Robert Merriman leaves Tarazona de la Mancha on August 7, 1937, and he will not return to training. He asked for, and received permission, to take his Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion to the front as a unit. He was clearly record keeping in prior pages of his diary and he knew that he would soon be in combat. His use of pages from September on as notes pages gives a hint to the fatalism he felt as he may not have expected to need those dates later.
Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude fill in the details from these days:¹
All through that day, after the rally at the church, Bob was with different groups of the Command. I tried to stop time but the hours rushed by. I wanted Bob to myself. I didn’t want to yield him once again to the war, as I had done when he left Moscow.
Then, at five o’clock, the battalion formed in parade.
“So long, fellows,” Bob said. He gave no long speech. He had wanted to take the battalion personally into the next battle and felt bad about leaving it. The men stood in review and looked at him. He looked back, with respect. There was a strange silence, the silence of goodbye.
Afterward, a few of us gathered for a light supper. Someone broke out a bottle of champagne. We toasted the battle and the victory and the safety of our soldiers. And we toasted freedom. Steve, I’ll never forget, was like a surprised and angelic boy, too excited to show much anxiety.
Then, at last in our room, Bob and I said our goodbye, once again. When he was gone, I sat alone for a while. Late in the evening, just before going to sleep, I wrote in my diary: “Final farewells and my darling is off. May he come back as safely this time”.
But sleep would not come. I lay in the dark, knowing Bob was in a truck heading north, first to Ambite to pull the Americans together, then to a Spanish village called Quinto…”
Marion may have mixed up this departure a bit with Merriman’s next advancement to the Brigade level where he would become Chief of Staff. Here Merriman himself says that he is leading the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, which pulled out at 3:30 AM for La Roda to turn up the Valencia-Madrid road. After passing Tarancon, the Brigade joined the resting Lincolns and Washingtons in Albares. Merriman has a chance to discuss the Brigade politics with Jock Cunningham (whom he finds conceited) and with Colonel Hans Klaus who removed Mirko Markovics. Merriman reveals that a “control man”, probably from the Army Corps level, was talking to Klaus about the Marcovics removal and Marcovics side of the story was discussed. On the next page, Merriman says that Stepanovitch was asking for the removal of Phil Cooperman and Ed Bender and one wonders if he is the “control man”.
In the evening of the 7th a meeting was held amongst the American leaders, http://www.alba-valb.org/volunteers/philip-cooperman, Dennis Jordan, David Bates, Ed Bender, Joe Dallet, Steve Nelson and Merriman. Nelson says that they have too few officers to lead three full battalions. Evidently, John Quigley “Robbie” Robinson chafed at his assignment to be the Commissar of the Lincolns. He supposedly “walked out” on the appointment. Phil Cooperman seeks repatriation and other cadres are being sent home, including Walter Garland and Dennis David Jordan. Cooperman does not make it and was killed in Spain.
On the 8th, Colonel Klaus, George Aitken and the other Bates, Ralph Bates, arrive from headquarters. Merriman repeats the comments made on the September 21 notes page that Sam Gonshak, Wallace Burton and Patrick McGuire were reprimanded for going AWOL and sent for 10 days of KP (Kitchen Patrol).
Merriman heads off for Madrid to meet with Marion Greenspan (George Marion) and Ed Rolfe. Merriman lectures Greenspan on the policy concerning desertion and repatriation. He mentions Joe Lash and Hans Amlie as part of this discussion. Merriman appears to have a lot on his chest that he wants to get rid of. He later sees Rollin Dart who is his equal in leading the Lincolns and General Walter who will command the Army Corps that the Internationals are in. Shortly, Hans Amlie will advance to be the Commander of the Lincolns and Merriman may not have been happy with that choice.
Merriman notes that the Belgian Vanderberghe is on leave and his wife is in Madrid. Merriman may have spoken with Jock Cunningham since he says that Cunningham will not admit he was mistaken in his actions at Brunete. Cunningham clearly identified Americans, including Garland and perhaps Marcovics, as ones who had to go. Merriman tries to see Colonel Claus but doesn’t meet with him. Instead he sees Frank Ryan who again is quoted as saying that an “unnamed” American will be coming to the Staff by next year. Merriman must assume that is him. Aitken, Cunningham and Ryan would shortly be returning to Britain.
Leave was granted. There was no more of the nonsense of General Gal. The Americans were free to go to Madrid, to Albacete, and to Alcala de Heneres close to the nearby rest camps. They arrived in Madrid by the truckloads, and the capital took them to its heart. Their stalwart, colorful figures in I.B. ski-pants, boots and berets, were seen everywhere….. Americans were everywhere, they went to the movies, saw James Cagney take over Chicago with “pineapples” and submachine guns. At the Capital Cinema, opposite the Hotel Florida, the Marx Brothers held forth in A Night at the Opera.²
¹ Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude, American Commander in Spain, ibid., pp 156-7.
² Art Landis, The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid., pg 244.