On July 11th Dick Wise spoke to the Association about the famous and
important American literary author who came to England in the Summer of
1944 as a war correspondent. Dick was a Hawker apprentice in 1961 and
via the Avionic Systems Department at Kingston and Dunsfold, where he
was a flight test observer in the TMk8M Hunter used for Sea Harrier
avionic systems integration work, rose to become the Harrier Project
Director in 1998.
Afterwards he worked for BAe in the USA in senior positions covering sales and marketing, and Joint Strike Fighter support. He was appointed OBE in 2005.
Since retiring Dick has researched the life of Ernest Hemingway,
particularly his time in England during World war II. The result was
his first book ‘Hemingway in Wartime England - his life and times as a
war correspondent’, reviewed in Newsletter No. 50, Spring 2018.
Dick had a long standing interest in Hemingway and noticed many
errors in existing biographies which prompted him to embark on his
project. Dick went to primary sources including US and UK national
archives, diaries, museums and had conversations with people who knew
the author. Importantly he uncovered new sources. The research took
seven years, the writing three.
Hemingway was born in Chicago in 1899. His books made him famous and his writing style had a profound effect on US literature. He had a high profile (in today’s parlance he was a celebrity) and for marketing purposes presented a ‘macho’ life style pursuing big game hunting and fishing, boxing, bull fighting, drinking and womanizing (he was married four times). He served in the US Red Cross in World War I in Italy and During the Spanish Civil War he was a war correspondent (warco).
In 1941 Hemingway was living in Cuba on the proceeds from his successful novels, particularly ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’. He spent his time drinking, fishing, yachting and informal intelligence gathering. However, he was rejected as an agent by J Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI, who considered Hemingway to be a Communist because he had supported the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War. At that time there was a threat to the east coast of the USA from U-boats and because of a shortage of Naval vessels, private yachts, including Hemingway’s, were employed to patrol the area.
His wife at that time was Martha Gellhorn, a famous and successful novelist, travel writer, journalist and now a warco in Europe. Having flown the Atlantic in the BOAC Boeing 314 flying boat, ‘Berwick‘, Hemingway joined Martha in London where he was accredited to the RAF to report on the war effort for the prestigious Colliers magazine. He lived at the Dorchester Hotel with many other warcos, near the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square. London was battered and shabby yet was the R & R destination for allied forces including 1.5 million Americans.
There was considerable friction between the British servicemen and
the US GIs who had smarter uniforms and much higher pay. The Brits said
the Americans were “overpaid, oversexed and over here”; the American
response was that the Brits were “underpaid”, undersexed, underfed and
under Ike”, General Eisenhower, the allies’ supreme commander. In
London Hemingway met Mrs Mary Monks, a journalist, whom he was to marry
in 1946 after divorcing Martha. Mary was Hemingway’s fourth and last
Hemingway had to get accreditation by registering with the military authorities to gain access to briefings, for transport and a uniform; warcos were quasi staff officers. Accredited, Hemingway transferred to the USN as a Lieutenant to cover the D-Day landings. Unfortunately, Hemingway had suffered serious head and knee injuries in a car crash in the blackout following a party. He got himself discharged after only four days in hospital and, not at all fit, he was ordered to report to Portland Harbour with an overnight bag where he embarked on the USS Dorothea L Dix, an attack transport which was to transport 1000 troops, 33 Jeeps, a Cub aircraft and 24 landing craft. On board Hemingway was popular with the troops and he was photographed with the men and officers although the latter found him arrogant. The fleet was moored 11 miles off the Normandy coast for fear of long range German guns.
Hemingway was assigned to Lt Robert Anderson, 24 years old at the time, who would command four landing craft for the assault on Omaha beach. By the time Anderson’s landing craft was near the beach, after the 11 mile run in, the men were cold, wet, seasick and tired, and Anderson’s beach chart was blown away. It was Hemingway who spotted the Collville church spire identification point but the army lieutenant in charge of the men refused to land. Anderson withdrew but on the second approach the boat was waved off.
On the third approach Anderson was ordered to pick up a seriously
wounded sailor who was taken to a destroyer and on the fourth approach
the army lieutenant again refused to land. This time Hemingway,
observing the terrible conditions, ordered the troops off and they
headed for the beach to join the battle.
Back at the Dorchester Hemingway wrote his Colliers piece “Voyage to
Victory” which was hailed as a masterpiece of war reporting.
(Ed: This can be found at https://billdownscbs.blogspot.com/2014/12/
The RAF was badly in need of good public relations and a major task at that time was the destruction of the V1 launch sites hidden in France. The V1s were pilotless pulse jet propelled aircraft (equivalent to today’s cruise missiles) flying at 400 mph at 2-3000 ft, steered by a gyro compass-autopilot system and carrying a 1800 lb warhead. The continual bombardment, directed principally at London, was causing extensive damage and thousands of civilian casualties.
Hemingway was posted to RAF Dunsfold, eating at the Gibb’s Hatch Restaurant (now the Alfold Barn Restaurant) and drinking at The Three Compasses pub (still there) just outside the aerodrome boundary. North American B-25D Mitchell bombers were operating out of Dunsfold and Hemingway flew with the 28 year old Wing Commander Lynn in a 180 Squadron aircraft. Lynn was a quiet man whereas Hemingway had already exhibited his characteristic arrogance and boorish behaviour. The Mitchells flew in 14 ‘boxes’ of six aircraft, each carrying eight 500 lb bombs, with a Spitfire escort. There was one bomb aimer per box. The main danger was from lethal anti-aircraft gun ‘flack’ which caused the Mitchells to weave, climb and dive to defeat the guns’ target prediction systems; very uncomfortable for the crews. Lynn’s Mitchells attacked the heavily defended V1 sites hidden in the Bois Cocquerel wood at low level so the bomb strikes could not be seen. Hemingway requested Lynn to go round again so he could see the damage; unsurprisingly Lynn refused. Hemingway’s Colliers article about the raid was entitled “London Fights the Robots”.
(Ed: This can be found at https://billdownscbs.blogspot.com/2015/08/
Hemingway then left London after an eventful 62 days, returning to live in Cuba. If you want the full story buy Dick’s well illustrated book, ‘Hemingway in Wartime England - his life and times as a war correspondent’, which is available from Amazon for just £8.90.