Ernest Hemingway Fights Germans, adopts a Dog and a Cat, and Helps Michael Arlen, late 1930s and '40s
Ernest Hemingway put down the volume of Zane Grey he'd been reading. Well, in truth, he hadn't really been reading it, just turning the pages. His mind had been back in New York in 1937, and Max Perkins's office, and his acute feelings for Martha Gellhorn, and the huge need he had to get into Spain and discover the sort of mess the country was in since his last visit. What a pompous bastard he'd been to think he could go as an anti-war correspondent. Who the hell did he think he was? He'd spent far too much time pretending to be some kind of bleeding heart liberal, writing for such dead-beat magazines as, The New Masses, and thinking himself some sort of latter day John Reed. But he'd done nothing to help the poor and the homeless, and the out of work, except on a very personal level in Key West, where he helped many locals with hand-outs, but most of that he realised was probably spent on booze. Unlike Martha, and Leo Huberman before her, he'd not even travelled America to write about the effects the depression was having on a nation that was almost on its knees, and he knew the government would have welcomed his high-profile contribution.
Hemingway realised now, in a Belgian forest within a mile of the German border, that he should have done something, should have, like John Steinbeck, written a fine novel about a country fighting for its very survival, which might, like The Grapes of Wrath, have become a great film (and he ruminated yet again as he shaved that Hollywood had never made a good, or even half decent film out of a Hemingway book), one that might, like Steinbeck's, have really hit home and helped Roosevelt in his thankless fight to turn America around. But no, what did he do? He spent his days either fishing or writing articles about fishing, or working on a novel about a petty criminal with a boat. And when he wasn't doing that he was propping up the bar at Sloppy Joe's and being slapped on the back by tourists who thanked him for writing one of the best anti-war novels of all time. Christ Almighty A Farewell to Arms didn't start out as an anti-war novel, just a novel set during a war, a war he'd loved, until he got blown-up - but even that brought him Agnes. It was a missed opportunity, he knew that now, and even the Spanish thing proved to be less than rewarding, which of course came far too late to be of any real good, and the novel that came out of that was considered by most to be just another wartime thriller.
He soon realised when he got to Spain that everything had to be done to stop Franco, that it was never a question of stopping the war so that it didn't spread to the rest of Europe and America, that was pretty much inevitable, no, the Spanish, the good Spanish - who deserved some kind of democracy - had to be helped to fight that bastard Franco, destroy him if they could, or at least, send him back to Morocco to lick his wounds.
And The Spanish Earth, had helped. Hemingway was proud of that. By late 1937 it was being shown in cinemas across the States and Europe, and it did help raise the profile, and recruitment into the Lincoln Brigade, and all the other International Brigades, which were full of ordinary men and women who were prepared to fight because they had no work, plus a handful of writers and artists, many of whom had never held a gun in their lives, they were there too. Hemingway realised, albeit too late, that he should have fought (as Paul Robeson tried to, but because of his bulk and health could not), should have thrown away his beloved Corona and picked up a Russian machine gun and fought those fascist bastards, but he didn't. He would always feel guilty about that. And Spain fell in the end to Franco's forces, and the German Luftwaffe. He was still there now, thought Hemingway, sending off the odd brigade or two to help Hitler's struggling armies on the Eastern Front. So much for neutrality.
A shell exploding in the distance brought Hemingway back to September 1944, Tuesday the 12th of September 1944 to be exact, if his smart new Rolex was to be believed.
Pelkey came running into Hemingway's room in the hunting lodge.
“ It's started, Colonel.”
“ What's started, Archie?”
“ We've started shelling Germany. We better get moving?”
In the words of Carlos Baker:
“ The twelfth was a fine wild day of chasing and shooting. German armour was fleeing towards the protection of the Westwall, and Lanham was driving on to occupy the high ground above Hemmeres. Hemingway's group went with the northern half of a pincer column, following a tank and some half tracks through Schirm and Maspelt.”
American and British fighter bombers - Typhoons and Mustangs – pursued the fleeing German's relentlessly, dropping high explosive and napalm bombs into the forests where the German heavy armour was hiding, and strafing the roads with canon and machine gun fire, roads full of German infantry running for their lives. It was a war without mercy, with tens of thousands already dead on both sides.
Hemingway's little band crossed the river Ouhr at 4.27pm on the 12th and reached the heights a few minutes later. Ahead of them stretched Germany, and within minutes American tanks were heading toward - as they hoped - its heartland.
But things were going to change, and change rapidly. The American's were now fighting on German turf. Suddenly the German Army stopped running, turned and regrouped. They were not going to give an inch of their homeland without the bloodiest of fights.
Hemingway, and Colonels Barton and Lanham may have crossed their bridges relatively easily, but elsewhere things were not so easy.
Not too far away from Hemingway's position, in the village of Dieulouard, close to the Luxembourg border, several companies of the American 80th Division prepared to cross the Moselle river by storming the bridge, and with the use of rubber and plywood assault boats. The 80th's artillery started shelling the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division on the far side of the river around midnight on the 12th. Then, as the infantry started to run across the bridge - firing as they ran - while others rowed across the fast flowing river, the American's put up a huge wall of covering artillery and machine gun fire that zinged and zoomed off the bridge like a gigantic fireworks display. Everything seemed to work brilliantly, and within thirty minutes of the successful crossing American engineers were already starting to build Bailey Bridges for the tanks that were still a mile or so back down the road.
At 1am on the 13th September the German's counter-attacked with three battalions of infantry, supported by fifteen tanks and ten assault guns. By daybreak the Germans had driven the American 80th back over the border. The Americans quickly regrouped and fought back viciously, and by 6am, with the Americans in shock, and the Germans too tired to continue their counter-attack, the two forces faced each other across the river.
The American officers, and the men, now realised things had suddenly gotten a whole lot tougher.
After following Lanham in a day of chasing the Germans back into the Fatherland, Ernest Hemingway, late on the afternoon of the 12th September 1944, requisitioned a recently deserted farmhouse on the outskirts of the village of Hemmeres - Ernest even adopted the farm's cat and the dog, animals he would keep with him for the rest of the war - deciding this was an ideal place to continue the war on the following day. He even taught Pelkey to milk a herd of complaining cows, distributing the warm, cream-rich milk, amongst the troops of the 22nd Infantry. And when, early in the evening, everything seemed to be in some sort of order Hemingway shot the heads off a small flock of chickens and asked Colonel Lanham and his staff over for dinner.
Naturally Lanham accepted - he still considered Hemingway to be a huge asset to his operations - and around dusk Lanham, with Colonel Ruggles, and three battalion commanders, plus Lanham's personal staff, joined Hemingway, Lawless, Stevenson, and the Brazilian journalist, for a dinner of decidedly over-fricasseed chicken, helped along with fresh peas, onions, carrots, and salad, with preserved fruit (courtesy of US Army K-Rations) and jelly to follow. The assembled officers soon started discussing the next days tactics, with Professor Hemingstein giving a demonstration, in mock West Point style, of his “rear-ass theory of pursuit”, which no one understood, and a theory (which would not have been out of place in the mouth of Groucho Marx) which soon reduced everyone present to side-aching laughter. It was a memorable night and one the leaders of the German Army - just few miles away - might also have enjoyed, had they been invited.
As Hemingway, Lanham, and his cohorts, were enjoying the fried chicken, and Generalfeldmarschall von Rundstedt and his Chief of Staff, General der Infanterie Gunther Blumentritt, were masticating their way through a brace of rather tough pheasants - killed accidentally that morning by Rundstedt's driver - with a rather good bottle of local Claret, and Max Perkins was at home enjoying a second dry sherry (with Mrs Perkins's permission) before a dinner of roast lamb, roast potatoes and peas, followed by apple pie and cream, and revelling more and more in the brilliant reviews of Bob Hope's book about his adventures entertaining US Forces (published by Scribners) Perkins, with each sip of his sherry, became increasingly excited about his new signing, James Jones.
Mary Welsh ate alone.
Mary Welsh had gone very quiet. With Ernest away she spent her days wandering around Paris buying bits and pieces in the shops, drinking at the cafes, but writing nothing. Like Martha Mary had a good eye for detail and could have supplied some thought-provoking pieces for the American papers. That she chose not to do so is a mystery, preferring instead to read Ernest's letters and await his return. She was already playing the part of the dutiful wife, putting her own talents and thoughts into the background.
What Mary did observe, and record for, her own benefit, was how Ernest dealt with money. She wrote:
“ In Paris I observed Ernest's manner with money. He behaved as though no one else had any, as though gremlins were operating a little factory inside his pants pockets, replacing French francs as fast as he withdrew them. If anyone else picked up a bar bill, it would have been news to me. His tips to his hotel valet, and waiters upstairs and downstairs, were about double the average tip. He was a soft-as-eiderdown touch, handing over whatever he could without hesitation. I was totally devoted to his fiscal policy and practices. Later on Marlene Dietrich and I both lent him sums to flesh out his local resources.”
As that piece reveals, Hemingway was a generous man, but always on a personal, and if possible, private level. Once, when in New York in the late 1930s - perhaps when he was visiting Max Perkins that time before Spain - he came across the novelist Michael Arlen in a bar. Arlen – the author of the huge hit of the mid 1920s, The Green Hat - was sitting nursing a whiskey. Hemingway recognised him and went over to the Armenian born writer and asked how things were going.
“ Oh, pretty good, Ernest.”
“ Damn fine book, Mike.”
“ Anything else on the stocks at the moment?”
“ One or two ideas.”
“ Would a dollar or two come in handy? You know, until the advance comes along?”
Arlen found it hard to speak through his tears. Hemingway bought the writer another whiskey and gave him a cheque for $20,000.
“ Pay me back whenever you can, but if you can't don't worry about it.”
“ I don't know what to say.”
“ Don't say anything, just write another book as good as The Green Hat.”
Arlen never did write another book as good as The Green Hat.