7-8 Agosto Merriman leaves Tarazona to move up to Ambite and Albares

August 7-8, 1937
Robert Merriman’s diary for August 7 and 8, 1937

Robert Merriman leaves Tarazona de la Mancha on August 7, 1937, and he will not return to training.   He asked for, and received permission, to take half of the 2nd Training Battalion to the front as a unit.  He took a majority of Americans to reinforce the Lincoln-Washington Battalion which was now resting in Albares.  Replacing Merriman would be Allan Johnson as training battalion commander.  Merriman was clearly record keeping in prior pages of his diary and he knew that he would soon be in combat.  His use of pages from September on as notes pages gives a hint to the fatalism he felt as he may not have expected to need those dates later.

Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude fill in the details from these days:¹

All through that day, after the rally at the church, Bob was with different groups of the Command.  I tried to stop time but the hours rushed by.  I wanted Bob to myself.  I didn’t want to yield him once again to the war, as I had done when he left Moscow.

Then, at five o’clock, the battalion formed in parade.

“So long, fellows,” Bob said.  He gave no long speech.  He had wanted to take the battalion personally into the next battle and felt bad about leaving it.  The men stood in review and looked at him.  He looked back, with respect.  There was a strange silence, the silence of goodbye. 

Afterward, a few of us gathered for a light supper.  Someone broke out a bottle of champagne.  We toasted the battle and the victory and the safety of our soldiers.  And we toasted freedom.  Steve, I’ll never forget, was like a surprised and angelic boy, too excited to show much anxiety.

Then, at last in our room, Bob and I said our goodbye, once again.  When he was gone, I sat alone for a while.  Late in the evening, just before going to sleep, I wrote in my diary: “Final farewells and my darling is off.  May he come back as safely this time”.

But sleep would not come.  I lay in the dark, knowing Bob was in a truck heading north, first to Ambite to pull the Americans together, then to a Spanish village called Quinto…”

Marion may have mixed up this departure a bit with Merriman’s next advancement to the Brigade level where he would become Chief of Staff.  Here Merriman himself says that he is leading the Americans from the 2nd Training Battalion, which pulled out at 3:30 AM for La Roda to turn up the Valencia-Madrid road.  Many of the Mac-Pap battalion would stay in Tarazona until just before Quinto.  After passing Tarancon, the men joined the resting Lincolns and Washingtons in Albares.  Merriman has a  chance to discuss the Brigade politics with Jock Cunningham (whom he finds conceited) and with Colonel Hans Klaus who removed Mirko Markovics.  Merriman reveals that a “control man”, probably from  the Army Corps level, was talking to Klaus about the Marcovics removal and Marcovics side of the story was discussed.  On the next page,  Merriman says that Stepanovitch was asking for the removal of Phil Cooperman and Ed Bender and one wonders if he is the “control man”.

In the evening of the 7th a meeting was held amongst the American leaders, Phil Cooperman, Dennis Jordan, David Bates,  Ed Bender, Joe Dallet, Steve Nelson and Merriman.  The Headquarters problem at the Base refers to the swapping out of General Gal and Vidal discussed on August 3.  Nelson says that they have too few officers to lead three full battalions.  Evidently, John Quigley “Robbie” Robinson chafed at his assignment to be the Commissar of the Lincolns.   He supposedly “walked out” on the appointment.   Phil Cooperman seeks repatriation and other cadres are being sent home, including Walter Garland and Dennis David Jordan.   Cooperman does not make it and was killed in Spain.

On the 8th, Colonel Klaus, George Aitken and the other Bates, Ralph Bates, arrive from headquarters.   Merriman repeats the comments made on the September 21 notes page that Sam Gonshak, Wallace Burton and Patrick McGuire were reprimanded for going AWOL and sent for 10 days of KP (Kitchen Patrol).  Milly Bennett (Marion and Bob Merriman’s friend, the reporter, and lover of Wallace Burton) tells the tale (note that Milly did not waste time with the shift key):

remember Jen, how you knew from his letter, you sensed with that instinct you have for really, good people, that he is fine.  his orderly was with him, a handsome, trim Jew named fliegel, that is fliegel, the orderly, was orderly to burton, the private.  wallace had been “broken” — disciplined from commander back to private because after brunette, the men were given three days in madrid for boozing and whoring — and then called in to a rest camp.  the rest camp was boring, both to men and officers.  wallace, longing for the bright lights of madrid, (he fought 22 days at brunette and went from section leader to company commander) — decided to go back to madrid, orders or no orders; and being himself, didn’t go alone.  he took his whole company with him.  the company was scolded; wallace was broken back to the ranks; and when i saw him, he was a private, but his orderly refusing to leave him.  i had thought he might come through Valencia; so there was a bottle of bacardi rum and  one sherry in my closet — and a carton of cigarets that i’d been having an eye on in a certain newspaperman’s bag under my writing table ….

fliegel, obviously worshipped wallace, the latter being able to get him into more mischief in ten minutes than he could think up in a lifetime finally had to be sent back to the troop train loaded with sherry, chocolate and cigarets —-²

Merriman heads off for Madrid to meet with Marion Greenspan (George Marion) and Ed Rolfe.  Merriman lectures Greenspan on the policy concerning desertion and repatriation.   He mentions Joe Lash and Hans Amlie as part of this discussion.  Merriman appears to have a lot on his chest that he wants to get rid of.  He later sees Rollin Dart who is his equal in leading the Lincolns and General Walter who will command the Army Corps that the Internationals are in.  Shortly, Hans Amlie will advance to be the Commander of the Lincolns and Merriman may not have been happy with that choice.

Van Den Berghe
Juan Castro (left), Captain Amandus Van Den Berghe (center) and Marty Hourihan (right), photo from the Paul Burns Collection (and from the International Brigades in Spain website of our colleague, Kevin Buyers). The photo notation says it was taken in Jarama. ALBA photo 181:1:4:1, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman notes that the Belgian Vanderberg is on leave and his wife is in Madrid.   The photo on the left shows Amandus (Armand) Van den Berghe who progressed from a soldado at Jarama to a Major by the time he left Spain in 1939.   In the battle of Jarama, leadership quickly devolved to Van den Berghe who stepped in the leadership of the 58th Battalion (Americans) after Merriman was wounded.  It is quite likely that he was greatly involved in training Marty Hourihan leadership skills.  Van den Berghe had been a sergeant in the Belgian army in 1914.  His questionnaire³ said that he was a teacher at the School of Engineering in the school of Mines.  He claimed to have experience in leading over 3000 men in WWI.   Van den Berghe would survive the war and would be involved in every major battle of the XVth Brigade.  Van den Berghe’s wife, Margarite, recruited Amandus into the Communist Party and was working in Spain during the war.  At the end, the two of them would be arrested and imprisoned by French authorities after they crossed the border.  His file has a pathetic letter from Van den Berghe to General Walter dated 20 June 1939, where Amandus writes his old commander for financial aid as he and his wife are in dire straits in Geneva, Switzerland, without work and Amandus is now 39.   Walter writes on the bottom of the letter, “J’ai fait repondre negativement” (I responded negatively).

Merriman may have spoken with Jock Cunningham since he says that Cunningham will not admit he was mistaken in his actions at Brunete.   Cunningham clearly identified Americans, including Garland and perhaps Marcovics, as ones who had to go.   Merriman tries to see Colonel Hans Klaus but doesn’t meet with him.  Instead he sees Frank Ryan who again is quoted as saying that an “unnamed” American will be coming to the Staff by next year.  Merriman must assume that is him.  Aitken, Cunningham and Ryan would shortly be returning to Britain.

Landis says:

Leave was granted. There was no more of the nonsense of General Gal.  The Americans were free to go to Madrid, to Albacete, and to Alcala de Heneres close to the nearby rest camps.  They arrived in Madrid by the truckloads, and the capital took them to its heart.  Their stalwart, colorful figures in I.B. ski-pants, boots and berets, were seen everywhere….. Americans were everywhere, they went to the movies, saw James Cagney take over Chicago with “pineapples” and submachine guns.  At the Capital Cinema, opposite the Hotel Florida, the Marx Brothers held forth in A Night at the Opera.4


¹ Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude, American Commander in Spain, ibid., pp 156-7.

² Milly Bennett, letter to Jenny Miller, September 18, 1937,  Mildred Bennett Collection, Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford, University.

³ RGASPI, Fond 545/Opis 6/Delo 299/pp 33-39.

4  Art Landis, The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid., pg 244.