Category Archives: Villaneuva de la Jara

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”.

11-12 Febrero The Lincolns Ready to Move and the British are Baptized by Fire

February 11-12, 1937

Robert Merriman’s Diary for February 11 and 12, 1937

On the 9th and 10th, Merriman gathered supplies and suggested that the Lincolns would shortly be moving “to the forest”.  On the 11th, he says “to move soon maybe tomorrow”.  The diary does not say that this move will be to the front, but we know that from history.

Problems with John Scott and Merriman continue.  They talked on the 9th, but Merriman says that he spoke extensively with Stember about whether it was inevitable that Scott would have to be replaced as Company 1 commander.  Scott must have threatened resignation “Scott demanded to see them — resign”.

Merriman relates that the Intendent (head of the Intendencia or supply depot) was preparing a dinner for 1300 men (approximately two battalions).   In the Book of the XVth Brigade³ says “The day before we left Villaneuva de la Jara for the front a dance was held for the Americans in another old building [the church in the diary] adjacent to our barracks”.   “Wolf” above is not an American Volunteer.  There is a Lou Wolf mentioned in April but no connection to him or the Intendencia is made.  There also was a doctor named Wolf Jungermann.  At this point it is still a bit of a mystery who this man is.

On the 12th, Merriman again says “Scott trouble” and he was in the field with the Lincolns in training when Andre Marty  visited the troops on the 12th.

Herrick made the statement “Adjutant Commander Merriman was partial to the infantry commander, Scott, two WASPs on a hot tin roof”…¹   Clearly, Herrick had this mostly wrong, if we are to trust Merriman’s diary.  There was no love lost between the two of them.  Herrick’s recollections were often second (or third) hand and here probably incorrect.   John Scott would lead his men into an attack on February 23 and be shot in the attack.  Scott would lie wounded in the field for most of a day and men risked their lives to get him back to the lines and to the safety of the Health Service.  Merriman’s “Scott trouble” would be a short one as Scott dies on February 23.

Art Landis² says that Merriman received orders on the 12th that changed their destination from Pozo Rubio to the front.  As we will see shortly, he has the dates wrong by about two days.  As of February 12, Merriman still is in training mode.

The Book of the Brigade becomes very active on 11 and 12 of February.  “On February 11, at sunrise, the rebels succeeded in capturing Pintoca bridge by a surprise attack” (this bridge is near Vaciamadrid in the map of 9-10 Feb’s post).  On the night of February 11, nearly 10,000 enemy troops starting moving in the Jarama sector.  The night of February 12, the enemy made their first assault on Pingarron Hill which was to be the high ground in the Battle for Jarama.  H. Galli (perhaps Humberto or Umberto Galliani) with the Franco-Belge Battalion³ says “February 11.  We assemble to march to the front.”  Laza Wovicky of the Dimitrov Battalion says “February 12. Noon.  We marched towards the olive trees, where the enemy were.  The enemy saw us and opened out a violent machine gun fire against us.  We spread into fighting formation.  We advanced about 300 yards without firing a single shot”.³  The notes of the British Battalion staff say

” Early in the morning of February 12, we started out in lorries from Chinchón.  We knew the front was near….. Captain Tom Wintringham commanded the Battalion.  George Aitken was Commissar.  We had no maps, little knowledge of what was happening.  We knew that the Fascists had advanced during the previous six days, that they had crossed the river Jarama, and that they were attempting to cut the Valencia-Madrid road.  We believed there was a front somewhere ahead; we were reserve troops, we understood.  Actually, as we discovered a few hours later, troops that had been in front of us had been brushed aside.  The Fascist break-through was in reality a big push”.³

Richard Baxell describes the events of February 12 in detail.  The British moved up from Chinchon where they had left the rail transport that brought them to the front on the 11th and moved by trucks up to the San Martin de la Vega road.  Just before the road was a cookhouse where the men dismounted and climbed the ridge to the west.  Reaching the top with little trouble, they were fanned out along the ridge when they were given orders to move west into the Jarama Valley and to attack the fascist positions on the heights on the western side.  The Fascists were well entrenched and had enfilading machine gun fire and artillery that made the British lives hell.   This counterattack, which began in the late morning, had bogged down on “Suicide Hill” to the south of the line and the “conical hill” to the north side, both of which had machine gun protection.   By 1400, the British had stalled and lacked machine gun support of their own by Harry Fry’s machine gun company who found that their ammunition belts were loaded with the wrong size ammunition and were jamming the guns.

The British began their retreat later in the afternoon back up onto the plateau where they were silhouetted against the skyline and fell in dozens.  The Moroccan Moors who were part of the Spanish Fascist Tercera attacked and “with astonishing speed over nearly two thousand meters of uphill ground”4.   The Moors were experienced troops and knew how to attack with limited cover and the inexperienced British were unable to stop their advance.  A slaughter ensued and Tom Wintringham had difficulty constraining the situation from becoming a rout.   General Gal ordered the British to hold at all costs.  Wintringham did not know that Bill Briskey and Kit Conway, his field commanders were dead.   The Moors retook Suicide Hill with its white farm house.

The situation turned late in the afternoon when Fred Coleman and Harry Fry were able to reload by hand the machine gun belts for Fry’s Company and machine gun fire from Fry’s five machine guns were ready.   As the Moors assaulted the eastern ridge of the valley, Fry’s company opened up and put nearly 1000 rounds into them in 3 minutes.  Over half of the Moors fell in the barrage and the assault stopped.

The 600 men in the British battalion were down to 200 effectives by the end of February 12.  Another 100 returned to the lines over the following days.   Of the men who had left the hill, stories abound of those who where walking out to the east and had to be stopped under threat from General Gal and George Aitken and Jock Cunningham.   Baxell says:

 Another group of men was found hiding in wine vaults in the farmhouse behind the lines by Fred Copeman and André Diamant, an anglicised Egyptian now in command of No. 1 Company.  Copeman and Diamond threatened to throw grenades into the vaults and almost one hundred men who had been hiding promptly revealed themselves.4

The British inexperience would similarly be reflected in Merriman’s troops in a few days.  There was no lack of courage amongst these men but the shock of war was something for which they were unprepared.

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¹ W. Herrick, Jumping the Line, ibid.

² Art Landis, Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid.

³ Book of the XVth Brigade, ibid.

Richard Baxell, Unlikely Warriors: The British in the Spanish Civil War and the Struggle Against Fascism, Aurum Library, London, 2012. pp 149-150.

5-6 Febrero Battalion Starts to Function

5 to 6 february

Robert Merriman’s Diary for February 5 and 6, 1937.

(Post from 2014 by Alan Warren):

And so the training and organisation of the Battalion continues. Merriman  talked with Stern when Stern walked off on him (We are now leaning to this confusing sentence being “Stern blew up and went to Stember“). This is probably related to an observation made by William Herrick:

One morning several days before we left the village, as we stood at attention outside our barracks, Commissar Stern introduced a plump, middle-aged, unprepossessing man named Sam Stember as our new battalion political commissar. Then Stern, to our utter astonishment, strode white-faced to an infantry squad and just like that became a simple rank-and-filer. Our heads whirled. There were no explanations. The Party leadership and its mystical ways.¹

The constant reorganising, promotions and demotions is just one aspect of the International Brigades that is somewhat surprising to many. The personal rivalry and arguments between the men must have been a constant worry to Merriman, as one will see throughout his Diary. But as Merriman writes, “Battalion is starting to function”, which can only be to the good.


¹William Herrick, Jumping the Line. AK Press, 2001, p. 153

1-2 Febrero Hunting for New Quarters

1 to 2 february pages

Robert Merriman’s Diary for February 1 and 2, 1937

Copeman and Meredith

Fred Copeman and perhaps Bill Meredith, ALBA PHOTO 177-178032, Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.

Fred Copeman in his autobiography Reason in Revolt refers indirectly to the tools related to his anti aircraft lecture as mentioned by Merriman:

lewis mg

Lewis machine gun similar to the ones described by Fred Copeman and used for anti aircraft defense.

I concentrated on the Lewis gun, easy to handle and very light, and I knew all about.  In the end, six of these guns were made serviceable, and either by design or by accident, I found myself in command of a small anti-aircraft unit….. The Lewis gun section soon became efficient. An old trick was to throw tin lids into the air from the trenches, the gunners having to hit them before they touched the ground. No small feat this, and yet every No.1 gunner within three weeks was able to hit the lids two at a time in the air

Merriman relates that he is shopping for new quarters for the Americans.  He looks at buildings presumably in Villaneuva de la Jara.  The size of the training battalion is having growing pains.

Merriman speaks of the feistiness of the men and the drinking which needed correction.  Since last year’s posting of this page, Barry McLoughlin has finished his work on the Irish in Spain and he relates:

As regards excessive drinking, there seems to have been a temporary ban on the sale of alcohol in the village {Madrigueras}, to which the men reacted by ordering café frio, a potent mixture of cold coffee liberally laced with rum.  Fred Copeman, in his chortling interview with the Imperial War Museum, mentions a “punch-up between the Irish and the English late at night …. sent to the guardhouse …. trivial stuff”, adding the erroneous comment that this was the reason that Frank Ryan took his men to the American Battalion.  In fact the very opposite was the case, but “old Fred”, for all his affability, was never a stickler for historical detail, neither in his memoir of the war (1948) nor in the interview he gave in 1978.²

Several men are reprimanded and one deserts.  “Cox” is very likely  Thomas Cox Jr..  He was born in Douglas, Alaska, and was a Native American.  Two weeks after Merriman wrote this page, Cox would be in one of two trucks that accidentally drove into the enemy lines on February 16, 1937, moving to the lines at Jarama. Fifteen Americans and one Canadian were killed, and only one wounded prisoner survived, but had his throat cut by a band of scavenging Moors that night. Cox arrived in Spain on January 23rd 1937.

“Givney” is John Givney, and who will continue to be a thorn in Merriman’s side all spring.   His transgression here is not detailed anywhere.

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¹Fred Copeman.  Reason in Revolt. Blandford Press, 1948. p. 81.

² Barry McLoughlin, Fighting for Republican Spain, Lulu.com, ISBN 9781291968392, p. 58.

31 Enero Training Heats up in Villaneuva de la Jara

January 31, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary for January 31, 1937

As training progressed in Villaneuva, the leadership personalities in the Lincoln Battalion chafed at each other.  The accusations of Steve Daduk against Merriman may have been resolved in Merriman’s mind, but the January 31 entry in the diary shows that the issue was not over.  Merriman says that Steve Daduk accompanied James Harris to Madrigueras where Daduk was suspended.   John Scott (Invar Marlow) and Eugene Morse are again mentioned in today’s diary.  The day was otherwise routine and Russian movies were shown in the evening.  The reader can watch the movies “Chapayev” and “Kronstadt” on YouTube.  Together they run about six hours so it must have been quite the movie night in Villaneuva de la Jara.

Merriman also mentions that the son (by marriage) of Professor J. B. S. Haldane visited Villaneuva.  J. B. S. Haldane was a chemist and advised on chemical warfare and protection from the poison gas used in World War I.  Merriman relates that they began training against gas warfare.

ronnie burgess

 Left to right: Allan Johnson, unknown, Ronnie Burgess, son of Charlotte Haldane and his Mother. No date.

Merriman notes that Daduk did well in training on January 30 but then the “scandal broke” and the hearing on the previous diary pages was held.  Merriman freely uses the term “scandal” throughout the diary and it may not have the same connotation in the 1930’s that it has today.  One of the dictionary definitions of “scandalous” is “defamatory; libelous.”   That would clearly fit the situation here.

Rickard Jorgensen believes that the scandal goes back to the stories of Daduk’s history in Spain.  In Sugarman’s article¹ about Jews who fought in Spain he says about Daduk:

Daduk

Sept 9, 1937, issue of the Oshkosh (WI) Daily Northwestern; Source: Newspapers.com

“Capt. Samuel Leon (?) Stephen Daduek/Daduk – 1st American to fly for Loyalists, red/blonde haired pilot, stocky, former sign writer and electrician , wore a red bandana and blue overalls when flying – b 10.2.10 Brooklyn – 2367 64th St Brooklyn – d 10.10.86 – wia in crash breaking his thigh – flew in battles over Madrid, in Potisis, Fokkers and Breguets (in which he shot down one Heinkel 111). Before and after flying he had fought in the infantry as a company commander of the Lincolns and with the Thaelman’s – wia several times. Fought in WW2 Medical Corps.

As noted before, Landis believed the claims that Daduk had been a pilot, but his resume apparently did not bear the scrutiny given him in the hearing of January 30.  Some texts have said that Daduk was removed as Company commander of the 2nd Company just before Jarama “when he cracked up” or “lost his nerves”.   Eugene Morse, above, was the 2nd Company commander when in two weeks they will go to the Front. From Merriman, it is apparent that this swapping of Morse for Daduk happened quite early in Training.

The notes page at the end of January gave Merriman the chance to catch up with other business and he notes that John Givney was removed from the battalion on January 30.  No reason can be found in Merriman’s diary.  John Givney deserted in May 1937 and would be a problem for Merriman throughout the spring months.  Givney will be injured in the Battle of Brunete on July 9, 1937.

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¹ Martin Sugarman, Against Fascism – Jews who served in The International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, ibid.