5-6 Mayo “So Long Cast”

5-6 May
Robert Merriman’s diary for cinco de Mayo and the 6th.
Doran, Haldane, Merriman
Dave Doran, J. B. S. Haldane, and Robert Merriman, ALBA Photo 11-1363, Tamiment Library, NYU
Anti-Gas Unit
Anti-gas section of the Lincoln Battalion, ALBA Photo 11-1088, Tamiment Library, NYU

Robert Merriman must have been in a hurry on the fifth of May (Mexico’s national holiday) because he did not write much and much was a real scrawl.  He tells us that Hans Amlie is now an instructor at Pozorubio, the Officer’s Training School, so his “promotion” to avoid Sam Baron at Madrigueras was effective to get him to move up rapidly in the training cadre.   What appears to be “Dr. and Olorenshaw” lectured on gas.   The Dr. is believed to be Prof. J. B. S. (John Burdon Sanderson) Haldane of England who travelled to Spain several times in 1937 to lecture on the use of poison gas in warfare.  Haldane, a geneticist, was the son of John Scott Haldane who experimented on gas and invented the gas mask.  Haldane wrote in 1925 that poison gas was no more immoral than other weapons of war.¹  Olorenshaw’s experience in WWI probably added to this lesson.   There was a Lincoln gas unit that was trained in Aquaviva in late 1937 (photo right).

After training ended on map lessons on the new “sand table”, Merriman talked with Walter Garland.  He notes that Haldane had a “burnt cork face”.   Burnt cork is still used to darken a white complexion for camouflage.  (Hopefully, you are more skilled at burning a cork than the guy in the video).

The sixth of May was a big day for Merriman as he got his cast removed and they had a cast signing ceremony with Bob Thompson, Andrew Royce and Marion Merriman.   Bob Merriman notes that Andrew Royce had deserted from the front and normally would not have been received so well at Albacete.   Chris Brooks has done a yeoman’s job in updating biographies of the Lincolns on the ALBA website and he notes that Royce was shell-shocked from Jarama and was withdrawn back to Albacete to run the Armory.

Photograph believed to be from the Daily Worker which shows James Ford and Japanese-American Brigadier Jack Shirai.

Merriman confirms the names of the two important Americans who had arrived in Spain (and were given their own automobile to get around):  Robert Minor and James Ford.   James Ford was the Communist Party Vice Presidential candidate for President of the US in 1936.   It is probably during this visit that James Ford visited the lines and a photo was taken with Jack Shirai (this photo has been mistakenly attributed to be Paul Robeson and Jack Shirai, but Robeson does not come to Spain until January 1938).

Merriman says that he left camp with “Oppman and Ribley”… Our original translation was Copeman and Ribley but it appears that Oppman is Tedeusz Oppman, a Polish officer who will go on to command the 13th Brigade².


¹ J. B. S. Haldane, Callinicus: A Defense of Chemical Warfare. Kegan Paul, London, 1925.

² Hugh Thomas, Spanish Civil War, ibid., pg 324.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *