19-20 Junio A picnic, some politics and fun and games

June 19-20
Robert Merriman’s diary for the 19th and 20th of June, 1937.
Jock Cunningham of the British Battalion, Photo: 177_179053 of the Moscow Archive ALBA 177, Tamiment Library, New York University
Edward Bender, November 1937. ALBA Photo 11-0655, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman starts the day with logistical concerns on getting men and ammunition in Albacete for the new third battalion.  While on a run to get some new trousers for Frank Rogers and locating some 200 pesetas, his vehicle (#149) conked out.  He got another vehicle (#5027) and it wasn’t much better since a spring was cracked on it.  Ed Bender and Jock Cunningham headed out to Tarazona with the new shipment of Lucky Strike cigarettes which had arrived on the 18th.   Mike Arnott has done a really nice job of giving a biography of Jock Cunningham (read the comments).   Merriman has meetings with Robert Traill who is back from the Cordoba front and Tom Wintringham, who now is taking over instruction at the Officer’s Training School in Pozorubio.  In a month, Robert Traill will be killed at Brunete.  

Merriman says that “Galli” is leaving.  We are working on the theory that this is Attilio Galli.  Fraser Ottanelli (private communication) informs us that he was born on December 28, 1907.  His parents Alfredo Galli and Angela Ferrari.  It is known that he was born in Aubonne (France) but was originally from Roccastrada in the Province of Grosseto. He was a member of Garibaldi Brigade in 1938 and he fought on Ebro.  His early service where he might have been here in Pozorubio and Albacete is unknown.    Merriman also says “Carlos better” and this is unclear whether Carlos (Vittorio Vitali) is better than Galli or recovering from illness.

Following the story of the mutiny against Copic from the previous days diary pages, Merriman meets with Bill Lawrence and gets the “dope” on the results of the request for Copic to leave.  He finds out that Hans Klaus has been chosen as Brigade Commissar but that the British would have preferred Jock Cunningham in that role.  Both would come out to Tarazona to meet the men.

George Watt
George Watt, RGASPI Photo Fond 545/Opus 6/Delo 1009, Moscow

A sentence which has a bit of a scribble says that “Rudolph” and another soldier (unreadable name) have been accused of being Fascist spies.  Assignment of the new soldiers who have just arrived puts Frank Rogers with the third battalion for two weeks but he stays longer.  Joe Lash of the American Student Union will go back to Paris for a Student World Youth Congress and Dave Doran, the young YCL’er, will stay to take on a political role.   “Israel”, who was a writer for the Daily Worker, will stay on as a soldier but not be given a typewriter.  This is likely to be Israel Kwatt (George Watt) who started with the Mac-Paps and will rise through the ranks and become the last Lincoln Battalion Commissar by the end of the war.   Merriman finishes the day by telling the diary that Marion may return to Albacete to work for Bill Lawrence or Ed Bender in the Cadres Office.  During this time, Marion was working in Tarazona, described as a “mother hen” providing support for the incoming troops.

On the 20th, the battalion held a picnic outside of time, near the river.  Games were played.  Horseshoes were pitched. Food was had.   Ropes were swung, they had hikes, and a tug-of-war.  Merriman says that as prizes for the winners of the games were the Lucky Strikes that had been brought out to Tarazona by Jock Cunningham and Ed Bender.

Del Vayo
Largo Cabillero and Julio Antonio del Vayo, right. Source: Life Magazine, April 26, 1937. (Google Books)

Milly Bennett arrives with Bob Thompson from Albacete.  We find out that a number of correspondents had been brought to Albacete with Julio Alvarez del Vayo.  Milly would have been one of them. Del Vayo was the Republican Foreign Minister. This was one of the few cases where a major Republican Government official is seen in Albacete.  The woman on the very right of the photo is not fully visible, however, Constancia de la Mora said in her memoir that she would accompany officials and correspondents on this type of visit and Connie was known for her hats. Connie de la Mora was placed in her position in the Foreign Press Office by del Vayo, himself. ¹

A “Herman” was to return to the Soviet Union, and Bob Jensen and Charles Roffeld were to return to the US.  Roffeld was shell-shocked from the sinking of the Ciudad de Barcelona in late May.  He would go to Camp Lukacs, which was a discipline camp, not a hospital.  He would continue in Spain and returned to the US in the fall of 1938.

Merriman says that Milly Bennett will return soon to the US.  She relates that Liston Oak, who was a member of the Communist Party, is now suspected of being a “Trotskyist”.  Oak who was a friend of John Dos Passos was in Barcelona during the “May Days”.  He clearly lost his allegiance to communism and became a supporter of the POUM while there.   He wrote an article “Behind the Barricades” (The New Statesman, 15 May 1937) which can be found online at the link.   When his acquaintance and POUM Founder Andrés Nin was killed on June 20, 1937, Oak completed his metamorphosis to an anti-communist.

Zuehlke relates the end result of the May Days:

At 7:00  AM on June 16, 1937, William Krehm heard a fist hammering loudly on the door of the POUM house in Barcelona.  When one of the other foreign POUM loyalists unlocked and opened the door, he was sent sprawling, and the foyer immediately filled with heavily built plainclothesmen.  Half of these were obviously Russians from the dreaded NKVD secret police.  The rest were Spanish.  All of the men were yelling orders.

Krehm and the other POUMists were given no time to gather personal belongings.  They were shoved out the door and into waiting trucks.  Armed men stood guard next to the drop gate and throated to shoot anyone who tried to escape.

Somebody asked why they were being arrested, “Spies, Trotskyists, shouted one of the guards, Where were they being taken?  A brutal laugh was the only answer.²

Krehm would remain in jail until October 1937 when he was sent out to France.  Andrés Nin suffered a more dire fate.  George Orwell slipped the net and escaped to France.

On June 20, 1937, Bilbao fell to the fascists in the north ending the northern campaign and freeing up Franco’s forces to move into the Aragon.³   Over the next week, the Lincolns would be pestered by leaflets from Fascists planes saying the war was over and they should surrender.

Unaware of what was happening in Barcelona and Bilbao, in the bucolic area around Tarazona in the evening, Marion, Milly, Abe Harris, Joe Dallet and Merriman went for a swim and had a chance to wash up.  Marion Merriman Wachtel relates:

When I could break away from my duties, I went to Tarazona and stayed with him at Headquarters.

We swam in the Jucar River.  Occasionally, Bob and I swam alone.  Sometimes, a group gathered.  If Milly were visiting, she and I swam in our underwear, upstream from where the fellows swam.  In the evenings we gathered around and sang American songs.  The fellows imitated instruments, pretending to be an orchestra.  We laughed and sang and joked while there was yet still time.4

The picnic and swim must have been invigorating because Dallet, Thompson, Pete Hampkins and Merriman would have a bull session where they criticized each other.  Merriman rates Hampkins, Dallet bawls out Thompson, Thomson takes on Merriman and Dallet.   Merriman called it a “Bawl up”.  But the session must have had some positive resolution.   Merriman says that Bender and Jock Cunningham were “set” which indicates a decision was made on their roles in the Brigade.


¹ Constancia de la Mora, In Place of Splendor, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1939

² Mark Zuehlke, The Gallant Cause, Wiley and Co., Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, 2007, p. 155,.

³ Landis, Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid., pg 176.

4 Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude, American Commander in Spain, ibid. pg 153.

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.


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

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

15-16 Junio “Something in Air”

June 15-16
Robert Merriman’s diary for 15 and 16 of June 1937

Merriman’s diary gives us some important hints about the Brigade on the 15th and 16th.  His day on the 15th begins with training at Tarazona under what looks like “Masters” or “Martin”.  This soldier’s name is not confirmed at this point.   After criticizing the training session, Merriman hurries to Albacete for the departure of Tadeusz Oppman who will go to the 13th “Dombrosky” Brigade as Chief of Staff.  Oppman admits uncertainty about his ability to do the job.  At lunch, where champagne was served, Ribley spoke about the need to do 20 hours of preparation for a single 1 hour attack.  The Russian phrase “para clov” is translated as “a few words…”   The champagne must have been flowing as Ribley sends up Copic, sarcastically talking about the “General” who gave orders to attack.  This would have resonated with Merriman who never forgave Copic for his orders on the 27th of February.  More on this below.

Arriving back at Tarazona after lunch, Merriman looks for the machine gun company and doesn’t find them.  He says Wallach is a problem.  This must be Albert Wallach.  Harry Wallach was wounded at Jarama and would have been in hospital at this time.   Albert Wallach had a history of desertion throughout his time in Spain.

Joe Dallet gave a lecture which apparently met with Merriman’s approval.  Marion Merriman is also given a favorable report here.  An “Evans” (possibly Canadian Lloyd Evans) tangled with Merriman and was moved out to the Armory.   Merriman repeats a rumor that the Germans bombed Marseilles and that France was now entering the war.  This never happened, but hope reigns eternal.  This would have opened the border for men and equipment to come through France.

On the 16th,  Merriman stayed over in Tarazona and after inspection and giving orders for the day, he drove over to Pozo Rubio with Jack Yellin who was a driver in the Auto Park.  The maneuvers of the morning went “swell” and Merriman was pleased in the attack pattern.  He returned back to Tarazona with Ed Flaherty (who was supposed to have left Albacete on June 1 to return to the US).  Merriman meets with the Anti-tank company but crosses horns with Harry Katzin who was a new arrival in Spain.  Katzin must have made a remark about being able to lead the Battalion which would not have set well with Merriman.  He lectured for the rest of the afternoon and in the evening made contact with Lou Secundy at the Auto Park about getting a vehicle.

There is a cryptic sentence about Perry having 157 passing him up at Tarancon.  We are digging into this story and there was a Harry (Perry) Leggett who went AWOL on June 11, 1937, and this may be a case where “Perry” was giving an excuse that he did not get picked up by car 157 in Tarancon.

Vladimir Copic, ALBA Photo 177-177079, Tamiment Archive, NYU
Harry Haywood, ALBA Photo 177-179056, Tamiment Archive, NYU

Merriman goes to Albacete and meets with Schallrock.   He gets settled that the Mac-Paps will not get the Anti-tank Company.  The Anti-Tank Company goes to the British Battalion.  In a confusing sentence he says that “Bon” et al. returned to Autopark.  Bender and Brodsky go with him to the Autopark.  Returning he has a meeting with Ed Bender.  Allan Johnson phones and says something important.  Merriman calls Bill Lawrence.  He says “Something in Air”.  We know now that on the 16th of June, the American leadership presented a united front to Vladimir Copic telling him that he did not have the confidence of his soldiers.  He was asked to consider resigning by Harry Haywood, who was a member of the Comintern, and probably with Lawrence were the highest ranking American communists in Albacete at the time.   This mini-coup is shown in the Spanish version of Copic’s own diary:

Copic's Diary
Vladimir Copic’s diary for June 18-25, 1937. The entry for the 18th is relevant to Merriman’s diary, Source: Comintern Record Fond 545/Opus 3/Delo 467, Tamiment Library, NYU

In this page (click on it to enlarge) Copic relates in Spanish that he met with “H” who is believed to be Harry Haywood who related to Copic that he does not have the confidence of the men.  Haywood says that whether the lack of confidence is warranted or not, the issue is that a Copic should self-critically examine whether he can continue to lead.  Copic figures it out quickly and threatens Haywood with arrest if he continues to talk about it with the men.   Copic will continue as Brigade Commander and the mini-revolt of the Americans is suppressed.  In a telling statement of Copic’s view of the Americans and English, he did not have this diary entry translated from Spanish into English.   In the English version it says “The XVth Brigade spends most of the month at rest”.   The passage translated above does appear in the German version of the diary in the Tamiment archive.

Returning to the remaining sentences of Merriman’s diary, he meets with Tom Wintringham who just spent five weeks with Kitty Bowler. Wintringham has arrived to take over the training at Pozorubio.   Merriman finishes the day meeting with Pierre Lamotte who now was serving as Armorer.  He attempts to get 7000 units of something which looks like “Austrian” but probably  refers to rifles or other munitions.

13-14 Junio Merriman still deals with reliable transportation

June 13-14
Robert Merriman’s diary for 13 and 14 of June 1937

Merriman is dealing with largely organizational issues over these two days of the diary.  He mentions Tom Hyde twice on these two days and he continues to be dealing with the issues of where to place him.  The fact that Hyde is mentioned in a sentence where Merriman says he “tried several comrades” seems to indicate that the issue has become a formal discipline case.  He leaves Albacete for Pozo Rubio and then goes to Tarazona with Isadore Schrenzel or Schrenzell ( this page makes the Schrenzell transcription likely).  Merriman talks about a Matilda whose home apparently is being confiscated after she has been in it 14 years.  Merriman promises to write a letter to intervene.  Matilda had pictures of British Brigadista Bert Overton.  Overton had been court-martialed by this point and was being assigned to a work battalion to carry ammunition to the front.  He would be killed in action at Brunete.

Merriman’s car problems continue and he complains about the camp Doctor and two Russians who tampered with a car.  The Doctor apparently broke the lock on the vehicle.

Merriman says after the meal he drove down to the river (presumably Rio Jùcar which was about five miles west of Tarazona de la Mancha).  He mentions a place which we cannot find on the map and which looks like Cuevas de las Patatas (“the Potato Cave”).  Merriman says that someone is in court (perhaps the cases he tried in the morning) who looks like “Lane” and a “Levy” is mentioned.  James L. Lane was in Spain at this time.   Israel Levy was shell shocked at Jarama and sought repatriation.

Carl Bradley
Carl Bradley, later Commander of the 24th Battalion. From September 1937. ALBA PHOTO 11 -0603, Tamiment Library NYU

Merriman mentions here for the first time that “Seamen” were a problem.  Over the next several months, a group of Brigaders who were recruited from the Seaman’s Union would be outspoken and chafe against authority.  The issue will rise to a near rebellion after Belchite in September and a few of the most outspoken Seamen are identified then.      Merriman finishes the day revealing that Jack Mullinger and Carl Bradley were in camp.

Wheeler and Taylor
Bill Wheeler and Joe Taylor at March in July 1938, ALBA Photo 11-0472, Tamiment Library, NYU

On the 14th, Bill Wheeler was leading the training.  Wheeler went into Spain in the first group in December 1936 and came out in late 1938 having been with the Lincoln Machine Gun Company at Corbera on the last day of fighting.  Wheeler actually went home in 1938 and returned shortly thereafter with a group of six men prior to the Ebro Offensive.

Morris Stamm
Morris Stamm, RGASPI Photo Fond 545/Opus6/Delo994, Moscow.

Merriman returns to Albacete with someone that looks like “Martin”.  This person is unknown.   This also could be a scrawled “Marion”.  Merriman meets with Schallrock, Abe Harris who was denied leave, Elliot Loomis who was still driving cars, Morris Stamm and a “Karl Thompson”.   There is a known photo of Stamm but Thompson is a mystery.   Merriman has the car break down in a place that looks like “Geneta” (location unknown) and he eats with a poor Spanish peasant family, paying for his meal.  Trying to replace the vehicle, he pulls rank and gets Car 149 and said that Lou Secundy was helpful but that a French Comrade was less so.

On returning to Albacete, he picks up two women who were afraid that there were Fascists around.  He places a guard on the 14,000 rounds of ammo (this is about a Company’s allotment during active actions).   He speaks with Joe Dallet about his report on Dave Mates and says that Joe was a poor officer of the day with self-criticism.  This gives some insight into how Merriman managed even his friends in Tarazona as Dallet was expected to be self-critical in a “bolshevik” method of instruction.

11-12 Junio The Washington Battalion Leaves Albacete for Jarama

June 11-12
Robert Merriman’s Diary for the 11th and 12th of June 1937
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 picks up the pieces from a failed night exercise at Tarazona with his new Battalion.  He gets Pete Hampkins to come back to the town with him and makes Hampkins the Clerk in the new Battalion.  He left William Carroll in the field who would have had to walk back with the men.  He discusses the drill and placement of the guard with Abe Harris who is his Quartermaster in Tarazona.  After looping through Pozorubio in the afternoon, he returns to Albacete and meets with Schallrock who tells him about the imminent departure of the Washington Battalion for Jarama.  Merriman uses the rest of the day to try to adjust who is in the Washington Battalion and who will stay behind for the third (to-be-named Mackenzie-Papineau) Battalion.  He first negotiates with Winkler to adjust the rolls and then later meets with Marcovics to add people to Marcovics’ list where he had some remaining holes to fill.  Recall that Marcovics gave Merriman Givney and about 10 other difficult soldiers and apparently Merriman is now trying to give some back.  He gets rid of “one bad one” and since John Givney is wounded at Brunete in July (and the Mackenzie-Papineau battalion was still in training during the Battle of Brunete), it seems likely that the soldier returned to the Washingtons is Givney.

Merriman goes to bed early so he can rise and with Marion, Ed Bender and Joe Dallet, to toast the Washington Battalion as it moves out at exactly 3:08 AM.   Merriman shakes the hands of the men in the Battalion and wishes Marcovics good luck.  He phones the Brigade to let them know that the Battalion is on the move.  Merriman mentions a Perry Pinson in regard to the trucks and this soldier is not known at this point but would probably have been with Transportes.  There was a Perry (Percy) Hilton who was with the Mac-Paps and was a cook in Tarazona.  Perhaps Merriman mistook the name.

A Ford 1936 4-door sedan as described by Merriman. This would have been a fine staff car. Photo credit: Ottoswheels.com

The next day was fairly routine training, although he notes that Ruben “Ruby” Kaufman returned with a 1936 (nearly new) Ford V6 4 door sedan (Merriman’s was unlikely to have been in Blue as the one on the right).

Merriman says he sat in on an examination commission for the Slavs and they were trying cases.  These mini-court martials could be for infractions like drinking or more serious cases, such as desertion.

Santiago Carrillo
Grainy photo of Santiago Carrillo from the 1937 Volunteer for Liberty, Vol 1, #13, October 1937

Merriman finishes the evening with a celebration with was given by and for the Juventad Socialistas Unificados.  One of the youth leaders of the JSU was Santiago Carrillo, seen at the right.   Carrillo’s son, José,  is the Rector of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid where the Lincoln Memorial stands.    Merriman was not interested in being at the Fiesta but since they had a place of honor, he could not leave early.