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were in the line at Jarama for 78 straight days with only a four day relief break for the Lincolns which was shortly rescinded.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.

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.


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.

17-18 Mayo Pierre Lamotte gets in trouble

May 17-18

Robert Merriman’s diary for May 17 and 18th, 1937.

In a relatively quiet day, Merriman passes the day in Albacete and has the duty of making the introduction of George Brodsky to the staff at the Intendencia (supply depot).  Brodsky had been made a second Lieutenant in the Etat Major of the  Battalion of Instruction at Tarazona de la Mancha  on the 17th of May¹.  After visiting the Headquarters (Estado Major), Merriman needs to muster up a guard for Albacete from his troops.  An extra 50 men plus a machine gun are wanted for Albacete and on the 18th he relates that Joe Dallet expects trouble in Albacete.  Clearly, intelligence has warned them of potential sabotage.

Merriman also mentions that the men are to form a funeral guard.  In orders of the day from Albacete, Lucien Vidal informs us that Lieutenant René Rochefort who worked in Albacete died and was buried on the 19th of May.  Rochefort was said to have been unable to serve at the front because of his injuries and ultimately died from them.

His dining companions on the 17th are Marion Merriman, Steve Nelson, Bill Lawrence and Canadian Robert Kerr.  Nelson and Lawrence seem joined at the hip at this juncture of the preparation of the battalion.  Kerr, the Canadian political commissar,  arrived on April 21 and at this point was charged with the formation of the Canadian Battalion.  He and Lawrence would grab as many incoming Canadians as they could to direct to this new battalion.²   Ron Liversedge, who was seconded to the Canadian Cadres Service, remembers:

But there were almost as many Canadians in other Brigades and outfits outside the Fifteenth Brigade. … A man would drop by,  just in from Estramadura.  He was in town for mail, for pay for his outfit, to enquire about medical supplies, etc.  He was serving with a Balkan artillery battery.  Yes, he was a Canadian; yes, there were five more Canadians with the Battery.  We could get his particulars, ask him to try to get a list of the other Canadians to us as soon as possible, and help him complete his business in Albacete…. Thus is was that we gradually began to get a picture of who, and where, the Canadians were.  The thousand Canadians has certainly spread themselves around Spain.4

Merriman finishes the day writing a story for an appeal for resources to be sent to America.  Jan Kurske returned to Valencia.  He mentions a new name, possibly Pasurman, who was in Albacete secretly.

Things begin to go badly for Pierre Lamotte.  As head of the Intendencia, he was able to curry favor with Merriman who thought he was a “fine fellow”.  But at this point, Lamotte “lost currency”.   Demands for Lamotte’s removal are made by the IB leadership.  A commission who investigated the “disinterest” in the leadership of the Intendencia concluded that three men, Favette, Lamotte and Francesco, should be removed.²  Lamotte is reported to have been charged with desertion and embezzlement and imprisoned in Valencia until he was released at the end of the war.³ He returned to the US on February 9, 1939.  Having Brodsky available to take Lamotte’s place was convenient.


Alfred Harvey (Abe) Litwin, RGASPI Fond 545 Opus 6 Delo 935, Moscow


Unknown (left), unknown (rear) and Sterling Rochester(center), ALBA Photo 177-191070, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman mentions that he met with Abe Litwin, Steven Daduk and (probably) Charles O’Flaherty.  The latter two along with the Jarama-injured African-American Sterling Rochester are to be sent back to the US for fund raising and speaking tours.

Merriman returns to Pozo Rubio with Bill Lawrence, Joe Dallet, and Pete Hampkins as a “Commission”.  They were sent to investigate some issue.  In the next sentence,  Merriman lets us know that they rejected  Raymond Lee Peters (both of whom came over on the Queen Mary on March 20), either Michael or Patrick McLaughlin (likely the latter as he was in OTS at the time), and Anthony Theodoulou.   Merriman was interested (although he does not say he was pleased) with the response of the men to the naming of the Commissar.   Ultimately, Dave Mates would become the Commissar.

Merriman is still staffing up and sent word to Marcovics at Madrigueras that he wanted more men but was rebuffed.   He had a meeting that evening with Arthur Olorenshaw, Joe Dallet, Bob Thompson and William Reed Carroll, who had joined the OTS on May 145.  Merriman meets again with Andrew Royce and orders him to Transports.  Royce had deserted from Jarama but was identified  as shell-shocked and useless at the front.  Merriman clearly took responsibility for Royce and looked after him.


¹ RGASPI Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 50/Page 90.

² Petrou, Renegades, ibid., p 28.

³ RGASPI Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 50/Page 136.

4 Ron Liversedge, Map-Pap, Memoir of a Canadian in the Spanish Civil War, ed. David Yorke, New Star Books, 2013, p110-111 and p. 176.

5 RGASPI Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 50/Page 127.

15-16 Mayo The Merrimans return to Albacete and the Americans will go to Tarazona

May 15-16, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary for May 15 and May 16, 1937

Almansa Map

Map of route followed by the Merrimans from Valencia to Albacete through Almansa. Source: Google Maps

Castillo Almansa

The Castillo Almansa. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

The Merrimans return to Albacete from Valencia with Jan Kurske.  On the way back, they do a little sightseeing at Almansa.  The map on the left shows the relationship between Albacete, Almansa and Valencia.  A current day photo of the Moorish Castle at Almansa is shown on the right.

Merriman reveals that the artillery training is in Almansa.   The experiences of the Americans in the John Brown Battery and heavy artillery are being assembled in 2015.  This group has had few stories written about them.

Upon his return to Albacete, he checks back in with Vidal, Platone, and Schalbroeck at Brigade HQ.  The Belgian Jean Schalbroeck will move up in June to replace Platone in the Brigade Staff.

Merriman meets with Steve Nelson, Bill Lawrence and Jock Cunningham.  Cunningham, who was the English speaking Regimental Commander at this point, “got started”.   Merriman uses coded words to remind himself that conversations were heated and Cunningham was not one to use Oxford language.  He also says that Hans Amlie and, it is believed, Paul White also came and made “statements”.  Statements is also a code word for expressing their opinion that Merriman probably does not agree with.   “Statements rank & filism” is interesting because accusations were made about officers who took a proletarian posture and acted like a “shop steward” instead of a military leader.  Rank & filism in Merriman’s mind is a derogatory description of someone who is not tough enough on his men and doesn’t believe in command structure, someone who takes the rank and file position on issues.  About this time, debates were being held about saluting superiors.  This debate continued into the fall of 1937 and as the Brigades moved more and more towards integration in the Spanish Army, the pressure to look more and more like a traditional military organization was felt.  It is possible that the suppression of the anarchists and POUM in Barcelona was leading to pressure from the Soviets and Spanish commanders to bring the International Brigaders into a disciplined structure.  One is left to wonder what form this “discussion” took, but Merriman will continue to push the leadership to a more traditional military command look.

Ralph Bates

Ralph Bates lecturing to the Regiment de Tren, probably July 21, 1937, prior to going to Quinto. ALBA Photo 177-178037, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman notes that Ralph Bates is in Madrid to speak.  Bates lectured to the troops in Jarama on the events in Barcelona on May 14.  Bates giving a lecture to the Regiment de Tren is shown on the right.

On the 16th,  Merriman, James Harris and Bob Thompson went to pick up “Atal” who is Dr. M. Atal, the doctor in one of the training camps.    Dr. Atal is Indian by nationality¹, from Allahbad, and later will lead an Indian military mission to China during the Chinese War of Resistance.  Merriman reported earlier that the Doctor in the Villaneuva de la Jara was incompetent and this is likely to be Atal.

Merriman speaks to  a woman doctor and that she has been demoted.   Likelihood is that this is James Harris’ “Polish Woman Doctor”.   Harris is also Polish so they may have been just comrades but clearly they stuck together through March-April-May.  Merriman holds the interview in Pozo Rubio which would indicate to the Doctor that she will be examined out of public view.

Merriman takes the car and drives over to Madrigueras, the British training base, where he meets with Amlie and Marcovics, Dave Mates, Walter Garland and either Robbins or Roblet.  Merriman is there because in the afternoon, the Americans are being pulled out to form another American Battalion in Tarazona de la Mancha.  Tarazona will be the American base for the rest of the war and is about two miles west of Madrigueras.  Apparently, they expected resistance from the men or officers about this reorganization, but it happened.  Marion Merriman Wachtel says that Merriman was the commander of the Washington Battalion until this new third battalion was formed and that Merriman was in Tarazona in April.²  Eby states that the Washington Battalion was officially formed between April 1-6 and that its formation at Tarazona was at the insistence of Marcovics.³   The Battalion did not have a name until later when the men under Marcovics suggested the Tom Mooney Battalion.  That would be overruled and the name “Washington Battalion” was suggested by Robert Minor and officially was approved by the Communist Party offices in the US by June.   The diary seems to indicate that the second battalion was actually formed in mid-May and the third battalion even later in May.  Clearly, there were enough English speaking North Americans in Spain for three battalions and Marcovics would become the Commander and  Dave Mates would become the Commissar of the Washington Battalion. Merriman’s role as commander of the OTS and the NCO school is only briefly discussed in Wachtel and Lerude. Merriman would become the Commander of the third battalion in June and Joe Dallet would become its Commissar.

Merriman looped back past Pozo Rubio to pick up Marcovics and Joe Dallet and went on to Albacete to eat.  He met again in the evening with Nelson, Dallet and Bill Lawrence.  He ran the car out of gas in Albacete so he had to stay overnight.   Merriman mentions that he spoke with George Brodsky about the job as head of the Intendencia as supply officer.  This would have been a significant demotion for Brodsky but it was a way of offering Brodsky a job.   Brodsky has dropped from Battalion Commissar to a Battalion supply officer in a little over a month and this is consistent to reporting that Brodsky was not an effective commissarand the men resented him.

Merriman notes in the diary that the Largo Caballero government has now fallen.   The historical date that the government fell was May 17 and Juan Negrin took over as Prime Minister on the appointment of President Manuel Azaña.   Negrin would be Prime Minister until the Republic fell in 1939.  “May Days” is now over in Barcelona and the repercussions would be felt for another two months as the government will mop up opposition to the Negrin government.


Poster of the movie “Ruggles of Red Gap” Source: fulcrumgallery.com

The mysterious Mr. Cleaver will be going to Valencia.  It is not clear if he was recruited but Jean Barthel also is returning to Valencia so it is possible this is an assignment to the new SIM.   Merriman finishes the day by meeting with Arthur Olorenshaw and going to see two movies, Ruggles of Red Gap (a full length feature with Charles Laughton) and “Joaquin Murrieta” (an MGM short documentary on the Mexican revolutionary.


¹ Shrinivas Tilak, Understanding Karma: In Light of Paul Ricoeur’s Philosophical Anthroplogy & HemeneuticsInternational Centre for Cultural Studies, 2006 – Hermeneutics – p329.  (page read online, no guarantee of this reference).

² Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude, American Commander in Spain, ibid., p140.

³ Cecil Eby, Comrades and Commissars, ibid., pg 158.


13-14 Mayo The Road Trip Continues and Merriman gets the straight dope

May 13-14, 1937

Robert Merriman’s Diary from May 13th and 14th, 1937

While Merriman clearly was on a rest and relaxation trip, he continued to work over the next few days.  He gained significant information for the Brigades in these discussions.

Becker and Barthel

Hans Klaus  (left), a Spanish Nationalist Prisoner (center) and Jean Barthel (right), ALBA PHOTO 177-189039, Tamiment Archive, NYU

Upon awakening Merriman meets Jean Barthel (not to be confused with Jan Kurske, also mentioned).  “Bartel” who is Jean Chaintron (nom de guerre Jean Barthel)¹,², Commissar of the XVth Brigade.  Barthel is later shown in a photo with Hans Klaus of the Brigade with a prisoner and his uniform would indicate he is in SIM (Servicio de Investigación Militar, also unfondly referred to as the ‘checa‘, which was modeled on the Soviet NKVD¹).  SIM was formed in early May 1937 to respond to the uprising in Barcelona.   Merriman says that Jan Kurske also will go back to Albacete with them.  Stepanovich, the Yugoslavian photographer and head of the Secret Service, was also in Valencia and Merriman looked for him without success.

The R&R continued later in the morning as they grabbed the car and Milly Bennett and headed off to Sagunto where they saw the Roman ruins.  Merriman confuses us with the Hotel Continental reference which is not in Sagunto but rather Valencia.  It is not clear if the “commandant” of the hotel in Valencia just got them a permiso to eat at Sagunto or if Merriman is mashing up the times.

Castillo de Sagunto

Castillo de Sagunto, Source: Wikipedia Commons

In the evening he says Milly Bennett wants to write a story about Joe Streisand.  We discussed before the death of Robert Pick and Streisand at Jarama while they were sent to mark the position of the enemy by placing an aviation signal and clearly Merriman thinks this is a heroic tale worth telling to America.

While working on the story with Milly Bennett, the news came through of the explosion on the HMS Hunter (H35) when it struck a mine while on “non-intervention” patrol.  The excitement would have been due to the hope that British ships being attacked could get the British government to rethink its non-intervention policy.  At the very least, Merriman would have thought the explosion to be schadenfreude.

On the last day of leave, Merriman again went to the beach with Milly Bennett (and presumably Marion).  He says they ate at  La Marcelina.    He says he saw Robert Minor and James Ford again, presumably at the restaurant not at the beach.

In the first reference in the diary to the “May Day” events in Barcelona, he meets with Luis Rubio Hidalgo, the head of the Spanish Foreign Ministry Press and Propaganda Department.  A new book has come out by our friend Amanda Vaill which gives a visual picture of Rubio when he met newspaperman Arturo Barea who is one of the subjects of Amanda’s new book, Hotel Florida:

Mije had a proposition for him.  The inclusion of Communists in the government has given him some patronage power, and he might be able to suggest Barea for a post a the Foreign Ministry– that is, if he had any fluency in English.  Although Barea’s other language was French, he read English well enough, and translate [sic] it; so within minutes he was being hustled off to the Foreign Ministry, where a harried young assistant ushered him into the crepuscular office of Luis Rubio Hidalgo, the newly appointed chief of the ministry’s Press and Propaganda Department.  Pale, bald as an egg, with a thin mustache on his upper lip and lash less eyes peering from behind round tinted lenses, Rubio sat impassively in the cone of light cast by his solitary desk lamp, his white hands folded in front of him, while Barea described his qualifications.  Then he asked Barea if he would like to join the Propaganda Department as a nighttime censor for the foreign press – an important job, since most journalists wrote and wired their stories from Madrid at night in order to catch the morning editions of their newspapers in Europe and America.

The moment the words were out of Rubio’s mouth, Barea knew they were what he was waiting to hear.  Although he was personally repelled by his prospective chief, the work the man was describing was essential and interesting.³

Merriman learns from Rubio the number of dead and wounded in Barcelona from the fighting there, information that the leadership of the Brigades in Albacete would want to hear from an authoritative source.  Merriman speaks again with Pinky Griffiths.

Milly Bennett  wants to send a wire from Mr. “Herman” to the S. S. Berengaria left Cherbourg on May 13, 1937, and is making a voyage to the US from France (the Berengaria would sail from New York back to Europe with another group of 28 Americans on the 20th of May).  We believe that our mysterious “Mr. Herman” is actually Canadian Alan Herman who wrote under the name Ted Allan and would become close to Gerda Taro.  Ted Allan is also discussed in detail in Hotel Florida:

Allan was twenty-one, a dark, curly-headed youth who had volunteered for the International Brigades but had been drafted away from combat to be the political commissar of the mobile blood transfusion unit whose work Geza Karpathi {n.b., later a highly recognizable character actor who went by the name Charles Korvin} was filming.  He was also a romantic and deeply impressionable young man, and his first site of the two photographers, their cameras around their necks, still dusty from their drive to Madrid, struck him forcibly.  Capa, “black eyed, handsome,” and “already famous”, seemed impossibly glamorous to Allan, who was also an aspiring journalist, writing for Canadian leftist newspapers and broadcasting over the Madrid radio; but it was Gerda, with her short blond hair and bewitching smile, who took his breath away.³

The young and handsome Ted Allan was likely the “Herman” who had thoughts about Milly Bennett a couple of days before.  Marion Merriman likely was Milly’s chaperone who kept them apart as they Milly and Marion were sharing a room in Valencia.

We don’t know the subject of the wire that Ted Allan wanted to get to the Berengaria or who it was sent to.  The ship list is accessible on Ancestry.com and it is interesting that Angus_Lewis_Macdonald, Premier of Nova Scotia, Canada, was aboard the vessel.  Also aboard were about a dozen foreign nationals who were sponsored in their visit to the US by the Chicago Tribune, some were academics.  Also on board was Maxine Darrell, a Ziegfield Follies dancer, but it is unlikely that she would be the target of this wire.   Harry Langdon, the comedy actor was also on the Berengaria.  The US Citizens were not required to reveal their occupations so if a fellow reporter were on board, the name would have to be known to figure this mystery out.   Amanda Vaill has explained in an email that she believed that John Dos Passos was on the Berengaria on this sailing.  An Ancestry search shows that John Dos Passos sailed to the US on May 19, 1937, from Le Havre and Southhampton on the SS Paris.  Perhaps Ted Allan and Milly Bennett thought that Dos Passos would make the Berengaria sailing and were looking to send him a story.

Merriman again talks to Constancia de la Mora and discusses her husband Ignacio Hildalgo de Cisneros, who is head of the Air Force and importantly, reports directly to Indalecio Prieto, who within the next week will move from Minister of Finance to  Minister of Defense in the new Negrin government.  He finishes the evening with another discussion with Milly Bennett, ending a very long two days of the diary.


¹ Thomas, Spanish Civil War, ibid. p 376, p493.  Note Thomas spells the nom-de-guerre as “Bethel” but this is incorrect.

² Richard Baxell, British Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War: The British Battalion in the International Brigades, 1936-1939, Routledge/Canada Blanch Studies on Contemporary Spain, London, 2004, p. 66.

³ Amanda Vaill, Hotel Florida, Truth, Love and Death in the Spanish Civil War, Ferrar, Stratus and Giroux, New York, USA, 2014.  pp 52-53.