31 Marzo Back to Albacete by Train and Stember leaves Merriman a Lecture

March 31

Robert Merriman’s diary for March 31, 1937

Other than their final release from Murcia and the train ride from Murcia to Albacete with Marion, not much new information is given on this page of the diary by Merriman.

He did, however, feel that the “lecture” given by Stember and left in the files of the XVth Brigade were worth transcribing in a careful hand.  The comment at the bottom says that this was published 12 days after Stember wrote it.  Merriman says “all was forgotten” but that is not true.

Recall on the 27th of February,  Stember had gone back up into the lines to put down a rebellion of the men who felt that they had been sent into a slaughterhouse.  Stember ordered the men forward at the point of a pistol and was not successful in restoring order since the men hooted him down.

Cecil Eby picks up on this note as evidence that American mutineers were tried and sent to a labor battalion.¹  Eby says that the missive was run off on a mimeograph and put into the Brigade official newsletter and quotes “Notre Combat” (the French version of Our Fight newsletter) as the source.  Eby says “The Lincolns merely scoffed at the leaflet — so much “ass paper”.¹  Eby quotes Harry Fisher in his book Comrades as saying ” ‘That son of a bitch Stember’, wrote a recruit. ‘If he ever comes back here we’ll shoot him’ “.

Peter Carroll picks up the story further:

And the men never forgave Stember for remaining in safety far from the front.  Twelve days after the protest meeting, their anger exploded when Stember published an article, “Single Command,” in the brigade newspaper Our Fight.  … He warned that a recurrence by these “disruptive elements” would result in “severe measures”.  Outraged by this threat, the men voted no confidence in their commissar, forcing him from his post. “The [political] commander,” the Daily Worker would announce a few months later, “was sent back” to the United States “on the vote of the battalion to tell of their needs and to make the American people understand what they are fighting for.”  Such gross distortions rankled the men in Spain, but none would threaten the Republican cause by exposing Stember’s weakness.²

It should be noted here that March 31 is a very memorable day in International Brigades history as in 1938 (one year after this diary page was written) the Brigades were decimated by a massive onslaught of Italian-led fascist troops between Batea and the Ebro River.  Each year a memorial march is held to commemorate this event and video of the event can be seen here (Video 1, Video 2 and Video 3).

One year after this page was written, Bob Merriman would be executed after capture above Gandesa.  Bob Merriman, presente!

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¹ Cecil Eby, Comrades and Commissars, ibid. pg 86.

² Carroll, Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid, p. 114.

29-30 Marzo Getting ready to return to Albacete

March 29-30

Robert Merriman’s diary for March 29 and 30, 1937

Merriman finishes his description of the fiesta and play that they attended in Murcia.  His previous page says that it was for the 20th Battalion (probably not the 20th Brigade).  There was no 20th Battalion in the XVth International Brigade at this time.  Instead the 20th was a mixed unit of the 86th Spanish Brigade.  Americans and Britons had been assigned to that unit as their strength grew and sufficient forces were at Jarama.  Richard Baxell describes this unit:

Whilst the main British contingent making up the British Battalion remained on the Jarama front until May/June 1937, a small group of new arrivals and those recently released from hospital were formed on 15 March into No. 2 Section of an Anglo-American company in the 20th Battalion of the 86th (Mixed) Brigade.  On 20 March the brigade was sent to the Pozoblanco sector, about 50 miles north of Córdoba in southern Spain.  A novel form of attack using a train, behind which the battalion followed on foot, was abandoned when the train came under heavy artillery fire and was forced to retreat rapidly into a tunnel.  The Anglo-American section was then transferred to the Chimorra front, in the same sector, positioned high in the peaks with virtually no cover, forcing volunteers to build piles of stones to shelter behind. ¹

At this point, the name of the dead commander of the 20th Battalion, whose family was in Murcia at the fiesta, is not known.  It should be noted that it was common to have fiestas before the departure of a unit into a battle situation so this may have been the point at which men of the 20th Battalion came through Murcia.  Robert Stradling says in his book on the Irish:

The English-speaking company in the new battalion was commanded by Lieutenant Robert Traill, a young Cambridge graduate who had been training as a Comintern agent in the Lenin School in Moscow as the war broke out.  Traill… arrived on board a Soviet supply ship and spent several months in the Republic’s Officer Training School in Valencia.²

Robert Traill was from Radyr, near Cardiff, Wales, according the International Brigades Memorial Trust roll of the dead.  He was killed in Brunete in July 1937.  Robert was married in the fall of 1935 to Vera Goutchkoff in Moscow.

Dart

Rollin Jones Dart, Source: ALBA Photo 11_0636, Tamiment Library

Gates

John Gates, Commissar Source: ALBA Photo 11_0972. Tamiment Library, NYU

Landis³ gives considerable information on the 20th Battalion and names, which will be of interest over the course of the diary, got their start in Spain in the 20th. Landis says that Traill was actually the Battalion Commander and the Brigade commander was a Captain Morandi.   The others include Irishman Peter Daly of the English Company, Rollin Dart who commanded the American 2nd Company, John Gates who was the Company Commissar (and become Lincoln Battalion Commissar later), Maury Colow, Arthur Munday, and Al Koslow.

David Convery has kindly passed along a link to an electronic copy of  Joe Monk’s  With the Reds in Andulusia (1985). which covers the British involvement in this unit.

Merriman has been given a pass to leave the hospital and to return to Albacete.  He expects a car on the 30th or 31st of March, but the vehicle never materializes.  Merriman says that he speaks with the “head of the hospital” and the name is unreadable.   Herrick 4 says in his book that the head of hospital was Dr. Catalette but he was replaced by two Germans, Dr. Lang and his wife.   Nicholas Coni5 says that the head of hospital was a Polish woman doctor at this time.  It remains to determine the spelling of that name in the diary, since neither of those two suggestions fit Merriman’s handwriting.

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¹ Richard Baxell, British Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, Routledge, London, 2004.

² R. A. Stradling, The Irish and the Spanish Civil War, 1936-39: Crusades in Conflict, Mandolin: Manchester University Press, Manchester, UK., 1999.

³ Landis, Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid, pp. 138-143.

4 Herrick, Jumping the Line, ibid.

5 Nicholas Coni, Medicine and warfare: Spain, 1936–1939, ibid.

27-28 Marzo The Nurses Strike!

March 27-28

Robert Merriman’s diary for the 27th and 28th of March.

Robert Merriman was involved with his own recovery at this point and he notes that a new x-ray machine was installed at the Pasionaria Hospital on the 27th of March.   However, only the fluoroscope facility was working and apparently it was not taking films at this point.  Nevertheless, Dr. Cachin gave Merriman the good news that he was healing and that his cast could come off in a few weeks.

Merriman discusses a strike by the nurses in the hospital apparently led by a “Dora”.   Dora is a bit of a mystery.   There were several Doras in the Service de Sanidad.   Dora Moldovsky Ettleson was in the American Medical Service.   Dora was born in 1905 in Odessa, Ukraine.¹ Dora Ettleson was the wife of Dr. Abraham Ettleson who came to Spain on the Normandie from the photo below.

Normandie_Nurses

Aboard the Normandie on the way to Spain. L-R: Florence Pike, Dorothy Fontaine, Dr. Abraham Ettleson, and {James} Leigh White.   Photo Source: Fredericka Martin Collection ALBA PHOTO 001, 1:1:25:1, Tamiment Library, NYU

The photo above is a bit perplexing since the other Fredericka Martin photos in this series are annotated that the Normandie sailing was May 1937.    The annotation on the Martin archive photo above that the woman with her head on Abraham Ettleson’s shoulder is Dorothy Fontaine.  Dot Fontaine worked in the Laboratory at Villa Paz hospital.  Florence Pike was a Canadian from Toronto General Hospital.  Michael Petrou states that Florence Pike went to Spain on May 15, 1937.²  Thus it would have been impossible for the “Dora” in Merriman’s diary to be Dora Ettleson.  James Leigh White was a reporter who accompanied the medical bureau to Spain and ended up driving ambulances.

There are two additional “Doras” noted in Fredericka Martin’s papers: Dora Donda and Dora Sukalkis. The RGASPI Archives (545/6/48 ) note that  Dora Donda was in the Central Hospital in Murcia at this time and Dora Zaydorf, a Yugoslavian nurse, was in Casa Roja Hospital.  Dora Sukalkis actually came to Spain too late to be the Dora here.  It is likely that the Dora is Dora Donda.

There are some excellent studies of the American Medical Bureau in Spain.  The Fredericka Martin collection is extensive, with nearly 10 m of file boxes in the Tamiment Archives.  This remains a fruitful resource for research on the men and women who worked in the hospitals.

Merriman says that the nurses in the hospital went on strike because the doctor in charge had not shown up for five days and the head nurse had yelled at them.  Recall that the Lincolns and the personnel who accompanied them were generally from union backgrounds.  Like the Lincolns themselves at Villaneuva de la Jara, the Americans were strong willed in standing up for their rights and used to frankly arguing out positions.  Merriman says, while he agreed with their grievances, this strike was a “political error”.   Like the men standing up against the command structure at Albacete, Americans had a difficult time adjusting to a military command scenario.  There was resistance to saluting officers.  There will be future events in the diary where this dialectic between “rank-and-filism” (i.e. a proletarian stance) and a military structure will arise again and again.   The Europeans expected that military command would be obeyed and that attitude will win out over the next year and a half.  It did not, however, mean that the working class Americans were happy with it.

About the evening meeting with the local Murcia women, Marion Merriman Wachtel recalls:

The theater was very crowded with townsfolk, who broke into spontaneous cheering for the soldiers.  Guitarists strummed their mellow chords and flamenco singers wailed and chanted into the evening.  The soldiers were young and they looked it.  Most were in their late teens or very early twenties.

“It was a great evening, a real demonstration of the people on the move,” Bob said as we walked back to our room in the hospital in the hush of the Spanish evening.  “Those”, he said, “were the peasants of Spain, not like those slick-haired fellows in the dark glasses at the sidewalk cafes”.³

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¹ Ancestry.com, Family Tree (available on request).

² Michael Petrou, Renegades, ibid., list of Canadians in the Mac-Paps.

³ Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude, American Commander in Spain, ibid., p 122.

25-26 Marzo “I caught up on the diary”

March 25-26

Robert Merriman’s diary for the 25th and 26th of March. Merriman wrote the first half on the 25th and completed his filling in details since 27 February.

Merriman used the pages from 27 February to March 25 to catch up what he recalled of that period.  He wrote most of it on March 25 while he was in the Pasionaria and Radio Hospitals in Murcia.  From this point on, the 1937 diary entries will again be synchronized with the dates of the year.

On the 25th, Merriman mentions “Rosy”, Marion and Greenspan, three actors that we have addressed previously.  Rosy is believed to be Joseph Rosenstein, who was wounded along with Merriman at Jarama.

In a confusing sentence, Merriman says he “met Ryan, English Torpedo Man in the Spanish Navy at Cartagena”.  Barry McLoughlin² suggests that this is not Frank Ryan, who was introduced on the 17-18th of February.  Ryan was also wounded at Jarama.  Frank Ryan was not a torpedo man in the Spanish Navy.

Merriman calls him a “fine chap”.    Alan Warren suggest that the man being discussed is Joe Ryan of Limerick.   Joe Ryan (seen with Frank Ryan’s arm around him in the link) was indeed a sailor and actually was killed in a torpedo attack on the HMS Dunvegan Castle which was sunk off Ireland in 1941 (not 1940 as in the link.

William Herrick (a.k.a. William Harvey in Spain, who was also wounded with a bullet in his neck that lodged near his spine) helps paint a picture of the Pasionaria Hospital and a part of this diary page:

Wheeler

William Wheeler. Photo ALBA 11-0243. Tamiment Library, NYU

So went the days in sunny Spain.  I would lie in my cot until mid-morning, be washed by my Spanish nurse … my commander {Merriman}, Robert Jordanesque in his winglike cast, would stroll past, give me a cool nod, continue on, followed by Bill Wheeler, muy simpatico, one of the infantry company adjutants who would stop a moment to chat….³

 

Robert Gladnick is mentioned in the diary at this point.  Herrick continues with his stories of Murcia:

Early one afternoon, heavily involved in a tumultuous encounter with one of the whores {Herrick frequented the local red-light houses}, I heard someone laugh in the adjoining room, a booming voice familiar voice speaking Spanish with a Russian-American accent, and sure enough it was Bob Gladnick.  He was wearing a beautiful Harris tweed suit, and carried a side arm on his hip.

Are you Cheka {the Soviet Secret Police} now? I asked.

He laughed his booming laugh.  Gladnick was not a shy man.  He was now, he told me, an interpreter and tank man with the Russian Tank Corps in Spain.  He hobnobbed with generals and leather-jacketed political commissars.  Right now he was stationed in Archena, the Russian tank base.³

Gladnick had been assigned by Marty Hourihan to the Russians to be an interpreter since he was Russian by birth.  That evening, Gladnick and Herrick drank their way through the town until Gladnick was poured back on a train to Archena.    Clearly, Merriman did not appreciate either the Russian base or the Russians being discussed in public.  The code word for Russians was “Mexicans” and Gladnick clearly was one who did not use coded words.  It is likely that this event worked against both Gladnick and Herrick in their future in the Brigades.

After the war, Robert Gladnick became strongly disenchanted with the Veterans association of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion and he, along with Morris Mickenberg (a.k.a. Morris Maken) and Herrick, founded a counter organization to the VALB.

Merriman runs a story over onto the next page of the diary by saying that “X-ray finally set up altho{ugh}….”   Hold that thought for the 27th…

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¹ Richard Baxell, Unlikely Warriors: The British in the Spanish Civil War and the Struggle Against Fascism, ibid.

² Barry McLoughlin, Fighting for Republican Spain, Lulu.com, ISBN 9781291968392

³ William Herrick, Jumping the Line, ibid.

23-24 Marzo Burying Robert Wolk in Murcia

March 23-24

Robert Merriman’s Diary for the pages of the 23rd and 24th of March. This was completed on March 25 in Murcia’s Radio Hospital.

Merriman continues with the description of Robert Wolk’s death and funeral.  Wolk was shot on the 14th of March in the surprise flanking attack at Jarama.   Merriman notes that there was a funeral outside of the hotel and Wolk was buried in Murcia’s graveyard in a “Special Circle” for the international brigade.  James Harris represented the Internationales by speaking at the funeral and Merriman could make a similar homage in the hospital.   There is a photograph (found in NYU’s Tamiment Library and presented here for purposes of continuing this discussion) of the Pasionaria Hospital in Murcia.

Pasionaria Hospital

Pasionaria Hospital in Murcia in 1937. Photograph taken by Fredericka Martin as part of her collection.  Source: ALBA Photo 1:5:3:2, Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries

The hospital building itself has not changed significantly and here is a Google Maps™ street view of the same building today.

Pasionaria Hospital Today

The Pasionaria Hospital today. It is on the Paseo Teniente Flomista.   Source: Google Streetview.

It is now a high school.

Instituto

Instituto de Educación Secundaria Ies Licenciado Francisco Cascales, Paseo Teniente Flomesta, Murcia. Spain Source: Google Streetview

The “Greenspan” in the diary is Marion Greenspan ¹ who really was George Marion and was married to Celia Greenspan.  George Marion was a newspaper reporter for the Daily Worker.  His papers are archived in the Tamiment Library along with boxes of his photos.

A difficult name to read in today’s diary entry was Dr. Cachin.   Dr. Cachin was one of four French surgeons who also included Dr. Catalette, Chrétien and Cordière.²   Cachin apparently became the lead doctor at Pasionaria Hospital.

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¹ Anders Greenspan, Sacrifice and Commitment: American Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, The Arts Journal, Vol. 2, No 5, 2013 (http://www.theartsjournal.org/index.php/site/article/view/181)

² Nicholas Coni, Medicine and Warfare: Spain, 1936-1939, Routledge, 2008.