MEMORIAL TO THE FALLEN IN THE GREAT WAR
Monuments: Evocative Landmarks
The Monuments Commission of the Great War (CPGG) (3 December 1921 to 10 November 1936) embodied the phenomena of greatest success of the Republican Government’s intention to hallow the memory of Portugal’s participation in the First World War. A campaign to honour the war effort through intense patriotic propaganda by conceiving a number of ceremonies on the main dates of the war and also perpetuating the commemorative effort through the design of monuments.
On 3 December 1921 a number of former combatants met for the first time in the Main Hall of the Military School under the presidency of General Gomes da Costa. This gave rise to the “Monuments Commission of the Great War, which for 15 years would work to pursue its patriotic objective, consisting in the construction of monuments which we call Memorials of the Great War.” (Report, 1936, p.17)
The activity of the CPGG mainly takes place in three phases: the first was mainly devoted to propaganda so that it could collect the funds needed to design the monuments. The second stage of the work concerned the design and construction of the Portuguese Monument in La Couture, until 1928, when it was handed over to the French local authority. The last, until 1936, was marked by the work on the remaining monuments – Luanda, Lourenço Marques, Santa Maria and Ponta Delgada.
Under the great banner of the perpetuation of the participation in the First World War, its action led to the most grandiose monumental productions in memory of the war dead. It is above all an exercise in conveying the values of the triumphant nation. For the first time, even before the national monument to the dead was inaugurated in Lisbon, the allied victory was mentioned in Portugal.
The first sponsorship of the Commission was for the Sete Padrões, or Seven Monuments, an initiative of the Touring Club de France, erected from Switzerland to the North Sea – the boundary of the former French sector. They are all along the same model and were designed by the sculptor and former combatant Moureau-Vauthier, and each has a letter corresponding to the name of Portugal. They were inaugurated by the delegates of the Monuments Commission of the Great War, General Roberto Baptista and Admiral Afonso de Cerqueira, on 9 April 1923.
1928 saw the consecration of the first phase of the Commission’s work when the Portugal Monument of La Couture by Teixeira Lopes was delivered on Armistice Day. Although it has some religious/funerary content the fact is that this is an extremely literary work, ranging between its civic and clearly patriotic and victorious nature, visible in the structures of Luanda or Lourenço Marques, finished at a later date.
The works of Luanda and Lourenço Marques are clearly the most explicit celebration in a context of the rare executions, at this level, of the Portuguese victory in the First World War. Lourenço Marques, one of the better exemplars by Rui Roque Gameiro, shows a Nation greatly fortified by a military victory, announced by the serpent expressing the mastery of the navigators, and by a shield and a sword, symbols of strength, displayed in all her strength, with jutting breasts and a distant look. Similarly, Henrique Moreira’s monument for Luanda, 17 metres high, included a majestic granite pedestal, symbolising the votive altar of the Nation, on which a marble group representing European, Colonial, African soldiers and one sailor surrounded a triumphant and extremely energetic Victory with the movement of flowing garments, hair and wings.
The Portuguese navy’s efforts were not forgotten, hence the consistent idea to raise a monument in Ponta Delgada to immortalise the Atlantic operations of Commander Carvalho de Araújo. A contract was only signed in 1935 with the architect Raul Lino and the sculptor Diogo Macedo for the Ponta Delgada monument.
The idea of the memorial in Santa Maria came from the local inhabitants as a way to honour the crew of Augusto Castilho. However, due to lack of money, it was made in Lisbon by Raul Lino and delivered to the Grémio dos Açores (Azores Guild) on 14 October 1929, on the eleventh anniversary of the battle of the Augusto Castilho.
During the course of the central works for the erection of these monuments, the association, as set out in its activities report, sought to “exalt the effort of Portugal’s military intervention, being concerned in accordance with our moral objectives to promote and carry out such acts as were suitable for the civic education of the people: the cult of the those Killed in Action, the cult of the Votive Oil and the cult of the Unknown Soldier.” (Report, 1936, p. 20)
After 1921, once the Unknown Soldiers had been honoured, the commemorative effort was headed by the CPGG, still under the supervision of the Ministry of War, with the introduction of new rituals and symbols, in an attempt to organise and regularly celebrate ‘9 April’ and ‘11 November’ notwithstanding political inconstancy. In fact, in time the commission would accomplish the idea of a Portuguese and Allied victory. The fact is that the institution was clearly autonomous from central power, and was actively persistent in view of the irregularities of national political life. This was a group made up of army and navy officers, civilians and former World War combatants and endowed with legal personality so that it could sign the necessary contracts to pursue its aims.
This Commission carried out work estimated at 2000 contos; erected seven monuments in the former Portuguese sector in Flanders and others in Luanda, Lourenço Marques, Ponta Delgada and Santa Maria; it promoted the commemorations of 9 April and 11 November; it organised and ran the Museum of Offerings to the Unknown Soldier; it launched the civic cult of the Votive Oil; it backed the Patriotic Junta of the North by encouraging the construction of municipal monuments and the monument to Carvalho Araújo in Vila Real; and it transferred the mortal remains of the first soldier killed in Flanders from Richebourg l’Avoué Cemetery to Barquinha. There was no lack of funds or logistical means, “through intense patriotic propaganda, in solemn sessions, conferences and festivals”, with the support of the Portuguese communities abroad, above all the Brazilian, and the mandatory affixation of the seal of the Monuments of the Great War.
Relatório Geral da Comissão dos Padrões da grande guerra (1921 a 1936). Lisbon: [Tipografia da Liga dos Combatentes da Grande Guerra], 1936.
Text published in and adapted from Dicionário de História da I República e Republicanismo (Dictionary of the History of the First Republic and Republicanism).