29-30 Junio “Asked first big favor”

June 29-30
Robert Merriman’s Diary from 29 and 30 June

Merriman’s diary is particularly dense on these two days.  He wakes to find that Dougher and Rogers probably are still not back from their “dates” at Madrigueras on the 28th.  He chews them out.   Bill Lawrence was in Tarazona to check to see if the Battalion was ready for the “Socialist Competition”.   Socialist Competition or Socialist Emulation was practiced in many collectives whereby workers would compete to meet the goals of production set for the society.  Typically placed on important holidays, it had a flavor of a sporting competition with, typically, badges or flags of a political nature being awarded.

Merriman and Marion and Joe Dallet left for Albacete to meet with Bill Lawrence who was leaving for the Cordoba front.   He meets with George Nathan who would be under Jock Cunningham and with Hourihan and Wattis.  What looks like “final drunk” may be a transcription error.   Merriman gets a side meeting with Vidal and Schallrock and asks his first big favor…. “Don’t give me Wattis”.  Clearly, there was no love lost between these men.

Merriman rounds up ammo and weapons.  He gains telephones and “1 central” (probably a switchboard with battery for the phones).  He picks up maps, binoculars,  Ross rifles.   He gets a secret memo for  a Thiebault in the machine gun company.  There is a French Comrade named Pierre Thiebault in Spain at the time.   Merriman may have made a mistake (or else someone else made a mistake) and showed him a new Light and heavy machine gun combination.   Merriman really wanted one of those.  He gets a call from Pierre Lamotte who says he lost a weapon.  Merriman goes out to the Auto Parc and replaces it but is frustrated when he cannot get these new light machine guns.

Merriman drives out to La Roda which is on the Albacete – Madrid highway to the southwest of Madrigueras.  He looks for a “Marsly” or similar name who apparently is in communications.   He sees new rangefinders and periscopes there and wants some of those as well.  A long day in procuring supplies for the Battalion but he seems pleased with his bounty.

Mac-Pap Flag Presentation
Presentation of Brigade Flag by JSU to Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, ALBA Photo 177-187019, Tamiment Library, NYU

On the last day of June,  Merriman got the Battalion gathered early for an inspection by Clerc of the Albacete base and two youth delegations who were out to see the Socialist Competition.  Company 1, with Bob Thompson as Commissar, stood out and won a new Battalion banner with the Mackenzie-Papineau name on it.   Even during the games, Merriman is dealing with complaints and in order to improve the food, he asks the men to kick back five pesetas each payday so that he can get better food and he adds another cook.

Merriman says that Louis Fischer contacted him.   Fischer was a writer for The Nation and apparently wished to join the brigades in some sort of position in the rear.   Fischer, 41 in 1937, was in the Soviet Union in the 1930’s and probably at the Lenin School.

Merriman is trading me with Pozo Rubio for them to attend the Officers and NCO schools.   Tom Winteringham came over from Pozo Rubio to lecture on maps.   Merriman has some difficulty with Harry Zeintz.   Merriman says that a Russian named “Ivanov” is in camp and Zeintz tells him his troubles.

27-28 Junio “Frank discussion of naming of battalion”

June 27-28
Robert Merriman’s diary from the 27th and 28th of June, 1937
Dougher and Sabatini
Joseph Dougher (Commissar of the Mac-Paps), Albert (Abe) Harris (Intendencia) and Wally Sabatini (Mac-Paps). Harris is shown here without mustache that he carries in other photos. ALBA Photo 11-0728, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman continues his supervision of the training of the third battalion in Tarazona de la Mancha.  He mentions Charles Regan who was reprimanded for drinking and took the “pledge”.  Regan and other Toledo veterans are mentioned in this newspaper feature found by Kevin Buyers. Merriman rode over to Madrigueras, the original British training base, and found that Matilda must have lost her home.  Merriman appeals to Clerc in the Albacete headquarters to intercede on her behalf but does not have the pull to change the order.  Merriman returns to Tarazona and met Ernest Amatniek about his assignment. Joseph Dougher (who graduated from the OTS on June 14) was given a ride by Elliot Loomis back to Madrigueras where he had a date.   Merriman finished the evening drinking with Joe Lash and talking to Bob Thompson.

On the 28th, Merriman starts again with training, but meets later with George Wattis and Bill Lawrence and the members of the Non-Commissioned Officer’s school.  Wattis was likely an instructor there.  Lucien Vidal at Albacete is recommending Wattis to become an adjutant to Merriman at Tarazona.  Wattis is not sure.  Below the discussion indicates that this would not be Merriman’s preference, either.

The realignment of the brigade into two regiments of three battalions each (Lincolns-Washingtons- British in one – Dimitrov, French Sixth of February, and the Spanish 24th Battalion) and one other section (probably the International Cavalry Section).  Jock Cunningham, George Nathan and “1 American” (presumably Marty Hourihan) to lead.   There is a promise in the future that the Brigade would be split into an English-speaking only brigade.

Wally Sabatini
Wally Sabatini, Commissar in Company 3 of the Mac-Paps, September 1937. ALBA Photo 11-0602, Tamiment Library, NYU

A word that is unclear about Wattis clouds the next sentence.  Merriman met with leading comrades and John Robinson.   Wally Sabatini is added to the Brigade to deal with the “Seaman’s machine gun company”.   Jack Carson is to school Sabatini. This group was made up of relatively tough men and Robinson and Sabatini were charged with leading them.  John Robinson had been a member of the Seafarer’s International Union and thus had their respect.

We finally learn that a decision has been made to name the Third Battalion after William Lyon Mackenzie (note that the “K” is not capitalized and this is a frequent mistake on the Tamiment site) and Louis-Joseph Papineau.  These Canadians were the Upper Canada (Ontario) and Quebec leaders of the 1837-38 rebellion which ultimately led to independence for Canada.   Merriman states that he was responsible for choosing the name and recommending it to Vidal and Bob Kerr in Albacete.   Canadians remember it somewhat differently:

All during June there had been many more Canadians arriving at the base, and about the time the Washington Battalion left to join the Brigade, a few of us decided on another visit to the base commander, to urge once more naming our battalion the Mackenzie-Papineau.

Ronald Liversedge, photo from his Book, © New Star Books, Toronto¹

Bob Merriman said: “You guys are sure persistent.  I can’t make the decision myself, but here’s what we’ll do.  I will grant you the right to form an all-Canadian company.  You, Liversedge, will take the rank of Teniente (company commander), unconfirmed as yet, and you will pick your Alfarez (second in command) and your sargentos, etc.  When you have formed your company, which will be Company Number one, you will supply me with the roster of your company.  After that we will await developments.  Can you do that comrade?”

I answered, “Yes, comrade Commandante, I have to do it”.  Merriman replied, also formally, “Bueno, comrade Teniente, and good luck”.

Bill Skinner
Bill Skinner, ALBA Photo 11-0675, Tamiment Library, NYU

We had made a break.  The maple leaf forever.  I got the Canadians together and made a short speech which the boys, being friends, took in good part.  I asked for their help.  This was a breakthrough; the first official recognition of Canada in Spain.  We organized our company, and this was the beginning of the Mac-Paps.  The company staff was Teniente Ron Liversedge, Alfarez Bill Skinner, Platoon Sergeants Bill Tough, Hugh McGregor, Pat O’Shea and Alex Melnychenko.  Bob Kerr came out to the base and congratulated us.¹

An issue with Jock Cunningham was discussed and Wattis gave only the opinion that he had the men’s interests at heart.  This obviously set off Merriman who felt that Wattis and he were responsible for not standing up to the order of Copic and Klaus to go over on the  27th of February at Jarama.  The countermanding of Merriman on that day grinds with him throughout his diary and he is looking for support for those who were there to confirm his view of the front on the 27th.  Copic’s view was that Merriman showed cowardice in not ordering the Americans forward until Wattis came up from the Estado Mayor and led the charge which resulted in many Americans being cut down from enfilading machine gun fire.   The suggestion here that Wattis was to become Merriman’s adjutant must have been insulting to Merriman and is likely a result of the mini-revolt when Copic was suggested to be removed.  Merriman does not hedge on his opinion of Wattis.

On the 28th of June 1937, the attack on Brunete began.   This effort was designed to take pressure off the Asturian region and, if able to break the Nationalist supply lines to the outskirts of Madrid, could be a turning point in the war.   There will be a limited amount of discussion of Brunete and how it affected the XVth Brigade in Merriman’s diary, but the reader is warned:  Merriman did not go to Brunete and what he knew about the battle, he did not write in his diary.   For the history of Brunete, follow the AABI site and their memorial march which will be on the 28th of June near Villaneuva de Canada.

AABI Memorial March to commemorate the Brunete Offensive.



¹ Ron Liversedge, Mac-Pap: Memoir of a Canadian in the Spanish Civil War, New Star Books, Toronto, 2013, p73-74.

25-26 Junio The Brigade has a Party and Merriman is not Invited

June 25-26
Robert Merriman’s diary for June 25 and 26, 1937

Between the time that Harry Haywood had his face to face meeting challenging Vladimir Copic to resign and the 25th, we know from Mirko Marcovic’s remembrances that General Gal threw a party at his Ambite villa.   Eby relates the story:

In an unusual obeisance to camaraderie among his inferiors, General Gal held a banquet for his staff and the six battalion commanders and commissars at his riverside dacha.  Having been briefed on the aborted mutiny, he poured healing glasses of vodka on troubled waters, outlined his expectations for the coming offensive, and received from his retainers toasts to his health and continued success.  He explained his 15th Division would also include the XIIIth Brigade, the Dombrowski, which was on the way from a hard campaign in the South.  The camaraderie ended with an abrupt explosion of epithets in Russian and Hungarian.  The general had just discovered that Lieutenant Colonel Hans Klaus, Copic’s second in command, had — for reasons never explained — boycotted the banquet.  Gal dispatched a messenger with an order for hi to present himself at once.  Marcovicz recorded the embarrassing finale: “Throughout the banquet Klaus was put on the spot, General Gal berating him both directly and indirectly”.¹

This reference is probably more important in placing the Brigade commanders than the specific dust-up with Klaus. There are several very interesting photos in the Tamiment Library from this event.  The first which we dub “The Officer’s Photo” is a who’s-who of the leadership.Ambite Officers Photo

“The Ambite Officers” photo (Numbered) – This is photo ALBA 177_175034, Tamiment Library, NYU   — Known faces:   2- Egan Schmidt, 5 Klaus Becker, 6  Harry Haywood, 7 Vladimir Copic, 9 Juan Modesto, 10 George Aitken, 11 Adles Bebler, 14 Miklos Szalway (“Captain Chapayev”), 15 Gabriel Fort, 16 Tadeusz Oppman (tentative), 17 Max Milman, 18 Fred Copeman, 19 Bert Williams, 23 Steve Nelson, 24 Martin Hourihan

Approximately a dozen important photos were taken at the event including Copic in a tete-a-tete with Modesto, the first photos of David Doran in Spain, and a very interesting photo of a number of the people on a log over the river:

The Log Photo
“The Log Photo” (numbered) This is ALBA Photo 177_175001     The Caption has been translated to “Group photograph of the commander of the Vs (fifth) army corps H. Modesto, general Gall, Hans, and Walter (K. Sverchevskii), commander of the International Brigades’ base Vidal during inspection of the XVth Brigade – November 1937” (translation courtesy A. Zaks).

This last photograph’s caption is clearly problematic as Vidal and Gal were no longer with the Brigade in November 1937, the weather does not look like November, and the people are the same as in the “Officer’s Photo”.  George Aitken who looks to be #6 in this photo was back in England in October 1937.  He also could not have been there on that date.  Untangling, these identifications in these two photos will help with some potential misidentifications in the Tamiment Archive.   These two photos are still, after 77 years, a work in progress.

Merriman’s diary is helpful with the dates of Gal’s party.  He says on the 25th, Marty Hourihan has returned to Tarazona and others in those photos have come back as well.   Winkler and the Chief of Staff of the 13th Brigade are among them.  Merriman says on the 23rd that men at the front sense that Gal has bawled out Hans Klaus.  This would tend to put this party on the 23rd or sooner.

Merriman did not attend the party (nor did Dallet or Thompson or Allan Johnson).  He has Company 1 of the third battalion out on maneuvers and they get lost by going to a house where Merriman picks them up.  Meeting the residents, he finds a family who have been socialists for many years.

Paddy O'Daire
Paddy O’Daire, Mac-Pap commander August 1937 and British Battalion, November 1937. ALBA Photo 11-1277, Tamiment Library, NYU
Ryan and Robinson
Frank Ryan (left) and Robbie Robinson (right), October 1937, Quinto. ALBA Photo 11-0759, Tamiment Library, NYU

Back in Tarazona he meets with Winkler, the Chief of Staff of the 13th Dombrowski brigade and with Sam Baron, who we last met in early May.   New men keep pouring in and Merriman mentions John Quigley Robinson and Steve Nelson who will train them.   He notes that there was a swap of Robinson for Frank Rogers in the Washington Battalion.  In increasing the staffing at the front, some more Americans and Canadians will be moving to the front.  There was a description of a “Canadian company” in the Washington Battalion during the upcoming battle of Brunete in July.  Beeching says that this Canadian “section” was led first by Canadians Paddy O’Neil then by Tom Traynor then by Bill Brennan and later by Paddy O’Daire.²  Bob Kerr, the Canadian in Albacete tasked with steering Canadians to Merriman’s third battalion said that in one Lincoln Company over half of the soldiers were Canadian and 30 Canadians were in one Washington company prior to Brunete.³  These partial companies caused a lot of confusion with historians who mixed them up with the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion which remained in Tarazona under Merriman for training.  Some Canadians will go to the front and others to the Officers’ School.

The next morning the exercise was to protect Tarazona.  Ruby Kaufman is identified by Merriman as a problem because of a tendency to dominate the exercises.   Ed Bender, Marty Hourihan and Bill Lawrence got themselves an automobile which has been under the use of General Gal.   After a lecture and a hair cut, Merriman met with Ernest Amatniek.  Amatniek is likely sent back to Tarazona to train the Battalion in transmissions.  He will serve with the Mac-Paps.  After a grueling bridge game with Dallet and Mullinger against Marion and Bob Merriman, Merriman deals with Tom Hyde again who got a “permission” which allows him to stay with the Battalion and he requests to go to Officer Training School.   Marion Merriman says in “American Commander in Spain” that they often played bridge and that Merriman could not concentrate because he had other more pressing things on his mind.   That event could have been June 26.


¹  Eby, Comrades and Commissars, ibid., p. 174.

² William Beeching, Canadian Volunteers in Spain: 1936-1939, U. Regina Press, 1989, pp 44-63.

³ Michael Petrou, Renegades, ibid. pg 65.

23-24 Junio “Men sense Gal bawled out Klaus”

June 23-24
Robert Merriman’s diary for 23 and 24 of June 1937
Captain Leonard Lamb of the Lincoln Battalion. ALBA Photo 11 – 1306

Merriman’s diary is fairly skimpy for these two days.  He gave a few lectures to the men during the day and decided on some personnel matters.   Moran could be either Marsden Moran or Patrick Morris Moran.   Patrick Morris or Maurice Moran came in the first group of Americans in December 1936.  The next two names look like Lamb and Rogers who were probably leading practice.  Leonard Lamb came in February 1937 and  Frank Rogers we saw previously as a new arrival.

Marty Hourihan was to have given a lecture in the evening but he did not appear so Merriman gave his “history of the Lincolns” lecture.   Merriman announces an upcoming “Socialist competition”.  He also disciplines Tom Brown who is refusing to obey orders.   Brown would become a base instructor, be captured in Spring of 1938 during the Retreats, and be repatriated from Burgos Prison in April 1939.   Pierre Lamotte continues to struggle in finding a role in the Battalion.   He clearly did not do well on his exam on the machine gun.

In the evening or overnight hours, Merriman had a discussion with Allan Johnson and Bill Lawrence.  Likely that they were still debriefing about Harry Haywood’s attempt to represent American discontent with Vladomir Copic.  In an interesting revelation, Merriman says that the men sense that General Gal has bawled out Colonel Hans Klaus, who continues to fall in responsibility from the Brigade to the Battalion level.   Merriman does not reveal what the issue is with Klaus but we know from Eby and others that General Gal will throw a party on the 25th at his Ambite Mill villa and Colonel Klaus was a no-show.

Merriman tries to connect with Tom Wintringham but doesn’t so returns to Tarazona to play bridge in the evening with Bob Thompson and Jack Mullinger.  Mullinger should have been preparing his lectures for the following day since he apparently got in trouble the next day  because he wasn’t.

Tom Hyde continues to draw Merriman’s attention.   In this episode it appears that Hyde wishes to go to the front, since he apparently cannot work effectively in the rear without having the experience of having been in battle.  This may be a matter of gaining respect from the other men.

21-22 Junio Company Commanders in the 3rd Battalion Decided

June 21-22, 1937
Robert Merriman’s diary for June 21 and 22, 1937
Niilo Makela
Niilo Makela, as Commissar of the Mac-Paps, 1938. ALBA Photo 11-1281, Tamiment Library, NYU
Jesse Wallach
Jesse Wallach, as Secretary of the Mac-Pap Battalion, 1938. ALBA Photo 11-0947, Tamiment Library, NYU

The third English Speaking Battalion will come to be known as the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion although they won’t be referred to as such for another week.  At this point, formation of the first company is at hand, and Canadian Niilo Makela has been named as the commander of Company 1.   “Coapman” is probably Fred Copeman, an Englishman who fought through Jarama, and who will be a Section Leader.   Wallach is likely to be Canadian Jesse Wallach who is being sent to Officer’s school.  Canadian William Skinner will be the commissar in the section and American Carl Bradley will become the Company political commissar.  Since the Canadian William Bradley had already been a disciplinary problem, it is unlikely he would be assigned this sensitive political posting.  This is a top heavy officer cadre and likely Merriman was readying some of these men for leadership of the second company which would be formed when sufficient troops were available.

Merriman seems to say that he filed a plan of instruction for the Battalion with the Brigade Etat Major in Albacete (although the words which look like “4 who” don’t make sense in this context). {Note added: Chris Brooks’ comment below offers a correction to “4 wks – weeks – plan of instruction}.  Kudos on reading the handwriting}  Merriman is still interested in gaining information on the failed coup against Copic so he drives to Pozo Rubio where Englishmen George Nathan and Tom Wintringham are leading exercises with probably an Italian named Mazzi.   Apparently, they were loose lipped enough to let their feelings out on the realignment of the leadership.  George Nathan wants to be Copic’s Chief of Staff with Wintringham as his Adjutant.  Since it is unlikely that there would be two Chiefs of Staff at the Brigade level, the next line “Johnson Chief” is confusing.  The Brigade will divide into two regiments and Nathan will lead one while Miklos Szalway (Chapayev) will lead the other.  Allan Johnson will remain in the school so it is possible that Merriman intended to say that Johnson would be Chief of Instruction.   Jock Cunningham is being proposed for a line command and George Aitken as a political commissar in the field.   The British say that they are against Copic and Klaus but it is likely that this is what Merriman just wanted to hear.  Cecil Eby’s review of this event says the British aligned with Copic.   Apparently Nathan tells Merriman that Vidal has told him that “Copic is in” and will be in charge of 1/2 the Brigade and that the “G” (which could be German Thaelmann or more likely, Italian Garabaldi) battalion would be split.   Merriman’s diary should not be viewed as authoritative since this is not quite the lineup that occurs over the next two weeks in preparation for the Battle of Brunete.  Merriman says that this is his last time in his old bed, so he will be moving from Pozo Rubio to Tarazona permanently.

On the 22nd, the training was again followed up by a fiesta where the officers finally have had a chance to give their “stunt”.  Merriman says it goes over well enough but the Canadian Allan Knight was a “rage” and was awarded a prize.  Many of the significant leadership of the Brigade were in Pozo Rubio for this celebration.

Over the next few days, there will be a dinner celebration held at Ambite Mill which was General Gal’s headquarters.  Almost all of the International Brigade leadership will be required to attend.   This meeting was held between June 23-25 (exact date is not yet determined) but some of the leaders above will go and some will not.  Merriman, Dallet, Bender, Lawrence, Johnson do not attend that meeting.   The British (Aitken and Nathan) and Martin Hourihan and Steve Nelson (who were closer to the resting points of the Lincolns at Albares, the British at Mondejar, and the Washington’s at Morata) do attend.  More on this event in a coming post.