MEMORIAL TO THE FALLEN IN THE GREAT WAR

The Daily life of troops in campaign

 

 

Describing the daily life of the Portuguese troops on campaign during the Great War raises several issues of a historical nature, for they acted on three theatres of war, each one with different geographical and tactical characteristics. In southern Angola military operations took place before war had been declared on Portugal and continued after the German forces had surrendered to South Africa, for what in fact happened was a pacification process of the rebellious natives, involving a military force which had to be constantly on the alert against attacks by the natives. In north and central Mozambique the Portuguese military forces, sometimes operating in conjunction with the British troops, had to fight German military forces that acted in a manner that was hardly conventional for they conducted a campaign with guerrilla characteristics whilst constantly on the move, sacking whatever they could to survive inside the territory of that Portuguese overseas province. In France, on the other hand, conditions were completely different, for in actual fact the campaign took place with no alterations to the front line and no movement of troops, who lived for nearly a year in the trenches opposite the enemy.

In France
In the European theatre of war it was the duty of the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps (PEC) to defend a small sector about twelve kilometres long between Armentières and Béthune in French Flanders, almost opposite the city of Lille. On the terrain, the army corps, consisting of two divisions, was placed both in depth and extension. There were thus two brigades on the front, four battalions along lines A and B, with the remaining four battalions providing support for line C. Of the two remaining brigades one provided support for the entire sector and the other was in reserve. All the defence was centred on the eight battalions spread along lines A, B and C, with the greatest effort being required in the first two.
Life in trenches A and B alternated between keeping watch over the trench parapet and life in the shelters. Only in situations of alert did all the soldiers occupy defensive positions. Between trench and shelter the men ate, slept and carried out all types of activities. Food was brought from the rear in huge cauldrons which reached the lines and the shelters via the communication trenches. Basic necessities were carried out in properly prepared septic tanks. Medical treatment and doctors’ consultations took place at the first aid posts between lines B and C. At dawn and dusk, at fixed times, the soldiers of the battalions occupied their positions and the respective commandants inspected the ranks to check whether they had enough ammunition and knew the necessary orders.
The support and reserve battalions of the sector spent the night in improvised shelters, farmyard barns or ruined buildings. During the day they cleaned their weapons, received military training and cared for their personal hygiene. However, at night, the support battalions were used to go to the front to repair and strengthen the barbed wire defences and repair shelters, walkways and parapets. This was hard work for the men lacked any protection from the trenches.
The battalions of the support and reserve brigades spent their time during the day listening to theoretical instruction and resting from their efforts on the front line. This was the situation that was most to the liking of the troops for it entailed little or no risk. Life consisted of eating, training and practising some type of sport or playing group games. This was the time to write home and read letters, enjoy the hot food which was served on time, shave, have a haircut, take a bath, change clothes and look after weapons and uniform.
After 9 April 1918 the remainder of the national troops, especially the infantry, were used on engineering works by order of the British High Command. They opened roads, repaired tracks and built fortifications. Their daily life changed drastically. They now lived under canvas, in zones that were further removed from the front line and they were engaged in what could hardly be considered a noble occupation. The turnaround only occurred in September 1918 when four battalions were organised and ordered to advance to the front lines.

In Africa
The daily life of the troops in the African theatre of war varied in particular depending on whether they were on the march or stationary, whether quartered in actual buildings or under canvas. In all circumstances the troops were always victims of bites from mosquitoes, one of the greatest causes of the casualties due to malaria.
The fiercest enemy in Africa after the malaria mosquito was the distance between the various forces’ disembarkation and mustering points and the zones where they were deployed. So, both in Angola and in Mozambique, stages were established, that is intermediate camps for the supply and rest of the columns on the march to the areas of strategic engagement. In Angola, command was established on a plateau area to conduct operations against the rebel natives, compelling the creation of intermediary stations between the port of Moçâmedes, the headquarters in Huambo and the various incursion areas. In Mozambique the command post set up near the mustering and disembarkation area, the entire north and centre of the territory having to be supplied, where possible reaching the Indian Ocean, Lake Nyasa and Quelimane. Only by understanding these vast distances can we understand how different life was in the various military camps.
Hygiene and food conditions were always difficult but they were always worse in Africa than in France. Improvisation reigned in African operations, so that in their daily life the troops were almost always subject to major food restrictions, severe lack of drinking water and total lack of any type of primary hygiene. Thirst was also one of the major torments of the soldiers, especially when on the move. They often drank water from puddles, using their handkerchief, even if filthy, as a filter. Medication was always in short supply and often inadequate to treat the various types of tropical diseases, so that soldiers’ health was precarious, as proven by the high number of deaths in Mozambique – men who often never actually engaged in military operations. The uniforms were not suited to the climate and caused the greatest possible discomfort. The long marches the troops had to undergo were done in difficult conditions, on foot, equipped to go into combat, poorly shod and suffering the hardships of the heat and the climate. Letters to and from their distant families were few and far between.
Given the discomfort of the campaign, this day-to-day life caused a direct drop in the morale of the troops engaged in the worst combat missions. It was left to the efforts of the officers, who were thus often able to prevent the total collapse of the soldiers’ bellicose capacity.

Bibliography:
Eça, General Pereira d’ — Campanha do Sul de Angola em 1915: Relatório. Lisbon: Imprensa Nacional, 1923;
Fraga, Luís Alves de — Actividades nas Linhas – Quotidianos. In Afonso, Aniceto; Gomes, Carlos de Matos (Coord.) — Portugal e a Grande Guerra: 1914.1918. Vila do Conde: Verso da História, 2013, p. 352-355;
Martins, General Ferreira — Portugal e a Grande Guerra. 2nd vol. Lisbon: Ática, 1935.

Luís Alves de Fraga

 ‭(Oculto)‬ The Last Portuguese Soldier to be Shot

 

As we celebrate the centenary of the Great War, we pay a heartfelt homage to the memory of all the brave Portuguese who fought on the battlefields of Africa and Europe in an attempt to defend their homeland and preserve freedom, thus honoring the blood they shed on the battlefront.  Portugal participated in the Great War fighting on three fronts and maintaining operations at sea with about 100.000 men.  The 7.492 men who fell for their homeland will always be present in our memory, since they represented a tremendous sacrifice for the nation.
Hidden in the shadow of glory and military pride, there was a sad event that in no way dignified the Portuguese nation. We refer to the tragic shooting of the soldier João Augusto Ferreira de Almeida. In fact, he was convicted and executed for treason and was the last Portuguese to be sentenced to death (archival reference: PT/AHM/DIV/1/35/0439/01).
The death penalty in Portugal
When analysing the history of the death penalty in Portugal, we conclude that the Portuguese nation was the first European sovereign country to abolish this capital punishment under the Additional Act to the Constitutional Charter of July 5, 1852, which abolished the death penalty for political crimes.
The Criminal Code of 1852 maintained, however, the death penalty for common crimes until the publication of the Law of July 1, 1867, which definitively abolished the death penalty, replacing it with the cases previously punishable by capital punishment, "Article 3 - For crimes to which the death penalty applies by the criminal code, the perpetual sentence will be applied”. This law establishes the end of this type of condemnation and was ordered to apply to the whole colonial empire by Decree of June 9, 1870, thus determining the end of the death penalty in civil crimes in all overseas provinces: "It was assigned to His Majesty [King D. Luis] the glory and privilege of signing the law that extinguished slavery in all Portuguese possessions. His Majesty will also have the glory of having abolished the death penalty not only on the continent and adjacent islands, but also in all the overseas possessions that belong to the kingdom of Portugal."
Since the death penalty was abolished for political crimes in 1852, it would remain for common crimes in 1867 in the Code of Military Justice until 1911.
The first Constitution of the Republic dated 1911 definitively establishes the abolition of the death penalty for all crimes, including those of a military nature, determining by decree that under no circumstances could the death penalty be reestablished.
However, on August 4, 1914, the Great War broke out, in which Portugal officially participated from March 9, 1916 after the declaration of German War. On that date, the death penalty was exceptionally reinstated under Law 635 of September 28, 1916 and the following article was inserted in the Constitution of the Republic: "Article 59a " - The death penalty and perpetual or unlimited life sentences may not be reinstated in any case, nor even when a state of siege is declared with total or partial suspension of the constitutional guarantees. Exception is made for the death penalty only in the case of war with a foreign country, as long as the application of this penalty is indispensable and only in the theater of war”.
Soldier João de Almeida
João Augusto Ferreira de Almeida was born in Alto de Vila-Foz do Douro and lived in Lordelo do Ouro, Bairro Ocidental, Porto.  A bachelor, he was the son of João Ferreira de Almeida and Angelina Augusta de Almeida. Born on April 3, 1894, 23 years before the tragic events, he worked as a chauffeur for Adolfo Holfe, a German settled in Oporto, to whom he was greatly attached. In 1917, the year of his incorporation in the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps (CEP), he received the number 502 and was placed in the Automobile Section of water transportation.  He embarked for France in the port of Lisbon on March 16, 1917 and landed in Brest, Brittany, on the 21st of the same month.  On July 22, 1917, he was punished with 60 days of correctional detention for having been absent for 24 hours with the vehicle in charge of transporting water to the CEP troops.  The execution of the sentence had to be carried out in one of the military units that occupied the front line, so he was transferred to the 1st Company of the Regiment of Infantry 23.  As soon as he showed up at the front, he said he would not serve that sentence.  A week later, his fate would begin to be traced. On July 30, António Rei, a soldier from Infantry Battalion 23, was summoned by Captain Mouzinho de Albuquerque, to whom he informed that João de Almeida was trying to figure out the best way to reach the German lines.  An inquiry was immediately opened for the purpose of ascertaining the truth of the facts.

Prosecution and Trial
The investigation process was initiated and instructed, having finished on August 8, 1917. It was recorded that the soldier João de Almeida had committed several crimes. Considering the seriousness of the situation, the case was dispatched by the CEP commander himself, General Fernando Tamagnini de Abreu e Silva.
It was found that "on July 29 last, the said soldier was in the first line occupied by the Infantry Battalion 23 and tried to pass to the enemy, for which he asked several soldiers which way to go, having even offered money to another soldier of Infantry Battalion 24 to show him the same way”.
"That he was the bearer of two itinerary letters, one from Calais and the other from Hazebrouck, the places occupied by the Portuguese troops, which he intended to indicate to the enemy”.
As evidence, the goods he carried with him when he was searched were identified, since he had raised too many suspicions in an ostensive manner: a pistol, a bullet carrier, a razor, a mechanical key, a small map of the Pas-de-Calais area and two topographical (itinerary) maps of the region at the scale of 1: 1000. These latter raised the suspicion that João de Almeida intended to pass information to the Germans on Portuguese military positions, shortly after his desertion to the enemy side.
Soldier João de Almeida was eventually imprisoned after all the witnesses had been heard and observed the opinion of the auditor judge, Joaquim de Aguiar Pimenta Carreira, substantiated in all the matter ascertained and demonstrated in the investigation report.
Supported by all the information made available to him for decision-making, General Tamagnini de Abreu e Silva, commander of the CEP, was peremptory in his decision, ordering that the soldier João de Almeida be present before the Court of War, with the HQ of the CEP, in order to be made therein the respective application of the Law.
According to one of the witnesses, João de Almeida stated that he had been employed at a German's house and that "he had never met a person who treated him so well". That is why, he said, perhaps this German was a military officer and that as soon as he arrived at the enemy lines "he would ask for him and he would employ João de Almeida at the headquarters or at any service."
In order to judge this crime, the court gave a verdict that resulted in the death sentence for the execution of the soldier Ferreira de Almeida, with removal from post.
On September 16, in Picantin, next to Laventie, at 07:45 hours,  the Soldado João Augusto Ferreira de Almeida was shot. Infantry Regiment No. 14 was commissioned to appoint a platoon of execution according to the instructions from the Headquarters (HQ) of the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps, as this was the unit to which the soldier had belonged.
Soldier João Augusto Ferreira de Almeida was buried in the Cemetery of Lavantie, near Lille, at gravesite n. 18, and was later exhumed and transferred to the Portuguese cemetery of Richebourg l'Avoué -Talhão B, in row 6 and grave n. 19.
Moral Rehabilitation
On September 14, 2017, the Council of Ministers approved a resolution that "proposes to the President of the Republic the adoption of a gracious act of moral rehabilitation" of the soldier João Ferreira de Almeida. According to the communiqué of the Council of Ministers, "it is acceptable an act of reconciliation that allows to rehabilitate the last one sentenced to death", "authorizing the reintegration of the name of the soldier João Ferreira de Almeida among those whose memory is remembered in the World War I centennial ceremonies ".
While declaring that his moral rehabilitation "corresponds to an aspiration of the League of Combatants", the Council of Ministers stresses that it is neither about "the re-examination of the facts or the grounds of the conviction, nor the basis of compensation or pardon, but merely the practice of a symbolic and humanitarian act, that is the rehabilitation of his memory. "

Joaquim José da Cunha Roberto

Bibliography
Roberto, Joaquim da Cunha, 2018, “O Último Fuzilado”, CAP. VII, pp. 333-345, in “Batalha do Lys, Combatentes Portugueses”;
Afonso, Aniceto e Guerreiro, Marília, 1981, “Um soldado português fuzilado na Flandres”, in revista CLIO, III Vol., pp. 193-199;
Aguilar, Manuel Busquets de, 1945, “Um português fuzilado em 1917”, in Boletim do Arquivo Histórico Militar, 15º Vol., pp. 165-173;
Boletim Individual do CEP (archival reference: PT/AHM/DIV/1/35A/2/58/54150);
Processo 0439 do CEP (archival reference:  PT/AHM/DIV/1/35/0439/01);
Processo 0445 do CEP (archival reference:  PT/AHM/DIV/1/35/0445/12).



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