Six pages from Robert Merriman’s second diary. While the dates on the diary are somewhat uncertain, it is believed that these events happened prior to October 20, 1937
Photo entitled “David Doran addressing troops at Fuentes de Ebro”. Men standing in the photo from right to left are: Edward Cecil-Smith, Ivan Rukevcic and Tom Mallon. ALBA PHOTO 11-1778, Tamiment Library, NYU
The last words on page 43 of Merriman’s second diary say “On the 19th …” and we find out that new men are up at Quinto arriving from Tarazona de la Mancha. These 510 new recruits will help bring the four battalions back to strength after the losses of Fuentes de Ebro. This was draft #25 of the Spanish Army which dipped down into young men who just turned 19 (and some who were older than 35). Merriman will say that all the new recruits are 19 but some were older.
The command of the battalions is fluid and Bob Thompson will step back from the command of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion and Edward Cecil-Smith (see photo above) would move into the position he would occupy until October 1938 as head of the Mac-Paps. For the Lincolns, Milt Wolff told Art Landis in the ALBA audiotapes that he became commander of the Lincoln Brigade temporarily when they returned to Quinto. In a small diversion, I will post two Company 3 effectives lists for the Lincoln Battalion, one from October 5 and one from October 19. The number of available effectives shows how decimated the Battalion was after Fuentes.
Company 3 effectives list for October 5, 1937, prior to Fuentes
Company 3 effectives list for the Lincolns on October 17, 1937
Company 3’s compliment went from 65 before Fuentes to 29 men. 29 Americans were reduced to 18, and five of them were missing. The staff was gone. The commander, looks like Sanakus (but that name is not in the ALBA list) was in hospital. Company Clerk Tom Page was in hospital ill. Michael (Morris) Ecker who came up on October 5 was temporary clerk of the Company. Elhanon Bridges became the temporary company commander. On October 21, Harold Hoff would become the company clerk.
Merriman notes that the 143rd Brigada Mixta joined the XVth Brigade. The Brigade from Figueras was led by Marine Captain Nicanor Fernandez. It is not known if Fernandez had his Captain’s stripes by this time, but Merriman was impressed by their ability in telling dirty jokes.
An airplane bombardment of the positions at Fuentes de Ebro, ALBA Photo 11-1237, Tamiment Library, NYU
Owen Appleton, Brigade Secretary, killed at Fuentes de Ebro, October 1937. ALBA Photo 11-0607, Tamiment Library, NYU
Dr. Julius Hene, May 1938. ALBA Photo 11-0215, Tamiment Library, NYU
The Nationalist forces in Fuentes de Ebro got the range of the trenches of the XVth Brigade and were effective at pounding the trenches including the Estado Mayor where the Brigade Staff were based. Dr. Julius Hene was injured in one such attack by artillery. On October 18, in a bombing run on the trenches, 18 men were buried under the debris from the bomb blasts killing Owen Appleton, the Brigade secretary, Canadian Alexander McClure and Vernon Snow. All in all, six were killed in the Estado Mayor in a few days. Merriman simply says that they need to do a better job at protecting their trenches. On the 20th, Merriman will note that the Estado Mayor would be moved further back, behind a hill and closer to Quinto. This gives us one date to divide the stories being told in the diary.
Egon Schmidt on hill in Fuentes (standing right center). Malcolm Dunbar is on the periscope, Copic in front of him, Rollin Dart with field glasses, Harry Bee (topography) sitting behind Merriman and Merriman. ALBA PHOTO 177-177030, Tamiment Library, NYU
Some of these diary pages are particularly opaque to understanding. The XVth Brigade battalions got the use of the 11th Battalion of Engineers from the Cuerpo (Army Corps) but there must have been the feeling that they were being abused (not to mention in the line of fire at an active front). Cuerpo called down and wanted to speak to Copic who was not there as he had gone to Albacete for the big fiesta there on October 17 for the first Anniversary of the Brigades. They apparently would not talk to Merriman on the phone and sent down an Engineer to talk to them. At the start of the discussion the commander of the Engineers lectured the XVth like they were militiamen and new at the front. Remember that the XVth was just adsorbed into the command of the Spanish Army structure. Merriman must have set this officer straight quickly. At the end, the Engineers were put at the disposal of the Brigades to help fortify the trenches. But the first night out, 2 were killed and 2 were wounded in the Engineers when they were out front of Mac-Paps on the left of the Fuentes front. Tough duty for these men and little chance to fight back. Merriman sent Schmidt (believed to be Egon Schmidt, above right, who was attached to the Brigade at this point) to speak to them and he was sympathetic to their risks. Merriman says that he gave them duty on the 19th to make trenches which ran to the railway tracks and they were happier because they then believed they were doing general work for Cuerpo and not just for the International Brigades.
Merriman relates the tedium of life at the front. Men get a chance to get a hot shower. Men are getting some recreation by playing chess. But the paperwork suffered during the active fighting and now Merriman says that office work has suffered. Appleton has been killed so at his level, he has lost a secretary. On the 21st of October, my father, Harold Hoff, became clerk of Company 3 of the Lincolns (recognized by his handwriting). Clearly, this comment by Merriman indicates that men who were literate were pulled out to help get caught up on the effectives list. These lists were important to get the head count up so that the October 30 payroll would be complete.
Company 3 Effectives List from Fuentes, October 21, 1937. Tom Page had been the Clerk in the Company but was replaced by Harold Hoff. The company complement was up to 74 from a minimum of 28.
Saul Wellman, Robert Thompson, and Dave Doran, trenches at Fuentes de Ebro, October 1937. ALBA PHOTO 11-0582, Tamiment Library, NYU
The Mac-Paps are struggling with illness. Niilo Makela has jaundice (hepatitis) which was rampant in the Brigades and Bob Thompson is sick. The senior leadership of the Mac-Paps were out of action since Joe Dallet had been killed in the previous week and Doug Hitchcock wounded. Merriman says that Bernard Singer is returning to action and Wally Sabatini, who was the Adjutant Commissar of the Mac-Paps got the jitters and had to be removed. In his place, the more solid Saul Wellman would take over as Commissar for the Mac-Paps.
Malcolm Dunbar, Bill Rust of the Daily Worker, Vladimir Copic, and Hugh Slater, ALBA PHOTO 177-177065, undated. Tamiment Library, NYU.
Merriman makes a comparison between Rollin Dart and Malcolm Dunbar. We can’t determine which of them he is criticizing. Merriman says Will Paynter will be leaving and he introduced his replacement from Valencia, but Merriman does not give the name. Our colleague Barry McLoughlin suggests that this could be Bill Rust who took over for Paynter as the representative of British Communist Party to the Partido Communista de Espana.
Eluard Luchell McDaniels, May 1938. ALBA Photo 11-0127, Tamiment Library, NYU
Merriman also is sketchy on a visitor from the US who was a writer with the Western Writer’s Conference. Merriman mentions that he is a negro and said he had been a Lieutenant in the XIIth Brigade on another front. He was on tour with the Brigades and had heard that the Lincolns were down to 12 effectives. Chris Brooks has suggested that this is likely to be Eluard Luchell McDaniels, who had a history of conflating his stories. McDaniels would become known as “El Fantastico” since he had the ability to throw grenades ambidextrously. Merriman told him that there were 150 American effectives in the Lincolns at this point at Fuentes. (Still, the Lincoln-Washington complement should have been around 600-800 men.) McDaniel brought news of James Harris who was now in the Dombrowski battalion which was now in the 13th Brigade. Harris apparently had suffered another round of “chills” and Merriman is intrigued. He says he would have liked to talked to Harris. Unfortunately, without knowing this, Harris had deserted his unit on October 14 and was caught leaving the lines. He was summarily shot by the command of the XIIIth Brigade, ending a troubled career for James Harris in Spain.
Merriman finishes this paragraph by saying that Elias Begelman is not working too well in his current role on the staff. Merriman compares Begelman to Wattis and this comparison is also unclear. Wattis had been complemented by Merriman for good work at Belchite, but his manner was officious and this may be the basis of the comparison.
Merriman finishes this newsy section of his diary by doing a retrospective of some earlier thoughts. He reveals that Vladimir Copic told journalist David Lasser that he is stateless (and probably has no place to go after the war). He asks Lasser to intervene with President Juan Negrin for him and Merriman says that this was an unwise move since Lasser was not a member of the Communist Party and probably wondered what Copic was asking him to do.