7-8 Febrero “A rather cruel sport”

7 to 8th February

Robert Merriman’s Diary for February 7 and 8, 1937.

(Post partially written by Alan Warren)

In the propaganda booklet, The Story of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, written in the trenches of Spain, produced for supporters of the Battalion in the United States, the following passage recalls the bullfight on February 7th, and also that the Sunday before, a football match had been held between the Irish Section and the Dutch, who were part of the Medical Unit attached to the Lincoln Battalion.

One Sunday a football match was held between the Irish Section and the Dutch, which resulted in a draw since everybody played the game differently. On the next Sunday we were taken to see a bull fight at Motilla (del Palancar), a town near the base. The fight was gory and the matador not especially good. Since it was the first time most of us had ever witnessed a bull fight, it proved to be an odd and interesting day, though some of the boys expressed it as being a rather cruel sport

William Herrick writes about Ray Steele, who was mentioned by Merriman on January 28th as having been drunk and having broken a door:

One man did get drunk publicly, but he was quickly hauled in and placed in the brig for the night. His name was Ray Steele, a merchant mariner who called himself a Wobbly. He was one of the few non-Communists in the battalion. Though Ray had a club foot, he could outrun anyone in the battalion. I thought I was fast, but he beat me by yards in a hundred-yard dash. We had a football that we passed around and punted to each other. Ray could kick beautiful spirals forty, fifty yards. He became one of the finest machine-gunners and soldiers at the front

It is possible that the prisoner is, in fact, Ray Steele and that Merriman and Stember need to come to some resolution on the penalty to be served.   The Irish who have come to the American Battalion from the British remain difficult to command, no matter which Battalion they are in.  Drink remains an issue.

Merriman goes to Madrigueras to meet the British, but the British had left Madrigueras for La Gineta on February 7th and then to Jarama.   Scotsman Robert Bridges, from Leith, had been left in charge at Madrigueras.  Bridges would die on the 27th of February at Jarama. Madrigueras was left in an apparent state of difficulty with the British departure and this may be due to rain.

Vidal recalls the orders to go to the front his his memoir (translation by RMH and apologies for mistakes from the French)³:

The two following extracts from verbal recollection of the meeting of 28 January at the Etat Major gives an insight into the state of the Brigade nine days before departing from Albacete:

1) the following forces are ready:

1 English Battalion

1 French Battalion

2 Slav Companies

1 Italian Company (in reserve – ultimately assigned to another brigade)

It might also be possible to have one or two American companies and a Slav company to make up a Battalion was completed following. Telegraphed to Lukacs to have 33 Yugoslavs of his effectives.³

Vidal goes on to include the orders of the day for February 7, 1937.   They state³:

I communicated to General Gahl {sic}, Commandant of the XVth Brigade, the tone of your communication.  With his agreement, I alerted immediately the units of the XVth Brigade the ways that they could be ready to leave, at the latest by 10:00 on February 7.

The elements necessary to complete the Brigade and are actually missing are:

the complement of machine gun companies (24 machine guns for five battalions in place of the 40 machine guns allocated by the Ministry of Defense)

light machine guns


transmission equipment (radios, telephones, telephone wire)

materials for transport (the Base of the B.I. will donate a limited number of trucks and light vehicles.  The brigade is missing 5 touring cars and an important number of  trucks)

The Brigade has 5 Battalions of Infantry (3 International, 2 Spanish).

1 company of Engineers

a squadron of cavalry (2 sections of horse cavalry and 1 section of motorized cavalry)


Health Service

An Etat Major.

He includes the actual order for February 6³:

“The XVth Mixed Brigade (5th International Brigade) will leave on February 7 at the hours and fixed conditions which follow: 

{Table paraphrased}

First Convoy (Commander Fort):
15th Battalion (French-Belgian)  leaves Tarazona at 10:00 for La Gineta and boards the train at 11:00 for a 14:00 departure

16th Battalion (British) leaves Madrigueras at 10:00 for La Gineta and boards the train at 11:15 for a 14:00 departure

Second Convoy (Captain Alloca):

Squadron of Cavalry leaves La Roda, boards the train there for a 15h departure

Third Convoy (Captain Grebenerrov):

18th Battalion (Polish-Balkans-Italians) leaves Mahora for Albacete where they will board the train for undetermined departure time

The Engineers, Etat Major, and Service Sanitaire  board the train in Albacete for undetermined departure time.

Fourth Convoy

21st Battalion (Spanish) boards the train at Albacete for an undetermined departure time.  {Note below that Vidal knew the 21st Battalion would not be going to Jarama at this time, but he needed to get them out of Albacete as they had billetted all over town and were causing Vidal problems with the locals.  He wanted them in Pozo Rubio}

Fifth Convoy (Adjutant Duguet):

Transport Section (leaves by road).

{The orders detail the number of trucks, rail cars, etc. in each convoy and are too extensive to quote here}

…. “Particularly during the train trip, rolling stock (trucks, ambulances, cars) will be camouflaged.  During the part of the voyage  during the night, all lights including cigarettes and pipes are rigorously prohibited on the train”…..

Men will be given two days supplies on leaving Albacete…..  Each soldier will receive 150 rounds of ammunition with their rifles … Each machine gun will receive 1500 rounds of ammunition….  The Chief of the Etat Major will receive funds for four days support for each soldier at 4 pesetas a day…..³

The order was signed by Vidal.   He says “The departure of the two Battalions for their assignments was a spectacle that Albacete was not accustomed.  The commander decided that some of the men would leave by vehicle, some on foot”.   The men marched 10-12 kilometers to La Roda and La Gineta for the trains.  The 21st Battalion (Spanish) only went 8 kilometers and then disembarked to move to Pozo Rubio.  The 24th Spanish Battalion moved to Mahora to replace the 18th Battalion in its quarters.   The 24th and 21st would rejoin the XVth Brigade two weeks later at the front.  Vidal describes in some detail the problem with the Spanish Battalions not obeying his orders and spreading themselves out in private homes and apartments in Albacete.  The 600 soldiers became a logistical nightmare for the Base as there was no way to feed them and the sanitary needs (showers and toilets) could not be found in Albacete.  Vidal needed to get them out of town, so he ordered them to the Front and then diverted them to where he could manage them.

Nowhere in the orders does it say where the Front is or where they are going…….


¹The Story of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, written in the trenches of Spain, by John Tisa.  1937. pp. 9-10. The complete booklet can be found at this link.

² William Herrick,  Jumping the Line. AK Press, 2001. p. 147.

³ Vidal,  “The Base of the International Brigades in Albacete 1936-1937″, RGASPI Archives Fond 545 Opus 2 Delo 32, BDIC Library, Nanterre, France (can be also accessed at Tamiment Library, NYU, from the microfilms).    {In hardcopy as Vital Gayman, Vital Gayman et la Base des Brigades Internationales d’Albacete en 1936.1938, Fondº Δ rés 744/1, Bibliothèque de Documentation Internationale Contemporaine (BDIC)6, allée de l’Université Nanterre Cedex F-92001 France}