Category Archives: In Hospital

9-10 Marzo “Jesuits”

9-10_Marzo

Continuing with Robert Merriman’s debrief from his time in the hospital. This was probably written around March 25, 1937

Merriman continues to discuss “Bennett” who we have identified as Thomas Edwin Brown Bennett, who left Spain in May 1937.  He must have had suspicions about Bennett since he was writing a report back to the Brigade leadership about having him sent home.  He also notes that Celia Greenspan “knows what he is”.

Celia Greenspan was discussed on 15-16 January where Milly Bennett and Greenspan came to see Merriman.   An interesting quote on how Celia Greenspan became a nurse is from an article in the Villager.com:

“We just saw what had to be done and did it,” said one. For example, Celia Greenspan, who was a lab technician at the time, became a nurse “overnight.” “I had never done more than put a band-aid on a cut or took blood,” she said. But she became an adept nurse, overseeing many patients at one of the hospitals in Spain’s countryside.

Anders Greenspan gives some insight to George Marion (who he calls Marion Greenspan) and his wife Celia:

Greenspan’s case also illuminated the situation of couples who were separated as a result of the war. His wife Celia was serving at a hospital in Murcia, and while she wanted to go see her husband in Madrid, she wondered, “what kind of a comrade would I be if I walked out [?] If I had a transfer to a job in Madrid there would at least be some excuse. But here, with a dozen examples of couples broken up by the needs of the war, to leave in order to be with you would be to say that we and our personal happiness come first” (ALBA Col. 45). The war also gave Celia Greenspan a stronger sense of her relationship to the greater political cause that the volunteers were fighting for. As she wrote her husband in June 1937, “the war has changed me . . . all the books and all the lectures and all the unit meetings in the world . . . couldn’t have given me the feeling of personal responsibility to the movement, as being here, working and watching have done” ¹

Bob Thompson also came to visit Merriman and provided some companionship.  George Brodsky came through with some copies of the Daily Worker as reading material.

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¹ Anders Greenspan, Sacrifice and Commitment: American Volunteers in the Spanish Civil WarJournal of Arts and Humanities (JAH), Volume  2, No. 5,  pp 31- 32, June, 2013.

7-8 Marzo Got a few days rest

7-8_Marzo

Merriman’s diary on pages for March 7 and 8, written sometime after March 15. Merriman is still catching up on events while he is in hospital.

Merriman says that he met a “Bennett” who claimed to be related to Milly Bennett.  The only Bennett in the Lincolns at this point was Thomas Edwin Brown Bennett.  It is unlikely that he is related to Mildred Bennett since she was actually Mildred Bremler  who later became Mildred Mitchell and then Mildred Bennett.  She was discussed in the January 11-12 posting.  An Ancestry.com search on Milly Bremler and Thomas Edwin Browne Bennett shows that they are not related to three generations before their birth.  Perhaps it was just a means of friending Merriman by saying that they had someone in common.

Merriman explains that Bennett took what small change Merriman had and instead of buying him items made a phone call to the US Consulate to try to get out of Spain.  Merriman mentions that Bennett spoke of “cruisers”, probably a potential way out of Valencia.   In March 1937, the American embassy had been contacted by five potential American deserters.  Three names are known.  On May 13, 1937, Thomas Bennett of the address listed in the ALBA list returned to the US on a Certificate of Entry on the Normandie.  Appears that Thomas Edwin Browne Bennett got out of Spain early which was very unusual.  The US Embassy did little for other deserters who showed up at their door.   They certainly didn’t send cars across Spain to Murcia to pick up the average Lincoln soldier who wanted to go home.   In 1940, Bennett’s occupation was “messenger for US Government” on the US Census in Washington.   A very curious fellow and we will see Merriman’s curiosity piqued in the next two days of the diary.

Since this is a short post, it might be interesting to show a few random pages from the end of the diary which were filled out well before the dates on them.   It is impossible to place the dates of the pages, but suspicion exists that Merriman was under anesthetic or painkillers when he wrote these pages.  One might not place too much weight on Merriman’s recollections throughout the period where he was convalescing.

7-8_Deciembre

Random pages from December written probably when Merriman was in hospital.

11-12 Deciembre

Another two random pages from December probably written in March when in hospital.

 

5-6 Marzo To Albacete and then to Murcia

5-6_Marzo

Robert Merriman’s diary continues on pages for March 5 and 6. This section continues from his writings on March 13

Merriman only spent one night at Alcazar de San Juan Hospital and then asked to return to Albacete.  There he met with the Brigade leaders Vidal and Platone.  He was asked to write a report on the events of the 23rd and 27th.   This report is given on the pages of March 3 and 4.   A fuller report (in French) was given in the memoir by Vidal himself. (below*)

Voros

Sandor Voros, Chief of the Brigade Commissariat, June 1938. Source: ALBA PHOTO 11_0038, Tamiment Library, NYU.

Merriman said that Commissar George Brodsky had arrived at the American base and he met him at Albacete.  Brodsky was one of the men interviewed by Sandor Voros who was one of the lead writers for the Book of the XVth International Brigade.   There are interesting interviews taken by Voros and after the war Voros was clearly anti-Communist so his writings later in life in his book “American Commissar” can be read with that background.  Voros says:

At that time I merely noted those stories, suspending judgment until they could be authenticated by filling in that six month gap in the history of the American volunteers that elapsed between their arrival and mine. That was difficult, for no official records were kept of that early period. Luck finally led me to George Brodsky who had been denounced to me by most of those early arrivals as the worst example of the behavior of Party leaders and commissars in Spain.      

When I located him, George Brodsky was being kept in seclusion by the party awaiting repatriation. I found him a broken old man although barely in his thirties. He wouldn’t talk to me at first, he had been pledged to secrecy. When I finally induced him to confide in me, he not only talked, he spilled over.

His account was not quite coherent – he was stIll unnerved by his experiences, his eyes would dissolve in tears from time to time as he pleaded for my understanding … Brodsky had found himself right in the middle; the Americans were blaming him for their treatment by the French, while the French command held him responsible for the rebellious behavior of the Americans. As ranking party member Brodsky next was appointed Albacete Base Commissar for all Americans who were now arriving daily in Spain. The French command in Albacete showed themselves equally discriminatory against Americans, keeping them on short rations, which demoralized the Americans even more. Brodsky again was in the middle. The Americans raised demands and insisted on conditions which they expected Brodsky to enforce with the I.B. Command, with whom he carried no weight. The I.B. Command in turn, disgusted and contemptuous of those “spoiled cry-babies,” those “arrogant Americans,” held Brodsky responsible for their conduct. Considering them of little worth, they decided to disperse the Americans, to use them as replacements for other units, the British and Irish particularly; thus denying them the opportunity to serve in units of their own under their own command. (It was the story of General Pershing versus Field Marshal Foch all over again, but Brodsky was no Pershing nor did he have Old Black Jack’s political backing.)…

Worse still, the party had sent them overseas wiIhout assigning to them even a single leading party member with sufficient organizational experience who would have commanded their respect. In short, they were leaderless, which gave rise to immediate factional groupings. Thus the unity of the group was destroyed from the start …

Had Brodsky been an experienced party leader, had he been entrusted with authority to represent the Central Committee of the United States, had he been given a “silk ribbon,” he could have taken a tougher stand, because ultimately all those matters were decided by the party. As it was, the existing situation was permitted to worsen and a number of Americans had actually been detached and sent to other units…. The story culminated in the Americans being sent to the Jarama front without training, under a makeshift and inexperienced command, which resulted in the death of a disproportionately high number of them right at the outset of the battle. The surviving volunteers again blamed Brodsky for that and cried for his head.¹

Merriman also met with Alec Donaldson² and tried to find out where Harris was.  He did not find him.  Later that evening Peter Kerrigan² of the British Battalion returned from the front and revealed that the Americans were out of the line and had passed a resolution.  This was a problem for the Americans because it expressed lack of confidence in the Brigade leadership.

Landis relates this:

Robert Klonsky, one of those who had been in Spain approximately seven days, says that when he and other wounded men made it back to the trenches, their general reaction to what had happened was one of rage and anger, rather than demoralization.  Some leaned against the parapets and cried tears of futility, anger, and frustration.  Others wandered aimlessness through the trenches, cursing the “bastards” and “idiots” who had forced the attack.  One source gives information as to the whereabouts of Battalion Commander Stember during the attack {Voros’ book says that Stember was in the cookhouse purportedly solving problems there}.  Stember did not go over apparently, and when men returned after some hours in the open field and olive grove, Stember, at luger point, ordered them back from the parapets.  Needless to say, his authority was ignored.³

Again, one can rely on Cecil Eby to get to the heart of discontent within the Lincoln ranks:

On March 1, Lincoln survivors gathered under a cliff behind the lines in a rump parliament selected a slate of new officers.  Although opposed by the brigade officers, who “tried every trick in the book to stop the meeting”, they settled on Arthur Madden, a steelworker from Gary, Indiana, as co-commissar to neutralize Stember.  As commander they insisted upon being led into the next battle by one of their own, even though after canvassing everyone present, they found no one qualified to lead.  The stormy forum lasted for a half a day before they picked a compromise candidate, Martin Hourihan, a former seaman (purser’s section) who had had a brief stint (as a clerk) in the U. S. Army.  He could serve as Captain Van den [sic, der] Berghe’s adjutant while learning the ropes. Outrage displaced fear as the reigning mood of the battalion.  They voted to petition Brigade for their immediate removal from frontline service (with some men returning home); two weeks of military training under real officers rather than “self-elected amateurs”; courts-martial of those responsible for sending untrained men into battle; and permission to contact the central committee of the CPUSA (called by one skeptic “like nothing so much as a child crying for its mother”).  Five men carried the petition to Colonel Copic, who passed it on as American insubordination and mutiny.4

John Simon

Dr. John Simon of the Lincoln Battalion. Source: ALBA Photo 11_0157, Tamiment Library, NYU

This undoubtedly was the “resolution” discussed by Merriman.  Eby continues by discussing the observations of Dr. John Simon who found the men dangerously depressed.   Simon had to post guard over one Lincoln who was suicidal.   Eby says that this Lincoln was Andrew Royce, who we have come across before.  Royce worked from the rear until the  battles of the Ebro in the Spring of 1938.

Merriman was sent to the La Passionaria hospital at Murcia where he would be for much of that month.  He resumes his catching up on the diary by noting that it is now March 25 when he is writing.

There were other hospitals that served the International Brigades and in 2014, the Scottish remembered their dead at the Tarancon hospital.  Tarancon is on the Madrid-Valencia road. The video of that moving event is here.

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¹ Sandor Voros, American Commissar,  Chilton Publishers, 1961, 477 pp.   Note that much of the book has been made available by his grandson at http://americancommissar.wordpress.com/

² See post of 19-20 January to see references to Alec Donaldson and Peter Kerrigan.

³ Landis, The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid, pg 86.

4 Eby, Comrades and Commissars, ibid, pg 84.

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* Extract from the memoir of Vital Gayman (Vidal) Fond 545 Op 2 Delo 32, BDIC University of Paris XI Library, Nanterre, France.

Merriman_report_1

Merriman_report_2

Merriman_report_3

 

Merriman_report_4

 

Merriman_report_5

Robert Merriman’s report on the Jarama Battle (received in Albacete Base in May 1937)

3-4 Marzo Wounded. Come at once!

March 3-4

Robert Merriman’s diary of March 3 and 4. Recall this diary was written on March 17 and Merriman was catching up on his story.

Merriman would be transferred to Romeral de Toledo, just south of the town of Ocaña not far from the Jarama Front¹.  From the posting on March 1-2, Romeral hospital is still a mobile surgical hospital and would have been used as an overflow for those who could not be housed in Tarancón’s surgical hospitals.  Cary Nelson’s book says that the hospital was on the Aranjuez-Albacete Road (probably taken from Arthur Landis’ reference), which El Romeral is not.  El Romeral is on the current CM-3000 road. His 3 ½ hour drive covered a present day 64 km from Colmenar de Ocaña (via the A40/A4/E5).  Then he would have been on regional roads.  From the hospital description, it was in a newly built school for girls and we have not at this point found the exact location.  There is a photograph from present day El Romeral which shows the Ayuntamiento in town with a bell on top.  We are enquiring of the photographer, Jose Leches, who put the photo on Panaramio about it.

El_Romeral

El Romeral, today. Photo Credit: Jose Leches, Panaramio.

Barsky

Medical team at Hyar in December 1937. Dr. Edward Barsky is second left and Dr. Weiss is third left. Source: ALBA PHOTO 11-0068, Tamiment Library, NYU.

Bethune

Norman Bethune in Valencia with his mobile transfusion unit.1

The American hospital described by Merriman was led by Dr. Edward Barsky of New York.  We will have time over the next year to describe the International Brigades Medical Services in more detail, but Spain was noted as the first war where medical hospitals were at the front.   Ted Allan’s The Scalpel, the Sword² is an intriguing account of Dr. Norman Bethune, whose innovations in front line blood transfusions saved countless lives in the war.

Dumont_Colmenar

Dr. René Dumont riding a white horse at Colmenar Hospital. Notation on the back of the photo says that both American nurses, Anne Taft and Frederika Martin, mounted the horse and rode behind Dumont. Frederika Martin Photo 1:2:55:2, Tamiment Archives, NYU.

Art Landis quotes from two letters from nurses who served at Romeral, Mildred Rackley and Frederika Martin.  Rackley said:

       We are now settled in a new schoolhouse, with no sanitary facilities… a very feeble electric line, no telephone, no water and a pretty awful road … On the third day the patients began to pour in.  We got forty the first day.  

        The roads for six kilometers on either side of us were so bad that it would have killed a patient to have him taken over them in an ambulance.4

Rackley said that they convinced the Alcalde (Mayor) to mobilize 1000 villagers to fix the road the next day.

Some old and some new names are mentioned on this diary page.  Dave Springhall went to El Romeral with Merriman.  Eugene Morse was the commander of the Lincoln 2nd Company at Jarama and was wounded in the action of the 23rd of February.   Springhall remained at El Romeral with “Rosy” who is believed to be Joseph Rosenstein, who was also wounded at Jarama.  Rosenstein, whose photo can be seen in his ALBA bio, clearly gave his all for Spain.

Merriman was bounced from hospital to hospital.  He wanted to get to Alcazar de San Juan but was loaded onto a hospital train.  He was unloaded and admitted to the hospital.   Alcazar de San Juan is 150 km west of Tarrazona de la Mancha, the Lincolns training base.  It is on the train line that runs through El Romeral so it would have been a modern-day 45 minute train journey to get to Alcazar. It was here that he sent the telegram to Moscow to have Marion Merriman join him in Spain.  She says:

At the hospital, the battle still blazing in his mind, Bob settled back to rest as best he could.  But rest would not come easily as he wondered who from his command had survived, who was wounded, who had been killed, why Copic had demanded the Americans take the hill, and why Copic had overruled him when he reported that the attempt would lead to slaughter.  It was there, in the hospital, that Bob dictated the cable he sent to me in Moscow:  “Wounded. Come at once.”³

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¹ Cary Nelson and Jefferson Hendricks,  Madrid 1937:Letters of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade from the Spanish Civil War,  Jefferson Hendricks Routledge, Publishers, Feb 2014.

² Ted Allan and Sydney Gordon , The Scalpel, the Sword:   The Story of Dr. Norman Bethune, Prometheus Books, New York,  1959.

³ Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude, “American Commander in Spain“, ibid., p. 112.

4 Letter from Mildred Rackley as quoted in Landis, The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid., pg 152.