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by Major Bernard Hornung
formerly Irish Guards
Chairman, Anglo-Portuguese Society

Close to the Neuve-Chapelle Indian Memorial stands a white walled cemetery with an imposing entrance. On one side of the thick wrought-iron gate stands the chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima; on the other, the Portuguese National Cemetery of Richebourg, the final resting place of 1,831 Portuguese soldiers who died in The Great War.

Other than a small number of Portuguese war graves, and a fireplace near Lyndhurst in the New Forest built by Portuguese troops, I do not believe that there is a Portuguese war memorial in the UK. Portugal remains our oldest ally, and the last King of Portugal also merits recognition for his unique and selfless contribution to the Allied cause.

As we approach 9th March 1916, the Centenary Anniversary of Germany’s declaration of war on Portugal, reflecting on the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance which goes back to the Treaty of London (sealed in St Paul’s Cathedral on 16th June 1373 and subsequently ratified by the Treaty of Windsor, sealed in the Chapter House of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, on 9th May 1386), Portugal’s participation in The Great War is worthy of remembering. For this reason, we should consider the creation of a memorial dedicated to the Portuguese fallen and to King Manuel II.

Portugal became a Republic in 1910 following a coup d’état that toppled King Manuel II, (his father, King Carlos I and elder brother had been assassinated two years earlier). A liberal constitution was enacted in 1911, and Manuel Jose de Arriaga was elected as the republic’s first president. With the outbreak of war in 1914, Portugal became increasingly anxious about the security of its possessions in Angola and Mozambique. The young Portuguese Republic assured Great Britain of its support, promising to send men and equipment. Although officially neutral, the Portuguese Government was able to justify its belligerent stance by way of the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance, renewed two years earlier in 1912. By entering the war at the side of the British, Portugal hoped to protect its African Colonies, previously the subject of secret agreements between the British and the Germans in 1898. In addition to this practical consideration, Portugal also entered the war to mark its status as a European nation and as a way of bolstering national unity, reinforcing the republican regime which was now under pressure from monarchist movements and the grave economic difficulties then facing the country.

The young King Manuel II,
King of Portugal and the Algarves,
who reigned from 1908-1910

General Fernando Tamagnini, commander of the Portuguese Expeditionary Force

Skirmishes broke out in both Angola and Mozambique in 1914, between German and Portuguese colonial troops in Africa, and the Germans instigated tribal revolts. There was no formal declaration of war, and initially the British were content to accept material aid from Portugal but were less enthusiastic about the young Portuguese Republic actually taking part in the fighting. The growing logistical problems affecting the Allies and German U-boat action led the British to request the Portuguese Government to seize all German ships moored in their ports, and when this happened in February 1916, Germany declared war on Portugal a month later.

The Portuguese Expeditionary Force was formed on 22nd July 1916, and sent to France in early 1917 under the command of General Tamagnini. The Portuguese troops were based in Aire-sur-la-Lys in Pas-de-Calais, and attached to the First British Army under General Sir Henry Horne. By October 1917, the Portuguese Expeditionary Force comprised nearly 57,000 men.

Officers of the Portuguese Expeditionary Force on bayonet training in France - 1917

In November 1917, General Horne entrusted the Portuguese with the defence of an eleven kilometre front in French Flanders stretching from Laventie to Festubert (an area well known to the Household Division). The Portuguese set up their headquarters at Saint Venant.  The area they had to defend, an open plain between the Lys river and La Bassée Canal, was a damp and muddy place where the Portuguese, equipped in lightweight uniforms, found it enormously difficult to adapt to the miserable conditions of the winter of 1917/1918. In December 1917, the Portuguese Government fell in a coup d’état which brought Sidonio Paris to power. Less enthusiastic about support for the Allies, the new government instituted a far less strict system of leave which allowed soldiers to return home for extended periods. There were now fewer officers to lead the men, and British shipping no longer had the available capacity to help bring Portuguese reinforcements from home. As a consequence of all these factors, morale was low at the front and insubordination grew steadily in the ranks.

When the Battle of the Lys began on 9th April 1918, two depleted Portuguese divisions faced nearly ten German divisions, and except for a few pockets of resistance, the Portuguese were completely swept aside by the German offensive, Operation Georgette. The next day, shoulder-to-shoulder with the Scottish, Portuguese survivors defended La Couture before eventually being forced to withdraw. On 13th April they were sent to Lillers and Steenbecque to reinforce the British 14th and 16th Divisions. The Germans took Estaires, Armentieres, and Bailleul but had failed to take Béthune and Hazebrouck. Operation Georgette was called off on 29th April.

Thereafter, the Portuguese Expeditionary Force was grouped into a single division, taking part in the Allied offensive of 1918. By the end of the war on 11th November 1918, the Portuguese had reached the Escaut river and entered Belgium. Of the 56,500 Portuguese soldiers sent to the Western Front, approximately 2,100 were killed, 5,200 wounded and 7,000 taken prisoner. In honour of those who defended of La Couture, the French and Portuguese governments inaugurated a monument there in 1928.

A memorial to the Portuguese fallen of The Great War in the United Kingdom is long overdue. The compelling case for such a memorial, and to include one dedicated to the last King of Portugal, is strengthened by the exemplary contribution made by Manuel II when in exile, living at Fulwell Park, Twickenham.

Although he was linked by marriage to the Hohenzollern family, and as such to Kaiser Wilhelm, Manuel II immediately gave his support to the Allies during the war. He justified himself thus: ‘It is the policy of our traditional and secular alliance, always followed by my late father. Now all there is left is for us to observe the unfolding of events, fervently hoping for a victory of our allies’. This decision exposed another gap between the exiled King and his followers at home, many of whom blamed Britain for the fall of the monarchy and sympathised with Germany.  But Manuel II insisted that the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance was the best way of assuring Portuguese independence, and when Portugal formally entered the war on the side of the Allies in 1916, he shocked his followers by ordering them to support the Republican government, explaining that the survival of Portugal must take precedence over the restoration of the monarchy.

The King placed himself at the service of the British Red Cross, and wearing the uniform of a British Army officer, he toured hospitals throughout the country, including those in Scotland and Ireland.  Thanks to his efforts, an orthopaedic military hospital was opened in Shepherd’s Bush in 1916, where Manuel II spent many long hours. His name is also associated with the Hammersmith Military Hospital and, above all, linked to the adoption of a new orthopaedic treatment method which had been followed on the Continent. The King’s work brought him a certain degree of prominence, to the point of arousing suspicions inside the Portuguese Republic.

In 1918, following a nervous breakdown due to exhaustion, Manuel, recuperating in a seaside resort, wrote to King George V: ‘I feel I should write a few lines to tell you that our thoughts are with you in this terrible moment. I want you to know that our prayers have been, more than ever, with your wonderful troops. May God bless them and bring them a swift victory. I wish I could be of use to you. You know, dear Georgie, that my modest services are always entirely at your disposal and I assure you that it would bring me much joy knowing they could be of use. I did all I could for the Special Orthopaedic Hospitals and I have the consolation of knowing that I fulfilled my duty. But I wish I could do more in yet another anxious moment for you, who I care for so much, and for this country I so much admire and consider to be my second country’.

In contrast with her husband’s activity, his wife, Princess Augusta Victoria of Hohenzollern, kept a low profile, putting up with an England that was understandably anti-German. She was often observed in tears during the Mass at St James’ Parish Church in Pope’s Grove, Twickenham, where she and her husband worshipped each Sunday. They were popular in Twickenham, supporting local charities and societies, helping to raise funds for good causes. As regular attendees at local fairs and festivals such as the Richmond Royal Horse Show and the Pearly Kings Parade, they presented prizes to the winners of the chariot races, pulled by donkeys and horses. King Manuel II died suddenly aged 42, on 2nd July 1932, while his wife re-married in 1939 and died in 1966, aged 76. The epitaph on Manuel’s tomb reads: ‘Here rests with God, King D. Manuel II, who died in exile having served his country well’. 

Between 1914 and 1918 more than 100,000 Portuguese soldiers went to war. They fought in Africa and Flanders, suffering nearly 40,000 casualties. Almost 12,000 men died, including Africans from both Angola and Mozambique; many others were wounded; 6,000 reported missing; and more than 7,000 were taken prisoner. Civilian deaths exceeded the pre-war level by 220,000; 82,000 caused by food shortages and 138,000 by the Spanish ‘flu.
The Anglo-Portuguese Society, supporting the Parish Priest, Fr Ulick Loring, have created and installed, at St James’ Parish Church, Pope’s Grove, Twickenham, two memorial windows. One will be dedicated to the last King of Portugal and the other to the Portuguese fallen of The Great War. A fund-raising programme has commenced to raise £18,000 this year, so that the windows can be dedicated on 9th April 2018, the Centenary Anniversary of the Battle of the Lys.

At 5.15 pm on Monday 9th May 2016, there will be a Special Evensong at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, after which there will be a retiring collection for this worthy cause. All are most welcome, and no tickets to gain entrance are required.

Subject to sponsorship, there are plans for a Solemn Requiem Mass to be said at the Guards’ Chapel at 12 noon on Friday 22nd July 2016, to mark the Centenary Anniversary of the formation of the Portuguese Expeditionary Force and to honour the Portuguese who sacrificed their lives in this conflict. It will be a ticketed event, and further information will be available on the Anglo-Portuguese Society’s website: www.angloportuguesesociety.org.uk





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