I am currently reading Linda Wagner-Martin’s Ernest Hemingway: A Literary Life.
In 1918, Ernest Hemingway arrived on the battlefields of the First World War, serving as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross. From France he was promptly transferred to Italy. At midnight on July 8th, 1918, Hemingway was struck by a trench mortar – and possibly machine gun fire. (pp. 10-11)
During his recovery in a hospital in Milan (Ospedale Croce Rossa Americana), the young Hemingway was tended to, and developed an emotional bond with, an American nurse by the name of Agnes von Kurowsky. Agnes was seven years his senior; Hemingway was eighteen-years-old. “By the middle of September ,” writes Wagner-Martin, “according to Ernest’s letter to his sister Marcelline, he was falling in love with Ag.” (p. 13)
They last saw each other on January 6th, 1919. After the two had parted ways, they kept up correspondence; and Ernest was of the belief that Agnes would return to the United States, where they would marry. In a letter of 7th March, 1919, however – having become increasingly distant in her communications – she informed him that she was in love with, and due in the spring to marry, an Italian officer. She later in June wrote him, explaining that the engagement was off (the officer had broken it off “at the behest of his mother” [Wagner-Martin]), but by then Hemingway’s feelings were not what had been. (pp. 14-5)
This is a summation of the relationship between Ernest Hemingway and Agnes von Kurowsky. The eight words to which I referred at the outset are Agnes’. In one of her letters, the date of which is not given – it is most likely from 1918 – Agnes wrote to Hemingway (p. 14):
don’t forget me, nor that I love you
These were eight words of love, borne of a romance which blossomed in war.
Linda Wagner-Martin, Ernest Hemingway: A Literary Life (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)