Ernest Hemingway: War Correspondent 1944–1945: Part 5

James Joyce, Archie Pelkey, Martha Gellhorn, and Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt — Autumn, France and Germany, 1944

Photo: Bill Downs

Martha, Divorce, FBI, Spying, and Colonel Park

Soon after returning to Paris in September 1944 Martha Gellhorn received a very friendly phone call from her estranged husband inviting her out to dinner with a few friends. Martha, who, strange as it may seem, still had a very soft spot for Ernest — and perhaps expected him to become again the man she first met back in 1936 — accepted his invitation, probably because she was feeling lonely and afraid.

The evening started off well enough, with Ernest describing his adventures with Lanham, and his first steps back onto German territory since the 1920s. But half way through the evening he became extremely antagonistic toward Martha, sniping continuously at her as a person, as a wife, and as a writer, and declaring there was no such thing as a good woman writer. It eventually became so bad, and embarrassing, that Hemingway’s other guests made their excuses and left the restaurant, which Hemingway also blamed on Martha. When they were on their own Martha, her soft spot gone for good, and her fear turned to a dreadful anger, again asked for a divorce. Hemingway refused. Martha then did what she did back in Cuba — she poured the remains of her drink over Hemingway’s head and left.

Martha returned to her hotel in a frustration of tears, and an infuriating inability to understand why Ernest behaved toward her the way he did. Had he invited her out to simply ridicule her? She feared he was probably going insane.

In the bar of her hotel Martha found Bob Capa celebrating a huge win at poker. After Martha had slowly, tearfully, recounted the evening to Bob (who was on the floor of the bar counting and re-counting his winnings) he suggested she telephone Mary Welsh’s room at the Ritz straight away.

“ And when Hemingway answers I’ll tell you what to do.”

They both went to Martha’s room (Capa’s pockets stuffed with dollars, francs, pounds, and useless Nazi Reichsmarks) where Martha followed Capa’s instructions. When Hemingway answered, Martha said.

“ Hello, Ernest.”

She then put the receiver down as Capa instructed her to do.

“ It’ll be okay now, Martha, you’ll see.”

And it was. Hemingway agreed to a divorce a couple of days later, and within a few weeks the legal proceedings began back in the States.

Capa’s own friendship with Hemingway (it had come under a severe strain after that motorcycle incident back in July 1944) was also nearing its end, with Capa telling Hemingway he couldn’t understand why he wanted to marry Mary when Martha was the best woman any man could marry and stay married to. The six foot plus Hemingway told the diminutive Capa to get lost, and then threw a full bottle of champagne at the photographer. Hemingway missed his target of course, but no one knows if Capa caught the bottle and toasted Hemingway later. He probably did, and if he

didn’t he should have done because Hemingway would soon need all the help he could get.

As Martha and Capa were calling Mary Welsh’s room, Colonel Clarence C. Park, Inspector General of Patton’s Third Army, was sitting at his desk in what had been a private dining room of a small hotel in Nancy, Northern France, near the German border. All the hotels in Nancy had been taken over by the US military, and the one Park and his staff found themselves in was an early 19th century stone building with imposing views to east and west, and a proprietor who looked after them as if they were family. Park lit yet another Lucky Strike and poured another cup of strong black coffee — knowing full well his blood pressure would rise as a result — and read again the order he was about to send to Ernest Hemingway:

“ You will proceed by military aircraft and/or Government motor transportation on or about 4th October from present station to Headquarters, Inspector General Third Army (Rear) to carry out the instructions of the A.C. of S.H-2, Supreme Hq. AEF.”

Park then sealed the order in an official US Army envelope and pressed the green button on his newly installed intercom system:

“ Liz, any further news of Mr Hemingway’s whereabouts?”

“ The last we heard, Colonel, is that he’s still with the 22nd, but should be back at Ritz soon.”

“ Wouldn’t you like to be at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, Liz?”

“ Indeed, Colonel, but I guess this old place will do for the time being.”

“ I guess it will, but I’ll buy you a drink at the Ritz one of these days.”

“ I look forward to it, Colonel.”

“ So do I. Now, will you please organise a dispatch rider to collect an order I have here for Mr Hemingway?”

“ Straight away, Colonel.”

As Clarence Park quickly smoked his cigarette and drank his cup of coffee, he thought about the time he’d spent gathering together the evidence that Ernest Hemingway was actually carrying arms in contradiction of the strict laws governing war correspondents, had in fact used grenades against the enemy as if he were a serving soldier. Patton’s instructions had been explicit.

“ Nail him!”

But now the vibes coming from the General’s HQ suggested Park should not take too much time over the case, that under no circumstances was Park to bring the good name of the American Army into disrepute.

Well no, General Sir, he had no intention of doing that, thought Park, but Christ all the witnesses were now lined up, all the affidavits taken. The case was pretty well clear cut — Hemingway was as guilty as hell. But it was now pretty obvious that Patton had cold feet and probably wished he’d never instructed Park to pursue the matter. Park was beginning to feel the same way.

It is of course entirely feasible that Ernest Hemingway’s attitude toward carrying arms from July 1944, in contravention of the laws governing war correspondents, may have come about as a result of his work for the FBI in the early 1940s. He may have justified to himself that he was entitled to do so, and outside of the law? Once a serving field agent, always a serving field agent might easily have been his defence.

According to the big game hunter, socialite (and possibly an intelligence agent), and friend of Hemingway, Thomas Shevlin, quoted in Denis Brian’s book, The Faces of Hemingway, Ernest always “…hankered for a more active role in World War II than being an ambulance driver or a war correspondent, but he couldn’t have gotten into the army. Although he was a terrific shot, his eyesight wasn’t any good. And he was shot up physically.”

Hemingway therefore needed another outlet for his inherited military knowledge and skills, plus a desperate need to be part of the action. But as what?

At the start of the war it then dawned on Hemingway that Cuba was undoubtedly full of falangist Spaniards, who naturally had Axis sympathies, and were probably already spying on the USA on behalf of Franco, and by association, Hitler and Hirohito. These people needed to be watched, and their activities reported to the appropriate US authorities, who had at last woken up to the dangers of foreign espionage. Hemingway of course realised that counter-espionage was an area in which he could excel. As a correspondent he was a good listener, had an eye for detail and a brilliant memory, and could, obviously, write a damned good report. Hemingway decided he was going to be a spy, and a good one.

Ernest Hemingway immediately got in touch with the US Ambassador in Havana, Spruille Braden, and put forward his proposition. The 54 year old, rather thick-set, and now greying Braden, listened carefully to what the novelist had to say, thanked Hemingway for his offer of assistance and informed him he would make contact with the necessary agencies. Then, just before Hemingway left the ambassador’s high-ceilinged office (where a huge fan the size of an aeroplane propeller gently whisked the warm, fly buzzing air into a rather unpleasant mixture of dust and dead flies that was almost impossible to inhale) the career diplomat Braden, in a rather uncharacteristic and hesitant fashion — with the shimmering blue Gulf of Mexico a hundred or so yards behind him at the bottom of the Embassy garden — asked:

“ Mr Hemingway, my daughter is a great fan of your work.”

Here it comes, thought Hemingway, although it’s usually “my wife”.

“ Is she? That’s wonderful.”

“ Yes, she knew I was meeting you today and wondered if you might sign her copy of…”

It’ll be A Farewell to Arms, thought Hemingway, that famous anti-war novel.

“…A Farewell to Arms, which I think is one of the greatest anti-war novels ever written, second only to Robert Graves’s Goodbye to All That.”

Why, thought Hemingway, do they always have to link me with that awful English poet? Although Goodbye to All That is a damned fine book.

“ I’d be happy to, just let me have it some time.”

“ I have it right here.”

That’s my boy, thought Hemingway, one day you might just get that top job in London, although, being a fluent Spanish speaker, and a Latin American expert, and something of a king maker in these here parts, you’ll probably end your days in Haiti.

“ Good.”

Spruille, opening a drawer, and, taking out a rather battered copy of the novel, passed it over to Hemingway.

“ What’s your daughter’s name?”

“ Virginia.”

Immediately Hemingway heard Al Jolson singing, I’m Coming Home Virginia, somewhere in the back of his head, and then, as he dedicated and signed the book, he started singing the tune.

“ You must have inherited that from your mother?” commented Spruille.

“ What?”

“ Holding a tune. I hear your mother is a fine singer?”

How the hell did he know that?

“ She is.”

“ Yes.”

Don’t trust this man, Ernest, not now, not ever, a voice said in the back of Hemingway’s brain.

“ A lovely name, Virginia. Named after the State, or the Queen?”

“ Yes it is. No, my wife is a great fan of Virginia Woolf.”

“ Really? I have to say I find her work less than satisfying. I consider all that Bloomsbury stuff to be rather phoney.”

“ You may be right, Mr Hemingway. I have to say I have little or no interest in literature or writers.”

Well, there’s an exit cue if ever I heard one, thought Hemingway, handing Virginia Braden’s copy of A Farewell to Arms back to her father.

“ It’s been a pleasure meeting you, Mr Ambassador, and I look forward to hearing from you.”

“ Oh, you’ll not hear from me, Mr Hemingway, but someone will get in touch. And thank you for your time, and for the book, I’m sure Virginia will be thrilled.”

With that Hemingway was ushered from the office. And as he closed the door Ambassador Spruille Braden (who would have his face on the cover of Time magazine in 1945, and would indeed end his diplomatic career in South America, dying in 1978) pressed the green button on his intercom.

His secretary answered immediately.

“ Sir?”

“ Miss Austin, would you be kind enough to get me the FBI on line two please?”

“ Sir.”

As he waited for the call to come through, a once athletic but now rather overweight Spruille Braden read the first page of his decaying copy of A Farewell to Arms again:

“ In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains…”

Damned fine book, Mr Hemingway, thought Braden, which gets better with every reading. Wish I was looking out across an Italian river toward some distant snow-capped mountains now, instead of this termite-invested dung heap.

Then, with a wry smile and a shake of the head, Spruille tried to fathom out why he’d just lied about having a daughter called Virginia, but could not. He better remember he had one now. As J. Edgar Hoover had once said to him, way back in the early days, it gets easier to lie the longer you go on lying. Well, damn me if he wasn’t right, thought Spruille, as the red telephone began to ring.

In October 1942, FBI Agent, R.G. Leddy, sent a confidential memo to the FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover, which, in part, reads:

“ Mr Joyce (Second Secretary of the Embassy) made enquiries of Hemingway concerning his attitude toward working with us, without disclosing the reasons, and reported that his attitude appeared to be entirely favourable to the Bureau. Consequently, early in September 1942, Ernest

Hemingway began to engage directly in intelligence activities on behalf of the American Embassy in Havana. These activities he manages from his finca, with visits to Havana two or three times weekly. He is operating through Spanish Republicans whose identities have not been furnished but which we are assured are obtainable when desired.

“ At a meeting with him at his finca on September 30, 1942, I was advised that he had four men operating on a full time basis, and fourteen barmen, waiters, and the like, operating on a part time basis. The cost of this program is approximately $500 a month. The ambassador has noted that he likes Hemingway’s approach and wishes to encourage him. Hemingway told me that he declined an offer from Hollywood to write a script for a March of Time report on the Flying Tigers in Burma, for which the compensation was to be $150,000, because he considers the work he is now engaged in as of greater importance.

“ We have also acceded to Hemingway’s request for authorization to patrol certain areas where submarine activity has been reported, and an allotment of gasoline is now being obtained for this use, and he has secured from the ambassador a promise that his crew members will be recognized as war casualties for the purpose of indemnification in the event any loss of life results from the operation.”

In 1942 Hemingway operated exactly the way he operated in the summer of 1944, by creating a private cell, a private army. And what all of this suggests is that, in 1942, Hemingway was regarded, by an ambassador — who was probably an FBI agent himself — and by the FBI themselves, as a highly regarded counter-espionage agent.

When Hemingway decided to leave for Europe in 1944 was that wholly as a result of Martha Gellhorn’s encouragement — she knew little or nothing about his FBI connections — or was he still in the pay of the FBI, who may have wanted an intelligence foothold in Europe?

James Joyce and Zane Grey

The shell from a German 88 hitting the tops of six trees less than a hundred metres from the hunting lodge brought Hemingway out of his dream, as it did the rest of the sleepers, with Pelkey rushing outside completely naked firing a Browning sub-machine after a fast disappearing German half track.

Hemingway leaned out of his bedroom window and shouted down to the naked Pelkey:

“ Pelkey, I swear if you don’t put some clothes on I might just fall in love with you because you are a sight to behold and no mistake. Now, for Crissake, will you please go an get me some coffee?”

“ Yes, sir, General.”

Hemingway closed the bedroom window and took a well worn copy of Joyce’s Ulysses out of his rucksack and read for the thousandth time the opening passage:

“ Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stair head, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressing-gown, engirdled, was sustained gently behind him by the mild morning air.”

Pelkey, now fully dressed, puts a steaming pot of real coffee, a cup and saucer, and two slices of buttered toast, onto a table at which Hemingway is sitting, reading.

“ What’s the book, general?”

“ Well done, Archie.”

“ Hell, I know a book when I see a fellah reading one.”

“ Well, this book, Professor Pelkey, is called Ulysses, and was written by an old friend of mine called James Joyce. He’s dead now.”

“ Is that so?”

“ That is so.”

“ So what’s it about, this book by your dead friend?”

“ It’s about one day in Dublin, back in 1904, a day seen from the viewpoint of several people, most notably Stephen Dedalus, Buck Mulligan, Leopald Bloom and his wife, Molly.”

“ Looking at the thickness of the book, general, it must have been one hell of a long day.”

“ Archie, just pour me a cup of coffee.”

“ Yes sir, general.”

Pelkey pours the coffee and starts eating Hemingway’s toast.

“ This friend of yours, how does he rate in the scribbling scales, say on a one to ten, in comparison to, say, Zane Grey?”

“ Zane Grey?”

“ Yeh, you know the guy…”

“ Yeh, I know the guy. Pioneer of the Frontier, and all that stuff.”

“ Great book. So how does this friend of yours, this Joyce fellah rate, in comparison?”

“ Well, he don’t rate, not in comparison. Grey wrote westerns and some great books on fishing too, got them all. But you can’t compare the two. Joyce was an innovator, a great literary stylist. Grey was a teller of moral tales of the Western Frontier.”

“ Ain’t there a comparison there? They were both pioneers in a way. One, Grey, a pioneer of the western, of the re-telling of the struggle for land against all the odds, in other words, as you say, moral tales about people under stress, not unlike your own work? And that Joyce, if what you say is true, was a pioneer of style, and therefore a writer who broke through literary frontiers. Surely they have this in common?”

Hemingway takes a sip of his coffee and looks at Pelkey.

“ Where you read that, Archie?”

“ Didn’t read it, just kind a worked it out. Am I right?”

“ Sure you’re right, but I ain’t never thought of it myself till now. And which books of mine have you read?”

“ Most, leastways bits of most, although I reckon To Have and Have Not is your best…”

“ The critics won’t agree with you there.”

“ What do I care about the critics. That book is your best, a great read from start to finish, and the way you describe that shoot-out in the street outside that bar in Havana is brilliant, man.”

“ Thanks, Archie.”

“ And Morgan is a real tough guy, a guy we could do with here.”

“ There’s talk of making a film, but I guess it won’t happen till after the war?”

“ Bogart is the man. Tell the studio to hire Bogart, tell them Pellkey said so.”

“ I will, Archie.”

“ Tell me about this guy Joyce.”

“ Archie, I ain’t no lecturer.”

“ I wanna know, might even get around to reading him one day, if he’s as good as you say.”

Hemingway finishes his coffee, then pulls a bottle of brandy out of his rucksack, takes a long drink and then hands the bottle over to Pelkey. Hemingway then stands, and like his grandfather, starts to pace up and down the room.

“ Well, Archie, James Joyce was born on February 2nd 1882. He was the oldest surviving son of John and May Joyce, and always felt guilty about the deaths of the brothers he never knew, which is a constant undercurrent in his work, especially in his collection of short stories, Dubliners.”

“ Is that a fact, general. Ma lost three before they reached school age. Goddam it, can you believe that?”

“ Well, like I was saying, the Joyce family wasn’t particularly well off, and because of his father’s loyalties to the republican cause he never really prospered in a city ruled by the British. James was a gifted and industrious scholar and began his education with the Jesuits at Clongowes Woods, just outside of Dublin. But he was soon withdrawn due to ill health. My personal feeling is he got beaten up once too often and probably retaliated with a right boot in some young priest’s genitals. I might be wrong, but James always came across as a guy who could look after himself.”

“ Tough son-of-a-bitch, eh?”

“ Reckon he had to be, what with the Jesuits, and the Brits, had no choice. Anyway, he eventually finished his education at Belvedere College, and then University College Dublin. I tell you, Archie, he was one hell of guy to be around. When he was twenty-two he wrote an essay which he entitled Portrait of the Artist, and then an early version of his story,The Sisters. In 1902, after the death of his brother George, he took himself off to Paris, but was soon recalled because of his mother’s poor health. She died in the late summer of 1903, and almost one year later, on June 16th 1904 — and remember Ulysses is set in 1904 — he met Nora Barnacle.”

“ Any relation to Barnacle Bill the Sailor?”

“ What the hell are you talking about, Archie?”

“ The song,Barnacle Bill the Sailor. Bix Beiderbecke had a big hit with that back in the 1920s, you must have heard it, I’m Barnacle Bill the…”

“ No, can’t say I have.”

“ Sorry, general, pray do continue.”

“ Archie? I’d say you were looking for a belt in the mouth, wouldn’t you?”

“ Sorry.”

“ Where the hell was I?”

“ Barnacle…I mean, Nora Barnacle.”

“ Nora, yes. Nora was not an educated woman, far from it, but she was intelligent, and outspoken, and well versed in sexual matters, and, it would seem, well suited to the demands James was to make on her, and she on him for that matter. Neither had any love, or commitment to republicanism, to politics of any colour, and certainly no interest in the Celtic revival, which they both saw as backward and futile, so they decided to flee Ireland and set-up shop, so to speak, on the mainland of Europe. They left Dublin on October 8th 1904, first settling in Zurich, then in a small town on the Adriatic coast of Italy called Pola, then, in March 1905, they finally settled in Trieste where James began working for the Berlitz School. Their son, Giorgio, was born in July 1905, after which they left Trieste for Rome, where James worked in a bank as a cashier. Can you believe that, Pelkey? James Joyce behind the counter of a damned bank?”

“Had a sister who worked in a bank, Paloma First National. The crash of ’29 finished it off of course, and sis moved to a gas station out on Highway Ten, married the owner in the end, fellah by the name of Roland Justice, nice guy most of the time, ‘cept when sis started hitting the bottle. He used to lock her in her room. I thought that was pretty mean of him considering he got drunk most Fridays himself. Anyway she left him in the end, burned the place down. She married a preacher after that, happy as hogs.”

“ Archie, you are a revelation.”

“ Is that good or bad, colonel, I mean general?”

“ Do you want to hear any more about James Joyce?”

“ No, no thanks general, reckon I’ll go see to the Jeep.”

As Pelkey left the room Ernest Hemingway put his copy of Ulysses back into his rucksack, took out a very dog-eared copy of Zane Grey’s Lone Star Ranger, took a long drink of brandy and began to read.

The German Army Stops Running

The German Army had, by October 1944, stopped running, with huge numbers of men from hundreds of units, and dozens of regiments, of varying ages and skills, all needing to be assessed, and, where possible, re-united with other members of their own units. In most cases this was not possible, so new units were hastily created, including thousands of so called Alarmeinheiten — emergency units — manned by convalescents, soldiers on leave, members of the Home Guard and Hitler Youth, and new recruits — in fact anyone capable of holding and firing a rifle. In fact they would be the first into the concrete fortifications of the Seigfried Line to face the advancing Americans, giving the returning, exhausted German forces a little bit of a breathing space. And all of this re-organisation was under the control of one of Germany’s most famous, most loyal, and most respected soldiers, Gerd von Rundstedt.

The 69 year old, wrinkled, Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt, commander of all the German Armies in the West was sitting in his ‘office’ in a small family hotel in Koblenz — at the confluence of the rivers Moselle and Rhine — and looked at the ever increasing piles of reports on his desk and called out to his Chief of Staff, General der Infanterie, Gunther Blumentritt:

“ Gunther?”

On hearing the command, Blumentritt came into the plush office (it had been the lounge of the hotel until the day before) at a crisp pace, the metal heel caps of his highly polished boots clicking out authority upon the old wooden floor.

“ Herr Feldmarschall?”

“ Get rid of all this paper will you, and pour me a large brandy.”

“ Feldmarschall.”

With that Blumentritt clicked his fingers, which brought two young aides running into the room, who came to attention just a few feet away from the General, who instructed them to remove the files from Rundstedt’s desk.

The 52 year old Blumentritt (played by Curt Jurgens in the 1962 film The Longest Day) then poured his boss a large brandy from an elaborate decanter that had, since September 1939, travelled across most of Europe with the Generalfeldmarschall.

“ Pour yourself one, Gunther.”

“ Thank you, Feldmarschall.”

After pouring the drinks Blumentritt walked across to the large picture window, where Rundstedt was now standing, looking out across the valley where the two rivers converged, and handed the old Prussian warrior his drink.

“ A toast Gunther. To the old ways, to the old German Army.”

“ To the old ways.”

Both men touched glasses and drank.

“ You do realise, my old friend, that we are finished, that what we are now taking part in is a charade?”

“ Maybe, Feldmarschall, but if we can hold the Americans off until the spring we may be able to negotiate a truce, save the Fatherland from total destruction.”

“ Do you really think it possible?”

“ We have little choice, I fear. “

“ The Americans and the British will only be happy with total surrender, surely?”

“ Feldmarschall. The American troops who suffered so badly at Omaha, and fought their way out of Normandy, are not the same men we confront now. The reports I’ve received suggest that the bulk of American infantry is made up of badly trained young men who were only to be used once the fight was won. Hit back hard, at a time of our choosing, and we could still turn the tables.”

“ What of the British?”

“ Formidable, I agree, but they lack the essential drive and ambition, the majority wishing only to get back to their families and their gardens.”

“ Montgomery?”

“ Unlike Patton he lacks the killer instinct.”

“ When the chance comes we counter-attack the British, or Americans?”

“ The Americans, Herr Feldmarschall.”

“ Why?”

“ If we hit the Americans — who have suffered like dogs — at a time when they least expect it — in the depths of winter — they will turn and run.”

“ The badly trained ones you speak of may run. But what of the airborne divisions? Those men are the same as June 6th are they not?”

“ Indeed, Herr Feldmarschall, and we must not forget they have Ernest Hemingway, who is something of a threat, is he not?”

“ He is a threat to Patton, a distraction that general could well do without.”

“ I hear he is under investigation for carrying arms.”

“ Who can blame him. Now, your plans, Gunther.”

“ We must create confusion, give the idea that the German Army is not finished, that we may have many more divisions than they ever imagined, it could, I say, could, just be enough to stop the enemy in its tracks. If the airborne divisions fight on we must isolate them, starve them into submission.”

“ Hmm.”

“ Herr Generalfeldmarschall?”

“ Make a general order, Gunther.”

Blumentritt beckons to a young aide to come into the room, instructing him to take dictation.

“ Your orders, Herr Generalfeldmarschall?”

“ They do not pass!”

“ Including Hemingway?”

“ Especially Hemingway.”

Read Part 6