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Hemingway, Patton and Leclerc - France and Paris 1944

The city of Paris may have been wide open, but the period between the 22nd and 24th August 1944 was one of intense information gathering, and it has to be said, utter confusion in Rambouillet. Bruce, Hemingway, and Michel Pasteau - a French intelligence officer assigned to Bruce - continually interrogated German prisoners, many of whom were Polish - invariably elderly, or very young - who were keen to pass on what information they could about the retreating German divisions, and the German officers and NCOs who had made them fight at the point of a gun.

It was Bruce's job to get General Leclerc and his French armour into Paris first, but where the hell was he? Bruce had received reports that Patton's Third Army was already in the outskirts of Paris, with several units across the Seine and heading north toward Belgium. Patton had agreed, reluctantly, not to enter Paris until Leclerc had done so, but good fighting time was now being wasted for the sake of diplomatic niceties. Patton was growing increasingly frustrated and angry.

On the morning when he heard about Hemingway's antics, General George Smith Patton Jnr was sitting-up in bed re-reading, probably for the thousandth time, an old battered copy of Homer's The Iliad, and marvelling again at the sheer tenacity - in the face of overwhelming numbers of invading
troops - of the Trojan defence. And as Patton sipped his coffee and looked out of the huge bedroom windows of the chateau that had once briefly been the headquarters of Rommel just a week or two before – with the pin-sized Eiffel Tower just visible in the distance - the general knew in his bones his own invading army would face the same tenacity when they finally crossed the border into Germany. It was going to be tough, it had been tough here in France, but not as tough as it was going to be in Germany. No, it was going to be worse than tough, it was going to be hell and if the German's were given just the slightest chance they might easily re-group and mount a counter-offensive in the winter that could wipe out a good proportion of the allied armies. What in God's name was he going to use as his Trojan Horse?

As Patton read his deputy Chief of Staff, Colonel Paul Harkins, came into the room.

“Good morning, General.”

“ God they were tough bastards. Morning, Paul. Help yourself to coffee. Any news of Leclerc?”

Harkins poured himself a cup of the strong French coffee.

“ No, sir, although the latest intelligence suggests he is very close to Rambouillet and preparing to advance along the Versailles road into Paris, but no indication of a time scale I'm afraid.”

“ Well find out, Paul, I want Leclerc in Paris by tomorrow at the latest. When you find him remind him he's attached to the Third, the fastest goddam army in the world. Tell him that, Paul, from me.”

“It will be a pleasure, sir.”

“What's the origin of the intelligence?”

“ A Colonel Bruce of the O.S.S., with, it would seem, a little help from Ernest Hemingway.”

“ Hemingway, the novelist? What the hell is he doing with the O.S.S.? I thought he was assigned to the Third as a correspondent?”

“ Not clear, sir. There are some strange stories, and I'm afraid, some complaints filtering in about Mr Hemingway; I think we'll have to keep an eye on him, I feel there might be trouble brewing.”

“ Damn fine writer. Ever read A Farewell to Arms, Paul?”

“ No, sir.”

“ Some fine descriptions of battle and men under fire. Could only have been written by a man who's experienced it. What sort of complaints?”

“ Well the latest is from a journalist who witnessed a fight between Hemingway and Bruce Grant, a reporter from Chicago, in the dining room of their hotel two nights ago, who also states that he saw Hemingway wearing side arms in, and I quote, ' blatant contravention of the Geneva Convention.' There have been several similar complaints of Hemingway wearing and actually storing arms in his hotel rooms, plus a report that he was involved in a grenade incident on the 3rd in Villedieu-les-Poles, while attached to Lanham's 22nd Infantry, and, perhaps most alarmingly, that he has created something of a private army made up of French irregulars, two AWOL American airborne troopers, who are now officially attached to the O.S.S., and a driver, one Archie Pelkey, assigned to Hemingway by Tubby Barton of all people.”

“Shit.”

“ Colonel Bruce's report states that Hemingway has been of enormous help in the gathering of information, and continues to be so.”

“ Paul, I've got officers in this army who need pushing every inch of the goddam way, yet that son-of-a-bitch of a novelist has the nerve, the brass balls, to create his own damned army. Is there anyway I can make it official?”

“ I fear not, sir, not at this late stage. You would, I'm afraid, put yourself in an awkward position.”

“ What do you suggest?”

“ We hand over the complaints to Clarence Park, let him assess them and get back to us.”

“ Do it, Paul. And find Leclerc. Oh, and ask John to run my bath would you?”

“ Sir.”

As his deputy Chief of Staff left the room Patton closed his book, got out of bed and moved to the window. It was going to be another hot, fine day, he thought, a good fighting day and here he was waiting for some damn French General to find his way into Paris, with intelligence reports courtesy of an American novelist. What the hell was the American military coming to.

“ Damn you, Leclerc, and damn you, Ernest Hemingway.”




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