Kate Webb

For other people named Katherine Webb, see Katherine Webb (disambiguation).

Kate Webb (24 March 1943 13 May 2007) was a New Zealand-born Australian war correspondent for UPI and Agence France Presse.


Born Catherine Merrial Webb in Christchurch, New Zealand, Webb moved to Canberra, Australia, with her family while she was still a child. Her father, Leicester Chisholm Webb, was professor of political science at the Australian National University,[1] and her mother, Caroline Webb, was active in women's organisations.[2] Both her parents were killed when Kate was 18.[3]

On 30 March 1958, at age 15, Catherine Webb was charged with the murder of Victoria Fenner, the adopted daughter of Frank Fenner in Canberra. She supplied a rifle and bullets to Fenner and was present when Fenner shot herself. After a Children's Court hearing the charge was dropped.[4]

She graduated from the University of Melbourne, then left to work for the Sydney Daily Mirror. In 1967 she quit the paper and travelled to Vietnam to cover the escalating war. Webb was soon hired by UPI and earned a reputation as a hard-drinking, chain-smoking war correspondent:[5] she was the first wire correspondent to reach the U.S. Embassy, Saigon during the Tet offensive.[6] With the death of Phnom Penh bureau chief Frank Frosch in 1970, Webb was selected to fill his position—she later claimed it was because she spoke French.[7] In 1971 she made news herself when she was captured by North Vietnamese troops operating in Cambodia. Premature official reports claimed that a body discovered was Webb's, and the New York Times published an obituary.[8] She emerged from captivity 23 days after she was captured, after having endured forced marches, interrogations, and malaria. She described her experiences in a book, On the Other Side, and in War Torn, a collection of reminiscences by women correspondents in the Vietnam War.

After her release from captivity and because of her sudden fame, UPI sent her to Washington DC as their show piece. Soon thereafter she threatened to resign if she did not get a "real job". She was reassigned to the Philippines as the UPI bureau chief in Manila.

After the war, she continued to work as a foreign correspondent for UPI and Agence France-Presse (AFP), and served as a correspondent in Iraq during the Gulf War, in Indonesia as Timor-Leste gained independence, and in South Korea, where she was the first to report the death of Kim Il-Song. She also reported from Afghanistan, and later described an incident in Kabul as the most frightening in her career. Following the collapse of Mohammad Najibullah's communist regime, she was captured by a local warlord and brought to a hotel, where she was brutally beaten and dragged up a flight of stairs by her hair.[9] She finally escaped with the help of two fellow journalists, and hid out on a window ledge in the freezing Afghan winter, while the warlord and his men searched the building for her.[10]

Webb retired to the Hunter Region in 2001. She died of bowel cancer on 13 May 2007. AFP established the Kate Webb Journalism Award with a €3,000 to €5,000 prize, awarded annually to a correspondent or agency that best exemplified the spirit of Kate Webb.[11]

She is survived by a brother, Jeremy Webb, and a sister.


  1. Webb, Leicester Chisholm ADB Online
  2. for example Caroline's article in The Press, September, 1942, cited in Official History of New Zealand, chapter 21, 'Women at War', http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-2Hom-c21.html#name-017957-mention
  3. "Parents of Kate Webb".
  4. 'Suicide Finding Death of Girl 15 In Canberra', Sydney Morning Herald, 20 June 1958, p3
  5. 'Kate Webb: Veteran war reporter held captive in the Cambodian jungle', The Independent, 15 May 2007.
  6. 'Kate Webb, 64; pioneering UPI foreign correspondent was captured in Vietnam War', The Los Angeles Times, 15 May 2007.
  7. 'Kate Webb, 64; pioneering UPI foreign correspondent was captured in Vietnam War', The Los Angeles Times, 15 May 2007.
  8. 'A Masked Toughness', The New York Times, 21 April 1971.
  9. The Los Angeles Times, 15 May 2007
  10. 'Kate Webb: Veteran war reporter held captive in the Cambodian jungle', The Independent, 15 May 2007.
  11. "AFP Kate Webb Prize".
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