Sunday 20 July 2014

Portugal - Britain's oldest ally - sent help during WW1

I am indebted to my friends Eurico Ventura and his wife who are translators - for this fascinating account of Portugal's contribution to Britain's war effort during WW1.  Portugal sent troops to the Western Front in January 1917.
"Portugal has the oldest European alliance with Britain. However, in the last years of the 19th century Britain took possession of Rhodesia, ignoring Portugal's claims to the land between their colonies of Angola and Mozambique. That deeply affected the relations with Britain, and they were on the verge of declaring war to Britain.  The Portuguese National Anthem today still talks of taking the arms against canons, and those canons would have been British. However, Portugal soon realized that they wouldn’t have the ships to defend their colonies on their own. Angola bordered Namibia, which was a German colony by then, and Mozambique shared a border with German Tanzania, and so they were left in a position which implied to choose the lesser evil, so to speak.

The first Portuguese soldier killed in WWI was António Gonçalves Curado - photo from Google Images.  To see his grave click on the link and scroll down to the bottom of this link:

António was born in a small town called Barquinha in Central Portugal but, by the time he was drafted in 1917, he lived in Carvalhais, a few miles away from my wife's hometown (Lavos – Figueira da Foz). The war was always immensely unpopular in Portugal, which had become a republic in 1910 and was going through the upheaval of the first years of democracy. Governments lasted months;  Presidents were always changing and the country was in a political mess, which would lead in 1928 to a military coup and a dictatorship.
When WWI broke out Portugual initially decided to stay neutral.  They sold a few artillery sets to France, which was the first country to ask for help, but were afraid to declare war on Germany because of the colonies’ question. 

Eventually German troops started to skirmish with Portuguese troops in Africa, and the Portuguese Government then asked British navy to ferry Portuguese troops to defend those colonies from Germany. In return, Britain requested that they seize all German ships in Portuguese ports, and Portugal eventually did just that in 1916. Germany and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire declared war on Portugal soon afterwards. The Portuguese Governments than realized that, if they were to align with the Allies, Portugal should send army units to France.

This was an hugely unpopular decision, first because the country was in economic chaos and that was seen as an unnecessary waste of money, and second because everybody knew by 1917 that the war was a terrible massacre.  Young men were conscripted into the Portuguese Army and sent in British ships to the Lille region in France. These troops, the Portuguese Expeditionary Corp,  consisted of two divisions, trained and equipped by the British and deployed in the British sector. During the Georgette'La Lys offensive on 19th April 1918, the Germans correctly identified that section of the front as weak and, when the British lines crumbled under the strong attack, the Portuguese 2nd division was rapidly encircled and destroyed so thoroughly that it ceased to exist.

António Gonçalves Calado was born on the 29th September 1894.  He was a poor peasant who worked for other wealthier farmers. He was sent to France in a British ship on the 22nd February 1917. He was killed during an artillery shelling on the 4thApril 1917 on the Ypres sector. He was first buried in France (see and then his family asked the transferal of the body to Portugal, arriving on the 31st July 1929. He was buried in Barquinha underneath a monument built in his memory.

There is also a monument dedicated to him in front of the military barracks in Figueira da Foz near Carvalhais, the village where he was living when he was conscripted. See "

Eurico tells me that they have tried to find relatives of Antonio's but they have had no luck so far.