Category Archives: Valencia

17-18 Agosto The XVth Brigade moves out for the Front – Quinto is at hand

August 17-18, 1937
Robert Merriman’s diary for 17 and 18 of August 1937

The pace will pick up rapidly over the next month as the XVth Brigade now goes into repetitive actions.   Merriman says that “Marceau” arrives to discuss his plan for the upcoming offensive.  While the target is not stated, we know now that it was the village of Quinto on the Saragossa road.  The ultimate target of the Aragon offensive is Saragossa and the Republicans will get within two kilometers of the city but not take it.  Marceau is not spoken of previously in the diary, is not on the French lists, and if he is the planner for the Aragon Offensive, he should be well known.

Bill Lawrence is off to Morata to check on the Intendencia and auto park there.   Morata was the staging area for Jarama and men will begin to move away from that front towards the Aragon.   General Gal comes to tell Merriman that he will lose the Dimitroff Battalion and they will not go with the International Brigades on the offensive.   Since the Brigade should be 3000 men (5 battalions in strength), this means Spanish troops have to be added to the XVth Brigade.  This corresponds to Vital Gayman’s (Vidal) departing memo where he recommends 3000 men for the XVth Brigade.   Gal further tells Merriman he will get 10 new trucks and new guns if he turns in the old ones.   Merriman discusses the last action (Brunete) with Gal and the cooperation (or lack of it) between units.

Merriman says that a “Comrade” is here to check on the Russian anti-tank guns.  One can imagine that this is a Russian technical expert.   Merriman leaves after lunch and goes to Albares to discuss the preparedness of the Lincoln Battalion and Carl Bradley.  The diary reads “Hesler” returns from AWOL and we interpret this as Frank Chesler who was in trouble previously in the auto park.  There is no Nesler in the American or Canadian lists.   Merriman also says that Samuel Gonshak wants to come back which indicates that he was under discipline for some time.

Paddy O'Daire
Paddy O’Daire, Mac-Pap commander August 1937 and British Battalion, November 1937. ALBA Photo 11-1277, Tamiment Library, NYU

Carl Bradley goes to the British Battalion.  “MacDougal” visited the British troops and Frank Ryan and George Wattis meet with them to discuss Paddy O’Daire and Peter Daly.   The issue of leaves is still being discussed on the eve of shipping out for the front.   It is apparent that Merriman is sounding out morale and who will be ready to fight in a few days.   Merriman talks with Jim Bourne to get feedback on Joe Dallet and whether the attitude in Albares (where the Americans were based) towards Dallet would be a problem.   “Let down, etc.” may indicate morale problems in the school after the lack of complete success at Brunete.

Merriman returns at 10 pm with Captain (note the emphasis) Wattis.   He was able to get a promotion through Copic.  Arthur Olerenshaw must have had to turn around and go back after missing his ride.  Steve Nelson returned from Morata and says that the Americans sent to the 24th Battalion (Spanish) were integrating well.

August 18, 1937 orders
August 18, 1937 orders of the day. RGASPI Fond 545/Opis 3/Delo 427, page 9. RGASPI Archives, Moscow.

At 3 AM on the 18th, Merriman gets the orders to move and we reproduce them here from the RGASPI Archives.  He prepared orders for all companies and starts to pack up for the Front.  A Doctor named Martinez checked out the health of the men in Ambite.   Interestingly, there was a Doctor Eduardo Martinez Alonso who worked in this area about this time and was written about by Nicholas Coni.  It is not clear if this is the same “Martinez” but Martinez Alonso would desert the Republican side in 1938 and go over to minister to the Rebels.

The Brigade would go first to Valencia on the 18th and then take a train towards the train station in Hijar.   The convoy from the 18th would bring troops from Perales led by Van den Berghe, Ambite/Albares led by Marcovics, and from Mondejar led by George Wattis.   Copic did not come back for the move (he would run on ahead to scout positions for the battalions), but General Gal came to see the Brigade off.  He tells Merriman that their target is Teruel.   Teruel fell to the Fascists in 1937 and that would be a target of attack later in 1937, but the direction was a deception, probably to divert the Fascists if the soldiers leaked where they were going.  The actual target would be Quinto.  General Gal would not be going with the XVth Brigade and his command over this group of internationals ended on the 18th.

The muster must have been impressive with 120 trucks involved and they also had to retrieve 250 men who were on leave in Madrid.  At 30 men to a truck, the whole Brigade would move on the 18th.  Bill Lawrence, Ed Bender and Joe Dallet arrive from Albacete to help with the move.  Merriman has to send men to Madrid to roust up the nearly 200 men who were on leave.  All but five were found and brought back in time to move.  Lawrence and Bender brought news that Largo Caballero, who was removed during May Days, was reported to be working with the Anarchists to overthrow the Government.  The Communist International line was that the Brigade would go to the front to hold off the Fascists while other troops would clean up the Anarchists in the rear.  There is mention of an “Imperialist Division”, but that is not clear.

Bill Lawrence was not happy with some personnel decisions made by Steve Nelson and Merriman.  Joe Dallet must have gotten disciplined about the lack of support of the troops.  Dallet was accused of being “the most hated man in the brigade” by Seaman Oliver.   Joe Dallet, however, is known to have been liked by both Nelson and Merriman, so this may have been in the nature of an “attitude adjustment” that Dallet needed to make.  Dallet struggled with his “rank and file” attitude and yet he was in a leadership position.  It appears that Dallet or Merriman made comments against Rollin Dart.   Merriman is leaving but worries that Tom Wintringham was not going to be able to effectively lead the school. He says for another time that “Wintringham is not right” and Wintringham is removed from the Officer’s Training School.   Recall that Copic has purged most of the British Officers over the previous few weeks and this continues his purge of the British.   Canadian Bill Wheeler will go into the school at this point.  Wheeler will be back on the front lines in October so this leadership position in the school is short-lived.

General Gal’s battle with Ralph Bates did not end when Bates left Spain.  Now Bill Lawrence goes to Gal and tells him to fight the order that the Dimitroff Battalion will not go with the Brigade.  The Dimitroffs were slated by the Ministry of War to move to the 150th Brigade and reform the XIIIth Brigade.   Gal says that he only takes orders from the Ministry of War.   Ignoring the senior political commissar in the American Battalion forces the issue to the top.  Lawrence says that the Dimitroffs either go with the Brigade or Gal will go.   In the end, Gal will be gone, but the Dimitroffs don’t move up.  Gal severely underestimated the power of the political cadres in Albacete and Madrid.  Gal had few backers after the failures of Brunete and even Vidal said in his memoir that Gal did not have the military experience to lead men at the Battalion or Brigade level, let alone lead a Division.

Merriman eats in Tarançon with “the Rose of Tarançon”.   We had previously interpreted this as Sol Rose, but this may not in fact be the right person.   Merriman sends Marion a note that he is disappointed not to be able to get to see her in Albacete and says “next time”.

Today’s route from Perales to Valencia (315 km). Flying in 55 minutes was not available to the International Brigades

The map above gives a scale of the move on the 18th of August.  Tarançon is a crossroads for two routes to Valencia.  Perales is near Morata de Tajuna where the Jarama Battles were staged.  The rest positions of Ambite, Albares and Mondejar are northwest of Tarançon.



15-16 Mayo The Merrimans return to Albacete and the Americans will go to Tarazona

May 15-16, 1937
Robert Merriman’s diary for May 15 and May 16, 1937
Almansa Map
Map of route followed by the Merrimans from Valencia to Albacete through Almansa. Source: Google Maps
Castillo Almansa
The Castillo Almansa. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

The Merrimans return to Albacete from Valencia with Jan Kurske.  On the way back, they do a little sightseeing at Almansa.  The map on the left shows the relationship between Albacete, Almansa and Valencia.  A current day photo of the Moorish Castle at Almansa is shown on the right.

Merriman reveals that the artillery training is in Almansa.   The experiences of the Americans in the John Brown Battery and heavy artillery are being assembled in 2015.  This group has had few stories written about them.

Upon his return to Albacete, he checks back in with Vidal, Platone, and Schalbroeck at Brigade HQ.  The Belgian Jean Schalbroeck will move up in June to replace Platone in the Brigade Staff.

Merriman meets with Steve Nelson, Bill Lawrence and Jock Cunningham.  Cunningham, who was the English speaking Regimental Commander at this point, “got started”.   Merriman uses coded words to remind himself that conversations were heated and Cunningham was not one to use Oxford language.  He also says that Hans Amlie and, it is believed, Paul White also came and made “statements”.  Statements is also a code word for expressing their opinion that Merriman probably does not agree with.   “Statements rank & filism” is interesting because accusations were made about officers who took a proletarian posture and acted like a “shop steward” instead of a military leader.  Rank & filism in Merriman’s mind is a derogatory description of someone who is not tough enough on his men and doesn’t believe in command structure, someone who takes the rank and file position on issues.  About this time, debates were being held about saluting superiors.  This debate continued into the fall of 1937 and as the Brigades moved more and more towards integration in the Spanish Army, the pressure to look more and more like a traditional military organization was felt.  It is possible that the suppression of the anarchists and POUM in Barcelona was leading to pressure from the Soviets and Spanish commanders to bring the International Brigaders into a disciplined structure.  One is left to wonder what form this “discussion” took, but Merriman will continue to push the leadership to a more traditional military command look.

Ralph Bates
Ralph Bates lecturing to the Regiment de Tren, probably July 21, 1937, prior to going to Quinto. ALBA Photo 177-178037, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman notes that Ralph Bates is in Madrid to speak.  Bates lectured to the troops in Jarama on the events in Barcelona on May 14.  Bates giving a lecture to the Regiment de Tren is shown on the right.

On the 16th,  Merriman, James Harris and Bob Thompson went to pick up “Atal” who is Dr. M. Atal, the doctor in one of the training camps.    Dr. Atal is Indian by nationality¹, from Allahbad, and later will lead an Indian military mission to China during the Chinese War of Resistance.  Merriman reported earlier that the Doctor in the Villaneuva de la Jara was incompetent and this is likely to be Atal.

Merriman speaks to  a woman doctor and that she has been demoted.   Likelihood is that this is James Harris’ “Polish Woman Doctor”.   Harris is also Polish so they may have been just comrades but clearly they stuck together through March-April-May.  Merriman holds the interview in Pozo Rubio which would indicate to the Doctor that she will be examined out of public view.

Merriman takes the car and drives over to Madrigueras, the British training base, where he meets with Amlie and Marcovics, Dave Mates, Walter Garland and either Robbins or Roblet.  Merriman is there because in the afternoon, the Americans are being pulled out to form another American Battalion in Tarazona de la Mancha.  Tarazona will be the American base for the rest of the war and is about two miles west of Madrigueras.  Apparently, they expected resistance from the men or officers about this reorganization, but it happened.  Marion Merriman Wachtel says that Merriman was the commander of the Washington Battalion until this new third battalion was formed and that Merriman was in Tarazona in April.²  Eby states that the Washington Battalion was officially formed between April 1-6 and that its formation at Tarazona was at the insistence of Marcovics.³   The Battalion did not have a name until later when the men under Marcovics suggested the Tom Mooney Battalion.  That would be overruled and the name “Washington Battalion” was suggested by Robert Minor and officially was approved by the Communist Party offices in the US by June.   The diary seems to indicate that the second battalion was actually formed in mid-May and the third battalion even later in May.  Clearly, there were enough English speaking North Americans in Spain for three battalions and Marcovics would become the Commander and  Dave Mates would become the Commissar of the Washington Battalion. Merriman’s role as commander of the OTS and the NCO school is only briefly discussed in Wachtel and Lerude. Merriman would become the Commander of the third battalion in June and Joe Dallet would become its Commissar.

Merriman looped back past Pozo Rubio to pick up Marcovics and Joe Dallet and went on to Albacete to eat.  He met again in the evening with Nelson, Dallet and Bill Lawrence.  He ran the car out of gas in Albacete so he had to stay overnight.   Merriman mentions that he spoke with George Brodsky about the job as head of the Intendencia as supply officer.  This would have been a significant demotion for Brodsky but it was a way of offering Brodsky a job.   Brodsky has dropped from Battalion Commissar to a Battalion supply officer in a little over a month and this is consistent to reporting that Brodsky was not an effective commissarand the men resented him.

Merriman notes in the diary that the Largo Caballero government has now fallen.   The historical date that the government fell was May 17 and Juan Negrin took over as Prime Minister on the appointment of President Manuel Azaña.   Negrin would be Prime Minister until the Republic fell in 1939.  “May Days” is now over in Barcelona and the repercussions would be felt for another two months as the government will mop up opposition to the Negrin government.

Poster of the movie “Ruggles of Red Gap” Source:

The mysterious Mr. Cleaver will be going to Valencia.  It is not clear if he was recruited but Jean Barthel also is returning to Valencia so it is possible this is an assignment to the new SIM.   Merriman finishes the day by meeting with Arthur Olorenshaw and going to see two movies, Ruggles of Red Gap (a full length feature with Charles Laughton) and “Joaquin Murrieta” (an MGM short documentary on the Mexican revolutionary.


¹ Shrinivas Tilak, Understanding Karma: In Light of Paul Ricoeur’s Philosophical Anthroplogy & HemeneuticsInternational Centre for Cultural Studies, 2006 – Hermeneutics – p329.  (page read online, no guarantee of this reference).

² Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude, American Commander in Spain, ibid., p140.

³ Cecil Eby, Comrades and Commissars, ibid., pg 158.


13-14 Mayo The Road Trip Continues and Merriman gets the straight dope

May 13-14, 1937
Robert Merriman’s Diary from May 13th and 14th, 1937

While Merriman clearly was on a rest and relaxation trip, he continued to work over the next few days.  He gained significant information for the Brigades in these discussions.

Becker and Barthel
Hans Klaus  (left), a Spanish Nationalist Prisoner (center) and Jean Barthel (right), ALBA PHOTO 177-189039, Tamiment Archive, NYU

Upon awakening Merriman meets Jean Barthel (not to be confused with Jan Kurske, also mentioned).  “Bartel” who is Jean Chaintron (nom de guerre Jean Barthel)¹,², Commissar of the XVth Brigade.  Barthel is later shown in a photo with Hans Klaus of the Brigade with a prisoner and his uniform would indicate he is in SIM (Servicio de Investigación Militar, also unfondly referred to as the ‘checa‘, which was modeled on the Soviet NKVD¹).  SIM was formed in early May 1937 to respond to the uprising in Barcelona.   Merriman says that Jan Kurske also will go back to Albacete with them.  Stepanovich, the Yugoslavian photographer and head of the Secret Service, was also in Valencia and Merriman looked for him without success.

The R&R continued later in the morning as they grabbed the car and Milly Bennett and headed off to Sagunto where they saw the Roman ruins.  Merriman confuses us with the Hotel Continental reference which is not in Sagunto but rather Valencia.  It is not clear if the “commandant” of the hotel in Valencia just got them a permiso to eat at Sagunto or if Merriman is mashing up the times.

Castillo de Sagunto
Castillo de Sagunto, Source: Wikipedia Commons

In the evening he says Milly Bennett wants to write a story about Joe Streisand.  We discussed before the death of Robert Pick and Streisand at Jarama while they were sent to mark the position of the enemy by placing an aviation signal and clearly Merriman thinks this is a heroic tale worth telling to America.

While working on the story with Milly Bennett, the news came through of the explosion on the HMS Hunter (H35) when it struck a mine while on “non-intervention” patrol.  The excitement would have been due to the hope that British ships being attacked could get the British government to rethink its non-intervention policy.  At the very least, Merriman would have thought the explosion to be schadenfreude.

On the last day of leave, Merriman again went to the beach with Milly Bennett (and presumably Marion).  He says they ate at  La Marcelina.    He says he saw Robert Minor and James Ford again, presumably at the restaurant not at the beach.

In the first reference in the diary to the “May Day” events in Barcelona, he meets with Luis Rubio Hidalgo, the head of the Spanish Foreign Ministry Press and Propaganda Department.  A new book has come out by our friend Amanda Vaill which gives a visual picture of Rubio when he met newspaperman Arturo Barea who is one of the subjects of Amanda’s new book, Hotel Florida:

Mije had a proposition for him.  The inclusion of Communists in the government has given him some patronage power, and he might be able to suggest Barea for a post a the Foreign Ministry– that is, if he had any fluency in English.  Although Barea’s other language was French, he read English well enough, and translate [sic] it; so within minutes he was being hustled off to the Foreign Ministry, where a harried young assistant ushered him into the crepuscular office of Luis Rubio Hidalgo, the newly appointed chief of the ministry’s Press and Propaganda Department.  Pale, bald as an egg, with a thin mustache on his upper lip and lash less eyes peering from behind round tinted lenses, Rubio sat impassively in the cone of light cast by his solitary desk lamp, his white hands folded in front of him, while Barea described his qualifications.  Then he asked Barea if he would like to join the Propaganda Department as a nighttime censor for the foreign press – an important job, since most journalists wrote and wired their stories from Madrid at night in order to catch the morning editions of their newspapers in Europe and America.

The moment the words were out of Rubio’s mouth, Barea knew they were what he was waiting to hear.  Although he was personally repelled by his prospective chief, the work the man was describing was essential and interesting.³

Merriman learns from Rubio the number of dead and wounded in Barcelona from the fighting there, information that the leadership of the Brigades in Albacete would want to hear from an authoritative source.  Merriman speaks again with Pinky Griffiths.

Milly Bennett  wants to send a wire from Mr. “Herman” to the S. S. Berengaria left Cherbourg on May 13, 1937, and is making a voyage to the US from France (the Berengaria would sail from New York back to Europe with another group of 28 Americans on the 20th of May).  We believe that our mysterious “Mr. Herman” is actually Canadian Alan Herman who wrote under the name Ted Allan and would become close to Gerda Taro.  Ted Allan is also discussed in detail in Hotel Florida:

Allan was twenty-one, a dark, curly-headed youth who had volunteered for the International Brigades but had been drafted away from combat to be the political commissar of the mobile blood transfusion unit whose work Geza Karpathi {n.b., later a highly recognizable character actor who went by the name Charles Korvin} was filming.  He was also a romantic and deeply impressionable young man, and his first site of the two photographers, their cameras around their necks, still dusty from their drive to Madrid, struck him forcibly.  Capa, “black eyed, handsome,” and “already famous”, seemed impossibly glamorous to Allan, who was also an aspiring journalist, writing for Canadian leftist newspapers and broadcasting over the Madrid radio; but it was Gerda, with her short blond hair and bewitching smile, who took his breath away.³

The young and handsome Ted Allan was likely the “Herman” who had thoughts about Milly Bennett a couple of days before.  Marion Merriman likely was Milly’s chaperone who kept them apart as they Milly and Marion were sharing a room in Valencia.

We don’t know the subject of the wire that Ted Allan wanted to get to the Berengaria or who it was sent to.  The ship list is accessible on and it is interesting that Angus_Lewis_Macdonald, Premier of Nova Scotia, Canada, was aboard the vessel.  Also aboard were about a dozen foreign nationals who were sponsored in their visit to the US by the Chicago Tribune, some were academics.  Also on board was Maxine Darrell, a Ziegfield Follies dancer, but it is unlikely that she would be the target of this wire.   Harry Langdon, the comedy actor was also on the Berengaria.  The US Citizens were not required to reveal their occupations so if a fellow reporter were on board, the name would have to be known to figure this mystery out.   Amanda Vaill has explained in an email that she believed that John Dos Passos was on the Berengaria on this sailing.  An Ancestry search shows that John Dos Passos sailed to the US on May 19, 1937, from Le Havre and Southhampton on the SS Paris.  Perhaps Ted Allan and Milly Bennett thought that Dos Passos would make the Berengaria sailing and were looking to send him a story.

Merriman again talks to Constancia de la Mora and discusses her husband Ignacio Hildalgo de Cisneros, who is head of the Air Force and importantly, reports directly to Indalecio Prieto, who within the next week will move from Minister of Finance to  Minister of Defense in the new Negrin government.  He finishes the evening with another discussion with Milly Bennett, ending a very long two days of the diary.


¹ Thomas, Spanish Civil War, ibid. p 376, p493.  Note Thomas spells the nom-de-guerre as “Bethel” but this is incorrect.

² Richard Baxell, British Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War: The British Battalion in the International Brigades, 1936-1939, Routledge/Canada Blanch Studies on Contemporary Spain, London, 2004, p. 66.

³ Amanda Vaill, Hotel Florida, Truth, Love and Death in the Spanish Civil War, Ferrar, Stratus and Giroux, New York, USA, 2014.  pp 52-53.

11-12 Mayo The Merrimans take a road trip and Meet the Press

May 11-12, 1937
Robert Merriman’s Diary for May 11 and 12, 1937.
A XVth Brigade playlist from September 1938. These paylists are incredibly helpful in placing Brigadistas week by week in Spain. Comintern Archives Fond 545/Opus 3/ Delo 461. Tamiment Library, NYU.

Merriman completes the discussion about potential sabotage in Albacete and places the guard until 3am.  He went with Marcovics to the Estado Major and got in, even though Marcovics had been turned away previously.  The importance of these visits on the 10th-11th of every month and at the end of the month was that payday was for days 1-11 of the month and 12-31 of the month.  The two paydays were not large, generally being about 30 pesetas a pay period for a soldado (a private) which in current money is about $5 US (1937 exchange rate).  The officers would get about 425 pesetas for a commissar or lieutenant at this time (10 times that of the soldado).  By September 1938, the commander of the Battalion made 900 pesetas a pay period and a soldado got 300 pesetas, a rate of 3 to one.   This is remarkable for any organization when the person at the top made only a factor of 3 greater than the lowest paid person.  One might expect that the urgency of getting into the Estado Major was to pick up the payroll for Pozorubio and Madrigueras, and as we will see Merriman will be leaving later for Valencia so having some spending money would be helpful.

Merriman meets with the head of a Young Communist League from what reads as “Candamar”… this location is unknown.  Merriman arranges with Vidal and Platone to get permission for Bob Thompson, Marion Merriman and himself to go to Valencia and he arranges for a car and driver.  The permission for Marion took a bit of arguing but they got permission and left late in the day with a “crazy” Polish chauffeur, who was only recently arrived in Spain.  Accommodations in Valencia were limited so Marion stayed with their friend, the writer Milly Bennett, and Thompson, the driver and Merriman stayed at the Socorro Rojo Internacionale (SRI), or Red Cross HQ.

Dinner was a reunion of old friends and some new reporter friends.  They ate with Josephine Herbst, Griffin Barry (not Berry) of Reuters, and Ed Kennedy of the United Press.   Griffin Barry’s daughter wrote a book about him in 2003, entitled “A Man of Small Importance“.  One interesting fact about Barry is that he fathered two children out of wedlock with Dora Russell, Bertrand Russell’s wife at the time.   Bertrand Russell was having his own affair on the side so it appears that this was a very open marriage between them.     Edward Kennedy’s memoir covered a bit of his time in Spain and describes interactions with these writers but does not discuss the meeting with the Merrimans.  Kennedy became famous for flashing the surrender of the Germans in WW II (70 years ago this week) back to the US and being fired by AP for jumping the embargo on the news prior to Eisenhower being able to make the announcement.

Merriman mentions as well, Kate and sister Millie, which is clearly a reference to Milly Bennett.  If Kate is her “sister” metaphorically since Mildred Bremler Mitchell (Milly Bennett) had a brother Arnold but by the time she is 20, no other sibling.     “Kate” is Kate Mangan, a reporter in Spain at the time.  “Millie and Herman had idea about each other but decided not to try it”.  We will suggest the identity of “Herman” in the diary page for May 14.  Griffin Barry’s book by Harriet Ward does describe meeting with Milly Bennett.  I have been unable to this point to get the memoir but a review is here.

Waking on the 12th, Merriman says he has breakfast with Pinky Griffiths.   Merriman met a “Griffiths, an AP Reporter” in the January 16 entry but it is not clear if this is the same Pinky Griffiths who is mentioned here.   Eric “Pinky” Griffiths was a New Zealand pilot who was injured in Madrid during a dogfight.  Thanks for James Carmody and John Wainwright for the reference to Chapter 5 of Kiwi Companeros, which is on Griffiths.  He mentions Angel but this cannot be XVth Brigaders Miguel Estrella Angel (Stella) or Angel Garcia Ocasio.   Neither one of these Puerto Rican volunteers was in Spain in May 1937.

Merriman says that he met with Constanta at the Censors (not Censures) Office.  Alan Warren has suggested that this is likely to be Constancia de la Mora, a Spanish aristocrat who supported the Republicans by directing the Foreign Press office in Valencia at this time.  She was married to Ignacio Hildalgo de Cisneros, who headed the Republican Air Forces.   Milly Bennett worked for Antonio del Vayo who was Connie de la Mora’s supervisor in the Foreign Press office.

Merriman mentions that 3000 people had relocated from Madrid to Valencia by this time.  He meets with a “Jan Kursky” who is Jan Kurske, a German in the XIth Battalion with the French, was injured in Boadilla in February 1937.  Kurske was hit by shrapnel and taken to Murcia where he was with Tom Wintringham and nurse Patience Darton.  When Merriman was injured in February and was in hospital, Marion Merriman was a contact between Kurske and his wife, Kate Foster Kurske, who was working in the Press and Propaganda Office in Valencia at the time.  Kurske’s memoir is has a wealth of information on the people who the Merrimans meet in Valencia in May.²  Over lunch at La Marcelina (founded in 1888 and still there) near the harbor, they got his story.  In the afternoon, the Merrimans go with Kennedy to the beach and do some shopping.  At dinner, they meet with two important CPUSA leaders, Bob Minor and James Ford, along with Griffin Barry, who must have gotten great stories that night.

The boys did what boys do, going out for drinks at a strip joint, and Merriman slept in Kennedy’s room while Bob Thompson slept with (probably) Sol Feldman, who had sailed for Spain on March 17.  As part of their duties in Valencia, they were rounding up new US recruits who were recently arrived.

Steve Nelson, unknown, Doug Roach, unknown. ALBA Photo 177-179031 Tamiment Library, NYU
Vladomir Begovics, standing left, and others including Vladomir Copic, right. Yugoslavs in the Spanish Civil War, pg 94

Merriman says that “Stepanovitch”  was meeting with a New Zealander.  There is not a large list of New Zealanders in Spain and Pinky Griffiths is the obvious candidate for this.  We identified Stepanovitch as Vlajko Begovics in the February 19 posting.  Stepanovitch served as a photographer and many of the Comintern Folder 179 photos in the Tamiment Library were taken by him.  Stepanovitch seemed to be Vladimir Copic’s personal press secretary since he took so many photos of him, but he also documented other Yugoslav Brigadistas, such as Chapayev.  Interestingly, he took a photograph of Steve Nelson (of Yugoslavian heritage) along with Doug Roach and that may have been his motivation for the photo.


¹ Mark Derby, ed., Kiwi Compañeros : New Zealand and the Spanish Civil War, Canterbury University Press, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch 8140 New Zealand, 2009.

²  Jan Kurske and Kate Foster Kurske Mangan, The Jan Kurske Papers 1934, 1936-1937, 1998 “The Good Comrade”,  International Institute of Social History, Cruquiusweg 31 1019 AT Amsterdam The Netherlands, 2011.  (Thanks to James Carmody for the association of the name and to Rickard Jorgensen for access to the manuscript.  It does not appear to be available online any more).


15-16 Enero – In Valencia

January 15 1937
Robert Merriman’s diary from January 15, 1937

To travel from your posting to another required a “salvo conducto” or a safe-conduct pass.  Frequent references will be made to these important passes throughout the diary and many IB soldiers generated a lot of trouble for themselves when they did not have one.  Desertion could be the charge and the penalties severe.

Marion Greenspand
Notarized photograph of Marion Greenspan (George Marion) from a letter from Daily Worker associate editor Harry Gannes, naming Greenspan as the DW Correspondent in Spain. George Marion Papers ALBA 045, Tamiment Library, New York University Bobst Library.
Celia Greenspan clip from promotional materials on “Into the Fire” (Credit:

Merriman met several people on these two days in Valencia.  “Met M. Greenspan at M.” could be “Marion Greenspan at Milly’s”.   We believe that M. Greenspan is George Marion (a.k.a. Marion Greenspan husband of Celia Greenspan).  Celia Greenspan was the subject, along with Martha Gellhorn, of the documentary, “Into the Fire: American Women in the Spanish Civil War”.

The New York University’s Tamiment Library has excellent holdings on the Spanish Civil War from the Abraham Lincoln Brigades Archives.  We are pleased that Tamiment is supporting us in this discussion of Merriman’s Diary and we provide a link on the left sidebar for donations to the library to keep the holdings active and available.  Tamiment’s finding aid on the George Marion papers discusses Celia Greenspan and her role as a nurse with Norman Bethune and later in Murcia hospital. 

Adrienne Clarkson, the previous Governor General of Canada, mentions Celia Seborer Greenspan in her book “Norman Bethune”.¹

Merriman says he met L.O. who was the Liston Oak with whom he shared a room with the previous night.  He also says he met with writers for Der Tag.

Cober is an homophone of Cockburn (pronounced Coburn), who was a writer for the Daily Worker (DW) in London (thanks to Alan Warren for this brilliant association of names).  Claud Cockburn (aka Frank Pitcairn) reported throughout the war and there is a Gerda Taro photograph of him and Fred Copeman (we will meet him later) at Brunete.

Fred Pitcairn (left, aka Claud Cockburn) of the Daily Worker and Fred Copeman (photo by Gerda Taro with attribution in the image)

Griffiths who wrote for the Associated Press is still a bit of a mystery.   Both Milly Bennett and Merriman meet with Eric “Pinky” Griffiths, a New Zealander who worked as a pilot and in May was an AP reporter.  It is likely this reference is to Pinky Griffiths.

Alan Warren was able to pin down the other two other names which were mentioned. Rubio Hildalgo (Luis Rubio Hildalgo) was Chief of the Foreign Press and Mikhail Koltsov was an advisor to Stalin.

At the end of the 16th, Merriman has caught a train for Albacete.  Albacete was the training base of the International Brigades.  The diary flows over onto the next page and we will pick it up in two days.


¹ Adrienne Clarkson, Norman Bethune, Penguin Canada, 2009.