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.

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