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.


5 to 6 february

Robert Merriman’s Diary for February 5 and 6, 1937.

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


3 to 4th february page

Robert Merriman’s Diary for February 3 and 4, 1937.

Extensive field maneuvres were conducted in the countryside surrounding Villanueva de Jara. However, as William Herrick noted:

Two days later I was ordered by Seacord to observe a machine gun squad during maneuvres-without a gun. We were guarding ingress to the village at the narrow point where the road passed the fortress church.…¹

The lack of effective weaponry available is often noted by the brigaders at this time. in their training at nearby Madrigueras, The British often used football rattles to simulate machine gun fire!

John Tisa also remembers:

The numbers of rifles allotted to our infantry was too few for the number of men. Those without rifles used broomsticks or canes to train and march with. It didn’t matter, though, for those outdated and prehistoric rifles were not serviceable anyway. If you had tried to fire one, you would have risked having your head blown off. Fortunately, no ammunition was available.²

Merriman notes on February 3rd the actions of Scott’s No. 1 company on February 3rd. Composed principally of Irish and Cubans, it seemed to have worked fairly well. Herrick comments on the pecadillos of some of the officers, and also the relationship between Merriman and Scott, alias Englishman Inver Marlow:

john scott

Poor quality photograph of John Scott from “The Book of the XV International Brigade” (1938).

Several fights broke out. Seacord was drinking more, as was (Gladnick said) Jim Harris, our commander. Adjutant Commander Merriman was partial to the infantry commander, Scott, two WASPs (White Anglo Saxon Protestants) on a hot tin roof. Scott was much liked by his men, as was Seacord by his.³

hendrikson 1

George Hendrickson (ALBA 052, Tamiment Library, NYU)

hendrikson 2

Two other photographs of Hendrickson in Spain (Tamiment, ALBA 052).

What the “many tales” were leaves much to the imagination, but George Hendrickson was once in the merchant marine, went over with the first 96 volunteers, and having been a trained radio operator on a ship ended up being attached to Transmissions.  He was based in Valencia for the greater part of the war owing to his skills, but not much more is known about him.  He returned to the United States on February 9, 1939 with one of the last groups of Internationals to leave Spain.

William Hathaway was from Downen Grove, Illinois. He was killed on February 27th, 1937 at Jarama.  The only Hedley named in IB lists is Englishman John F. Hedley from Liverpool, who came over in December 1936, and left sometime in 1937.

John William Parks

John William Parks

“Parker” could possibly be construed as “Parks”. there were no “Parkers” in Spain at this time. It could, however, be  John William Parks, who was then commissar of No. 2 company. He was killed on 16th February 1937 after driving two trucks through enemy lines, having got lost.


Merriman’s final line that he had “announced  organisation of the Batt(alion)” was to have dramatic repercussions, as will be seen over the next few days…


¹William Herrick, Jumping the Line AK Press, 2001. p. 152

² John Tisa, Recalling the Good Fight, An Autobiography of the Spanish Civil War.1985. p.25

³ William Herrick, ibid. p. 151













1 to 2 february pages

Robert Merriman’s Diary for February 1 and 2, 1937

Fred Copeman in his autobiography Reason in Revolt refers indirectly to the tools related to his anti aircraft lecture as mentioned by Merriman:

lewis mg

Lewis machine gun similar to the ones described by Fred Copeman and used for anti aircraft defense.

I concentrated on the Lewis gun, easy to handle and very light, and I knew all about.  In the end, six of these guns were made serviceable, and either by design or by accident, I found myself in command of a small anti-aircraft unit….. The Lewis gun section soon became efficient. An old trick was to throw tin lids into the air from the trenches, the gunners having to hit them before they touched the ground. No small feat this, and yet every No.1 gunner within three weeks was able to hit the lids two at a time in the air

“Cox” is very likely  Thomas Cox Jr..  He was born in Douglas, Alaska, and was a Native American. At Jarama he was in one of two trucks that accidentally drove into the enemy lines on February 16, 1937. Fifteen Americans and one Canadian were killed, and only one wounded prisoner survived, but had his throat cut by a band of scavenging Moors that night. Cox arrived in Spain on January 23rd 1937.

“Givney” is John Givney, of whom little is known at present. http://www.alba-valb.org/volunteers/john-givney


¹Fred Copeman.  Reason in Revolt. Blandford Press, 1948. p. 81.