MARTHA AND THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR: 1936-39

“Me, I am going to Spain with the boys,” Martha Gellhorn wrote to a friend as she travelled to the war in the city of Madrid in March 1937. Naturally, she stayed at the Hotel Florida, the digs for all the correspondents – including Ernest Hemingway, whose acquaintance she had made earlier that year. The city was suffering from severe food shortages and aerial attacks, although Hemingway, somehow, always managed to have a wardrobe full of delicious food and a car – with a full tank – at his beck and call.

Hotel_Florida_Madrid

The Hotel Florida in the Plaza de Callao, c. 1925

On the first night in the hotel, Hemingway locked Martha into her room, explaining that he had done so because the hotel was full of pimps and drunks who would mistake her for a whore. Regardless of his patrician treatment of her, it was in Spain that she Martha fell in love with Ernest.  “I think it was the only time in his life that he was not the most important thing there was,” Martha explained to biographer Bernice Kert. “He really cared about the Republic and he cared about that war. I never would’ve got hooked otherwise.”

Two weeks after arriving, they went to bed together. The rest of the correspondents found out when a shell hit the hotel’s hot water tank and Martha and Ernest had to scurry from their room together, while Antoine de St Exupery kept everyone calm by handing out grapefruits.

EH 6672P

Ernest Hemingway with Ilya Ehrenburg and Gustav Regler during the Spanish Civil War, not dated, but c. 1937

Each time they went to Spain, many times over the next two years, Martha and Ernest – this pairing of “flint and steel” – would go together. For all of her life Martha felt that it was in wartime that she felt most vital, most useful, most able to write. “We will have to get into some sort of serious trouble next winter or I will curl up and melt. I like my catastrophes… Oh hell. If there is a war anywhere I want to be at it.”

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