Martha Gellhorn – Tales from Wo-Fan’s Land

Martha Gellhorn was arguably the greatest female war correspondent who ever lived. I first learned about her through the HBO biopic “Hemingway & Gellhorn,” [1] which was based on her short-lived affair-turned-eventual-marriage to every English department’s favorite male chauvinist pig. As soon as the movie ended, though, I caught myself desperately Googling for more information about her, both because she instantly gained heroine status in my heart for paving the way for lady defense reporters like me to tell human stories and still be taken seriously, but also for having the guts to leave Hemingway after his jealousy for her rising reporting fame led him to try and sabotage her coverage of the Allied invasion of France during World War II. (Spoiler alert: It didn’t work, and she wound up being the first American journalist to reach and report from Omaha Beach. [2]) She wound up surviving the divorce and cover countless more wars before getting cancer, losing the majority of her sight, and eventually, it’s believed, taking her own life at the age of 89 [3, 4].  Long story short, she’s the unofficial patron saint of badass woman reporters, but is still unknown to many young journalists and most of the college kids who are forced to read her ex’s diatribes as part of their class syllabi, so I was inspired to write a song from her perspective—a sort of ode to reclaiming her place in history (and a chance to have the last laugh with respect to he-who-must-not-be-named-in-this-song). 

Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway with unidentified Chinese military officers, Chungking (Chongqing), China, 1941. Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston (via Wikimedia commons)

Normandy

Verse 1:
I put battle into language.
though as a pacifist [5] I swore
to speak truth to the violence
But never give the war a home.

and then I met him
and I got weak
a rush of gullibility. 
I temporarily forgot propriety
but I never lost myself.

Chorus:
I was a writer on battlefield
a bride in his bed [6]
But these intersections 
they messed with his head

He stole my assignment [7]
But I won in the end [8]
My feet beat his to the beach.
I’ll always have Normandy.

Verse 2:
Five years after taking the vows,
I changed the locks and
reclaimed the rights to the 
the woman he forgot.

I told the stories of chaos
for some 60 years
before the cancer and blindness
took my will to live.
The rest, I surrendered to whatever comes next.

Bridge:
Dearest beloved, but much bemoaned, 
I didn’t die to chase your ghost.

I still wonder even now, 
did you prefer the shape or the words of my mouth?

I was a fighter before you, a feminist by birth, and a writer in my own right. 
I made my own worth.

My tongue has a history of starting riots [9]
So I’m not surprised we were lost in our own fire.

Despite your legend
overwhelming me,
and this heart being a tragically shabby thing, [10]
my once true love,
I’ll always have Normandy.


Written by Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory (she/her) from Alexandria, Virginia, via New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram! This project, Tales from Wo-Fan’s Land, is a series of stories written by Frank Turner fans, inspired by his new album No Man’s Land.


Sources:

  1. “Hemingway & Gellhorn.” IMDb, IMDb.com, 28 May 2012, m.imdb.com/title/tt0423455/.
  2. Gilmore, Nicholas, and Juliana Messina. “The Female War Correspondent Who Sneaked into D-Day: The Saturday Evening Post.” The Saturday Evening Post The Female War Correspondent Who Sneaked into DDay Comments, The Saturday Evening Post, 8 Nov. 2018, www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2018/11/the-female-war-correspondent-who-sneaked-into-d-day/.
  3. Anderson, Sarah. “Obituary: Martha Gellhorn.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 22 Oct. 2011, www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/obituary-martha-gellhorn-1145325.htm
  4. Lyman, Rick. “Martha Gellhorn, Daring Writer, Dies at 89.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 17 Feb. 1998, www.nytimes.com/1998/02/17/arts/martha-gellhorn-daring-writer-dies-at-89.html
  5. Arons, Rachel. “Chronicling Poverty with Compassion and Rage.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 18 June 2017, www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/chronicling-poverty-with-compassion-and-rage
  6. This line is a play on a telegram Hemingway sent her asking if she was “a war correspondent or a wife in my bed.” 
    Curnutt, Kirk. An Interview with Ernest Hemingway. Cavendish Square, 2014. P.87. Google Books.
  7. Curnutt, Kirk. An Interview with Ernest Hemingway. Cavendish Square, 2014. P.26 
  8. Gilmore, Nicholas, and Juliana Messina. “The Female War Correspondent Who Sneaked into D-Day: The Saturday Evening Post.” The Saturday Evening Post The Female War Correspondent Who Sneaked into DDay Comments, The Saturday Evening Post, 8 Nov. 2018, www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2018/11/the-female-war-correspondent-who-sneaked-into-d-day/.
  9. McLain, Paula, and Paula McLain. “The Extraordinary Life of Martha Gellhorn, the Woman Ernest Hemingway Tried to Erase.” Town & Country, 16 July 2018, www.townandcountrymag.com/society/tradition/a22109842/martha-gellhorn-career-ernest-hemingway/
  10. “A broken heart is such a shabby thing, like poverty and failure and the incurable diseases which are also deforming. I hate it and am ashamed of it, and I must somehow repair this heart and put it back into its normal condition, as a tough somewhat scarred but operating organ.” ― Martha Gellhorn
    Moorehead, Caroline. Gellhorn: A Twentieth-century Life. New York: H. Holt, 2003. 267. Print.

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