinary self-possessed young woman? and not only to stand up to hemingway but to you know. to be in that situation in the first place. so that's that's what got me going. then there was claire hollingworth who was british.
she was pretty extraordinary. she'd only been a journalist for a week. before she was sent to poland in late all this 1939 and when she managed to scoop first. the fact that germany had absolutely intention every intention of invading poland despite the fact that the british and the french were all trying to negotiate and still hoping for peace and secondly actually she was there also on the day that germany did invade and as she as the planes roared over the head and the tanks were rumbling. she rang up the british embassy in warsaw and who were saying no. no the invasion can't have become because we're still at the negotiating table and she put out the telephone receiver outside. her windows will listen to this. right right i beg to differ. yeah, and then martha gilhorn
famously married to the writer ernest hemingway, who was her introduction to war writing. i mean, they went to madrid together to write about the spanish civil war. and actually i mean martha. admitted she knew nothing about spain nothing about war and in fact the english title of my book is going with the boys. and that's a quote from one of martha gail horne's letters when she manages to finagle her own way to spain and says to a friend i'm going with the boys. i don't know who the boys are but i'm working with them. and outer madrid. it was interesting that earnest. actually gave martha the best writing advice of her career because as a complete. ingenu if you like she had no idea how you wrote about war. and she kept fretting you know didn't some really cataclysmic battle have to happen before can file a story.
and he said no, you know here you are in the middle of madrid. it's besieged. the the republican forces are circled encircled by franco's nationalist forces. you're in a city under siege. none of you american readers will have experienced this a city where although they're being shelled two or three times a day. there are still marks brothers movies playing in the cinema and still get your nails done the last beauties you can even get a tram ride to the nearest front you said you you write about you are the eyes. the ears the hearts and the minds of your readers and you must write. so that they can experience almost firsthand what it's like and you know martha girl who did write some amazing war journalism, which is collected in this volume the face of war. lee miller, who's the other better known of my women was the
most unlikely of the war correspondence because she'd been covered girl at vogue in her twenties as a photographer. she had had her apprenticeship with man ray the great american surrealists, so she'd been a darling of left bank paris. she'd done a lot of society photographs beauty fashion. so well world events had never impacted on her at all until she came to london in 1939 and war became this really urgent and inspiring subject for her and the extraordinary thing is is that she taught herself to be a writer as well. so she she was in france and germany in the last year and a half of the war writing these amazing. 10,000 word photo essays send harrowing pictures of the fighting of the concentration camps and all of it was published in british rogue you think of what vogue is now, you know completely, right? fashion bibles sort of celebrity
handbook to think that these extra i mean some of the most brilliant direct harrowing reporting of the war and it was invoking the pages of those. as i said googled around all these different women, you know names come up and you start seeing. okay. well who else will fit into my jigsaw so there was a woman called virginia coles who actually martha met in madrid and she started out like virginia started out life as a society columnist, but she had high ambitions to to write serious news but she was also very conscious that her particular glamor and charm would get her a long way. so he turned up in madrid wearing a kind of little wall elegant wool tailored dress a little fur jacket and high heel
black suede shoes and martha and ernest hemingway who was already considered themselves old hands. like, you know, does she think this is a key party or but virginia and martha became very good friends and martha recognized that virginia was an extraordinary brave and intrepid and courageous and honorable reporter like herself there was another woman i discovered called seagrid schultz who was american citizen, but born of german norwegian parents. she was amazing because she was based in berlin from 1913 as bureau chief of berlin from 1925 and she reported on the whole of the rise of hitler and the nazi party and on the first two years of the war from that. so although she didn't actually report on any fighting till 1944. berlin was sort of like her
frontline and she was incredibly brave. there were death threats there were threats to incriminate her as a spy her phone was tapped. her sources were murdered and she kept on writing about the nazi party until 1941, which was amazing, but the most extraordinary thing and this i only discovered halfway through writing the book when i met with a group of local historians from the town where sea bridge retired in america that all her life should kept. secret the fact that her mother was jewish and that by nazi reckoning. she herself was a -- so to have stayed in berlin reported on you know, the harrowing persecution of the -- all the while knowing that if this fact was discovered about her. i mean, it's it's it it figures belief and i have to say writing this book as i did quite a lot
through the pandemic. you know when one was. faced with you know, all the anxieties and deprivations of lockdown and everything. yeah, i'd come to my desk each morning and actually think you this is nothing here, right? put themselves through as you spoke you hinted on earlier. i mean they had so many barriers so they had to do things that were well people were running in the opposite direction. they were they were going it was just exactly exactly i mean it wasn't until november 1944 that the british and americans decided that women could join the official press corps. which meant that they could then travel? in official press transport they could sleep in the press camps. they could have access to daily press briefings all all the all the facilities that the men had taken for granted throughout.
but it meant that for those early years my six women either they were reporting from areas of the war where the british and the american didn't have jurisdiction. all they were just finding loopholes and sneaking their way to the front. and and if they were both a gelhorn who wanted desperately to report on the normandy landings in june 44 and was furious that of all the journalists who are allowed to cross were men across the channel were men. she simply got herself on board a hospital ship found an empty bathroom locked herself in. and road to france stairway. and and because she was in a hospital ship when they arrived at normandy at omaha beach. she was then needed to help with the medical teams to go onshore
and help to ferry back the injured soldiers back on board the ship for treatment it meant she was one of the very very few journalists who actually was set foot on omaha beach. on that normandy coastline at the beginning of the invasion and she certainly out scooped her husband ernest. yeah who was on board one of the little assault crafts and making up stories about how he had personally liberated from all right? and i think all of them. you know when they came across. hardship or suffering even when? it wasn't their job. they they would try and help. i mean, i think that was one of the well, one of the many harrowing things about being a journalist then and now is you find yourself in a situation where? a huge numbers of people are or
hungry or injured. and you kind of do what you can and it's a tiny amount, but i don't think any of them lost it none of them became hardened. to the suffering of individuals and and i think that's also a crucial feature of most of their reporting too was that they they felt war was never just about military tactics and battle procedure it was about they tried to invoke what it was like for individuals whether it was individual soldiers or individual civilians. you know to put that at the heart of their reporting. and and there were men who did that too, but i think it was quite it was a more distinctive feature of women reporters. i think they were kind of allowed to do that. more than the men were. and certainly that's what they wanted to do. and it's interesting if you talk to.
some of today's women correspondence foreign correspondence. they they regard these women as kind of. the generate the generation of pioneers and also as the as examples to which they feel they need to live up. and and that that notion of always being alert to the human individual in a war and and the human dimension of war i think is is also striking characteristic of women reporting today. what i find so interesting about your book is that i mean you tell the history of world war ii but the perspective is so unique and and to give the female perspective but then also to show what kind of impact it had not only on the soldiers but on these women who were doing and seeing such horrific things, you
know, how it impacted their families and lives. they were all these women. while they love their work and they were all i think became addicted to the adrenaline of war and courting and and that extraordinary sensation of kind of living on a knife edge of life and death. you know, i think i think that does become. such a way of life at the same time the things that they saw. that that affected all of them and particularly the four who into the concentration camps and realized, you know exactly what it was that the germans were capable of and exactly what it was. they've been fighting. i mean for sea greed in particular who'd spent so much of her career trying to warn the world about nazi, germany and what depths it was capable of i think.
in a way, she suffered the most because going into buchenwald and seeing just you know that it was even worse than even more horrific than she had ever. dared to imagine. and knowing that she'd failed somehow as a journalist to prevent it. i think that that stayed with her. all her life and and she could never forgive germany. she hated germany with a passion, you know, even when germany was rebuilding itself and trying to come to terms with the shame of the hitler era. she would never allow that. there was any redemption for the nation really? and for i mean martha gellhorn too. she she felt that when she went into the concentration camps she lost. she said some. some kind of essential faith and capacity for happiness in her life. she said it was like it was as though i i fell off a cliff.
she said when i walked the gates of dachau and suffered a form of concussion ever since and and lee minute definitely suffered from very severe post-traumatic stress for decades afterwards and hardly ever spoke of the war. i think. i mean, it's not just two of these women. it's true of an awful lot of male soldiers male journalists as well that you know coming back after the war when you've seen so much and you've been in this. intense world it was there was a barrier between them and their wives and families and friends who hadn't experienced it. you know, it's very difficult to get over it. and yet you know for a lot of them helen writing from the trenches of france saying, you know, i've never been so happy in my life saying this is the greatest experience. i'll ever go through lee.
who pitches up in san marlo? on the normandy coast in late august 1944 thinking she's going to be writing about the civil affairs units which were the teams that were sent in by the americans to liberated towns in order to try and create order. only when she arrived in some marlow did she realize that some intelligence wives have been crossed and in fact symbolo hadn't been liberated at all that there were still german troops encircling the city and that there was huge huge fighting going on and lee. far from thinking. oh god. i must get out of it is really day. yeah. yeah, what like i'm in the middle of my own private war. because there were no journalists. there were no photographers around and her instinct was simply to you know to be absolutely jubilant and to stay
for them allowed. so yeah, i mean it was this very kind of paradoxical thing that it was both the most. exciting and fulfilling and complete experience of their lives when all of them had the satisfaction of feeling they were caught up in something so much larger than themselves. yeah, and but then also knowing that it was an experience that had changed the martelly and made it very difficult for them to live in ordinary life again as people read this journalists women. what do you hope to take away is i mean or what does it take away? you know that you experienced. well, i think it's it's been great the last few years how war historians are now acknowledging how many the importance of the female voice? you know, not simply that what women suffered but well also what women contributed to the fighting of wars and the
reporting of wars so i would i'd i would be to think that i've added to that knowledge about. women in war and i'd like to to correct. perhaps the misconception that that generation were, you know, quite conventional quite, you know, not great feminists. i mean they were they were hugely competitive with each other, but they they believed they were as good as if not better than men and they went to prove it. but i think on on a on a local level particularly as we've just passed armistice day and all that recognition of the millions who died fighting wars. i think all my women had a very strong perception. after the second world war was
over that although it had been an absolutely just and noble war. that in the end nothing much had changed and that governments still needed to be held to account and that the struggle for more civilized world, you know didn't end with the second world war and that do wars even bring that about so it's odd, i guess writing about war i would like people to take away a message of peace. it is an inspiring book. it's fascinating to read about history in a different way history that you think you know you you understood but to see it from a different perspective is as fascinating. well, thank you much for talking to me such wonderful questions. well, thank you for this. thank you for your time, and hopefully we'll get to talk to you in person sometime soon. i would be great.