7 to 8th February

Robert Merriman’s Diary for February 7 and 8, 1937.

In the propaganda booklet, The Story of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, written in the trenches of Spain, produced for supporters of the Battalion in the United States, the following passage recalls the bullfight on February 7th, and also that the Sunday before, a football match had been held between the Irish Section and the Dutch, who were part of the Medical Unit attached to the Lincoln Battalion.

One Sunday a football match was held between the Irish Section and the Dutch, which resulted in a draw since everybody played the game differently. On the next Sunday we were taken to see a bull fight at Motilla (del Palancar), a town near the base. The fight was gory and the matador not especially good. Since it was the first time most of us had ever witnessed a bull fight, it proved to be an odd and interesting day, though some of the boys expressed it as being a rather cruel sport

William Herrick writes about Ray Steele, who was mentioned by Merriman on January 28th as having been drunk and having broken a door:

One man did get drunk publicly, but he was quickly hauled in and placed in the brig for the night. His name was Ray Steele, a merchant mariner who called himself a Wobbly. He was one of the few non-Communists in the battalion. Though Ray had a club foot, he could outrun anyone in the battalion. I thought I was fast, but he beat me by yards in a hundred-yard dash. We had a football that we passed around and punted to each other. Ray could kick beautiful spirals forty, fifty yards. He became one of the finest machine-gunners and soldiers at the front

The British had left Madrigueras for Albacete on February 7th and then to Jarama. Scotsman Robert Bridges, from Leith, had been left in charge, but he subsequently died on the 27th of February at Jarama. The Lincoln Battalion was soon to follow….


¹The Story of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, written in the trenches of Spain, by John Tisa.  1937. pp. 9-10. The complete booklet can be found at this link.

² William Herrick,  Jumping the Line. AK Press, 2001. p. 147.


  1. A comment about Herrick as a source. There is no doubt that William Horowitz (as his passport called him), William Harvey (as his Secorro Rojo book called him) or William Herrick (as he lived out the rest of his life) was on the Normandie in December 1936 and was injured at Jarama in February 1937. So Bill Herrick would have been in Villanueva de la Jara to see these events.

    Bill Herrick told this story in his book in 2001 some 63 years after the events. In the meantime, he had fallen out with the VALB, with the Communist Party, had tried to form an alternate veteran’s group with Robert Gladnick and Morris Mickenburg, and had written several “historical novels” about the war. I think we can take Herrick’s observations about this period at face value since, outside of a trend to trash anyone in authority and to hyperbolize his own importance at the time (i.e. said he was an officer in the Mooney’s for which there is no evidence), he had no vested interest in making up stories out of whole cloth.

    But his impressions about who was liked and disliked were colored by years and fears. His testimony on events after Jarama that did not include him personally should be viewed as hearsay and “telling tales” as Merriman called it. There may be truth in there but it is wrapped in dogma. The same can be said for many of the vet’s stories.

  2. I completely agree. Herrick is opinionated, but then who isn’t? He had his axe to grind, but his memories before he was wounded at Jarama hopefully have some value. Thanks for the comment.

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