And so the training and organisation of the Battalion continues. Merriman talked with Stern when Stern walked off on him (“Stern up and went”, an Americanism) to Stember. This is probably related to an observation made by William Herrick:
One morning several days before we left the village, as we stood at attention outside our barracks, Commissar Stern introduced a plump, middle-aged, unprepossessing man named Sam Stember as our new battalion political commissar. Then Stern, to our utter astonishment, strode white-faced to an infantry squad and just like that became a simple rank-and-filer. Our heads whirled. There were no explanations. The Party leadership and its mystical ways.¹
The constant reorganising, promotions and demotions is just one aspect of the International Brigades that is somewhat surprising to many. The personal rivalry and arguments between the men must have been a constant worry to Merriman, as one will see throughout his Diary. But as Merriman writes, “Battalion is starting to function”, which can only be to the good.
¹William Herrick, Jumping the Line. AK Press, 2001, p. 153