21-22 Mayo Bob Merriman turns over command of the Training School

May 21-22
Robert Merriman’s diary for May 21 and May 22, 1937

Merriman spends another night at Albacete and in the morning he meets with Marcovics who has come from Madrigueras for breakfast in town. Together they go to the Estado Major to talk with Vidal and Platone on the decisions made on leadership in the new Battalion.  It appears here that Walter Garland, Edward Cecil-Smith and Bill Halliwell are being recommended for leadership.  Halliwell and Garland will become Company Commanders.  Smith will not be a company commander in the new Washington Battalion.  Smith, Garland, Burton, Hampkins remained at Pozorubio at this point as trainers.

Merriman meets Bill Lawrence and Lamotte at the Guard Nacionale.  The meetings between Lawrence, the American responsible in Albacete, and Merriman and Lamotte deal with the unhappiness of Platone and Vidal over what is occurring in the Intendencia.  This week in May was a very busy one for Vidal and one of great pressure on him.  The Government in Madrid was in transition and the leadership of the military forces will turn over, partially to the new Prime Minister Negrin, who had been Minister of War.  There are a number of high level memoranda describing this transition and there were meetings in Albacete to brief the command officers of the Brigades what these transitions meant for them.  In a handwritten set of notes of one of those meetings¹, an officer (believed to be either Johnson or Aitken) noted that the transition would be good for the Brigades but that the Spanish Army believed that the brigades were a mercenary army and could be treated as such.   Vidal wrote a very long memorandum² to the Command outlining the grievances of the IB’s which led off with the fact that the English units were in the line at Jarama for 78 straight days with only a four day relief break for the Lincolns which was shortly rescinded.  The handwritten notes¹ say that this was an anomaly and happened because of the events in Barcelona requiring other units to go to suppress the POUM/Anarchist rebellion.   But the Spanish believed also that the IB’s got better treatment than they did and certainly had more access to food than the people in general.  This was outlined in a memo in French from Luigi Gallo to General Gal about the behavior of the Autopark Chofers and the irresponsibility of the artillery groups in Almansa (I translate:)

Madrid, 22 May

Comrade General Gall

Commander of the 15th Division {sic}

Dear Comrade,

Comrade Vidal, commander of the Base at Albacete has told me he has received a report completely preoccupied with the state of the Transport Service Mobile Evacuation Service of our Health Service at Tarançon.   After the messages we have received, Doctor Gorgan has fired all the international chauffeurs and has recruited new chauffeurs from the CNT, which has caused many great difficulties in the Service.  On the other hand, there are many very serious irregularities in the responsible personnel.

He additionally warned me that the first battery of artillery (French and Belgian) attached to the 15th Division and actually commanded by Captain Clerc, was found in deplorable condition, caused by the conduct of that Captain, who stole nearly all of the reserve supplies of the battery and who sent a significant portion of those supplies of the battery to take to a house of prostitution in Madrid.   We have written to … Gé {name not spelled out}.

I would ask you to open an inquiry on these accusations and if it is the case, take necessary measures to eliminate all irregularities.

Anti-fascist greetings

The Commissar delegate of War

Inspector of the International Brigades

{signed Luigi Gallo}³

The RGASPI archives contain an answering memo from Dr. Gorgan who was in Morata which complains about Vidal’s removal of the ambulances.  He also sends this letter to General Gal as commander of the XVth Brigade.  Gorgan denies that he wanted CNT drivers but instead, he asks that the 10 ambulances be returned with their auto park drivers or he can not guarantee that the wounded can be evacuated to Tarançon4.   This curious episode points out some of the Brigade infighting for control on the vehicles.

In Albacete, there was a fight between non-commissioned troops and some German Officers who were housed in the Garde Nationale and the Officers were turned out to “sleep on the ground” like the soldiers have to.   Tersely worded memos in German were written to Vidal accusing Lamotte of not managing the Garde Nationale barracks, which added to his subsequent demise.  One called Lamotte a “gangster”.  We also found in the handwritten notes above the following snippet:

Lamotte Accusation
Notes taken by IB Officer during a briefing on May 221.

An accusation has been made that the XVth Brigade is 500,000 pesetas in arrears, but this note says that is not true.  It does admit that the XVth Brigade owes 250-300,000 pesetas for its unpaid bills.  Since Lamotte would be responsible for paying the bills of the Intendencia, it is likely that this is the accusation of Lamotte embezzling 300,000 pesetas.   One might also assume that Lamotte procured items for the Brigades and just did not pay for them.  That would be viewed differently by the Brigade Command than the suppliers.  In any case, Lamotte’s leadership in the Intendencia is coming to an end during this week.

Merriman must have thought he was going to get a ride back to Pozorubio with Roblet, but he did not show so he stayed until lunchtime and had a meal with Marion Merriman in the Intendencia.   He spoke with Gold (likely Irving Gold).   Frustrated by the crossed wires with Roblet, he arranges a car from Platone and is back to Pozorubio by 2 pm where he translates Roblet’s Russian lectures into English.

Merriman gets his men from Tarazona de la Mancha who were pulled out of training and sent to (probably) the non-commissioned officer’s school.  Five arrive including a Knight who had been on the lines at Jarama (there is an Allan Knight in the list of Canadians)5.  Patrick McGuire, an Irish-Canadian, who had been at the Officer Training School, is called out as a problem and Merriman sent him to join the British Battalion at Jarama.

Patrick McGuire
Patrick McGuire, Irish/Canadian volunteer, RGASPI photo Fond 545/Opus 6/Delo 170, Moscow, Russia

McGuire must not have been happy about going to the front and he and “Wolf” (probably James Wolfe, also a Canadian at the OTS) decided to get drunk to celebrate the departure.   Merriman keelhauls them, gets an apology and a plea to stay in school.  Drunkenness was rampant in the Madrigueras base at the time and this was one reason that the Americans were pulled out and sent to Tarazona (to the relief of the villagers who appreciated that the Americans who drank less than the French).   Richard Baxell relates a story from Peter Kemp who was in the opposing Nationalist Bandera at the time:

There was a grimmer side to the discipline, which reminded me how far I was from the O.T.C. The day after my arrival two troopers reported for duty incapably drunk; apparently they were old offenders. The following evening [their Catalan officer] Llancia formed the whole Squadron in a hollow square in the main barrack-room. Calling out the two defaulters in front of us, he shouted, ‘There has been enough drunkenness in this Squadron. I will have no more of it, as you are going to see.’ Thereupon he drove his fist into the face of one of them, knocking out most of his front teeth and sending him spinning across the room to crash through two ranks of men and collapse on the floor. Turning on the other he beat him across the face with a riding crop until the man dropped half senseless to the ground. He returned to his first victim, yanked him to his feet and laid open his face with the crop, disregarding his screams, until he fell inert beside his companion. Then he turned to us: ‘You have seen, I will not tolerate a single drunkard in this Squadron.’ The two culprits were hauled, sobbing, to their feet to have a half-pint of castor oil forced down their throats. They were on duty next day, but I never saw either of them drunk again.6

Not to say that drunkenness was tolerated in the Brigades.  Some Lincolns had files which reported that they had been sent to prison for one or two weeks because of being found drunk.  And their documents on leaving Spain reflected these events.  Each Brigadista had to report fully whether he had every been disciplined or arrested.  One child of a Brigadista was shown such a document from the Tamiment Archives and, while somewhat surprised, said “That does sound like him”.

Merriman finishes the 20th by noting that the new commandant of the training school will arrive on the 21st and that he was either a “French comrade or Italian lieutenant”.  He says he is a “good fellow”.  We will reveal his name in tomorrow’s pages of the diary.


¹ RGASPI Fond 545/Opis3/Delo426/P25

² RGASPI Fond 545/Opis2/Delo50/P136-142

³ RGASPI Fond 545/Opis1/Delo37/P16.

4 RGASPI Fond 545/Opis3/Delo 433/p81.

5 Petrou, Renegades, ibid, Table of Mac-Paps.

6 Baxell, Unlikely Warriors,  ibid., Chapter 20.