Category Archives: Tarrazona

13-14 Julio “Cleaning us out of many things”

July 13-14, 1937

Robert Merriman’s Diary for the 13th and 14th of July 1937

In another two days of training, we see another maneuver in Tarazona using available topography… a ditch becomes a trench.  Merriman notes that Company 1 under Bill Skinner generally does ok after a rough start and that they used their new telephones for the first time.   We also see how Tarazona was used as a staging area for the front at Brunete.  Men returned with prisoners who were screened and then sent on to Albacete.  In return, Tarazona was a staging base for supplies and Merriman says that Tarazona was being cleaned out to keep the front supplied.  Even food was running short.   A timeline of the battle of Brunete shows that on the 14th the offensive would stall and some retreating from the front would occur.  The diary pages here do not reflect at all the situation at the front.

On the 14th, maneuvers were cancelled because of confusion of entertainment for the troops.   July 14 was Bastille Day in France and would be a probable cause for a celebration.  Merriman is pleased with a new ambulance which has arrived and which was sponsored by the Independent Workers Union.

11-12 Julio Dissatisfaction at the Officer’s School in Pozorubio

July 11-12

Robert Merriman’s Diary for July 11 and 12th, 1937

Men from Manchester

Photo of British Brigadistas from Manchester, UK.1 On the left with the pipe is George Westfield and next to him is William Benson. Others identified are Maurice Levine (centre) Eddie Swindells (first left kneeling) Jud Coleman and ‘Tony’ the Greek is Tony Theodopolis. Photo and Idenifications from Kevin Buyers

In a technical two days in camp, Merriman covers some issues of training and beefing.   This page shows that even the most banal appearing entries can have an intriguing story.  On the 11th, a delegation of Swinnerton, Harbocian, Benson and Westfield sent a letter to Vidal at Headquarters saying that there was favoritism in the Pozo Rubio training camp.  Merriman suspects that Tom Wintringham who was commanding the camp was behind the letter.  Bill Lawrence, the American Commissar, assures Merriman that the men (presumably the American instructors) don’t need Merriman to intervene.   Merriman doesn’t record (or doesn’t have) the offending letter.   George Westfield was identified as a British brigadista in Martin Sugarman’s manuscript.²   It appears that the Benson is William Benson of the British Battalion.   Kevin Buyers sent along this interesting photo from Albacete¹ with Benson and Westfield in it.  John Wainwright identified Swinnerton in yesterday’s diary pages.  Alan Warren pointed out that the third name is Canadian Nicolas Harbocian, a Rumanian by origin and coming to Spain from Windsor, Canada.  Harbocian was a member of the Canadian Commonwealth Youth federation.  Timing on this letter is tragic as Merriman speaks of it on July 11.  On July 9th or 10th, Michael Petrou noted that Harbocian was killed in the Battle of Brunete fighting for the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

The RGASPI archives give more light into the problems at the school.  In a four page unsigned memorandum³ (which may have been written by Bill Lawrence or Merriman himself), the following observations were made about the school:

Conversations with Frank Rogers, the political commissar of the School, and Jack Karson, head of the Machine Gunners and others revealed  the existence of considerable dissatisfaction with the amount and  intensity of the training provided by the school.

There was general dissatisfaction due to the fact, that most of them entered school with the expectations of qualifying for leadership positions at the termination of  school.  Disappointed in the limitations of their training now they feel less confident in their fitness to assume command.

The main complaint is directed mostly against Captain W. T. Wintringham; former commander of the school; they blame him with incompetent organization of their training.  They claim that Wintringham gave them long theoretical lectures on strategy and tactics but provided little practical experience and they claim that the high quality of the student body deserved a far better and more advanced grade of instruction than they actually received.

James Prendergast 2

James Prendergast 2

Merriman talks to Jim Prendergast4 who would have understood the concern in the camp.   Merriman said they had to bribe him with cigarettes and chocolates to get him to come out to camp.   Merriman says that there is a comrade from the US in camp to write a history of the Brigades.  This probably was Sandor Voros who was working on the Book of the XVth Brigade about this time and who had just arrived in Spain on May 7, 1937.


Dr. Arnold Donowa, Brigade Dentist, ALBA PHOTO 1:2:53:1, Tamiment Library, NYU

In the evening of the 11th there was a show from the “Cultural Commission” and it was apparently a hit.   Merriman says that the dentist is in camp and a ruckus occurred overnight between the Dentist and the guards about noise.   It is not clear if the dentist was previously arrested or the guard.   At this time, one of the Dentists for the Lincoln Brigade was Arnold Donowa but it is uncertain if this was the doctor in camp.

No new names are mentioned on the 12th of July and it seems to have been an unremarkable day of training.


¹ Maurice Levine: From Cheetam to Cordova “The first organised Manchester group to arrive in Albacete, November 1936.”

² Martin Sugarman, Against Fascism – Jews who served in The International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War,‎, Sourced: January 21, 2014.

³ RGASPI, Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 274, p 23-25.

4 Michael O’Riordan, Connolly Column – The Story of the Irishmen who fought for the Spanish Republic 1936-1939, 1979.


7-8 Julio “Boys deserted from the Lincolns and brought news of Hourihan”

July 7-8, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary for July 7 and 8, 1937

Merriman’s matter of fact tone throughout the diary rarely gives a view into his real feelings.   The diary oscillates between news about the war and trivia about Marion buying a dress.   Merriman must have still have been on R&R this morning in Villaneuva de la Jara because he woke late at 11 am.   He met with the Mayor and his cousin who was blind and played the mandolin.   Merriman gives  a hint of why they made the loop through Iniesta on the prior days:  Suarez and Delgado got two girls in trouble and he was looking for an accredited doctor who could end the pregnancy.   In Catholic Spain this was no small matter.  Delgado is believed to be Emilio Delgado Mariano.   Suarez is believed to be Julius Ruiz Suarez or Luis Suarez Pineiro.   Both are Cubans.

Merriman says that the officials in Cuenca turned over rifles to him and shells.   Whether this was to reduce the possibility of fifth columnists getting weapons or just to provide more support to the internationals is not known.  The town of Cuenca is some 90 km north of Villaneuva de la Jara.

Merriman says he has a lazy afternoon, playing dominoes.

Oliver Law

Oliver Law

Later on the 7th, Merriman returned to Albacete and met with Lawrence, Schalbroeck (typo in transcription) and Briton Robert Traill.  Settling some questions and still fighting over getting a Staff car, which would be black not green,  Merriman gets some news of the offensive that started the day before and says that 30 battalions (about 20000 – 30000 men) had advanced 11-12 miles. This is the Battle of Brunete which began the first week of July 1937.   It is telling that Merriman knows nothing of the offensive until he is told on July 7.  The offensive was well concealed from anyone who might leak this information to the Fascists.  The initial advance would take the Brigades from Valdemorillo to the vicinity of Villanueva de la Cañada where the offensive stalled for a day and the Lincoln and Washington Battalions were taken from reserve and thrown into action to take the town.  In bitter fighting, we find the next day that Marty Hourihan was wounded and is out of the line.   This puts Oliver Law in charge of the Lincoln Battalion.

Merriman finds out that Vidal is on the warpath over some artillery pieces which were taken off by the Spanish Battalions.   Vidal threatens to pull the Americans out of Almansa where the artillery groups trained.   The International Brigades never fielded a significant artillery unit although Canadians and Americans served in batteries such as the John Brown Battery and the 45th Brigade.   Somehow two Colonels did not get absorbed into the new units and went off with the artillery.   Bill Lawrence will have to take the issue up at Brigade Headquarters.     Merriman meets with Bender, Lawrence, Thompson and Traill in the evening.  He misses Vidal and hints that Vidal was trying to round up supplies for the front.  Merriman would keep his grenades.  One should recall that Vidal was directly responsible for the Artillery group in Almansa and his difficulties in maintaining control of a group who felt that they were spinning their wheels without artillery to train on must have been difficult.

Merriman literally goes shopping for telephones and supplies.  Marion looks for a dress.  Merriman again talks with “Marsly” to get “regulations”, which may mean regulation issue from the Intendencia.   There is no Marsly in the British, Canadian, American or French ranks.  There is a Paul Marsaillaz who was in the 50th Battalion of the 13th Brigade but  the connection to him is unlikely and speculative.   Merriman obtains a heliograph for communications and some wire to go with his telephones.   The town of La Roda appears to be a headquarters for the Transmiciones unit.

Merriman lets us know that he will go to Madrid on the 9th of July to get shoes for the men.   As mentioned on previous pages, Anna Louise Strong arrived with nearly $10,000 in cash so that the Americans could be outfitted with real boots, instead of Alparagatas (the rope soled sandals).  This would be a shopping trip to get these supplies.  Merriman says that there already is an ambulance in Madrid loaded with supplies.   With the Battle of Brunete on at this point, a spare ambulance is a real luxury for the training battalions.  Merriman relates to his diary that he will leave Bob Thompson in charge.

5-6 Julio Mac-Paps are on maneuvers

July 5-6, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary for July 5 and 6, 1937

Merriman starts the day reviewing field maneuvers by the Mac-Paps.  While Jack Mullinger’s scouts were out at six a.m. ,  the rest of the battalion was slow to move out and when they did, it sounded chaotic.  The battalion overran what looks like a “protector unit” and had to be regrouped to return in Company formation.  When debriefed, now it is Mullinger who was sick, making at least three of the officers down with illness.

Merriman went to meet with the Canadians in the Company to explain why Canadian Bill Skinner from Winnipeg would be the Mac-Pap Commander.  Merriman says that Liversedge chose to give up command but it is clear that “rank and fileism”, i.e. the unwillingness to be held above the men, was at the core of the problem.  Joe Dallet also exhibited “rank and fileism” earlier, but Merriman worked on him to accept the status of rank.   This tension between the troops and the officers would continue for more months, at least into October.  Merriman again went over the roles of officers and commissars to the Canadians.   The Mac-Paps would soon have American commanders until the fall when Edward Cecil-Smith would become their first Canadian commander.

Ramón lectured and Merriman had to translate for him.  Ramón only spoke Russian according to the lists kept by Albacete, so Merriman was translating from the Russian to English.  Merriman had difficulty understanding Ramón and felt that he did a poor job on the translation.   Merriman attributed his problems to illness.  Merriman says he discussed changes in the Red Army with Ramón.  Merriman also says that Vidal is dealing with a car accident involving a “Mexican instructor” (i.e. someone who had come from the Soviet Union).

Bob Thompson and Joe Dallet continued with the disciplinary  aspects of leading this new Battalion.

Tarazona to Villanueva

Tarazona to Villaneuva through Iniesta (at the northeast corner). Source Google Maps.

On the sixth, Merriman goes to Villaneuva de la Jara where they were based in March.  He says that there had been an accident with four officers and a Russian injured.  This may have been one reason for the visit to Villaneuva, as they visited Canadian Eugene Fogerty in the hospital there.   It appears to have been a bit of a sightseeing trip and Marion Merriman and Bob Thompson were joined by two members of the Auto Park, Bill Wheeler and Lou Secundy.   The route they took was through the town of Iniesta and would have taken about twice as long as the more direct route through Quintanar.  We get a reason for the diversion to Iniesta in the posting from July 7-8.

Merriman notes that Villanueva de la Jara is worse for wear and the town seems deserted and the church has lost some of its artwork.  On a good note, Fogerty shows them a 200 bed hospital in Villanueva which will be ready for the push at Brunete and will be in great need within the next few weeks.

Merriman is quite open in his diary about the rest & relaxation aspects of this trip.  They are all offered rooms in Villanueva and Bob Thompson and Bill Wheeler “worked” two nurses from the Hospital.  In a word that is hard to decipher, it appears that they did not get a “handsqueeze”, which can be slang for a number of possible outcomes that the Lincolns were seeking.   Nurses may have squeezed the hands of injured soldiers as a way of showing closeness and support, but it is probable that the intent here is to say that Bob and Bill did not get “lucky”.

3-4 Julio Men sleep in over the holiday

July 3-4, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary for July 3 and 4, 1937

After the hectic beginning of the month, the next two days slowed down.  On the 3rd of July, men slept in because the bugle did not blow.  Michael Petrou relates the story:

The Mac-Pap tradition of beginning each day with an early morning bugle call was quickly ended when one of the soldiers in another battalion placed the offending instrument beneath the wheels of a truck, where it was soon run over and crushed – an incident which allowed everyone to sleep longer but also broke the ice between the Mac-Paps and the more experienced soldiers.¹  

Merriman saw off his visitors, Anna Louise Strong and Joe Lash, and continued evaluating maneuvers.   Merriman notes that Ruby Kaufman’s group left open a wide flank while retreating from the maneuver and he was left holding the sack, meaning that he was left in a bad position.  Bill Lawrence and Ed Bender returned to Tarazona from Albacete and told Merriman that the men were in the lines in the Casa del Campo near Madrid.  Actually the men were further northwest behind the lines at Valdemorillo, where in two days an offensive will be launched towards Brunete.  The Lincolns and Washingtons would be held in reserve until the 7th of July and then put to a greater test than they had at Jarama.

Colin Bradsworth

Dr. Colin Bradsworth (second right, standing) and the practicantes of the Mac-Pap Battalion, November 1937, ALBA Photo 11-0985, Tamiment Library, NYU

In the afternoon, the men unpacked the new supplies that arrived with a batch of new men (“Fine bunch”).   A mini-fiesta was held and “Izzie” was the master of ceremonies.  This would be Israel Schrenzel who was the Assistant Company Leader in Company 2 in training.   Izzie was joined in the festivities by Dr. Colin Bradworth, a British physician from Birmingham (and a member of the Birmingham Clarion Singers).  A good time was had as Joe Dallet had too much to drink and got out of hand.

Merriman finishes the day with another note that Tom Hyde is still having problems and this time with Willam Cantor, a Seaman.

Everyone slept in on the 4th of July, American Independence Day, and the celebration featured competitive marching for the Brigade Banner.  In the afternoon, sports were featured.   Bill Lawrence, Ed Bender, George Brodsky, and Phil Cooperman all attended the festivities.   Merriman appreciated Cooperman coming out since he was having difficulty managing the Canadians.  With the squashed bugle and Ron Liversedge refusing to eat in the officer’s mess, Merriman must have been trying to impose military discipline on men who had come from union and seaman’s backgrounds and were having little of the regimentation.

Merriman mentions one more name — Ramon, who has come with Roblet.  Captain Ramon was a 41 year old Russian (Mexican).²  Captain Ramon will be with the 2nd Battalion of Instruction into the Autumn of 1937 and the personnel lists say  that he only speaks Russian.   There is another Ramón,  Major General Ivan Trofimovich ‘Ramon’ Eremenko³, a pilot in the Spanish Republican Air Force.  He, too, would be a possible candidate for the new instructor but Ivan Trofimovich was born in 1910 so it is unlikely that he is the Russian instructor.   Hugh Thomas speaks of Jaime Ramon Mercader as being in Spain at this time, but he was born even later (1913), would speak Spanish, so it is not him.


¹ Michael Petrou, Renegades, ibid.

² RGASPI, Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 265, p35.

³ “Red Wings over Spain” website,, accessed July 4, 2013.