"remembering how many days Ney had fought"
Marshal Michel Ney
Public DomainMarshal Michel Ney - Credit: COOK, Charles

The statue of Marshal Ney -- who had once been one of Napoleon Bonaparte's most favoured generals -- marks the spot on which he was executed on charges of treason. Ney had sworn allegiance to the new king after helping to persuade Bonaparte to abdicate and flee in April 1814. However, he rejoined Bonaparte in his revolutionary march on Paris just over a year later. What ensued was the famous assault to which Hemingway refers -- The Battle of Waterloo.

It's argued that the role Ney played in the battle was key to Bonaparte's downfall, although the bravery and commitment that Ney demonstrated during Napoleon's earlier retreat from Russia (1812) could hardly be faulted. Thought to be the last of his countrymen to leave enemy soil, Ney would have continued fighting long after Napoleon left the battlefield.

Battle of Waterloo
Public DomainBattle of Waterloo - Credit: William Sadler

'Mike' (Michel) Ney's courageous command of the rearguard in 1812 won him Bonaparte's accolade of 'the bravest of the brave'. It would seem that Napoleon was right in his judgement -- when facing the firing squad Ney refused the blindfold and demanded to deliver the final order himself, stating: 'Soldiers, when I give the command to fire, fire straight at my heart. Wait for the order. It will be my last to you. I protest against my condemnation. I have fought a hundred battles for France, and not one against her ... Soldiers, Fire!'


French poet Guillaume Apollinaire (1880–1918) is thought to have been the first to coin 'the adjective "surrealist"'. An art critic and author of erotic novels, he was also a leading figure amongst the literary crowd of Montparnasse and a regular attendee of Gertrude Stein's Saturday night dinner parties. Apollinaire died on 11 November 1918 (Armistice Day), on the eve of which crowds marched through the streets shouting 'à bas Guillaume' (down with Wilhelm), following the abrupt abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II on November 9th.

In her book The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein would describe Apollinaire as 'heroic':

As a foreigner, his mother a pole, his father possibly an Italian, it was not necessary that he should volunteer to fight. He was a man full of habit, accustomed to a literary life and the delights of the table, and in spite of everything he volunteered.

The death of Guillaume Apollinaire at this time, she went on to say, made a very serious difference to all his friends apart from their sorrow at his death. It was the moment just after the war when many things had changed and people naturally fell apart. Guillaume would have been a bond of union, he always had a quality of keeping people together, and now that he was gone everybody ceased to be friends.