By the 20th of October, the attacks at Fuentes were over and the lines had stabilized into a trench standoff. Robert Merriman had a chance to catch up on his review of the Fuentes front.
The Nationalist forces in Fuentes de Ebro got the range of the trenches of the XVth Brigade and were effective at pounding the trenches including the Estado Mayor where the Brigade Staff were based. Dr. Julius Hene was injured in one such attack by artillery. In a bombing run on the trenches, 18 men were buried under the debris from the bomb blasts killing Owen Appleton, the Brigade secretary, Canadian Alexander McClure and Vernon Snow. All in all, six were killed in the Estado Mayor in a few days.
Some of these diary pages are particularly opaque to understanding. The XVth Brigade battalions got the use of the 11th Battalion of Engineers from the Cuerpo (Army Corps) but there must have been the feeling that they were being abused (not to mention in the line of fire at an active front). Cuerpo called down and wanted to speak to Copic who was not there as he had gone to Albacete for the big fiesta there over the first Anniversary of the Brigades. They apparently would not talk to Merriman on the phone and sent down an Engineer to talk to them. At the end, the Engineers were put at the disposal of the Brigades to help fortify the trenches. But the first night out, 2 were killed and 2 were wounded in the Engineers when they were out front of Mac-Paps on the left of the Fuentes front. Tough duty for these men and little chance to fight back. Merriman sent Schmidt (believed to be Egon Schmidt, above right, who was attached to the Brigade at this point) to speak to them and he was sympathetic to their risks. Merriman says that he gave them duty on the 19th to make trenches which ran to the railway tracks and they were happier because they then believed they were doing general work for Cuerpo and not just for the International Brigades.
Merriman relates the tedium of life at the front. Men get a chance to get a hot shower. Men are getting some recreation by playing chess. But the paperwork suffered during the active fighting and now Merriman says that office work has suffered. Appleton has been killed so at his level, he has lost a secretary. On the 21st of October, my father became clerk of Company 3 of the Lincolns (recognized by his handwriting). Clearly, this comment by Merriman indicates that men who were literate were pulled out to help get caught up on the effectives list. These lists were important to get the head count up so that the October 30 payroll would be complete.
The Mac-Paps are struggling with illness. Niilo Makela has jaundice (hepatitis) which was rampant in the Brigades and Bob Thompson is sick. The senior leadership of the Mac-Paps were out of action since Joe Dallet had been killed in the previous week and Doug Hitchcock wounded. Merriman says that Bernard Singer is returning to action and Wally Sabatini, who was the Adjutant Commissar of the Mac-Paps got the jitters and had to be removed. In his place, the more solid Saul Wellman would take over as Commissar for the Mac-Paps.
Merriman makes a comparison between Rollin Dart and Malcolm Dunbar. We can’t determine which of them he is criticizing. Merriman says Will Paynter will be leaving and he introduced his replacement from Valencia, but Merriman does not give the name. Our colleague Barry McLoughlin suggests that this could be Bill Rust who took over for Paynter as the representative of British Communist Party to the Partido Communista de Espana.
Merriman also is sketchy on a visitor from the US who was a writer with the Western Writer’s Conference. Merriman mentions that he is a negro and said he had been a Lieutenant in the XIIth Brigade on another front. He was on tour with the Brigades and had heard that the Lincolns were down to 12 effectives. Chris Brooks has suggested that this is likely to be Eluard Luchell McDaniels, who had a history of conflating his stories. McDaniels would become known as “El Fantastico” since he had the ability to throw grenades ambidextrously. Merriman told him that there were 150 American effectives in the Lincolns at this point at Fuentes. (Still, the Lincoln-Washington complement should have been around 600-800 men.) McDaniel brought news of James Harris who was now in the Dombrowski battalion which was now in the 13th Brigade. Harris apparently had suffered another round of “chills” and Merriman is intrigued. He says he would have liked to talked to Harris. Merriman finishes this paragraph by saying that Elias Begelman is not working too well in his current role on the staff. Merriman compares Begelman to Wattis and this comparison is also unclear.
Merriman finishes this newsy section of his diary by doing a retrospective of some earlier thoughts. He reveals that Vladimir Copic told journalist David Lasser that he is stateless (and probably has no place to go after the war). He asks Lasser to intervene with President Juan Negrin for him and Merriman says that this was an unwise move since Lasser was not a member of the Communist Party and probably wondered what Copic was asking him to do.
Merriman removed the Estado Mayor from the range of the artillery by moving it behind a hill. This is probably the position shown in the photograph on the right.
Merriman reveals that Eric DeWitt Parker and Langston Hughes arrived at Fuentes de Ebro. There are a number of photos with Hughes and various Brigadistas (including the one with Eric Parker here). Bourne had just returned from Albacete and was not treated well there so the men were upset about how they were being viewed in the Spanish Army. Bourne brought back a letter from Marion Merriman which related that George (probably Brodsky) and “Red” had gone to the Comintern (CI) or Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Bourne comes back with a decision from the political office in Valencia that he should not be given any active military assignments. Jim Bourne has gone from being a political neophyte to someone who can muster the protection of the Comintern. It appears that there are two people in the Politburo in Valencia who do not understand that it is necessary to separate the political arm of the army from the military one. Bourne is an example of this separation.