History 101: Papa Hemingway’s not-so-heroic WWII feats

History 101 is an original, regular feature here at The Pretty Good Gatsby that combines my two passions: history and reading. Each post I’ll discuss a historical figure or event and then pair it with a book. Interested in previous History 101 posts? Check out its page!

EH4369P Everyone knows Hemingway and chances are, if you’ve made it through high school, you’re familiar with at least a handful of his works. Also widely known is his time spent at an ambulance driver in WWI and later as a war correspondent during WWII. What many people might be surprised to find out, however, is that there were a few not-so-legendary exploits.

Not long after America entered the war, the US government began issuing Q-ships – armed ships disguised as ordinary, civilian crafts – to the coast in an attempt to lure German submarines. When Hemingway got wind of this, he volunteered his fishing boat, Pilar, to be used. Unfortunately, his wife’s suspicions were correct: Hemingway and his fishing buddies were using this time (& extra fuel rations) to continue fishing and drinking.

Things came to an end in October 1943 when J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI director, stopped Q-ship operations. Over the course of his patrols, Hemingway only spotted one U-boat.

Ernest Hemingway’s books weren’t the only instance where fiction came into play. Collier’s Weekly, the magazine he was working for, sent Hemingway on assignment to cover D-Day landings. Unfortunately, for Papa, once the troops went ashore, the landing craft headed back for the ship, Hemingway in tow.

Not one to let a silly little thing like not being there stop him, Hemingway brazenly told of his experience as though he stormed the beaches right alongside the troops. To add insult to injury, his wife at the time, rival correspondent Martha Gellhorn, actually went ashore the very next day disguised as a nurse.

Yesterday I reviewed Kate Atkinson’s latest novel, Life After Life (you can read my review here).

A good portion of the novel takes place at the height of WWII, with the main character volunteering as an air raid warden during the London Blitz.

Ursula Todd is blessed – or cursed – with reliving her life over and over. In one life she died as a baby, in the other she lived. She drowned on a family vacation when she was a child and later went on to insert herself in Hitler’s inner circle.

For my first Atkinson novel I was extremely impressed! Definitely check this one out.

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