17-20 Marzo “Harris returns but he is still bad”


March 17 and 18th pages of Robert Merriman’s diary. This was written about March 25.

Merriman continues to describe Murcia in his diary but notes that James Harris has returned and they talked.  Clearly, this episode affected Merriman significantly and he seems really to care about Harris’ welfare.  But Harris still shows signs that he is not really past the paranoia that affected him in Albacete and Jarama.  He makes statements about Harris “finding a big rich fascist in his mind’s eye” and we are to wonder if this was someone in town or Merriman himself.  “Harris bought stripes” means that he had purchased the insignia of a Captain for his uniform but he was uncertain if he still had his command.  Wearing stripes when you were busted would certainly put you in jail.

Jame Harris

Orders of the Day for the XIIIth battalion at Fuentes del Ebro. The first paragraph says that James Harris was executed for desertion in the face of the enemy. RGASPI Archives Fond 545/Opis3/Delo203 page 243. Moscow.

The Command must have felt Harris was ok if he was sent back to Murcia as a commissar, but it would have allowed him to serve while also being watched by medical staff.  “and to go on soon to Benicassim” would put Harris in the rear in a convalescent hospital on the Coast.  Merriman notes that Newman {Dr. Neumann — see March 13-16 posting} found Harris’ papers left in a café.   Clearly they were concerned about his stability.  We continue to the next two pages of the diary where we find that Harris was examined at Benicassim and the word was that he was going to be sent back to the US.   Later in the diary, however, Harris is still in Spain and he will be assigned to the XIIIth Dombroski Battalion.   We have found evidence (above from RGASPI) that Harris again panicked under fire at Fuentes del Ebro and he was executed by the command of the XIIIth Battalion on October 14, 1937.   It is quite sad that Newman did not carry out the order to repatriate Harris.  It could have saved him.

19-20 March

Robert Merriman’s diary on 19-20 March pages. This would have been written about March 25.

In Murcia, Merriman meets up again with Bert Overton, who was  a Company commander of the British at Jarama.   Overton’s story is here.  Merriman picks up on the problems with Overton, who is defensive of his record.  As the linked story points out, Overton was suspected of retreating at the front and leaving the Lincolns exposed.   James Carmody, scholar of the English Battalion, sent along the following notation:

Bert Overton was Company Commander of 4th Company.  Overton panicked and shouted the company was surrounded.  He led the charge to the rear and threw a grenade into the Battalion Ammo dump in order to make the Battalion retreat, since they would have no Ammo.   Albert ‘Bert’ Overton was a former Welsh Guardsman.¹

We find out on these pages that Merriman knew that Marion Merriman would soon arrive and he arranged for rooms for her at Radio Hospital in Murcia.   This hospital is said to be on the river.  Marion Merriman arrives in Murcia on March 16 and will hear much more in the coming days …..


¹ James Carmody, private communication, May 29, 2014.