Saturday 1 December 2018

Aníbal Augusto Milhais (1895 – 1970) Portuguese soldier awarded Portugal’s higest award for bravery on the field of battle in WW1

I did not realise until around 1992 when some Portuguse friends told me that their Great-Uncle had been a medic on the Western Front, that Portugal had been involved in the First World War.  As England’s oldest ally, Portugal sent soldiers, nurses and material to help the Allied cause both on the Western Front and in East Africa.

Born on 9th July 1895 in the little village of Valongo de Milhais, a parish of Murça, in the north of Portugal, Aníbal grew up in a farming community and went on to become a farmer himself. On  30th July 1915, Aníbal was drafted into the Portuguese Amry's Infantry of Bragança. In 1917, he was mobilized to join the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps and was posted to France as a member of the Trás os Montes Brigade from the 2nd Infantry Division of the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps. The 2nd Infantry Division was deployed to the front line.  During the Battle of Lys, "Operation Georgette", Aníbal defended an abandoned trench single-handedly operating several Lewis guns, thus ensuring the safe withdrawal of Portuguese and Scottish troops. Aníbal found himself alone to the rear of the enemy lines for three days. On the third day,  still carrying his Lewis gun, Aníbal rescued a Scottish Major from a mud-filled trench, and the two reached Allied lines. He was warmly welcomed, but kept quiet about his exploits. However, the officer he had helped reported his actions.

A few months later, Aníbal once again held back a German assault single-handed with his Lewis gun, allowing a Belgian unit to retreat safely to a secondary trench without casualties. Both the British observers and the Belgian commander included his action in their reports. Aníbal was awarded the highest Portuguese distinction - the Order of the Tower and Sword - and the French Légion d'Honneur.

After the war, Aníbal, by then a national hero and with the nick-name ‘soldier worth a million soldiers’, married his sweetheart and went back to farming.  However, he was unable to earn enough mony to support his family. The Portuguese government promised to help, but instead of an allowance, they named the village where he was born after him.

Aníbal went to live in Brazil, where he was warmly welcomed. When the Portuguese community in Brazil realized that Aníbal was in need, they collected sufficient funds to send him back to Portugal with enough money to provide for his family.  He returned to Portugal on 5th August 1928 and began farming again.  He was allocated a small pension which gave him enough to  live on.

Aniíbal died on 3rd June 1970. A permanent exhibition remembering his achievements can be seen in the Military Museum in the city of Porto. A statue was erected in his hometown as a national tribute and as a symbol for Portugal of a very brave man.  In April 2018, a Portuguese film entitled “The Soldier Millions (O soldado Milhões)” was released telling the story of Aníbal’s WW1 exploits - directed by Gonçalo Galvão Teles, Jorge Paixão da Costa, Written by Mário Botequilha, Jorge Paixão da Costa and starring João Arrais, Miguel Borges, Raimundo Cosme

For information about Portuguese Nurses during the First World War, see

A post about another Portuguese soldier in WW1 -