Martha Gellhorn & Major General James Gavin: A Love Story of World War II

Steve Newman Writer
14 min readMay 29, 2018

1944–45 Holland -Berlin

Photo of Martha: Associated News

Martha Gellhorn first saw Major General James Gavin, the Commanding Officer of the 82nd Airborne Division, in September 1944, during the Market Garden operation in Holland, just outside the small town of Nijmegen. She was travelling with the British XXX Corps waiting to link up with the British airborne divisions, who’d dropped on Arnhem a couple of days earlier.

Operation Market Garden was a bold and audacious attempt to get behind German lines and capture the vital bridges across the Rhine, with the American airborne’s job that of creating a path over which the British armour and infantry could pass. It was a plan that nearly worked too. What the British, and the Americans for that matter, had not counted on was a German SS Panzer Division resting just outside Arnhem.

The lightly-armed British airborne (see Sir Richard Attenborough’s film, A Bridge Too Far, to get a feel of the operation) held out against fierce, highly trained and well equipped German troops for three days, with thousands of men killed and wounded.

Throughout it all Martha Gellhorn kept her head down in various ditches to the south of Arnhem, sharing rations and cigarettes with the men of the British XXX Corps, and those of the 82nd and 101st American Airborne Divisions, who’d risked their lives taking bridge after bridge in an attempt to get to the British troops under siege. Martha also spotted the commander of the 82nd, the 36 year old, and very handsome, General James Gavin, as he passed in his Jeep. Martha was smitten. It’s not known if Gavin spotted Martha or not, either way their lives were about to collide; although they didn’t meet again until the winter of 1944 just outside the village of Sissons, three miles from Reims.

Martha, in a not dissimilar fashion as Hemingway, always did her own thing and one night joined a couple of GIs out on patrol. Later she was found, notebook in hand, and without any form of accreditation, helplessly wandering around looking for somewhere to sleep. She was arrested, naturally under protest, and taken to Gavin’s tent.

When James Gavin and Martha came face to face there was an instant rapport, with Martha admitting straight away she didn’t…

Steve Newman Writer

Playwright and Freelance Writer…