Robert Merriman’s diary from June 5th and 6th
Four very hectic days begin for Robert Merriman as the Washington Battalion finishes its training and is to move up to the front at Jarama. In reality, the Washington Battalion did not go into the lines at Jarama as the Lincolns were relieved about this point and moved to Albares, east of Mondejar and north of Tarancon. The British Battalion would be withdrawn to Mondejar. The Washington Battalion would be held in reserve behind the lines.¹ But from the next four days of diary, we are informed that Marcovics’ led battalion goes to Albacete and Merriman is ordered to Tarazona de la Mancha to start forming another battalion with men who did not go to Albacete. This is the nascent Mackenzie-Papineau battalion and we can see a thread of Canadians being involved in these diary passages.
Merriman continues to be ill and he drags himself out of bed for a topography lesson. Bill Lawrence arrives from Albacete to Pozorubio and it must have been urgent as he took a motorcycle for the trip rather than being driven in a staff car. He took a fall on the way and showed up covered in mud. Lawrence informs Merriman that the Battalion is now moving out and that there will be about 150 men left behind in Tarazona. It is time to decide who will be the commander of that new forming battalion (recall that it takes about 600 men to have a full formed battalion). Lawrence tells Merriman and Dallet to get over to Tarazona to take charge or a French commander would be put in charge of the third battalion (one wonders if this might be a French Canadian considering the makeup of the new Battalion). This Frenchman is unnamed.
After “organizing” a truck to Albacete, Merriman and Dallet go over to Tarazona and meet with Marcovics and Mates who are leading the Washington Battalion. They find out that George Brodsky, John Givney and “10 trouble makers” are being left behind by Marcovics. Merriman will inherit these problems again.
Dr. Oscar Telge (Tsvetan Kristanov) Source: Fredericka Martin Photo Archive ALBA 001: 1:1:31:1
Dr. Edward Barsky, RGASPI Archives Fond 545/Opus 6/Delo 861, Moscow
Merriman and Dallet drive back into Albacete to meet with Doctor Oscar Telge and Dr. Edward Barsky, clearly about issues of who will be leading the medical support for these battalions. Merriman says it is decided that Mildred Pitts will lead one group and Doctor Barsky the other and that Barsky is scheduled to return to the US. Barsky presumably would be going to recruit more support for the American Medical Bureau.
Thomas Hyde, Jr. Photograph from the family collection of Richard Hyde, used with permission
Merriman introduces a new name, Tom Hyde, who is a problem for the Staff. Hyde arrived in Spain on March 20, 1937. Tom Hyde was a bookstore owner from New Jersey who had had some experience as a hospital administrator in the US. Hyde was probably attached to the AMB because of this latter experience. Hyde mentions that he has problems stateside and review of his file at the Tamiment Library shows that his bookstore was in financial difficulty with a partner in the bookstore pulling out and leaving Mrs Hyde in serious difficulty in making ends meet. Some of the letters from Hyde reached André Marty’s desk as Hyde was seeking repatriation to the US to take care of his business. Here Bill Lawrence is unsympathetic and his skills don’t appear to be needed in the AMB so they tell him he will be going to the front with the new battalion “as a common soldier”. Hyde’s disaffection will fester for months but he will be on the line in the attack on Belchite in September 1937 where he was injured in the foot by shrapnel. Hyde returned to the US in the fall of 1938, much too late to deal with his financial issues. He lost the bookstore (Richard Hyde, private communication).
Merriman says he met “Tommy” who was to take Hyde’s place in the First Aid Service. At this point, we don’t know who Tommy is. Merriman finishes an active day with discussions again with Telge and Barsky about the medical service and he goes off to find Hyde at First Aid (presumably to give him a decision) and does not find him.
On the 6th, Merriman rises and goes to meet a Cross and Juan Corona who is to be Chief of Staff of a new shock battalion (shock battalions are the name of front line troops who are thrown into the most difficult assault situations. It was supposed to be an “honor” to be in a shock brigade, although the service would be amongst the hardest faced in the war. Merriman doesn’t believe this assignment of Corona, probably because of critical comments he made about him in February. Donald Ellis Cross was in Spain at this time, but unlikely to be put into a leadership role. Merriman does confirm that Abe Harris will be Quartermaster for the new brigade.
Merriman says he meets with Ribley and finds he will go off to the 16th Brigade (a Spanish Brigade being formed in the Vth Army Corps) and he says it will include one old battalion and two new battalions. There is an unreadable word in the diary and it may be the name of the new Brigade, if it could be deciphered.
Merriman meets with Schallrock or Schallroch who is replacing Platone as Vidal’s deputy. Merriman wants to review with the Brigade leadership whether the previous plan was going to be carried out, i.e. Merriman would command the third Battalion or be Marcovics adjutant in the Washingtons or whether Rollin Dart would be brought back from Cordoba to be Marcovics’ adjutant. No answer is found here, but Merriman does not leave Tarazona. The “en passant promotion” is indicated by the vehicles they drive, however, since Merriman and Lawrence get a permanent car, a permanent salvo conductor (to allow Lawrence to leave Tarazona and move around), and they go to the auto park to round up other transportation. We find that Lamotte is now in the auto park and out of Albacete. George Kaye, who is also in the Auto Park, Ed Bender, Bob Thompson, Lamotte and Merriman have a drink together.
Unknown man, Mike Pappas, Ed Bender, ALBA Photo 11 – 1574, July 1938, Tamiment Library, NYU
After gaining a vehicle, Lawrence and Merriman go back to Tarazona to meet with Marcovics and Dallet. Givney came and Merriman met Mike Pappas. Pappas will be a fixture in the Lincolns for much of 1937 and 1938. He was in the Machine gun company, in the cocina, and finally was killed on the Ebro in 1938. A highly recognizable vet because of his fine features and recognizable mustache, Pappas was spoken of often by later Lincoln leadership, such as Milt Wolff (Wolff would call him Nick Pappas or “Nick the Greek” on ALBA audiotapes made for Art Landis’ book¹). “Galli” is again mentioned and he came over from Pozorubio to Tarazona to help out in organizing the remaining men. Merriman clearly respeated Galli.
Larry Dukes, ALBA PHOTO 11-0034 from May 1938, Tamiment Library, NYU
Merriman returned to Albacete at the end of the day and in the car ride, they decided to make Larry Dukes, John Givney, George Brodsky, Abe Harris and Bob Thompsons leaders in the new battalion.
Returning up to Bill Lawrence’s room #22 in the hotel, they sent the chauffeur for the commissar (either named Dodge or driving a Dodge) to check on the guard at the Estado Mayor. We find out that “Kaufman” will be going to Valencia. This is likely Ruben “Ruby” Kaufman who will be in the Mac-Paps in 1937. Merriman again meets Andrew Royce who is again drunk. He and Pete Hampkins decide that “Schrengall” will go with Kaufman to Valencia. This could possibly be a payroll run as pay would have to be distributed on June 10.
Merriman explains that they will be having a fiesta for the departing comrades since he needs to buy a goat for the feed. Art Landis relates that this fiesta was held on June 14, 1937.¹ His diary has two additional notations: “Joe Dallet crossed with Bill Lawrence” and “Bob brought diary which had been read”. Merriman’s diary was in Pozorubio and was brought into Albacete. It clearly worried him that someone had opened the diary and read it.
¹ Landis, Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid.