11-12 Agosto “Hello, 15th Brigade!” and “English Out”

August 11-12, 1937
Robert Merriman’s diary for August 11 and 12, 1937

Merriman continues to document the shake up of the 15th Brigade and records that Ralph Bates and Steve Nelson came to the Battalion to tell the men that Merriman will be moving up to the Brigade level as Chief of Staff.  Rollin Dart would move back from Albares where he headed the Lincolns and would take Merriman’s place as commander in training.   Merriman will take Canadian Bill Skinner and Sidney Shostek with him to Brigade as his aides.

Owen Smith
Captain Owen Smith, Operations, Tamiment Photo 177_188024, Tamiment Library, NYU

In the farewell, Marion Merriman spoke.   The August 9-10 posting has Marion’s description of the event and it seems that she mixed up Merriman’s accompanying the Mac-Paps to Albares and then his return to Tarazona to announce his movement up to the Brigade level.  But she missed by only one or two days in these events.  Merriman says ford arrived and this could be James Ford, a CP official from the US but it more likely to be a vehicle for him in his new position.  The next line says “delivery body” which sounds like it is vehicle related.   Merriman was sure that he would get the trappings of office when he got a promotion. Merriman also spoke briefly and there were songs.  Merriman says Owen (Owen Smith, probably) wanted more on the reorganization and said that the leaders were hiding something.   Smith obviously was aware of the trouble that Marcovics was in from Brunete and the Americans were watching his treatment closely.  When Steve Nelson and Ralph Bates arrived, Merriman accompanied them to Albacete.

William Rowe
William Rowe. Photograph from a pamphlet published by the Communist Party of Great Britain, thanks to Stuart Walsh for providing the image.
Vladimir Copic and General Gal in a tete-a-tete at Ambite, believed to be July 21, 1937. Tamiment Photo 177-175018, NYU Bobst Library, New York, New York.

The next morning (after having the perks of command allowing him to sleep on grain sacks), Steve Nelson starts to reveal to Merriman how upset the British are about these adjustments.  Merriman met with Will Paynter, William Rowe, Aitken and Jock Cunningham.  Thanks to comrades doing photo research on the Brigades for the identification of William Rowe (1905-1948).  Rowe arrived in Spain in April of 1937 would be invalided home for tuberculosis , returning 19 September 1937.¹  The British suggested that if Cunningham was not going to be Brigade Commander, perhaps Cunningham and Merriman could share the role.  This is a very strange suggestion and one which was being preempted by Vladimir Copic’s trip to see General Gal (Janos Galicz).  General Gal was known to be moving on as Merriman said “General out” on an earlier page, but on this day he was still in command of the Internationals.  Copic was getting orders ready for the reassignments and Copic would lead the Brigade and Merriman would be his Chief of Staff.

Mirko Markovics continued the battle with Cunningham which started with the commands given at Brunete.  The British and Americans were at loggerheads over the leadership question and Merriman met with Robbie Robinson,  Rollin Dart and George Kaye to develop an American position.   Ralph Bates would be leaving before the upcoming offensive (Quinto) but he must have given Merriman the quote that “Cunningham leaving would be more of a loss than Copic”.   Copic, however, maneuvered his way to the leadership and arrived back at Albacete with Gal’s orders that Merriman would be Chief and Aitken and Cunningham were to go.  Merriman says “English out.  Feel sorry for them.”   Merriman’s notes leave us to conclude that the exclusion of the English, Scots and Irish was Copic’s doing.   (One should reread Copic’s comments to Haywood about the British in the July 19-20 entry here).  Mirko Markovics (another Slav, although American) survived the housecleaning and will become information officer.  Aitken, Cunningham and Markovics all crossed Colonel Hans Klaus at Brunete and the piper must be paid.

Gordon and Begelman
Joe Gordon (left) and Elias Begelman (right), ALBA Photo 11_0098, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman finished the day reminiscing with Phil Cooperman.  He also gave Markovics a warning, apparently that Steve Nelson was not going to be his ally and that Markovics needed to shape up.  Recall that at Brunete, Nelson was put in the position of having to take over from Marcovics because the latter refused to follow a difficult order to send the Americans back into battle.   Nelson accomplished what Marcovics could not, but only through his motivational abilities.  Luckily the Spanish Battalion intervened and the Americans did not need to go back into the fight in their highly weakened state.  At the evening meeting,  Elias Begelman was also in the discussion and apparently was too garrulous for Merriman.


¹  Thanks to Stuart Walsh and Kevin Buyers for the research on Rowe, private communication.

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