3-4 Marzo “Wounded. Come at Once”

March 3-4

Robert Merriman’s diary of March 3 and 4. Recall this diary was written on March 17 and Merriman was catching up on his story.

Merriman would be transferred to Romeral de Toledo, just south of the town of Ocaña, not far from the Jarama Front¹.  From the posting on March 1-2, Romeral hospital is still a mobile surgical hospital and would have been used as an overflow for those who could not be housed in Tarancón’s surgical hospitals.  Cary Nelson’s book says that the hospital was on the Aranjuez-Albacete Road (probably taken from Arthur Landis’ reference), which El Romeral is not.  El Romeral is on the current CM-3000 road. His 3 ½ hour drive covered a present day 64 km from Colmenar de Ocaña (via the A40/A4/E5).  Then he would have been on regional roads.  From the hospital description, it was in a newly built school for girls and we have not at this point found the exact location.  There is a photograph from present day El Romeral which shows the Ayuntamiento in town with a bell on top.  We are enquiring of the photographer, Jose Leches, who put the photo on Panaramio about it.


El Romeral, today. Photo Credit: Jose Leches, Panaramio.


Medical team at Hyar in December 1937. Dr. Edward Barsky is second left and Dr. Weiss is third left. Source: ALBA PHOTO 11-0068, Tamiment Library, NYU.


Norman Bethune in Valencia with his mobile transfusion unit.1

The American hospital described by Merriman was led by Dr. Edward Barsky of New York.  We will have time over the next year to describe the International Brigades Medical Services in more detail, but Spain was noted as the first war where medical hospitals were at the front.   Ted Allan’s The Scalpel, the Sword² is an intriguing account of Dr. Norman Bethune, whose innovations in front line blood transfusions saved countless lives in the war.


Dr. René Dumont riding a white horse at Colmenar Hospital. Notation on the back of the photo says that both American nurses, Anne Taft and Frederika Martin, mounted the horse and rode behind Dumont. Frederika Martin Photo 1:2:55:2, Tamiment Archives, NYU.

Art Landis quotes from two letters from nurses who served at Romeral, Mildred Rackley and Frederika Martin.  Rackley said:

       We are now settled in a new schoolhouse, with no sanitary facilities… a very feeble electric line, no telephone, no water and a pretty awful road … On the third day the patients began to pour in.  We got forty the first day.  

        The roads for six kilometers on either side of us were so bad that it would have killed a patient to have him taken over them in an ambulance.4

Rackley said that they convinced the Alcalde (Mayor) to mobilize 1000 villagers to fix the road the next day.

Some old and some new names are mentioned on this diary page.  Dave Springhall went to El Romeral with Merriman.  Eugene Morse was the commander of the Lincoln 2nd Company at Jarama and was wounded in the action of the 23rd of February.   Springhall remained at El Romeral with “Rosy” who is believed to be Joseph Rosenstein, who was also wounded at Jarama.  Rosenstein, whose photo can be seen in his ALBA bio, clearly gave his all for Spain.

Merriman was bounced from hospital to hospital.  He wanted to get to Alcazar de San Juan but was loaded onto a hospital train.  He was unloaded and admitted to the hospital.   Alcazar de San Juan is 150 km west of Tarrazona de la Mancha, the Lincolns training base.  It is on the train line that runs through El Romeral so it would have been a modern-day 45 minute train journey to get to Alcazar. It was here that he sent the telegram to Moscow to have Marion Merriman join him in Spain.  She says:

At the hospital, the battle still blazing in his mind, Bob settled back to rest as best he could.  But rest would not come easily as he wondered who from his command had survived, who was wounded, who had been killed, why Copic had demanded the Americans take the hill, and why Copic had overruled him when he reported that the attempt would lead to slaughter.  It was there, in the hospital, that Bob dictated the cable he sent to me in Moscow:  “Wounded. Come at once.”³


¹ Cary Nelson and Jefferson Hendricks,  Madrid 1937:Letters of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade from the Spanish Civil War,  Jefferson Hendricks Routledge, Publishers, Feb 2014.

² Ted Allan and Sydney Gordon , The Scalpel, the Sword:   The Story of Dr. Norman Bethune, Prometheus Books, New York,  1959.

³ Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude, “American Commander in Spain“, ibid., p. 112.

4 Letter from Mildred Rackley as quoted in Landis, The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid., pg 152.