25-26 Mayo A Decision is made to name the Washington Battalion

May 25-26

Robert Merriman’s diary from May 25 and 26, 1937

Merriman is enough of a gentleman that he doesn’t name names when it comes to his friends.   From the post of the 24th, we know Bob Thompson and Joe Dallet picked up a nurse in Albacete and now we know they spent the night with her.  We find that she is trying to “replace women {in} battalion”.

The American Medical Bureau Team

From the Fredericka Martin Collection: (l-r) Fredericka Martin (head nurse), Dr. Eduardo Odio Perez, Dr. Alan Sorrell, Dr. Eddie Barsky (Chief Doctor), Mildred Rackley (interpreter, chief clerk), Anne Taft (R.N.), PHOTO 1:1:32:2, Tamiment Library, NYU

We have some possible suspects for this camarada.        Mildred Rackley was in charge of the recruiting of nurses and was in Spain about this time.  There was a sailing of a large number of nurses and doctors from the American Medical Bureau on the SS Normandie on May 19.  All evidence about Rackley being in Albacete is speculative.  Merriman (and presumably Marion as well since Bob stayed over with Marion) met the other three for breakfast and had a merry time.

Merriman goes to Room 22 in the hotel.  Room 22 clearly is one of the bigger suites.  Room 22 will be mentioned whenever Merriman goes to meet Party officials.  The meeting took some time and Robert Minor insists on a “milder” name for the second battalion than the “Tom Mooney Battalion”.   Tom Mooney was in San Quentin prison at this time and clearly “Washington or Jefferson” had less political baggage.  Minor wins out and the second Battalion becomes the “George Washington Battalion”.  Three out of the four Presidents on the monument being carved at this time in Keystone, South Dakota, were mentioned as names for Battalions.

After the meeting Minor and Harry Haywood depart for Jarama to visit the Lincoln Battalion on the lines.  Merriman says that Steve Nelson departs for Cordoba, probably to meet with the 60 or so “lost Lincolns” who are in the 20th Brigade at that point on the Cordoba front.  Those Lincolns will return to the XVth Brigade by July and clearly the intent is to put English speaking brigadistas in the XVth Brigade.

Merriman finds out the result of his X-ray of the 23rd and it is not good.  In addition to bone seepage, he still has a broken elbow which will need an operation to fix.   There is no evidence that Merriman actually had that operation and this note says that Merriman cannot straighten his arm.   In the photographs of Merriman for the next year, however, he is shown with his arm straight in some photographs so either he overcame the injury by exercise or the diagnosis here is wrong.   Knowing that Merriman has had a broken shoulder and a broken elbow may be of future use to forensic archeologists who may at some time come across Merriman’s remains in digs near Gandesa and Corbera in Spain.

Merriman goes to the Garde Nacionale and meets again with Pierre Lamotte, whose time in the Brigade obviously is shortening.  He says Lamotte was again fighting with people in the Intendencia and Merriman recognizes that his friend will have to leave this job.  Lamotte will shortly be arrested, charged with theft  and imprisoned for the length of the war.  He returned to the US in February 1939 under a questionable cloud.  Merriman says that “Stanley deserted”.  There is an Al Stanley in the Lincolns at this time but he went by the name Al Handler in Spain.  He was assigned to the Washington Battalion but there is nothing in his record on RGASPI that says he “deserted”.

The next sentence does not seem to follow and the closest parsing reads “Decision Maddry”, which could be Madrigueras. There was a decision needed on who would come from Madrigueras to Tarazona.  In another frenzied memo, Vidal chastises the Autopark for not providing enough transport to move 125 men from Madrigueras to Tarazona.  In any case, it is followed by some reference to party members being given jobs in “any place here”.

Merriman goes to check out the Ammo storage building that was sabotaged and finds it leveled.  His intent was to replace the guard on the building and realizes that there is nothing left to guard.  He pulls the guard off the wrecked building.  He returns to Pozorubio or Tarazona and says that he left Allan Knight in Albacete.

In a moment of “too much information”, Merriman must have been amused by Joe Dallet conducting his own “third arm inspection” (‘third arm’ or ‘short arm’  being military slang for an appendage which cannot be used to fire a gun) and washing his privates in the room.  At the time, Richard Baxell informs us of sanitary habits quoting from a letter from Australian Laurence Collier to Bill Alexander that resides in the International Brigades Archives at the Marx Memorial Library:

At this period of my life, I was 23, I was not very good at either love or sex, or shall we say love and sex.   There were a half a dozen young women I meant in the course of my service who attracted me, Angela H[aden] G[uest], Patience Darton, and a few Spanish ‘nurses’, etc.  I never got as far as to make a romantic suggestion, they all seemed out of reach (I was immature, or something).   When in Barcelona I visited a sort of red light district, and was rather appalled a a professional exhibiting herself outside a sort of booth which I suppose was a crude brothel.

I found a not unattractive ‘sensible looking’ woman of about 35 and suggested spending the night with her.  She said she was otherwise engaged but took me to a room where we had what can only be described as ‘surgical sex’, after which in a very business-like way she completed the ‘surgery’ by washing my parts with a solution of permanganate of potash.¹

The potassium permanganate or “Condy’s Crystals”  would have been a disinfectant.   While some men in the Brigades actually caught venereal diseases, there was enough knowledge at the time to reduce the potential for catching VD.

On the 26th of May, Merriman holds meetings with Ed O’Flaherty who went by the name Flaherty in Spain and Steve Daduk.  He meets with the camp commander and says he is “weak”.   A few days previously, Merriman was taken with the man who we now know is Tadeusz Oppman, a Polish lawyer who was the head of the Dombroski Battalion in the fall of 1936.   Merriman says that “Otero, a representative of Gallo” was inspecting the camp.   There is a memorandum sending Comrade Otero to the Albacete in the orders of the Command².

Merriman says that they had their first flag raising ceremony in camp with the Russians “Carlos” and “Roblet” there.  The flag went up upside down which must have been embarrassing.  During training Roblet read modifications to the Soviet military manual which had to do with tanks.  We are only left to guess what change was included other than, sarcastically, British driving tanks should drive on the right side of the road and not run over donkey carts.

Finally, Merriman finishes with Dr. Madan Mohan Lal Atal just saying that he is still suspicious of him.  Atal must be in Pozorubio and since this camp was top secret with open discussion of most political issues, Merriman was suspicious of Atal’s background.   As we said in previous postings, it is unlikely that Dr. Atal was a Communist Party member at this time.  We will hear no more of Dr. Atal in the diary.

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¹ Richard Baxell, Unlikely Warriors, ibid. pg 251 and reference 55, therein.

²  RGASPI Fond 545/Opis 1/Delo 45/Pg 18  (May 14, 1937).