Category Archives: Villaneuva de la Jara

27-28 Enero Organizing the Battalion for Possible Move to the Front

January 27-28
Robert Merriman’s diary of January 27 and 28, 1937

Bob Merriman’s task on these days was still organizational.  Not only did he need to train increasingly large numbers of new men who were coming into Villanueva de la Jara, but he had to feed and supply them.  The hub for materiel and people was in Albacete and in between there and Villaneueva was Madrigueras where the British were.  Merriman would find out quickly that the “requisitioning” process included diverting material to your unit when it was intended for another.  He found this out the hard way when his supplies only made it half way.   The Americans were resourceful, however, and one can often find discussions of “organizing” material which was on the move.  His mention of “waylaid Stern” probably falls into this category.  Commissars and Adjutants’ jobs revolved about getting the supplies they needed.

There is a hint of trouble to come in the phrase “hunted for our head man”.  Harris would often go off and be hard to find.  More on this in the weeks to come.   Merriman’s cryptic “Who goes?” suggests they were already planning their move to the front lines, even though the Americans had been in training for less than two weeks.

General Gal
Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Copic (left) and General Janos Galicz (Gal; facing the camera) ALBA PHOTO 177-175018, Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.

On the 28th, many new names arise in the diary.  Merriman will mention nearly 300 people over the course of the next year and thus the additional historical value of being able to place people by date.  We have not met General Gal before.  Janos Galicz (General Gal) of Hungary was the military leader of the division commanding the 15th Brigade.¹   Over the summer, he will be mentioned often.  On June 24, 1937, Gal and Copic will meet in Ambite at a meeting of the leaders of the XVth Brigade and their photo is shown here.   Very little has been written about Gal, and Vidal passes over him quickly in his memoir, saying only that the Hungarian Gall {his spelling} was a veteran of the Civil War in the Soviet Union.¹

Platone refers to Felice Platone (thanks to Fraser Ottanelli for this identification).  Platone was a member of the Communist Party in Italy and became Chief of Staff of the International Brigades. Platone will show up in the next few months and then not be seen again in the diary.  Nueman (later to be written Newman) appears frequently in the diary early on, but no American of that name was in Spain at that time.   This is probably the Austrian Doctor Rudolf Neumann who was an early organizer of the International Brigades in Albacete.  Vidal says in his memoir:

Le 20 Octobre {1936}, arrivaient, vacant de Madrid, à Albacete, les camarades André MARTY, VIDAL et BLANCO. …. Du même BLANCO, officier austrichien avait participé à la guerre civile en Union Soviétique; était arrivé en Espagne au début d’Octobre …. Le camarade BLANCO était chargé avec l’instruction militaire …. ¹

Blanco then was one of the three leaders of the Brigade in Albacete in the late fall of 1936 and it is unlikely that two Austrians would be attributed to being “co-founders” of the Brigades.   It is possible that Neumann and Blanco are the same man.  And since Blanco had been in charge of instruction, Merriman would likely have met and reported to him.  By late December 1936, however, Dr. Neumann was organizing the hospitals and there is a memorandum from Vidal to Neumann describing the outfitting of the Auto-Chir (the mobile surgical hospital).¹

Merriman commandeered a truck from Marvin Stern who was the first Commissar of the Lincoln Battalion.  Merriman will become extremely resourceful over the new few months in making sure he has access to transportation.  Peter Carroll says:

Given the importance of the commissars, the first American leaders appeared woefully inadequate.  Phil Bard, appointed by the American Communist Party in New York, lacked any military skills.  When the Lincolns moved to the town of Villaneuva de la Jara for exercises, Bard remained at Albacete to handle battalion affairs; chronic asthma soon forced his return to the United States.  As his replacement, Bard appointed another volunteer named Marvin Stern, a New York seaman, who soon offended the local mayor by demanding to know why he had not yet collectivized the land.   Argumentative and arrogant, Stern nearly came to blows with several of the men.  Angry with his leadership, the Lincolns elected a political committee to bring their grievances to the brigade command.  Commander Vidal’s response was to call them “naughty children.”….²

Stern clashed with Stember as well and resigned as Commissar to return to the ranks.  He disappeared from the Lincolns and was said to have died in Spain in a cloud of innuendo.³

When he got back at Villanueva, Merriman found order disrupted by Ray Steele (Ramond Albert Steele aka as Burns) who had gotten drunk and kicked in a door.  Eby says that he was jailed as “drunk and disorderly”.²  Ray Steele would work as a cook and served in the Lincoln Battalion Machine Gun Company.  He served at Jarama and Brunete, and was killed in the latter action.  He was reported to be one of the best machine gunners in the Battalion.

Merriman also had trouble with Andrew Royce (aka Royce Alvin).  These linked biographies are prepared by Chris Brooks for the Abraham Lincoln Brigades Archives and I owe a debt to Chris for his suggestions on the names of Americans as they come up.  He probably has the best handle on the names of the Lincolns of anyone researching the Brigades at this point.


¹ Gayman, Vital (Vidal), The Base of the International Brigades in Albacete 1936-1937, ibid., pp 7-9.

² Carroll, Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid., p 96-97.

³ Eby, Comrades and Commissars, ibid.

25-26 Enero Starting Training at Villanueva de la Jara

25-26 January
Robert Merriman’s diary for January 25 and 26, 1937

Settling in at Villaneuva de la Jara included building a new firing range at the edge of town.  Alan Warren sent us a photo of the cupola of the church described by Merriman and says that you still can see bullet holes in the painting inside.

Santa Clara Convent
Villanueva de la Jara. The Santa Clara Convent where the Lincolns were housed. (Credit: Alan Warren)

Ironically, there is now a supermercado (supermarket) in the building and it has a familiar acronym.

ALBA Villaneuva de la Jara
The relatives of Lincoln Vets standing in front of the Santa Clara convent in Villaneuva de la Jara where the Lincolns were housed. It is now a supermarket with an ironic acronym. (Credit: Alan Warren)
John William Parks
John William Parks1 (source: VALB-ALBA)

The names of the colleagues with Merriman on January 25 were Harris, Stember, Daduk, Kelly, Parker and what looks like “Tenbetti”.   After some discussion, it was concluded by Chris Brooks that Parker must have been John William Parks.  We will see that in less than a month, Mr. Parks will be dead in one of the more unfortunate mistakes at the Battle of Jarama.   Harris is James Harris who was to command the Lincolns with Merriman.  James Harris was Polish in nationality and Harris is a nom-de-guerre.   Lincoln veteran Robert Gladnick (in an unpublished memoir found at the Hoover Institution’s Archives) says that Harris travelled to Spain on the Normandie with the first group and used his actual name on the manifest.   To this point, all the names on the sail manifest are identified as Lincolns and a Polish name is not on the list.

Michael Kelly
Michael Kelly, Photo Source:

Stember and Daduk have been discussed before.  Kelly cannot be any of the Kelly’s listed in the ALBA archives.  The closest match is Thomas Kelly who arrived in Spain on February 7, 1937, but that is too late for this diary entry.   Sandor Voros’ list (private communication from Chris Brooks) of the Lincolns at Jarama lists Kelly as a section leader in section 2 of Company 1 of the Lincolns.  Kelly is likely to be an Irish comrade.   Barry McLoughlin’s list4 of the Irish in Spain lists Michael Kelly who was  a platoon leader in the Lincoln Battalion.   Kevin Buyer’s excellent site on the International Brigades has the photograph of Michael Kelly of Galway on the right.

Brooks also suggests that Tenbetti may actually be Juan/John Landetta.  Landetta shows up on the list of Lincolns used by Adolph Ross to identify photographs after the war.  John or Juan Landetta was a Cuban American student from New York City who arrived in Spain on January 14, 1937.²  Art Landis says of the Cubans³:

“In the winning of the villager’s goodwill {in Villaneuva}, credit must also be given to a young Cuban named Rodolfo de Armas and his equally young commissar, Landetta.  De Armas and Landetta were in command of a Cuban section of approximately 60 men that had been assigned to the Lincoln Battalion.  They called themselves the Antonio Guiterras Centuria after a revolutionary student, a victim of the Machado terror.  De Armas and Landetta had also fought against the early Machado dictatorship of Cuba….”

Antonia Guiterras Centuria on the march in Barcelona. Landetta and De Armas are the head of this column.  The story behind identifying the men in this photo is given in the Volunteer magazine.



¹ John Tisa, Recalling the Good Fight, Bergin & Garvey Publishers, Inc., 1985

² Cadre List, Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

³ Art Landis, The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid. p.31

4 Barry McLoughlin, Fighting for Republican Spain,, ISBN 9781291968392

23-24 Enero Long Live the Lincoln Battalion!

Long Live the Lincoln Battalion! Merriman’s diary from the 23rd and 24th of January

The title of the page is clear.  Bob Merriman had been appointed as Adjutant to James Harris to lead the Lincoln Battalion in Villaneuva de la Jara.  His first task was to meet with the Non-commissioned Officers (NCOs) and start a boot camp training regimen.

Merriman talks about two Irish comrades who will be a problem.  It is unclear from the diary who that may be.

Since this is a short, clear two day period, it is possible to address “Vidal”, who was the head of Training for the Brigades in the Spring of 1937.   According to Antony Beevor¹ and Martin Sugarman², Lucien Vidal was a nom-de-guerre for Vital Gayman (or Gajman) of France.  The link gives a wikipedia entry from France on Gayman and it is not verified.  Some parts of his biography seem curious: “il est décoré de la Croix de guerre en 1917” does not align with the list of Croix de Guerre awardees that are on the web (that doesn’t make it false just needing verification).

Since first publishing this page last year, we have confirmed that Gayman was in a number of photographs in the Tamiment collection and either not identified or misidentified.  This is Vidal Gayman.

Copic, Vidal and Klaus
At Ambite Spain, Vladimir Copic (left), unnamed woman, Vidal (Vital Gayman) and Col. Hans Klaus, approximately June 25, 1937, ALBA PHOTO 177-175030, Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.

Vidal was removed from the Brigades over the summer of 1937, returned to France, held responsible positions with Radio Telephone France (RTF) and died in 1985.  The wikipedia article’s assertion of a relationship with Francois Mitterrand cannot be confirmed at this time.  It is known that Vidal was removed in 1937 for alleged financial improprieties with Brigade Funds.¹   After the war, Vidal was quite critical of how the Brigades were used in Spain.

Gayman Memoir
The cover of Vital Gayman’s memoir in the BDIC Library in Nanterre, France³

Vidal’s memoir³ resides at the Université of Paris X’s BDIC Library in Nanterre, France.  Some 480 typed pages, it is unfortunate that it has not been published in the original French and more so that it has not been translated into other languages.  In reading some of the memoir, Vidal’s insight into the formation of the Brigades, the relationships between André Marty and the Internationals, and the relationships between the national volunteers is truly unique.


¹ Antony Beevor, The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939, Penguin Putnam Inc., New York, 2006

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

³ Vital Gayman, Vital Gayman et la Base des Brigades Internationales d’Albacete en 1936.1938, Fondº Δ rés 744/1, Bibliothèque de Documentation Internationale Contemporaine (BDIC)6, allée de l’Université Nanterre Cedex F-92001 France