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Hemingway and the Hotel du Grand Veneur - France 1944

 The night of the 19th - 20th August 1944 had been a long one in Rambouillet but it was not unpleasant. After clearing the road of mines and booby-traps Hemingway made his HQ at the Hôtel du Grand Veneur, a grey three storied structure with a slate roof and a splendid rustic weathercock. Behind the building there were extensive orchards – with beehives - that stretched away into the lush and deceptively peaceful French countryside. But more importantly for Hemingway the hotel had a fine wine cellar and an excellent chef.

But Hemingway was still smarting from Irwin's refusal of arms, and probably in an effort to regain some self-respect, he set off with Krieger and Pelkey to reconnoitre the dangerous Versailles road.

After a short drive they pulled up outside Marie Antoinette's Royal Hunting Lodge and Model Dairy in the grounds of the former summer residence for French presidents, the Chateau de Rambouillet. According to Krieger, Hemingway was really fired-up and wanted to carry on to Versailles and then Paris. But Krieger argued hard, and convincingly against it, saying that Hemingway would need all his men, and indeed more arms, to safely reach the capitol. In the end Hemingway agreed, and after a look around the grounds - and the building were Marie played at being a milk maid. They then headed back to Rambouillet.

Krieger freely admitted that he came under the famous Hemingway spell. He also reasoned that if he broke away from the writer at Rambouillet he could explain away his and his men's presence in a town ten miles away from where they should have been. But to head for Paris with a war correspondent who was breaking all the rules would have meant untold danger for his men and a court martial for him. Krieger said his farewells, gathered together his men and equipment, and headed back to the 2nd Infantry positions and some pretty tough explaining.

That night Hemingway and his merry band of men wined and dined well and Hemingway's spirits - still rather low due to the refusal of arms by General Irwin and Krieger's departure - rose.

In the morning a refreshed Hemingway returned to the 2nd Infantry positions and again asked for machine guns and grenades - he wisely kept well clear of Irwin - saying they were replacements needed for the 5th Reconnaissance Troop. He was given as much as he could cram into his Jeep.

Soon after Hemingway's return that morning, and as a result of the stories he'd heard about Hemingway's exploits, Colonel David Bruce of the O.S.S. (Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA) arrived in Rambouillet.

Bruce, who later became the American ambassador to Germany, was a tough no nonsense intelligence officer who used whatever information - and sources of information - that came his way. And he needed information badly about German troop dispositions around the south western approaches to Paris. It was vital to Bruce's future career that he ensure the triumphant entry of General Leclerc and his 2nd French Armoured Division into the city of light was as trouble free
as possible. For Bruce Hemingway was a godsend. And because Hemingway's son John was also working for the O.S.S. Hemingway welcomed Bruce like a member of his own family.

In a letter written after the war - reproduced in Jeffrey Meyers' excellent biography of Hemingway - Bruce praises highly Hemingway's work as an unofficial intelligence officer, describing how the novelist had established a rather imperfect, yet functioning counter-espionage system in Rambouillet and that he had interrogated to good effect some  suspected German agents and sympathizers. Hemingway may also have saved the lives of several of those sympathizers by getting them jobs in the hotel where he could keep an eye on them, before leaving them in
the protective custody of the advancing Allies.

Bruce also states in his letter that Hemingway, as a war correspondent, did not carry arms, which is an obvious contradiction of at least one photograph of Hemingway taken just outside Rambouillet (with freshly harvested cornfields in the background) that shows a smiling, helmet wearing, Hemingway clearly sporting side-arms. Bruce concludes his letter by saying how much he admires Hemingway, not only as an artist and friend, “...but as a cool, resourceful, imaginative, military
tactician.” Obviously Bruce, a university educated man and highly trained intelligence officer, had come under the novelist's spell too.

With Hemingway's notoriety building, and Rambouillet's importance as a stopping-off place on the road to Paris increasing, the Hôtel du Grand Veneur soon began to fill up with other war correspondents, photographers and film makers, looking for a good story. For many
Hemingway and his antics became the story, and a source of grievance.

By the 22nd August Hollywood director, Colonel George Stevens, and his crew, were there, as was reporter and novelist Irwin Shaw - who, until quite recently had been Mary Welsh's lover - along with several others, including the tall Chicagoan and veteran reporter, Bruce Grant, who complained one night in the crowded dining room about the difficulty he'd had getting a room because of 'General' Hemingway and his fighting men. Hemingway was not going to allow someone he considered to be a Chicago hack to disparage the F.F.I like that, and told Grant that his men deserved a bed more than he did. Grant objected with some choice language.

With that Hemingway punched Grant in the jaw. Grant, who was in his late fifties, but tough as old boots, retaliated and both men fell to the floor in a flurry of kicking and punching. Only when the diminutive photographer, Harry Harris, of the Associated Press, came between them did the fight stop. Then, according to Harris, Hemingway went outside and called out for Grant to join him and finish the fight. Grant refused to go. Hemingway kept on shouting. According to columnist, Andy Rooney, who was sharing a table with Grant, he “...could never take Hemingway seriously after that. I'd always liked him as a writer, but this was such a schoolboy thing.”

Hemingway was to regret that fight.

On the 23rd August reports were coming in that Paris could be taken by a handful of men, that it was wide open.



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