Academic journal article The Hemingway Review

Report of the Department of Military Affairs January to July, 1918

Academic journal article The Hemingway Review

Report of the Department of Military Affairs January to July, 1918

Article excerpt


KEN PANDA University of Delaware

ERNEST HEMINGWAY'S TERM of service in Italy during World War I stands as a seminal period in both his life and his art. For his exploits in the Section IV ambulance service at Schio and later in the rolling canteen in the Lower Piave, he returned home a decorated hero. Heroism later became part of his mythos, undoubtedly aided by subsequent apocryphal characterizations of both his enlistment and his achievements. Moreover, and perhaps of greater significance, his earliest successes in literature were grounded deeply in his months in Italy.

The following Report of the Department of Military Affairs, part of the Hemingway holdings in the University of Maryland's Special Collections, offers insight into both the artistic consequences and biographical realities of Hemingway's tenure in Italy. As a counterpoint to the fiction he created out of his Italian service, the relationship between the report and Hemingway's art is subtle; it exists in a dramatic subtext, in the things left out. A holograph inscription on the report's cover by Hemingway's friend and fellow ambulance driver, Bill Horne, notes that Major Lowell was "only allowed to Print the cold facts--that's why there is no story" accompanying a reference to Ernest's wounding at Fossalta di Piave. Rather, the event is merely glossed over:

   E.M. Hemingway was wounded by the explosion of a shell which landed about
   three feet from him, killing a soldier who stood between him and the point
   of explosion, and wounding others.

One exception to the objective treatment of casualties involved the death of Lieutenant Edward McKey, who received a brief eulogy due to his period of service and the esteem with which he was regarded by his fellow men. But in general, Bill Horne's observation applied to all references to casualties, and because the glosses were often paired with patriotic rhetoric, they exemplify the obfuscation of the human tragedy experienced by those at war that Hemingway would later criticize in his fiction.

The report's most significant contribution to Hemingway scholarship is as a primary source and official American Red Cross (A.R.C.) release, as it provides precise details of Hemingway's experience. The history of the A.R.C. ambulance service in Italy is thoroughly documented, including the source of its volunteers over time, the size and location of its numerous sections, and its mission, both as it manifested itself practically in the field of battle, and politically on the home front. The living conditions Hemingway encountered at the front are revealed, along with descriptive and quantitative analyses of the quotidian responsibilities of the ambulance drivers, the type and amount of work they were engaged in, and their consequent achievements during the first eight months of 1918. There is also a comprehensive treatment of the rolling canteen that Hemingway and several of his friends volunteered for in late June of that year, and in which he was wounded. The circumstances which prompted the formation of the canteens, their purpose and placement in the field, and the constitution of their members are laid out, as are the impressive estimates of the number of men they served, and their perceived effect on the morale of forces from several Allied nations. As a whole, the report clarifies known details, and offers new insights into one of the most formative periods in the life of Ernest Hemingway.

THE HEMINGWAY REVIEW, VOL. 18, NO. 2, SPRING 1999. Copyright[C] 1999 The Ernest Hemingway Foundation. Published by the University of Idaho Press, Moscow, Idaho.

Report of the Department of Military Affairs, January to July, 1918.

Edited and with an Introduction by Ken Panda

Taken from a pamphlet owned by fellow ambulance driver Bill Horne and now housed in Special Collections at the University of Maryland, this official American Red Cross report details both the ordinary and extraordinary responsibilities of the ambulance sections and rolling canteens Hemingway served with during World War I. …

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