Aníbal Milhais

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Aníbal Milhais
Soldier Aníbal MilhaisII.png
Photo of Milhais, after his Order of the Tower and Sword decoration
Birth nameAníbal Augusto Milhais
Nickname(s)Soldado Milhões (Soldier Millions)
Born(1895-07-09)July 9, 1895
Murça, Portugal
DiedJune 3, 1970(1970-06-03) (aged 74)
Murça, Portugal
AllegiancePortugal Portugal
Service/branchPortuguese Army
Years of service1915–1919
Unit2nd Infantry Division
Portuguese Expeditionary Corps
Battles/warsWorld War I
Battle of the Lys (1918)
AwardsOrder of the Tower and Sword
Legion of Honour

Aníbal Augusto Milhais GOTE (July 9, 1895 – June 3, 1970), nicknamed "Soldier Millions", was the most decorated Portuguese soldier of World War I and the only Portuguese soldier awarded the highest national honour, the Military Order of the Tower and of the Sword, of Valour, Loyalty and Merit on the battlefield instead of the usual public ceremony in Lisbon.[1]

Origin[edit]

Milhais was a farmer, born on July 9, 1895, in the small village of Valongo de Milhais, a parish of Murça, in north of Portugal.[1]

In the war[edit]

Badge, collar and star of the order

On July 30, 1915, he was drafted into the Infantry of Bragança. In 1917, he was mobilized to join the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps. He arrived in France in the same year, 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.[1]

The participation of Portugal in World War I took place mostly in Flanders, Belgium. Portuguese soldiers volunteered to infiltrate enemy lines and raid trenches, even though the casualties on both sides for raids were extremely high.[1] Three German divisions had been rotated in the sector facing the 2nd Division in the last nine months before April 1918. The division saw no major battles, but suffered many casualties and extreme fatigue among the front-line soldiers from consecutive night raids.[1] With unfortunate bad timing for the Portuguese, they were to have been rotated out of the line on the same morning that the Germans attacked.

On April 9, 1918,[1][2] Milhais took part in the battle known in Portugal as "The Battle of La Lys" – the first day of Ludendorff's Lys Offensive, otherwise known as "Operation Georgette", and as the "Battle of Estaires" in official British history.[3] He found himself in the midst of the battle, in the field of Isberg, covering the withdrawal of Portuguese and Scots soldiers.[2] Within a few hours, 1,938 men had been killed, 5,198 wounded and about 7,000 taken prisoner. Milhais was in charge of a Lewis gun on April 9, 1918. During Operation Georgette, when the German Army attacked his division, Milhais laid down intensive fire against assaults by two German regiments, causing many German casualties.[4] He managed to cover the retreat of Portuguese and Scots alike, despite coming under heavy attack himself.[1] He fired in all directions and stayed at his post until he ran out of ammunition. Finally, the Germans decided to go around his position, and Milhais found himself alone in the rear of the enemy lines for three days.[1] On the third day, Milhais, still carrying his Lewis gun, rescued a Scottish major from a swamp, and the two reached Allied lines. Milhais was warmly welcomed, but being a modest man he did not say anything about his experiences. However, the officer he had helped reported his actions to the British headquarters and several other testimonies also made his deeds known.[1]

A few months later, Milhais 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 present in the scene and the Belgian commander included his action in their reports.[1] Milhais was awarded the highest Portuguese distinction - the Order of the Tower and Sword - and the French Légion d'Honneur, delivered on the battlefield before 15,000 Allied soldiers.[1]

On July 15, 1918, the Order of Service of the Battalion published a commendation, given by Major Ferreira do Amaral, which described his action as having been worth a million men, hence the nickname by which he became known: "Soldier Millions".[5]

After the war[edit]

Milhais in his hometown, shortly before his death

On February 2, 1919, he returned to his homeland and married Teresa de Jesus and had nine children with her.[5] Unfortunately, after the war ended, the Portuguese economy was near bankruptcy, and Milhais had difficulty providing for his family. The Portuguese government promised to help, but instead of an allowance, named the village where he was born after him.[1] On July 8, 1924, the Parliament renamed the town of Valongo the Valongo de Milhais. The rather shy Milhais lived in the village of Valongo of Milhais, more famous than ever, but as poor as before.[1] He received many decorations and much public praise, but the highly decorated soldier still could not provide for his family.

In 1928, he emigrated to Brazil in an attempt to improve his financial standing. The Portuguese community in Brazil received him as a hero. When the Portuguese living there realized that Milhais was in need, the community gathered funds to send him back to Portugal with enough money to provide for his family.[1] The Portuguese public thought it a national indignity and were angry that the military had done little for Milhais.[5]

On August 5, 1928, he returned to Portugal and to agriculture. He received a small pension,[5] enough to live on as a national hero.

He died on June 3, 1970, in the village named after him.[5]

Legacy[edit]

  • A permanent exhibition remembering his achievements can be seen in the Military Museum in the city of Porto.[1] Furthermore, a statue in his honor was erected in his hometown as a national tribute and as a symbol for Portugal.[5]
  • The 2018 movie Soldado Milhões ("Soldier Millions") was based on the biography of Aníbal Augusto Milhais.[6]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Cabeçadas, Nuno (November 19, 2008). "Corpo Expedicionario Portugues – Anibal Milhais". HaT Industrie. Archived from the original on January 1, 2009. Retrieved January 25, 2009.
  2. ^ a b “The Soldado Million – A Hero For Torre and Sword”
  3. ^ Rodrigues, Hugo “France at War – Portugal in the Great War” Archived June 3, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ Azevedo, Janet (2014), A Promise In Portugal
  5. ^ a b c d e f “Miles, Anibal Augusto”
  6. ^ Soldado Milhões IMDB

Further reading[edit]