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Sunday, November 8, 2020


While at the front 18-year-old Hemingway drove an Red Cross Ambulance while in the Italian Army.


Ernest Hemingway was still a teenager when he met an American Red Cross nurse Agnes von Kurowsky.  He was recovering from serious leg wounds after being blasted by an Austrian Army trench mortar.  At the time, he was serving with the Red Cross as an Ambulance driver on the front lines, where the Italian’s and Austrian’s battled each other near Venice during World War I.

Hemingway recuperated in a Red Cross hospital in Milan and during his stay the couple had a fling so serious with Nurse Agnes that they promised to marry.  Old photos show both were extremely handsome individuals.  

After his release and return to the United States in January 1919, Hemingway believed he and Agnes would marry upon her return to the States.

However, on March 7, 1919, she wrote the following “Dear John letter” explaining that she “expected to be married soon” to an Italian officer.

Hemingway, who was seven years younger was devastated.

There is much debate as to whether the romance never consummated.

Agnes never married the Italian officer.  She later married twice and died at age 92 in 1984.  She is buried in the United States Soldiers and Airmens Home National Cemetery in Washington DC.

They never met again.

However, Agnes reappears somewhat as a fictional character—Catherine Barkley—in Hemingway’s 1929 novel “Farewell to Arms.”

Red Cross nurse Agnes von Kurowsky in Milan

LETTER TO ERNIE / March 7, 1919

Ernie, dear boy,

I am writing this late at night after a long think by myself, & I am afraid it is going to hurt you, but, I’m sure it won’t harm you permanently.

For quite a while before you left, I was trying to convince myself it was a real love-affair, because, we always seemed to disagree, & then arguments always wore me out so that I finally gave in to keep you from doing something desperate. Now, after a couple of months away from you, I know that I am still very fond of you, but, it is more as a mother than as a sweetheart. It’s alright to say I’m a Kid, but, I’m not, & I’m getting less & less so every day.

So, Kid (still Kid to me, & always will be) can you forgive me some day for unwittingly deceiving you? You know I’m not really bad, & don’t mean to do wrong, & now I realise it was my fault in the beginning that you cared for me, & regret it from the bottom of my heart. But, I am now & always will be too old, & that’s the truth, & I can’t get away from the fact that you’re just a boy – a kid.

I tried hard to make you understand a bit of what I was thinking on that trip from Padua to Milan, but, you acted like a spoiled child, & I couldn’t keep on hurting you. Now, I only have the courage because I'm far away.

Then – & believe me when I say this is sudden for me, too – I expect to be married soon. And I hope & pray that after you thought things out, you’ll be able to forgive me & start a wonderful career & show what a man you really are.

Ever admiringly & fondly,

Your friend,


Source: “Love Letters of the Great War” (Macmillan), edited by Mandy Kirkby, is available from Telegraph Books.


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