Category Archives: Albacete

Days when Merriman was in Albacete Training Base

19-20 Enero Settling in at Albacete

January 19-20

Robert Merriman’s diary from January 19 and 20, 1937

Klaus Becker and Henry Winkler

Becker (l) and Henry Winkler(r), summer 1937 (Photograph 177_175028 of the ALBA 177 Photo collection, NYU Tamiment Collection Digital Library,

Photograph from Croatian text

Photograph from Croatian text

Bob Merriman clearly was accepted into the Brigades between the last diary post and these two days.  He mentions meeting Peter Kerrigan who was Commissar of the British Battalion at this point.  He also mentions meeting “Winkler” who is a difficult person to track down.  It is believed that this was Peter Winkler who was the personnel officer for the Brigades.  Some photos exist of him and the one on the left from the Tamiment shows him on the right of the photo.   However, this person is also identified as Vital Gajman (Vidal) in another photo in a Jugoslavian text “Španija”.¹  We are currently of the opinion that the Jugoslavian text is correct and Vidal is the man with the glasses.  If so, the man in the beret on the left could be Peter Winkler.

Kitty Bowler has been mentioned on previous days as has Greenspan.  This passage works against the identification being Celia Greenspan since Merriman says that he found a room for Greenspan, a “he”.  Greenspan is believed to be Marion Greenspan (aka George Marion, a reporter).  George Marion was married to Celia Greenspan and used her last name in Spain.


Photography of Alex Donaldson from the RGASPI archives. Courtesy: Kev Buyers

Donaldson is also mentioned as an initial contact for Bob Merriman. I would like to thank researchers Kevin Buyers of Scotland and Barry McLoughlin for information on him.  From Barry:

Alec Donaldson, Scotland, arrived in Spain 25.12.1936, sent to Cadres Office by Kerrigan. His request to go to the front turned down by Will Paynter. Donaldson then worked in the Brigades Commissariat in Madrid. Said later to have been demoralized, stationed in Barcelona from April 1938. (RGASPI 545/6/125/61)

The last name on the list is spelled Stembel  but Merriman is clearly referring here to Samuel Stember, an American who Marion Merriman Wachtel referred to as “a somewhat minor functionary who was supposed to be the political leader of the American volunteers”².  Stember was said “to lack the charisma to rally the men”¹.  While that criticism might seem damning, other studies of the Lincolns are no less harsh.  Carroll³ calls Stember “a weak man” incapable of challenging Andre Marty and the other French who were leading the training base.  Landis says that Merriman and Stember came up to Albacete together, Merriman as Adjutant to James Harris, Commander of the Lincolns (we will hear much of him in weeks to come) and Stember as Commissar.  Landis characterizes him as “a very uninspiring personality”, quoting “Consensus”.4  And Cecil Eby, who many Lincolns came to distrust for his strong anti-Communist leanings in his writing, was characteristically nasty about Stember, calling him “a loser”, a “smaller-than-life figure” and “The Jello”.5

It may not be surprising that immediately after arrival at Albacete and Tarrazona for training, Bob Merriman was thrust into the leadership of the American contingent.  His ROTC training made him one of the few early arrivals who had any kind of military experience.


¹ Öedo Kapor, Španija 1936-1939, Zbornik sećanja jugoslovenskih dobrovoljaca u s̆panskom ratu, Ratna prol̆ost nas̆ih naroda, knj. 130-134, Inicijativni odbor-Udruz̆enje s̆panskih boraca; Vojnoizdavac̆ki zavod, Beograd, 1971.

² Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude, American Commander in Spain, ibid, p. 86.

³Peter Carroll, ibid, p 97.

4 Art Landis, ibid, p. 33.

5 Cecil Eby, ibid, p. 39.




15-16 Enero – In Valencia

January 15 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary from January 15, 1937

To travel from your posting to another required a “salvo conducto” or a safe-conduct pass.  Frequent references will be made to these important passes throughout the diary and many IB soldiers generated a lot of trouble for themselves when they did not have one.  Desertion could be the charge and the penalties severe.

Merriman met several people on these two days in Valencia.  “Met M. Greenspan at M.” could be “Marion Greenspan at Milly’s”.   We believe that M. Greenspan is George Marion (a.k.a. Marion Greenspan husband of Celia Greenspan).  Celia Greenspan was the subject, along with Martha Gellhorn, of the documentary, “Into the Fire: American Women in the Spanish Civil War”.


Celia Greenspan clip from promotional materials on “Into the Fire” (Credit:

The New York University’s Tamiment Library has excellent holdings on the Spanish Civil War from the Abraham Lincoln Brigades Archives.  We are pleased that Tamiment is supporting us in this discussion of Merriman’s Diary and we will shortly be providing a link on the left sidebar for donations to the library to keep the holdings active and available.  Tamiment’s finding aid on the George Marion papers discusses Celia Greenspan and her role as a nurse with Norman Bethune and later in Murcia hospital. 

Adrienne Clarkson, the previous Governor General of Canada, mentions Celia Seborer Greenspan in her book “Norman Bethune”.¹

Merriman says he met L.O. who was the Liston Oak with whom he shared a room with the previous night.  He also says he met with writers for Der Tag.

Cober is an homophone of Cockburn (pronounced Coburn), who was a writer for the Daily Worker (DW) in London (thanks to Alan Warren for this brilliant association of names).  Claud Cockburn (aka Frank Pitcairn) reported throughout the war and there is a Gerda Taro photograph of him and Fred Copeman (we will meet him later) at Brunete.


Fred Pitcairn (left, aka Claud Cockburn) of the Daily Worker and Fred Copeman (photo by Gerda Taro with attribution in the image)

Griffiths who wrote for the Associated Press is still a bit of a mystery.   Later in the year, Merriman will speak of Eric “Pinky” Griffiths, a New Zealander who worked as a pilot.

Alan Warren was able to pin down the other two other names which were mentioned. Rubio Hildalgo (Luis Rubio Hildalgo) was Chief of the Foreign Press and Mikael Kolstov (Koltsov) was an advisor to Stalin.

At the end of the 16th, Merriman has caught a train for Albacete.  Albacete was the training base of the International Brigades.  The diary flows over onto the next page and we will pick it up in two days.


¹ Adrienne Clarkson, Norman Bethune, Penguin Canada, 2009.