19-20 Mayo “Ammunition Depot blown up night before”

May 19-20

Robert Merriman’s diary for 19th and 20th of May, 1937

Merriman’s tone turns markedly serious and more detailed.  Over the next two weeks, Merriman will assume a new role and he must have had an inkling of the changes to come.  Merriman is still commanding the Officer’s Training School (OTS) and overseeing the Non-commissioned Officer (NCO) schools in Pozorubio (which he calls “Camp”).  While Marion Merriman has told us that Merriman was in Tarazona in April, it is clear that he is still based at “Camp”, occasionally driving to Tarazona and frequently spending nights in Albacete if he can make up a good reason to do so.  A soft bed with Marion must have been quite attractive compared to the rustic scout camp nature of the log houses at the secret base at Pozorubio.

Merriman tells us that the new Negrin Government has been formed.  This is the date recorded historically for the start of the Negrin government so his news pipeline to Valencia is good.  He says that the Russian Roblet will be going to Valencia on a reassignment.  He says that the new Minister of War (Indalecio Prieto) under the Negrin government has made a place for a Soviet advisor on his staff and we can speculate that Roblet will be this advisor.  Roblet will become instructor for officers for the Negrin government.  There were between 600 and 2200 Russian advisors who went to Spain and probably never more than 600-800 at any one time.  222 were in training.¹

Merriman forms two sections in the OTS, one to be led by Bob Thompson and the other by Rawlings.  It is probable that this is Al Robbins, who was transferred to OTS on this date.   Instruction by Roblet (largely on automatic weapons), Nelson, O’Flaherty, Carroll and Daduk occurred on the 19th at Pozorubio.  Nelson lectured on the political situation in order to train the commissar candidates on their role. Carroll gave Spanish language training.   Daduk apparently is not as strong a speaker as were the others.  Dallet met with James Prendergast, who was an Irish Communist Party organizer from Dublin.  Prendergast had been with the Connolly Column, injured at Jarama and was with Kit Conway when Conway was hit².

Merriman makes a curious cryptic note “I expect provocation” and then says that a special meeting of the Unión Generale de Trabadores (UGT) committees was held.  It is hard to determine if this is in response to the threat or the cause of the threat.  The UGT supported the new Negrin government and was in conflict with the CNT (the anarchist/POUM union) after the May Days in Barcelona.

Madan Atal

Only known photo of M. Atal. Photo Source: http://www.geni.com/people/Dr-Madan-Mohan-Lal-Atal/6000000001098580073 (Accessed 20140517)

The question of the competency of Dr. Atal, the training camp physician, is again mentioned and clearly required a decision of what to do with him.  On the 15th of May, Dr. Atal was removed from the Health Service and assigned other duties.  Dr. Madan Mohan Lal Atal led a medical mission to China in 1939, supported financially by Pandit Nehru.   This photograph is the only one known of Dr. Atal and is taken from the linked website.  The problem with Dr. Atal will continue for a few days.

Merriman finishes the 19th with a meeting with Nelson and Dallet about formation of the new battalion and the statement which will be made to the US about the battalion.  At that time, the Americans had hoped that the second battalion would be named the “Tom Paine” battalion or the “Tom Mooney” battalion but Robert Minor favored the “Washington” battalion.   Later the Americans tried again to name the third battalion  the “Tom Paine Battalion” and the Canadians were insistent on recognition of their contribution and would prevail with it being called the “Mackenzie-Papineau” Battalion after two leaders of the 1847 revolt in Canada which ultimately led to independence from the  British..  This “statement for the US” is likely regarding the naming of the second Battalion.   There is a blur of activity in the formation of these second and third battalions and with the heavy involvement of Canadians in the leadership, it is easy to confuse which battalion is being discussed in the diary.  This is especially true since Merriman talks about this in the planning stage which is nearly a month earlier than the formal naming of the battalions.   It is likely that the two battalions were partially being formed in parallel.

On the 20th, we see that Merriman and Roblet were sharing time between the training at Pozorubio and the new base at Tarazona.  They meet with Marcovics who is leading that base along with Hans Amlie.  According to the description of the formation of the Washington Battalion by Chris Brooks (see the link below), Amlie was commander of the 1st Company of the new battalion. Merriman and Roblet are clearly recruiting from the ranks for new NCO’s and Officers.  He spoke with Canadian Bill Halliwell about coming to the OTS, and got the opinions of Walter Garland and Canadian Edward Cecil-Smith, who were training the new Battalion as well at Tarazona.  Chris Brooks has written a story for the Abraham Lincoln Brigades Archives’ Volunteer magazine on the formation of the Washington battalion and it mentions Canadian Bill Halliwell  (noted by Petrou to be from Edmonton and Vancouver³)  in the fifth paragraph.   Halliwell was commander of the 2nd Company of the new Battalion.  Alec Miller, a Canadian, was commander of the 3rd Company and Walter Garland would lead the 4th (Machine-Gun) Company.  Cecil-Smith would later become the Commander of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion in the fall of 1937.   Merriman mentions that his new recruits to Pozorubio would come over on the 21st.

Merriman hitches a ride to Albacete with “the small Polish woman”.  We are narrowing down the possibilities for this person’s real name. Merriman sees the doctor in Albacete and is still having shoulder problems from his wound from Jarama.  Seepage from the bone does not sound good.

Merriman reveals that the munitions warehouse in Albacete was blown up in a case of sabotage.   Clearly, the suspicions and warnings of the past week were insufficient to protect everything in Albacete. The doubled guard of the prior days did not do the job.  Little has been written about this event and the state of mind of the leadership of the Brigade and their vigilance towards “fifth columnists” is understandable from this event.   Merriman recognizes a failure in guarding the town here, but he then says “support for new cabinet is strong enough now”.  This indicates that Merriman does not suspect the fascists for this attack but rather those who did not make the new government.

Merriman finishes by saying “Givney giving trouble again”.   Clearly, he remains a thorn in Merriman’s side.  It appears that Givney deserted to Barcelona in May, 1937.

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¹ Kowalsky, Stalin and the Spanish Civil War, accessed online at Project Gutenberg, May 18, 2014. (See Table V-3)

² Ben Hughes, They Shall Not Pass, Osprey Publishing Co., p. 94

³ Petrou, Renegades, ibid., Table 1.