19-20 Junio Picnic, Politics and Fun and Games

June 19 - 20, 1937
Robert Merriman’s diary for June 19 and June 20, 1937
Jock Cunningham of the British Battalion, Photo: 177_179053 of the Moscow Archive ALBA 177, Tamiment Library, New York University
Edward Bender, November 1937. ALBA Photo 11-0655, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman starts the day with logistical concerns on getting men and ammunition in Albacete for the new third battalion.  While on a run to get some new trousers for Frank Rogers, who needs an officer’s uniform, and locating some 200 pesetas, his vehicle (#149) conked out.  He got another vehicle (#5027) and it wasn’t much better since a spring was cracked on it.  Ed Bender and Jock Cunningham headed out to Tarazona with the new shipment of Lucky Strike cigarettes which had arrived on the 18th.   Mike Arnott has done a really nice job of giving a biography of Jock Cunningham (read the comments).   Merriman has meetings with Robert Traill who is back from the Cordoba front and Tom Wintringham, who now is taking over instruction at the Officer’s Training School in Pozorubio.  In a month, Robert Traill will be killed at Brunete.  

Merriman says that Honoré Galli is leaving.  It is possible that this may be the same comrade as Attilio Galli.  Fraser Ottanelli (private communication) informs us that he was born on December 28, 1907.  His parents Alfredo Galli and Angela Ferrari.  It is known that he was born in Aubonne (France) but was originally from Roccastrada in the Province of Grosseto. He was a member of Garibaldi Brigade in 1938 and he fought on Ebro.  Galli was sent to the Training Battalion at Tarazona by Vidal to help out in political instruction.    Merriman also says “Carlos better” and this is unclear whether Carlos (Vittorio Vitali) is better than Galli or recovering from illness.   We are leaning to the former interpretation that Carlos is a better instructor.

Following the story of the mutiny against Copic from the previous days diary pages, Merriman meets with Bill Lawrence and gets the “dope” on the results of the request for Copic to leave.  He finds out that Hans Klaus has been chosen as Brigade Commissar but that the British would have preferred Jock Cunningham in that role.

George Watt
George Watt, RGASPI Photo Fond 545/Opus 6/Delo 1009, Moscow

A sentence which has a bit of a scribble says that “Rudolph” and another soldier (unreadable name which looks like Mildred) have been accused of being Fascist spies.  Assignment of the new soldiers who have just arrived puts Frank Rogers with the third battalion for two weeks but he stays longer.  Joe Lash of the American Student Union will go back to Paris for a Student World Youth Congress and Dave Doran, the young YCL’er, will stay to take on a political role.   “Israel”, who was a writer for the Daily Worker, will stay on as a soldier but not be given a typewriter.  This is likely to be Israel Kwatt (George Watt) who started with the Mac-Paps and will rise through the ranks and become the last Lincoln Battalion Commissar by the end of the war.   Merriman finishes the day by telling the diary that Marion may return to Albacete to work for Bill Lawrence or Ed Bender in the Cadres Office.  During this time, Marion was working in Tarazona, described as a “mother hen” providing support for the incoming troops.  Marion will ultimately end up in the publications office with Sandor Voros who was being transferred at about this time from the Artillery in Almansa to the Communications Office in Albacete.

On the 20th, the battalion held a picnic outside of town, near the river.   There were several events celebrated on the 20th of June.  In Albacete, Vidal gave up to 1/4 of all battalions the day off to commemorate the foundation of a new Soldier’s Home for Children.   The Yugoslavs held a ceremony in Fortuna to commemorate a new stone memorial to Comrade Hurzig. It was important enough that Captain Gutensick of the Yugoslavs took Commandante Winkler and Captain Cazin of the hospital with him to the memorial (RGASPI Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 51/pg 78).

In Tarazona, games were played.  Horseshoes were pitched. Food was had.   Ropes were swung, they had hikes, and a tug-of-war.  Merriman says that as prizes for the winners of the games were the Lucky Strikes that had been brought out to Tarazona by Jock Cunningham and Ed Bender.

Del Vayo
Largo Cabillero and Julio Antonio del Vayo, right. Source: Life Magazine, April 26, 1937. (Google Books)

Milly Bennett arrives with Bob Thompson from Albacete.  We find out that a number of correspondents had been brought to Albacete with Julio Alvarez del Vayo.  Milly would have been one of them. Del Vayo was the Republican Foreign Minister. This was one of the few cases where a major Republican Government official is seen in Albacete.  The woman on the very right of the photo above is not fully visible, however, Constancia de la Mora said in her memoir that she would accompany officials and correspondents on this type of visit and Connie was known for her hats. Connie de la Mora was placed in her position in the Foreign Press Office by del Vayo, himself. ¹   Milly Bennett worked for Constancia de la Mora.

A “Herman” was to return to the Soviet Union, and Bob Jensen and a “Roffler” were to return to the US.   Alan Herman was Ted Allan, the Canadian reporter who was part of this group in Valencia.   We believe that Roffler is Charles Roffeld who was shell-shocked from the sinking of the Ciudad de Barcelona.  He would work in the auto park and return to the US in September 1938.   Bob Jensen is unknown.

Merriman says that Milly Bennett will return soon to the US.  She relates that Liston Oak, who was a member of the Communist Party, is now suspected of being a “Trotskyist”.  Oak who was a friend of John Dos Passos was in Barcelona during the “May Days”.  He clearly lost his allegiance to communism and became a supporter of the POUM while there.   He wrote an article “Behind the Barricades” (The New Statesman, 15 May 1937) which can be found online at the link.   When his acquaintance and POUM Founder Andrés Nin was killed on June 20, 1937, Oak completed his metamorphosis to an anti-communist.

Zuehlke relates the end result of the May Days:

At 7:00  AM on June 16, 1937, William Krehm heard a fist hammering loudly on the door of the POUM house in Barcelona.  When one of the other foreign POUM loyalists unlocked and opened the door, he was sent sprawling, and the foyer immediately filled with heavily built plainclothesmen.  Half of these were obviously Russians from the dreaded NKVD secret police.  The rest were Spanish.  All of the men were yelling orders.

Krehm and the other POUMists were given no time to gather personal belongings.  They were shoved out the door and into waiting trucks.  Armed men stood guard next to the drop gate and throated to shoot anyone who tried to escape.

Somebody asked why they were being arrested, “Spies, Trotskyists, shouted one of the guards, Where were they being taken?  A brutal laugh was the only answer.²

Krehm would remain in jail until October 1937 when he was sent out to France.  Andrés Nin suffered a more dire fate.  George Orwell slipped the net and escaped to France.

On June 20, 1937, Bilbao fell to the fascists in the north ending the northern campaign and freeing up Franco’s forces to move into the Aragon.³   Over the next week, the Lincolns would be pestered by leaflets from Fascists planes saying the war was over and they should surrender.

Unaware of what was happening in Barcelona and Bilbao, in the bucolic area around Tarazona in the evening, Marion, Milly, Abe Harris, Joe Dallet and Merriman went for a swim and had a chance to wash up.  Marion Merriman Wachtel relates:

When I could break away from my duties, I went to Tarazona and stayed with him at Headquarters.

We swam in the Jucar River.  Occasionally, Bob and I swam alone.  Sometimes, a group gathered.  If Milly were visiting, she and I swam in our underwear, upstream from where the fellows swam.  In the evenings we gathered around and sang American songs.  The fellows imitated instruments, pretending to be an orchestra.  We laughed and sang and joked while there was yet still time.4

The picnic and swim must have been invigorating because Dallet, Thompson, Pete Hampkins and Merriman would have a bull session where they criticized each other.  Merriman rates Hampkins, Dallet bawls out Thompson, Thomson takes on Merriman and Dallet.   Merriman called it a “Bawl up”.  But the session must have had some positive resolution.   Merriman says that Bender and Jock Cunningham were “set” which indicates a decision was made on their roles in the Brigade.


¹ Constancia de la Mora, In Place of Splendor, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1939

² Mark Zuehlke, The Gallant Cause, Wiley and Co., Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, 2007, p. 155,.

³ Landis, Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid., pg 176.

4 Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude, American Commander in Spain, ibid. pg 153.