This week, 75 years ago, Martha Gellhorn was the only woman to land on the shores of Normandy on D-Day.
Each news outlet could only send one reporter and Collier’s magazine chose Ernest Hemingway who at the time was the estranged husband to Gellhorn. Hemingway asked for her slot and all women who applied were turned down.
However, Gellhorn wouldn’t take “no” for an answer and proceeded to hide in the bathroom of a hospital ship. When it came time to land, she disguised herself as stretcher bearer and went unnoticed; also managing to get there ahead of Hemingway. She was able to send off a dispatch about what she saw, but was arrested by military police upon her return.
She recalls what she saw:
“It will be hard to tell you of the wounded, there were so many of them. There was no time to talk; there was too much else to do. They had to be fed as most of them had not eaten for two days; their shoes had to be cut off; they needed help to get out of their jackets; they wanted water; the nurses and orderlies, working like demons, had to be found and called quickly to a bunk where a man suddenly and desperately needed attention; plasma bottles had to be watched; cigarettes had to be lighted and held for those who could not use their hands; it seemed to take hours to pour hot coffee from the spout of a teapot into a mouth that just showed through bandages.
But the wounded talked among themselves, and as time went on you got to know them, by their faces and their wounds, not by their names. They were a magnificent, enduring bunch of men. Men smiled who were in such pain that all they really can have wanted to do was turn their heads away and cry, and men made jokes when they needed their strength just to survive.
All of them looked after one another, saying, ‘Give that boy a drink of water,’ or ‘Miss, see that ranger over there; he’s in bad shape. Could you go to him?’ All through the ship, men were asking after other men by name, anxiously, wondering if they were on board and how they were doing.”
Text: History Cool Kids.