Hemingway was badly wounded aged 18, when he was serving as an ambulance driver in France and Italy during World War I, an experience which he used as the basis for his novel A Farewell to Arms. During the 1920s he was a foreign correspondent in Paris, mixing with writers and painters, and fishing and making his first safari from December 1933 to January 1934 – some of his experiences are detailed in The Green Hills of Africa (1935). He had homes in Florida and Cuba and also covered the Spanish Civil War as a correspondent. Covering the American advance in France after D-Day, he also became involved in leading a group of resistance fighters and was present at the Liberation of Paris. He was awarded The Bronze Star for his bravery in reporting the war.
An enthusiastic sportsman, he owned many guns and acquired his Westley Richards .577 from a friend and hunting companion, Winston Guest, an American relation of Churchill, who had used it hunting in Africa with Bror Blixen-Finecke, the husband of Karen Blixen of Out of Africa fame. The rifle was built by Westley Richards & Co. in 1913 for Stephen Christy, a cavalry officer who died in 1914 in France. Hemingway was introduced to Mr Guest by the professional hunter Philip Percival and they became close friends.
In 1942, Mr Guest was managing estates in Cuba when he met up with Hemingway again and became involved, as second in command, in Hemingway’s FBI-approved ‘Crook Factory’ which maintained surveillance for Axis agents in the area. German U-boats were trawling the area and sinking oil tankers going between New Orleans, Aruba and Great Britain. American yachtsmen were then assisting the Navy in patrolling the seas. Hemingway had a yacht, Pilar, which he planned to use to trap a U-boat.
The U-Boats would surface from time to time to buy food from local fisherman and Hemingway planned to pose as a fishing boat and, when a U-boat surfaced, sweep the deck with gunfire while they threw a satchel charge into the conning tower. He also believed that Guest could use his .577 against a U-boat but never got the chance to try.4 Hemingway took his Westley & Richards .577 on safari in 1953-1954 and was photographed with the gun triumphantly in his hand with his quarry beside him.
Before this safari, journalist Leonard Lyons wrote that he had accompanied Hemingway to test-fire some old .577 cartridges in the Westley Richards rifle before he left. Lyons tried it: “ ... the recoil hurled me back against the back of the cement booth and the gun fell from my hand. ‘You OK?’ the salesman asked. ‘Only a wrenched shoulder.’ ‘Lucky’, he said. ‘They usually break a collar-bone.’ ”