29-30 Abril Ludwig Renn Comes to Lecture

29-30 April
Robert Merriman’s diary for the 29th and 30th of April, 1937

Training continues at Pozorubio’s Officer Training School.  Merriman notes that the training activities on the 29th of April were led by Walter Garland and Canadian Edward Cecil-Smith (“point advance problem”).  The second problem which did not get completed was led by John Hagileou and this indicates that he is being moved up from his duties as Mess Sergeant at Albacete.

Ludwig Renn, who was the commander of the Thaelmann Battalion of the XIth International Brigade, came to Pozorubio to lecture on earlier battles and the state of the Brigades.  He speaks of a battle which is believed to be that Battle of Guadarrama.   There are four battles that took place in the region of Guadarrama.  The first was the first battle of the war in July and August of 1936.   The second battle took place in December 1936 – January of 1937 in the Sierra Guadarrama which is northwest of Madrid.  This battle is discussed by Antony Beevor¹.

While the whole republican sector looked as if it were about to collapse, Miaja placed machine-guns at crossroads on the way to Madrid to stop desertion.  He ordered in XII International and Lister‘s Brigade.  In addition, XIV International Brigade was brought all the way round from the Córdoba front.  On January 7 Kléber ordered the Thaelmann Battalion to hold the enemy near Las Rozas, telling them ‘not to retreat a single centimeter under any circumstances’.  In a stand of sacrificial bravery they followed his order to the letter.  Only 35 men survived.¹

Having Renn discuss the heroic stand of the German Thaelmann Battalion would have been designed to show the XVth Brigade that their losses at Jarama were not unusual for the Internationals.  Interestingly, Merriman latched onto the failure of the Listers to move forward at Guadarrama, which is identical to the failure of the Spanish 24th Battalion to move forward at Jarama and where the Americans took such horrific losses on February 27.

There was reported to be a third battle of Guadarrama in March 31, 1937, but this reference is secondary and may be a mistake².  The fourth battle of Guadarrama is also discussed by Beevor and took place in May and June of 1937.¹   This battle decimated the French XIVth Battalion who passively absorbed a beating by aircraft and artillery.

After Renn’s lecture, Merriman takes the OTS to Albacete to stand guard and uses the opportunity to see Marion and “Sunny Kaminski”.  The last man is not known at this point but could be Levie Kaminsky who went by the nom de guerre Edward Brown.

Merriman meets with Alex McDade of Scotland and finds him “not much” but says he probably will have to take him to Pozorubio for OTS.  McDade may have not appeared a great soldier but he became famous for penning the poem “Valley of Jarama” which has become a theme song for the Lincoln Brigade and is sung to the tune of “Red River Valley”³ (the Woody Guthrie lyrics are sung by Pete Seeger and the Almanac Singers here):

There’s a valley in Spain called Jarama,
That’s a place that we all know so well,
for ’tis there that we wasted our manhood,
And most of our old age as well.

From this valley they tell us we’re leaving
But don’t hasten to bid us adieu
For e’en though we make our departure
We’ll be back in an hour or two

Oh, we’re proud of our British Battalion,
And the marathon record it’s made,
Please do us this one little favour
And take this last word to Brigade:

“You will never be happy with strangers,
They would not understand you as we,
So remember the Jarama Valley
And the old men who wait patiently”.

Merriman finishes the month by discussing weaponry.  He talks of a new German machine gun and a machine pistol, perhaps the Mauser 96.  In the afternoon, he worked on a “Lewis Gun“.

Rosey is likely to be Joseph Rosenstein (discussed earlier).  The issue of “shelling peas” is cryptic.  Perhaps it actually is about shelling peas (i.e. KP duty).  There is a slang phrase “easy as shelling peas” meaning something is trivial.  Perhaps Merriman used this phrase earlier and was reaping the backlash.  Merriman finishes the day with a meeting with the leadership group of Steve Nelson, Bill Lawrence, Harry Haywood and Ed Bender.  Bill Lawrence (a.k.a. William Lazar) and  Ed Bender arrived at Albacete in April and came to Europe together on the SS Vollendam on March 27.  Lawrence, Haywood and Bender are seen together in a photo from this period in Albacete:

Bill Lawrence, Harry Haywood and Ed Bender, Albacete, 1937.4


¹ Antony Beevor, The Battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books. London. 2006. pages 347 and 429



4 Carroll, Odyssey of the Lincoln Brigade, ibid.

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