From Page to Screen: Excerpts From Martha Gellhorn's Wartime Writing


A covert assignment yields the memory of a lifetime

We had pulled out of the harbor in the night, but we crossed by daylight and the morning seemed longer than other mornings. … We waited very hard; and there was nothing much to see except occasional ships passing at a distance.

Then we saw the coast of France and suddenly we were in the midst of the armada of the invasion. People will be writing about this sight for a hundred years and whoever saw it will never forget it. First it seemed incredible; there could not be so many ships in the world. Then it seemed incredible as a feat of planning; if there were so many ships, what genius it required to get them here, what amazing and unimaginable genius. After the first shock of wonder and admiration, one began to look around and see separate details. There were destroyers and battleships and transports, a floating city of huge vessels anchored before the green cliffs of Normandy. Occasionally you would see a gun flash or perhaps only hear a distant roar, as naval guns fired far over those hills. Small craft beetled around in a curiously jolly way. It looked like a lot of fun to race from shore to ships in snub-nosed boats beating up the spray. It was no fun at all, considering the mines and obstacles that remained in the water, the sunken tanks with only their radio antennae showing above water, the drowned bodies that floated past. On an LCT [landing craft tank] near us washing was hung up on a line, and between the loud explosions of mines being detonated on the beach dance music could be heard coming from the its radio. Barrage balloons, always looking like comic toy elephants bounced in the high wind above the massed ships, and invisible planes droned behind the gray ceiling of cloud. Troops were unloading from big ships to heavy cement barges or to light craft, and on the shore, moving up four brown roads that scarred the hillside, our tanks clanked slowly and steadily forward.

… We waded ashore in water to our waists, having agreed that we would assemble the wounded from this area on board a beached LST [landing ship tank]and wait until the tide allowed the water ambulance to come back and call for us. It was almost dark by now and there was a terrible feeling of working against time.

-- "The First Hospital Ship," The Face of War by Martha Gellhorn

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