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July 21, 2020

Rare Photographs of 18-Year-Old Ernest Hemingway in Italy During World War I

In the winter and spring of 1918, Ernest Hemingway churned out several feature stories for The Kansas City Star about military recruiting campaigns. The Navy, the Tank Corps, and even the British had set up local offices to seek troops after the United States joined its allies in Europe.

Hemingway at the time was a recent high school graduate who had landed a reporting job in Kansas City in lieu of going to college or enlisting. At 18, he was too young to join without parental permission, but he talked a lot about getting into the war, a desire he expressed in several letters to his sister Marcelline. After arriving in Kansas City in mid-October 1917, he joined the Missouri Guard and even trained at Swope Park. Further military service was not in the cards, but a Kansas City friendship led him down another path toward serving in the war. In February 1918, the American Red Cross announced it was seeking volunteers to join the ambulance service in Italy. Hemingway most likely heard about this directly from Dell D. Dutton, who ran the Red Cross office in Kansas City. Still wanting to participate in the war effort, Hemingway signed up with the Red Cross as an ambulance driver.


Upon leaving the US, Hemingway first traveled to Paris, and then received orders to report to Milan. A short time later, he moved to the town of Schio where he worked driving ambulances. While delivering chocolates and cigarettes to soldiers on the front, Hemingway was seriously injured on July 8, 1918 by fragments from an Austrian mortar shell. Though badly wounded by the mortar, and hit by machine gun fire as well, Hemingway worked to secure the safety of his fellow soldiers, getting them out of harms way.

Hemingway’s friend Ted Brumbach, who visited him in the hospital, wrote to Hemingway’s parents that: “A third Italian was badly wounded and this one Ernest, after he had regained consciousness, picked up on his back and carried to the first aid dugout. He says he did not remember how he got there, nor that he carried the man, until the next day, when an Italian officer told him all about it and said that it had been voted to give him a valor medal for the act.” As Brumbach reported, Hemingway was awarded an Italian medal of valor, the Croce de Guerra, for his service. As he wrote in his own letter home after the incident: “Everything is fine and I am very comfortable and one of the best surgeons in Milan is looking after my wounds.”

Hemingway spent time recovering at a hospital in Milan, where he met Agnes von Kurowsky, a nurse originally from Washington D.C. She was six years older than Hemingway, but nevertheless he fell in love with her, and planned to take her home to Oak Park. Agnes never did return with Hemingway as planned. Her involvement with an Italian officer ended their relationship. His time spent recovering in the Milan hospital, and his failed romance with Agnes von Kurowsky served as inspiration for Hemingway’s famous novel, A Farewell to Arms.

Hemingway returned to Italy throughout his life, during his many travels to Europe and around the world.

WWI Red Cross ambulance in Italy, 1918.

Ernest Hemingway in an American Red Cross ambulance, Italy.

Ernest Hemingway during his time in Italy, 1918.

Ernest Hemingway riding a bicycle in Italy, 1918.

Portrait of Ernest Hemingway as an American Red Cross volunteer in Milan, Italy.

Ernest Hemingway recuperating from wounds in Milan, Italy.

Ernest Hemingway recuperating in the American Red Cross hospital in Milan, Italy, 1918.

Ernest Hemingway in the base hospital in Milan, Italy.

Agnes von Kurowsky and Ernest Hemingway in Milan, Italy.

Agnes von Kurowsky and Ernest Hemingway at the San Siro horse racing track in Milan, Italy.

(via The Ernest Hemingway Collection)




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