3-4 Febrero “Busy Day – Many Tales”

3 to 4th february page

Robert Merriman’s Diary for February 3 and 4, 1937.

Extensive field maneuvres were conducted in the countryside surrounding Villanueva de Jara. However, as William Herrick noted:

Two days later I was ordered by Seacord to observe a machine gun squad during maneuvres – without a gun. We were guarding ingress to the village at the narrow point where the road passed the fortress church.…¹

The lack of effective weaponry available is often noted by the brigaders at this time. in their training at nearby Madrigueras, The British often used football rattles to simulate machine gun fire!

John Tisa also remembers:

The numbers of rifles allotted to our infantry was too few for the number of men. Those without rifles used broomsticks or canes to train and march with. It didn’t matter, though, for those outdated and prehistoric rifles were not serviceable anyway. If you had tried to fire one, you would have risked having your head blown off. Fortunately, no ammunition was available.²

Merriman notes on February 3rd the actions of Scott’s No. 1 company on February 3rd. Composed principally of Irish and Cubans, it seemed to have worked fairly well. Herrick comments on the pecadillos of some of the officers, and also the relationship between Merriman and Scott, alias Englishman Inver Marlow:

john scott

Poor quality photograph of John Scott from “The Book of the XV International Brigade” (1938).

Several fights broke out. Seacord was drinking more, as was (Gladnick said) Jim Harris, our commander. Adjutant Commander Merriman was partial to the infantry commander, Scott, two WASPs (White Anglo Saxon Protestants) on a hot tin roof. Scott was much liked by his men, as was Seacord by his.³

hendrikson 1

George Hendrickson (ALBA 052, Tamiment Library, NYU)

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Two other photographs of Hendrickson in Spain (Tamiment, ALBA 052).

What the “many tales” were leaves much to the imagination, but George Hendrickson was once in the merchant marine, went over with the first 96 volunteers, and having been a trained radio operator on a ship ended up being attached to Transmissions.  He was based in Valencia for the greater part of the war owing to his skills, but not much more is known about his time in Spain.  He returned to the United States on February 9, 1939 with one of the last groups of Internationals to leave Spain.

William Hathaway was from Downen Grove, Illinois. He was killed on February 27th, 1937 at Jarama.  The only Hedley named in IB lists is Englishman John F. Hedley from Liverpool, who came over in December 1936, and left sometime in 1937.

“Parker” we guess is John William Parks, who was then commissar of No. 2 company.  Merriman’s final line that he had “announced  organisation of the Batt(alion)” was to have dramatic repercussions, as will be seen over the next few days…

Between February 3 and February 6, nine battalions of Italian Black Shirts and their mechanized forces had attacked the coastal town of Malaga between Gibraltar and Grenada.  Defending the town were 40,000 Republicans led by Colonel Villalba.  By February 7, the defenders and townspeople were in a mass exodus under fire up the coast.  The Fascists took Malaga and reportedly shot over 4,000 people in the next week.¹  William Beeching mentions that Norman Bethune, historically the most well known doctor in Spain, rushed south to Malaga when he heard about this exodus, Beeching quotes Bethune (pardon the length of this moving passage)4:

… the farther we went the more pitiful the sights became. Thousands of children — we counted five thousand under ten years of age — and at least one thousand of them barefoot and many of them clad only in a single garment. They were slung over their mother’s shoulders or clung to her hands. Here a father staggered along with two children of one and two years of age on his back in addition to carrying pots and pans or some treasured possession. The incessant stream of people became so dense we could barely force the car through them.

. . . it was difficult to choose which to take. Our car was besieged by a mob of frantic mothers and fathers who with tired outstretched arms held up to us their children, their eyes and faces swollen and congested by four days of sun and dust.

“Take this one.” “See this child.” “This one is wounded.” Children with bloodstained rags wrapped around their arms and legs, children without shoes, their feet swollen to twice their size crying helplessly from pain, hunger and fatigue. Two hundred kilometers of misery. Imagine four days and four nights, hiding by day in the hills as the fascist barbarians pursued them by plane, walking by night packed in a solid stream of men, women, children, mules, donkeys, goats, crying out the names of their separated relatives lost in the mob. How could we choose between taking a child dying of dysentery or a mother silently watching us with great sunken eyes carrying against her open breast her child born on the road two days ago. She had stopped walking for ten hours only. Here was a woman of sixty unable to stagger another step, her gigantic swollen legs with their open varicose ulcers bleeding into her cut linen sandals. Many old people simply gave up the struggle, lay down by the side of the road and waited for death.

We first decided to take only children and mothers. Then the separation between father and child. husband and wife became too cruel to bear. We finished by transporting families with the largest number of young children and the solitary children of which there were hundreds without parents.

And now comes the final barbarism … On the evening of the 12th when the little seaport of Almeria was completely filled with refugees, its population swollen to double its size. when forty thousand exhausted people had reached a haven of what they thought was safety. we were heavily bombed by German and Italian fascist airplanes. The siren alarm sounded thirty seconds before the first bomb fell. These planes made no effort to hit the government battleship in the harbour or bomb the barracks. They deliberately dropped ten great bombs in the very center of the town where on the main street were sleeping, huddled together on the pavement so closely that a car could pass only with difficulty, the exhausted refugees. After the planes had passed I picked up in my arms three dead children from the pavement in front of the Provincial Committee for the Evacuation of Refugees where they had been standing in a great queue waiting for a cupful of preserved milk and a handful of dry bread, the only food some of them had for days. The street was a shambles of the dead and dying, lit only by the orange glare of burning buildings. In the darkness the moans of the wounded children. shrieks of agonized mothers, the curses of the men rose in a massed cry higher and higher to a pitch of intolerable intensity. One’s body felt as heavy as the dead themselves, but empty and hollow, and in one’s brain burned a bright flame of hate.

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¹William Herrick, Jumping the Line AK Press, 2001. p. 152

² John Tisa, Recalling the Good Fight, An Autobiography of the Spanish Civil War.1985. p.25

³ William Herrick, ibid. p. 151

4 William C. Beeching, Canadian Volunteers, Spain, 1936-1939, University of Regina, 1989.