Edward Arthur Burroughs, the Bishop of Ripon in England, quoted a British seaman on war in Fight for the Future (1916):
“Months of boredom punctuated by moments of terror” : such is a description of life in the Navy which a naval lieutenant quotes as exactly fitting the facts.
Merriman’s diary is not difficult at all to understand for these two days in January but his diary is rarely filled by boredom. Even when not in battle, Merriman kept extremely busy and we will have few breaks over the year with as little to explain as in these two days.
At the time of his arrival in Albacete, the base of the International Brigades, Merriman was not officially in the International Brigades and was trying to sign up. Bob Merriman will spend a considerable amount of his next year in this area, leading the training base. The “Cadres” office, mentioned in the Diary, was the Communist Party office in Albacete and the point of contact for those who were either sent by the Communist Party or who had a party card. At this time, the Brigade Training was led by André Marty, Commander of the Base at Albacete, and Lucien Vidal of France¹, who was later to lead at Albacete.
Mrs. J.T. Murphy was named Molly and there is a short biography here. She served as a nurse in Spain.
We have not figured out who “e. R” is (although it is nearly certain that it is not Elizabeth Regina).
A tremendous resource for untangling these diaries should be mentioned here. Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude wrote a memoir about Robert Merriman in 1985, American Commander in Spain¹. Mrs. Wachtel’s reminiscences of the time are touching and give much greater insight into Merriman’s state of mind in going to Spain than does the diary. Marion did not accompany Bob on his entry to Spain and they had had quite a row over his leaving to volunteer to fight in the Spanish Civil War. Marion subsequently was ordered to leave Russia after Bob’s departure. And we can see that Merriman let his emotion of the moment sneak into the diary with the line interposed between the paragraphs “Lonesome – fear!!” His wife’s memoir fills in a lot of the true emotion he felt about himself and his comrades at the time. It should be read along with this diary.
Merriman says that he met five Englishmen in Albacete along with Mrs. Murphy. At the time of Merriman’s arrival, the British contingent of the Brigades had returned from the Cordoba front. Some of the British brigade went to Madrigueras for further training and many new British and Irish arrivals were sent there to be incorporated into the British Battalion. On the 11th of January, Frank Ryan and “Kit” Conway had led a company sized unit of the British to Las Rozas, a suburb of Madrid, to help in the fighting there. On the 17th of January, they were in the middle of a pitched battle to remove the Rebel forces from within Madrid’s limits. An excellent study of the involvement of the Irish in Spain has been written by Barry McLoughlin and he explains many of the events that Merriman will encounter between the British and the Irish over the next month.² Of the 145 British that went to Las Rozas for this campaign, only 67 returned.²
¹ Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude, American Commander in Spain, University of Nevada Press, Reno, 1986.
² Barry McLoughlin, Fighting for Republican Spain, Lulu.com, ISBN 9781291968392