17-18 Junio “Cleared up much hazy atmosphere”

June 17-18

Robert Merriman’s diary of June 17 and 18, 1937

Merriman makes no entry in his diary on June 17.  On the 16th of June, Harry Haywood made a presentation to Vladimir Copic that Copic should resign.  Haywood, the Battalion Commissar, acted as the representative of the Americans  and took the brunt of Copic’s reaction to the suggestion and the others must have been busy trying to gain political support for this.   On the 18th, Merriman says he meets Marion and “clears up much hazy atmosphere”.  He reveals that Mirko Marcovics and Hans Klaus were part of the discussion and it is believed that both Klaus and Marcovics provided support for Copic.   Cecil Eby describes the event:

A mutiny did occur, but only within the officer caste, not the rank and file.  With Harry Haywood as spearhead, the top-ranking American Communists demanded that Copic be relieved as commander of the XVth Brigade because he had lost his men’s confidence.  The mutineers, who included Nelson, Johnson, Hourihan and Mates, sought to form a new brigade led by Americans.  Merriman, who suffered more than any other under Copic’s tenure, refused to join them.  The British had no affection for a martinet like Copic, but they interpreted this move as a signal that the Americans planned to take control of the brigade because of their numerical and financial superiority.  Men who, like George Aitken, brigade commissar; Major George Nathan, chief of operations and Major “Jock” Cunningham, the commander of the British battalion, had distinguished themselves as outstanding leaders from the first hours of the Jarama fighting had no intention of yielding to Johnny-come-latelies.  Markovicz refused to join the conspiracy, making it clear that he flew the flag of the Comintern not the CPUSA.  On learning that his own commissar had joined the mutineers, he gave Mates a tongue-lashing and forced a retraction.  Copic’s headquarters became the setting for the final act of this palace coup when Haywood entered to deliver his ultimatum.  {Eby repeats the diary segment presented on June 16 here}  ¹  

Hans Klaus would have been in a difficult position since he was adjutant in the Brigade at the time of Jarama.  The criticism of the Americans would have brought up whether it was Klaus or Copic who issued the demand that the Americans go over the top on the 27th of February.

In a very unclear word in the diary, we interpret the writing as “Yanks out.”   Whether this means out of the running for leadership, or out the running for a battalion, or out in the field, we will never know what Merriman intended here.   Merriman finishes the day’s training and then goes into Albacete to meet Marion and a “Ruth” believed to be Ruth Epstein a nurse who arrived in early June 1937.  He also meets with Lou Secundy and Pierre Lamotte from the Auto Parc.

The new men brought with them a treasure… a new shipment of Lucky Strike cigarettes from America.  Along with soap and fresh shoes or boots, there was little that was more desired by the Americans in Spain than American cigarettes.  Merriman takes the smokes with him to Tarazona, probably to put them under guard as he would for ammunition.

Frank Rogers

Frank Rogers, ALBA Photo 177-188048, Tamiment Library, NYU

David Doran

David Doran, ALBA Photo 177-190027, Tamiment Library, NYU

Frank Rogers arrived with Ruth Epstein from the May 29th sailing of the Britannic.  Rogers, from Regina, Saskatchewan, and a Communist Party member since 1927,  would become the Commissar for the third battalion in the fall of 1937.  Rogers came to Albacete with Ed Bender and George Brodsky.   Also arriving was Joseph Lash who was the President of the American Students Union and David Doran who was a leader in the Young Communist League.   Doran would rise rapidly in the ranks and become XVth Brigade Commissar in 1938.  In the afternoon or evening, a fiesta was held for the arriving personnel and Hyde, Evans  and Rushton performed a skit.  Harry Albert Rushton, from Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario, was 45 years old at this point and was a long time Communist Party member in Canada.  He would go on to become a Commissar in the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion.  Rushton would later become a Mackenzie-Papineau historian after the war.   Tom Hyde we have met on previous diary pages.  Hyde did not depart with the Washington’s medical group and is now in the third battalion.  Evans is likely to be Lloyd Evans of Regina Saskatchewan or Winnipeg, Manitoba.²

Merriman said that Read, Bradley and Walker were out of the Battalion.  This is probably William Bradley from Vancouver who was arrested in June 1937 and deserted in July 1937.  He was arrested for drunkenness.²   Walker is probably Frederick Walker (a.k.a. Dan Wilson) who never deserted but Michael Petrou’s notes say “No {did not desert}, but discipline problem, detained at the ‘Maison de Prevention.’ drunk”².   There is no Read in the Canadian list, but there is a John Reid.  There is a Patrick Read who was in the Lincoln Battalion but it seems unlikely this reference is to him.  In another disciplinary case, Merriman visits what looks like a “Cross” in the prison in Guarda Nacionale.  Cross doesn’t show up as an American or Canadian brigadista.  We leave the name highlighted as the scrawl may be a completely different name.

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¹ Cecil Eby, Comrades and Commissars, ibid., pp 173-174.

² Michael Petrou, Table 1 (Mac-Pap List), private communication.