Category Archives: Madrid

9-10 Agosto Merriman’s Leadership of the Mac-Paps is short-lived

August 9-10
Robert Merriman’s diary for 9 and 10 August 1937

Merriman is still in Madrid and talks to Ed Rolfe about trouble in the 5th Regiment du Tren, when the repatriation policy is overstated.   Luigi Gallo was not in Madrid at the time and Merriman says “Galli” helped them find food.  That is possibly Humberto Galliani.   Marion Greenspan and Merriman leave for Ambite where the Brigade is based and they still missed Gallo who was moving fast.  He was with a Brigadista named “Franz” (unknown).   Merriman says that Klaus explained his actions against Marcovics and threatened anyone who told Marcovics what he said with court martial.   This must have been a very awkward position for Merriman to be in, knowing that Marcovics and he were not close, but that Nelson and other Americans must have told him Marcovics’ side of the story.

Merriman stops in Tarancon and meets with Al Stone (Albert Gottlieb) and “Rose” (probably Solomon Rose, who would have been in hospital from injuries at Brunete).  Apparently there was a woman from San Francisco there representing what looks like “Cadres” (but is frankly indecipherable) and he mentions the name “Fay” (also unknown).   He tears back to Tarazona for a meeting and the next day reveals the reason.

Robert Merriman’s diary is unique in unraveling the machinations of the leadership adjustments in August 1937.  While Merriman was talking about an American going to the Staff level of the Brigade in his August 7-8 diary pages, that adjustment took exactly two days.  In a flurry of activity that involved the rotation out of a number of British and Americans who had been in Spain from the beginning, Vladimir Copic returned to the Brigade and shook things up.  On the 10th of August, Merriman is told he is to be the Chief of Staff to Copic.   The French were not pleased with the Americanisation of the Brigades and one recalls that Lucien Vidal was recently removed from Albacete base command.

Merriman speaks with Copic about recommendations for comrades who fought in Brunete.  He includes Marcovics in that list.  Merriman has clearly sided with the American view that Colonel Klaus was unreasonable in his orders and that Marcovics was correct in resisting them.   Merriman says that he has permission to “clean Albacete”.  In another unreadable word, he has a session with a comrade and solidifies Lou Secundy’s placement in Transports.  Secundy did a good job in getting the Battalion to Albares on previous days.

Nelson spoke at Pozo Rubio and Tom Wintringham was viewed as weak.  The training at the school is noted as “slow”.   Another new name “Seegar” appears and he will go to Madrigueras from Pozo Rubio.   Merriman speaks with the men at Pozo Rubio and explains what happened with Vincent Usera and Mirko Markovics at the front.  Merriman’s sympathy for their actions is apparent and quite unjudgmental.

9-10 Julio “Winkler wondered why I was in Madrid and … so did I”

July 9-10, 1937
Robert Merriman’s Diary for July 9 and July 10, 1937

In the midst of the Battle of Brunete, Merriman, Bill Lawrence and Anna Louise Strong take off for Madrid, ostensibly to buy supplies for the Battalion.  One wonders if they just could not resist seeing what was happening.    On July 9, Merriman’s day starts with disciplining Tom Hyde in front of the Battalion.   Hyde’s comment was very fatalistic and Merriman apparently had had it.  He sentenced Hyde to 30 days in the brig for “his superior attitude”.  He says Hyde threatened to desert.   This may have been the best thing for Hyde who will become a good soldier at Belchite in September.

IB Headquarters
The current 63 Calle de Velásquez in Madrid. It is for rent. Image: Google Street View


Emanuel Hochberg
Emanuel Hochberg, RGASPI photo Fond 545/Opus 6/ Delo 911, Moscow
Ford and Shirai
James Ford, VP Candidate for President of the US and Jack Shirai, Lincoln Brigade Cook, From the Book of the XVth Brigade.

Merriman goes past Morata de Tejuna and Perales to Madrid.  The International Brigade Headquarters was 63 Calle de Velásquez.  Marion Greenspan (George Marion) worked out of this office.   But Greenspan was too busy to get out of the hospital and visit the men from Brunete who had been injured on the first day of fighting: Garland, E. C. Smith, Robert Trail{l}, Givney, Hochberg, and Hourihan.   He finds out that Oliver Law, the Battalion Commander, was also killed.   Brunete will decimate the Lincolns and Washington Battalions and within two weeks the ranks will be so small that they battalions must be combined into the Lincoln-Washington Battalion to have a fighting force.   Others killed at Brunete will be for the British: George Nathan, Julian Bell (nephew of  Virginia Woolf), John Alexander of the Anti-tank unit, Arthur Dunbar, Sam Masters,  Alex McDade (who penned the Ballad of the Jarama Valley), Bert Overton (previously commander at Jarama), and many others.  Notable Americans who were killed include the Battalion Cook Jack Shirai, Joe and Sam Stone (brothers), Bernard Entin, Ramond Steele, Jack Weinstein, amongst others.   Merriman gets some details of the battle including the capture of the town of Quijorna by Juan Modesto’s Division.

Copic Wounded
Vladomir Copic, wounded, and lying on a cot. ALBA Photo 177-179003, Tamiment Archive, NYU

Within hours, Merriman was back on the street, shopping.  Merriman meets the reporter Louis Fischer again who has a girl on his arm.  He bumped into Walter Garland and the Canadian Commissar Bob Kerr.  Kerr dissuades Merriman of the idea of going to the front for sightseeing since the going there is obviously tough.  Even the Commander of the Brigade, Vladimir Copic, was injured by shrapnel.

At the end of the 9th of July, Merriman puts a question “Swinnerton lost memory?”  Thanks to John Wainwright (personal communication), we know  Dennis Swinnerton was from Islington, London.  He arrived in Spain 27/1/37.  He was treated at Murcia but it is not known what his injury was.   Swinnerton was a possible deserter and left Spain on 25/2/38.

In the morning of the 10th, Merriman meets with Briton Will Paynter, James Prendergast, Dr. Adolph and Anna Louise Strong who lost her ride back to Albacete.  Anna Louise had a disagreement on how to spend the money which was brought over from the States and starts to spend it on personal items.  That was enough for Lawrence who thought they were buying boots and glasses.  He left her in Madrid.  Anna Louise attaches herself to Merriman trying to hitch a ride back with him.  Merriman meets with John Tisa who is writing the Book of the XVth Brigade and Tisa takes one of the famous photographs of Merriman for the book.

Back at the IB HQ, Merriman meets Fein, who we believe is Arturo Fine of the Medical Bureau, and “Winkler” who both wonder what Merriman is doing in Madrid.  A very good question given the context of the battles.  Merriman realizes that sightseeing in Madrid at this time is very bad optics and he works his way back to Albacete hitching a ride on an ambulance, driven by Murray Lerner.   The riders in the Ambulance were Prendergast and Paynter, Bill Lawrence, Canadian Bob Kerr, and Merriman.   They arrived back safely in Albacete, tired.  If that vehicle had been hit by a bomb, there would have been a significant dent placed in the International Brigades.

We have been trying to trace “Winkler” for some time as several photographs in the Tamiment Archives are attributed to Winkler.   It appears that Winkler is the Pole Kazimierz Cichowski.   We still are looking for his photo.


25-26 Abril The Merrimans are in Madrid (Requiem for Guernica)

25-26 April
Robert Merriman’s diary for 25 and 26 of April 1937.

After the intense build up to the Radio broadcast to America on the very early morning of the 25th of April, the Merrimans slept in.  They met with Marion Greenspan (George Marion) and Josephine Herbst later in the morning.  Marion Merriman quotes Josie Herbst for her reasons of why she went to Spain:

 “Because“, she said simply.  Then she posed her own questions. “Why do you write a book?  Why do you fall in love?  Because.  It is the one concluding answer that comes from the bottom of the well.  Later you may dress it up with reasons; some of them may very well apply.  But because is the soundest answer you can give to an imperative.  I didn’t even want to go to Spain.  I had to.  Because.”¹

The Merrimans had lunch with Toronto reporter Ted Allan.  Allan was writing at the time for the Toronto Clarion.  He wrote several books on the Spanish Civil War and his “The Scalpel, the Sword” is a definitive biography of Dr. Norman Bethune of Toronto, who helped found the mobile blood transfusion units that were to save countless lives in Spain and many, many more in China in 1939.  Ted Allan would also later be known for being in the same car as Gerda Taro when she was killed at Brunete.

Luigi Longo
Luigi Longo (“Gallo”), Photograph from RGASPI Archives, Moscow Fond 545 Op 6 Delo 129

The diary says that Merriman was trying to get to see “Gallo” (the nom de guerre for Luigi Longo).  Not making contact the Merrimans and Greenspan head off into the suburbs of Madrid to try to see the lines at University City.  The fighting in this district of Madrid had been at a standstill for six months with the Republicans unable to dislodge the fascists who had infiltrated buildings in the new University of Madrid.  Sniping between buildings continued and a film showing the location can be found here at the 9:30 mark.

Merriman’s diary is nearly antiseptic in his analysis of what they saw.  Marion Merriman Wachtel’s memoir is more emotional from April 23rd before the radio broadcast:

“Even under bombardment, Madrid is marvelous!” I said to Bob.  The wide tree-lined boulevards and modern buildings had an air of dignity that even blocks of bombed-out ruins could not dispel”

But the scene changed, quickly.  As we walked down a broad boulevard, we heard the crack of rifle fire.  Then the tempo picked up. “That’s machine gun fire,” Bob said.  The machine guns rattled in the distance, perhaps a few blocks away, I couldn’t be sure.  Then we heard the boom of artillery and the reality of Madrid at war returned deeply to me.  The artillery shell landed some distance away, collapsing part of a building, which fell into a rubble of dust.  We dashed down the street, staying close to the buildings.  The horror of war was driven home to me.  I was terrified.¹

And from April 25, after the broadcast:

About four o’clock in the afternoon, we were pulling out of a gas station near the Post Office and we heard a dull, vibrating thud and saw a puff of smoke and dust go up from the bank down the street.  People scattered like leaves in a storm, and our bewildered chauffeur stopped in the middle of the open square but not for long.

We raced up a side street and parked the car on the  sheltered side of the narrow street.  Fortunately, I thought, the shells from artillery can’t come straight down between the buildings!  Bob and others calmly joined a larger crowd out on the nearby boulevard, around the corner, to see what was happening.  I decided to stay in the car.  But, a moment later, the shelling began again.  I was frightened into a cold sweat of terror.

At first there was a moment of what seemed like dead silence….Then the noise of the shelling exploded, the burst of the artillery surrounding every part of me.  My mind, my head, my eyes, my shoulders, my entire body immersed in the horrible sound.

I jumped from the car and ran down the street.  My God! My God! This sucks up all the air into silence and then the explosion bursts and the air is gone and the silence is overwhelming again.  My screams froze in my throat.  I ran to Bob, who made me stand quietly against a wall until I got over my terror.  I wasn’t as much hysterical as I was angry.  All I could think was, “the bastards, the bastards, the bastards”.  I couldn’t say a thing.¹

Here is a British Pathé newsreel of Madrid at this time.

On the 26th of April one of the great outrages of this war occurred.  Guernica was bombed by the German Luftwaffen (see this video at the 45:00 mark for an eye-witness account).   Guernica is no better remembered than in Picasso’s famous mural from the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid  (this image is Wikipedia Creative Commons licensed at this resolution):

Guernica by Pablo Picasso. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

In a fury of outrage, Picasso painted this large mural in one week in his Paris studio.  Sadly, the West knew little about Guernica until much later in the war.   The Fascist propaganda spread stories about the city being burned by Republican forces.  A British volunteer for the Fascists, Peter Kemp,  continued this lie even into the 1950’s.²  Like horrors that were to lie ahead in World War II, the larger the atrocity, the harder it is to believe.


¹  Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude, American Commander in Spain, ibid. pp 130-139.   There is considerable description of the radio broadcast and the reporters who contributed to it by Wachtel and Lerude in this segment.   Thanks to Warren Lerude for encouraging discussions on the Merrimandiary project and readers are recommended to read Marion Merriman’s memoirs in their entirety.

²  Peter Kemp, Mine Were of Trouble. Cassell & Company, 1957.