The historian Jacques Le Goff reflected, in assertive fashion, on the relation between history, memory and identity: “Memory is a key element in what is usually called individual or collective identity, the search for which is one of the fundamental activities of the fevered and anguished individuals and societies of today, […].
Memory, where history grows, and in turn nourishes it, tries to save the past to serve the present and the future. We must work to ensure that the collective memory serves to liberate and not to enslave men.
In the first days of August 1914, the European powers became involved in a military conflict of vast dimensions, known later as the Great War. Right at the start of hostilities the British Government asked the Portuguese Government to abstain “for the time being from publishing any declaration of neutrality”, which became Portugal’s official position – neither neutral nor belligerent.
This situation continued until 9 March 1916; then, when Portugal seized German ships anchored in Portuguese ports at England’s request, Germany declared war on Portugal.
Like ancient rituals the appropriation of an Unknown Soldier for the Great War originally arose in France but it was put in motion by Great Britain, with the first ritualised anonymous choice of a soldier killed in battle. He was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey on 11 November 1920, on which date France placed a solider under the Arc de Triomphe. This unmistakably patriotic and funereal cult, representing all those killed in war, combines with the Eternal Flame evoking for survivors their sacrifice, as a living flame that renews itself and blends in a daily gesture shared by compatriots.