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.