11-12 Marzo Murcia is an interesting town….

11-12 March

Robert Merriman’s 11th and 12th March diary pages. Recall that he is in hospital in Murcia and wrote this after March 25.

Merriman continues to be at Murcia for the rest of the month of March although now he is mobile and is able to walk around the town to see it.  We know that Murcia had considerable damage in 1936 at the beginning of the Civil War and by the end, the skyline was unrecognizable.   Many of the buildings that Merriman would have seen in his stroll around town have since been torn down, but one nice view from Google’s Panoramia™ viewer allows us to still go there today.

Murcia

Murcia today

Harry Pollitt

Harry Pollitt speaks to troops Source: Moscow Archive Photos, ALBA PHOTO 177, Tamiment Library, NYU

News from the front was not good.  Merriman heard that Stember had lost control at Jarama and the story of him waving his pistol around to get control must have been relayed to Merriman by Peter Kerrigan.  Merriman says the story got to the leadership of the CP in Valencia and it forced Harry Pollitt, General Secretary of the British Communist Party to intervene.   Merriman says there was even discussion about combining the British and American battalions and Merriman did not object to that.  Since hundreds of Americans were pouring into Spain at the time, that combination of battalions did not take place.

Merriman mentions “Brent” from Canada.  As we progress in the diary, we are calling out authoritative texts on the subject of the Spanish Civil War.  Brent is not mentioned in three of those concerning the Canadians in the war: Victor Hoar (Victor Howard)¹, William Beeching², or Mark Zuehlke³.  We have Michael Petrou4 to thank who has published an authoritative list of the Canadians in Spain and has identified Jack Brent of Cobourg, Ontario who was born in 1912 and survived the war.  But his injury at Jarama seems to be unremarkable. Brent, it seems, returned to Scotland as a child.

Jack Brent

Jack Brent. Photo from the website of the Futuremuseum.co.uk

Thus, the fun begins in figuring out who Jack Brent was. He was George (Geordie) Dickie of Scotland and can be found in web accounts of his time in Spain.   Whithorn in Scotland  honored him in 2005.

Jack Brent was a leader of the International Brigades Memorial Trust and even had a book written about him.

Thanks to Kevin Buyers of Aberdeen, Scotland, for this quote by Larry Ryan of Toronto who was also in the Lincoln’s Number 2 Company about that morning on February 27, 1937:

” Almost before Company One is out of the trenches, we are up, on the run, dive into the trench, so shallow that one crouches to lay a rifle on the parapet. In the gathering darkness, we glimpse the comrades ahead, in waves they go up, down, up, run down ever ahead. It is but a pause before we follow. Out across the field, a few shells are bursting ahead of us, or are they grenades?  We are still too green to know…As we go over the top one of our tanks is hit, bursts into flames and is now a flaming torch at our backs, silhouetting us against it’s brilliance. The enemy has machine gun nests which sweep in a v-shaped crossfire. The blaze of the tank is fading and if you hug the earth they can’t see you. In an answer to the agonized cries of ‘first aid, first aid’ which pierced through the tortured night, the stretcher bearers flit through the gloom, picking up the wounded and as they bear them away, appearing momentarily like shadows, the machine guns spew laden death and the shadows crumple”

“Answering just such a call Jack {Brent} went to rescue a wounded comrade. As he bent down to pick him up a rapid burst of machine gun fire cut him down, immediately after he was shot, he was dazed and his legs paralysed.  He crawled first toward the enemy lines, but realizing his mistake he got back to his own lines in spite of enemy fire. He had been in Spain only a few days, and the action took place three days after his 25th birthday”.

Here is Geordie’s story in video.   Sam Wild’s daughter Delores is in Jack Brent’s lap on this book cover.

Geordie's_Story

Geordie’s Story by John Dickie. Jack Brent is holding Delores Wild, Sam Wild’s daughter.

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¹ Victor Hoar (Victor Howard) and Mac Reynolds, The Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, Copp Clark Publishing, 1969

² William C. Beeching, Canadian Volunteers, Spain 1936-1939, University of Regina, 1989

³ Mark Zuehlke, The Gallant Cause, Wiley, 2007

4 Michael Petrou, Renegades: Canadians in the Spanish Civil War, UBC Press, Vancouver, 2008.

5 Stanley Harrison, Good to Be Alive: The Story of Jack Brent, Dumfries & Galloway Council, 1949.