Tag Archives: Colmenar

1-2 Marzo In Colmenar, a Butcher’s Shop

Robert Merriman’s diary pages labelled 1 and 2 March. This part of the diary was written from the hospital on March 13, 1937.

The previous page of this free form section of the Diary ended with

“Muso dressed me and I gave word to leader of Franco-Belges to move some men in our trench to back us up.  They did this – Saw {Jock} Cunningham and Hans {Klaus} and {Dr. Edward} Pike.  English tried to advance but” and now “many killed and returned”.

Merriman relates that Doug Seacord had been killed and in the absence of commanders, Phil Cooperman took over the Battalion Command with Bob Thompson second in command.

Merriman says in the diary that he wanted to stop and have it out with Copic.  Wachtel and Lerude expand, perhaps somewhat dramatically,  with:

Even then, however, he demanded they make one crucial stop.  He wanted to have it out with Copic, although his senior in military command and rank, for having ordered the Americans into the bloodbath.  The stretcher-bearers carried Bob to the commander’s makeshift headquarters.  Copic, declaring Bob too weak for any conversation but probably knowing exactly what Bob had on his mind, refused to see him; the stretcher bearers carried Bob off to the medical unit. ¹

Actually, he was taken, obviously by ambulance, to a hospital in Colmenar de Oreja, about 10 miles south of Morata de Tejuna and two miles south of Chinchon.  The British Rolls of dead from Jarama list Henry Bonnar who died in “Dow Hospital, Colmenar de Oreja”.     The hospital was run by Belgian Doctor Rene Dumont and Alan Warren has noted that May MacFarland of the UK was there at Jarama.   Our friend in Spain, Marisa Biosca suggests that the hospital was in the Convent of the Incarnation (in Spanish, El Convento de la Encarnación del Divino Verbopertenece a las monjas Agustinas).  Thank you, Alan and Marisa, for the help.

Merriman documents that he was in the Colmenar hospital with Robert Pick (who we saw was shot while putting out an aircraft signal) and he heard that Dave Springhall of the British Battalion had been shot in the face.   Merriman tells how his arm was splinted and put on a board.  Marion Merriman Wachtel says that the cast that Merriman was put in was made of common building plaster and, therefore, was extremely heavy.¹  She continues with what she found out later:

Bob broke and cried when he was informed his runner, Pick, had died in the hospital.  He knew the chances of survival in the field units were slim.  The doctors and nurses worked valiantly, but the units were really first aid stations, not well-equipped battlefield hospitals.  They lacked painkillers, so the miserably wounded reacted ferociously to the undressing of their wounds.¹

Much has been made of the attack of 27 February and some of the worst insinuations come from Cecil Eby², who says that after the attack, the Americans mutinied, were caught and Copic threatened to try and shoot every tenth man.  He goes into a poorly referenced story about this tribunal which had Colonel Hans Klaus as the “prosecutor”.  He says that only because the Czech Copic was trying a Russian-born American “deserter” that a Russian Tank commander named Pahlev intervened and kicked Copic out of his own trial.  The veracity of this story is not documented by references other than footnotes which say 400 Americans mutinied.²  This would be impossible since there were barely 400 Americans at Jarama.   It would have been a tremendous rush for those leaving New York before February 1 (398 in all) to make it through training and to Jarama.³ The Ship lists document that by February 10, 540 Americans had sailed from New York to Spain. Those on ships on February 17 and 20 could not have plausibly made it to Spain let alone get through training.  Landis says that there were 40 dead, 200 wounded and only 60 left in the trenches at the end of the day.4  This count sounds nearly complete. Carroll5 quotes Merriman as listing 263 men in the line at the start of the attack on February 27 and 150 remaining the next day.

It is difficult to know what to make of Eby’s account. Clearly, Copic was responsible for the attack of the 27th of February and Merriman placed the blame of the losses on him. Copic does not discuss anything about the 27th other than to say from his Diary:

“27- The XVth Brigade counterattacks on the Jarama and demonstrates to the Fascist invaders that it is prepare [sic] to resist and counterattack at any given moment by order of its high command” 6

The Tamiment Archives are a treasure trove of history.  We hope you will think about donating to them (see link on the left sidebar) to retain the valuable material there.  Josephine Yurek recently was at the Tamiment and was able to find the following letters in the Robert Merriman files on the Comintern Archives.   It explains what Bob Merriman would have said about the 27th of February had he not been in hospital, written 77 years ago today.

Letter to Marty Hourihan from Robert Merriman on his debrief of the attack of February 27. Source: Comintern Archives, Fond 545, Opus 6, Delo 944.



¹ Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude, An American Commander in Spain, ibid., pp. 110-112.

² Cecil Eby, Comrades and Commissars, ibid, pg. 81-82

³ Christopher Brooks, private communication, Sailing List of the Lincoln Battalion.

4 Landis, The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid.

5 Carroll, Odyssey, ibid., p 102.

6 Vladimir Copic, Diary, Comintern Archives, Fond 545, Opus 3, Delo 467, Tamiment Library, New York University Bobst Library.