29 Septiembre Merriman begins his second diary

On the September 19 and 20 diary page, Merriman ran out of room in his first diary.  He sent the first diary off with Marion to protect it and he started a new diary.  The first date in the new diary is September 29th in Almochuel and Merriman has a lot to get off his chest.   Diary #2 was transcribed by Alan Warren and thanks go to him for the effort in doing so.

We play these 12 pages back as a group and will discuss them below.


Sep 29 2

Sep 29 3

Sep 29 4

Sep 29 5

Sep 29 6

Sep 29 7

Sep 29 8

Sept 29 9

Sep 29 10

Sep 29 11

Sept 29, 1937
Robert Merriman’s diary for September 29, 1937, catching up since September 19.

Merriman starts his replay of the days since September 19 in rather routine order and most of it is self-explanatory.  But as he writes he gets more and more worked up about the events in Belchite and how he did not get the respect that he felt he deserved for that Battle.  He mentions that Bill Lawrence came to Almochuel to encourage more Party work with the Brigade.  Merriman says that he and Dave Doran were already started on that.  He mentions that Company secretaries are to be appointed and that a Brigade Secretary would also be appointed.   The latter role was assigned to Jim Bourne.

Merriman revisits the “English question” which revolved around repatriation of the longest serving comrades.  Vladimir Copic has a different recollection of previous decisions than does Merriman.  Merriman says that many good comrades are being removed for repatriation.  Steve Nelson was one of them.  On the way out, Nelson made a speech in Valencia where he took Hans Amlie to task for his behavior at Belchite and comments he made there.  Robbie Robinson will stay with the Brigade and Merriman says that Carl Bradley is to go.   Bradley returns to the US in November 1937.   Copic does not agree with the repatriation of Nelson but is obviously overruled by Valencia.

Moise Sapir
Moise Sapir, John Gerlach, Bob Merriman, Rollin Dart, David Doran and Robbie Robinson, Almochuel, September 1937. ALBA PHOTO 11-0755, Tamiment Library, NYU

Marion Merriman’s short visit to the Brigade ends and she went back to Albacete (with Merriman’s first diary).  She had news that they were invited to go to Valencia but because of orders, they deferred the visit and sent Jim Bourne instead.   Bourne was to get the pay money for the end of September but by the 29th, he had not returned with the money or Pete Hampkins or the car.  Merriman’s irritation shows through.  Finally, Moises Sapir shows up with 500,000 pesetas to pay the Brigade.  This is clearly the point where the smiling Merriman is seen with Sapir in Almochuel.

Hans Kaltschmidt, Adjutant to the Chief of Brigade (Merriman), September 1937, Almochuel. ALBA PHOTO 11-0643, Tamiment Library, NYU

Sapir tells Merriman “the dope about Schmidt in Madrid”.  We have not tracked down this story at this point.  Interestingly, there is a photo of Hans Kaltschmidt who is listed as being the Adjutant to the Chief of the Brigade (that would be Merriman).  One wonders if Merriman called him Schmidt or if that is the name he went under.  There also will be an upcoming discussion on “Hans” who promotes himself without permission.

Will Paynter, Bob Kerr, and Malcolm Dunbar wrecked their car in a place that looks like Cambronette (although this is not a Spanish location.  It may be the model of a type of car.  A Cambronetta was a type of carriage in the 1800’s.  Camionette is the name used for Citroen and other French small vans).   Paynter discusses the Aitken/Cunningham affair where they were removed and sent back to England.  Paynter seems to now criticize Cunningham, but perhaps because he is in Merriman and Copic’s camp at this point.   Paynter felt that George Aitken did the best he could.  Wally Tapsell, however, has burned his bridges with criticism of the Soviet Union.    Paynter brings in 42 new British comrades and takes out 20.   Vladimir Copic apparently makes no objection now and Merriman and Doran feel that this is the solution that they had originally suggested…. just let them go.   Merriman suggests that this rotation out of troops has greatly helped morale.

Merriman has been slaving over the paylists and the promotion lists and Copic keeps bouncing the suggestions back.  Apparently after six days, Copic agreed with Merriman and Doran’s original suggestions.  Merriman’s blood begins to start boiling at this point and he will work himself up over the next few pages.   He mentions that the policy that 2% of the Battalion should be on leave at any one time has been put into effect and that Jose Amano (or so the name looks) has been made Copic’s Adjutant.  Merriman says that Amano’s prestige has been lifted and this should have been done for more Spanish colleagues.  Merriman says that in the paper shuffling, many opportunities to send the Brigaders on leave were lost.

One wonders about Copic’s leadership style throughout these diaries.  One pictures a manipulative leader who will play groups of his staff off against one another.  He doesn’t seem to concentrate on the day-to-day issues but rather creates make-work while he himself entertains guests and travels about.   During this period, Copic’s wife was seen with him in photos of Codo and Belchite and Copic spent considerable time in his Benicassim villa.   Merriman says that one of these days he will blow his top and tell Copic and Walter what he thinks.  But he doesn’t.  Up until his death in April, 1938, Merriman continued to serve these men.   He mentions again that Walter promised promotions during the fight if Merriman could get people moving, which he did.   The promises of new ratings are not forthcoming.

Brigade Officers: Ambite June 1937: L-R Elias Begelman, Dave Doran, Vladimir Copic, “Max” (Russian, probably Maximoff who was in Ambite), Humberto Galliani, Radomir Smrcka, Malcolm Dunbar, ALBA PHOTO 177-177028, Tamiment Library, NYU

Dart, as a special operations officer, Malcolm Dunbar and Radomir Smrcka are mentioned as coming to the staff of the Brigade.  These men will be with the Brigade leadership until the end of the war.  Two of the three are seen on the right of the photo on the left.  This photo was believed to have been taken in Ambite.

Smrcka and Chapayev
“Four soldiers in combat gear” – (l-r) Unk, Radomir Smrcka, Chapayev and unknown. ALBA PHOTO 177-178022, Tamiment Library, NYU

In a small section of the diary, we realize that the war continues on the Aragon front.  The 11th and 32nd Brigades move up to the second lines, probably in the area of Mediana.  Copic is off showing a Jugoslav delegation the sites and the XVth Brigade is caught with the order that the 11th Dimitrov Battalion is now to move over to the 45th Brigade.   Copic has fought this and he has even written letters to the party central committee to protest, but while he is away, they are moved.   Copic left orders that they have to leave their weapons with the XVth.   Merriman implies here that they cannot be just left defenseless and the weapons will go with them, on the order of the Albacete Base who bawl out Copic.   Merriman says that the men of the 11th don’t want to leave the XVth, except for Chapayev (who Copic sent off to Valencia to get out of the decision-making process for the Dimitrovs).   Given Merriman’s displeasure with Copic, it would be very interesting to find Chapayev’s views on this move and his relationship with Copic.   Copic replaces Chapayev with a Schuster and what looks like Kagan as political commissar.  Paul Schuster was listed as an Australian comrade by Martin Sugarman, but this is unlikely.  He perhaps is an Austrian comrade which would make more sense for him being in the Thaelmann Battalion as listed by Sugarman.¹

Orders come down for promotions of the heroes of Quinto and Belchite and Carl Bradley and Phil Detro  make Captain, Canadian Bill Skinner makes Lieutenant, John Tsanakas makes Lieutenant.   Steve Nelson is singled out for great valor and make Lieutenant Colonel.  This would make Nelson equal in rank to Copic and jump him over Merriman who is a  Major. Nelson’s photo on the ALBA page, linked above,  shows him with Lieutenant Colonel stripes.  Three more brigadistas make Captain, an Andre Kobel, J. C. Wattis, and David Kamy.

The next three pages of the diary are a fascinating glimpse into Merriman’s real feelings about Copic.  They can easily be read without comment or interpretation.

Finally, Merriman says that a “Burt” (likely to be Bert Williams) and what looks like “Vorhees” came to talk with Merriman and Doran about what happened in Valencia.   Merriman seems like the last two work well together.


¹  Martin Sugarman, Against Fascism – Jews who served in The International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, ibid., page 17.

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