Lieutenant Frederic Henry is a young American attached to an Italian ambulance unit on the Italian front. An offensive is soon to begin, and when Henry returns to the front from leave, he learns from his friend, Lieutenant Rinaldi, that a group of British nurses arrived in his absence to set up a British hospital unit. Rinaldi introduces him to Nurse Catherine Barkley. Between ambulance trips to evacuation posts at the front, Henry calls on Miss Barkley. He likes the frank young English girl in a casual sort of way, but he is not in love with her. Before he leaves for the front to stand by for an attack, she gives him a St. Anthony medal.
At the front, as Henry and some Italian ambulance drivers are eating in a dugout, an Austrian projectile explodes over them. Henry, badly wounded in the legs, is taken to a field hospital. Later, he is moved to a hospital in Milan. Before the doctor is able to see Henry in Milan, the nurse prohibits his drinking wine, but he bribes a porter to bring him a supply that he keeps hidden behind his bed. Catherine comes to the hospital, and Henry knows that he is in love with her. The doctors tell Henry that he will have to lie in bed six months before they can operate on his knee. Henry insists on seeing another doctor, who says that the operation can be performed the next day. Meanwhile, Catherine manages to be with Henry constantly.
After his operation, Henry convalesces in Milan with Catherine as his attendant. Together they dine in out-of-the-way restaurants, and together they ride about the countryside in a carriage. Henry is restless and lonely at nights and Catherine often comes to his hospital room. Summer passes into autumn. Henry’s wound heals, and he is due to take convalescent leave in October. He and Catherine plan to spend the leave together, but he comes down with jaundice before he can leave the hospital. The head nurse accuses him of bringing on the jaundice by drink, in order to avoid being sent back to the front. Before he leaves for the front, Henry and Catherine stay together in a hotel room; already she has disclosed to him that she is pregnant. Henry returns to the front with orders to load his three ambulances with hospital equipment and go south into the Po valley. Morale is at a low ebb. Rinaldi admires the job that has been done on the knee and observes that Henry acts like a married man. War weariness is all-pervasive. At the front, the Italians, learning that German divisions have reinforced the Austrians, begin their terrible retreat from Caporetto. Henry drives one of the ambulances loaded with hospital supplies. During the retreat south, the ambulance is held up several times by...
(The entire section is 1089 words.)