Robert Merriman’s Diary for July 11 and 12th, 1937
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
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, www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/spanjews.pdf, 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.