Aníbal Milhais

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Aníbal Milhais
Soldier Aníbal MilhaisII.png
Photo of Milhais, after his Order of the Tower and Sword condecoration
Birth name Aníbal Augusto Milhais
Nickname(s) Soldado Milhões (Soldier Millions)
Born (1895-07-09)July 9, 1895
Murça, Portugal
Died June 3, 1970(1970-06-03) (aged 74)
Murça, Portugal
Allegiance Portugal Portugal
Service/branch Portuguese Army
Years of service 1915–1919
Unit 2nd Infantry Division
Portuguese Expeditionary Corps
Battles/wars World War I
Battle of the Lys (1918)
Awards Order of the Tower and Sword
Legion of Honour

Aníbal Augusto Milhais GOTE (nickname "Soldier Millions"; July 9, 1895 – June 3, 1970) 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] 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]

In the war[edit]

Badge, collar and star of the order

Portuguese soldiers volunteered to infiltrate enemy lines and raid trenches, even if the casualties on both sides 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 through the consecutive night raids.[1] The participation of Portugal in World War I took place mostly in Flanders, which is in Belgium. On April 9, 1918.[1][2] The battle is 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] Milhais found himself in the midst of the battle of La Lys, in the field of Isberg, covering the withdrawal of Portuguese and British soldiers.[2] Within a few hours 1,938 men were killed, 5,198 wounded and about 7,000 taken prisoner. Milhais was in charge of one of their Lewis guns on 9 April 1918. During Operation Georgette, when the German Army attacked his division, Milhais stood up with his Lewis machine gun defended against assaults by two German regiments by laying down intense fire, causing many German casualties.[4] He managed to cover the retreat of Portuguese and British 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 and Milhais found himself alone in the rear of the enemy lines where he stayed for three days.[1] On the third day, Milhais, still carrying his Lewis, 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. It was through the officer he had helped reporting the story to the British HQ and several other testimonies that his deeds become known.[1]

A few months later, Milhais again held back a German assault, standing alone with his Lewis gun and 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 distinction of the Portuguese: the Order of the Tower and Sword and with the French Légion d'Honneur, delivered on the battlefield before 15,000 allied soldiers.[1] The bravery of Milhais in the battle of La Lys earned him the 4th Class of the Order of Tower and Sword of Valour, Loyalty and Merit, the highest Portuguese decoration. The degree of "Knight of the Order of Military Tower and Sword" had been created by Afonso V, later annulled, but restored by King John VI, to reward "Valour, Loyalty and Merit".[2]

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.[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 faced difficulties in 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 named the town of Valongo, officially Valongo of Milhais. Now the rather shy Milhais was living 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 Brazil by need, the community gathered funds to send him back to Portugal with enough money to provide for his family.[1] The Portuguese thought it a national indignity and were angry that the military had forced such a degrading life on Milhais.[5]

On August 5, 1928, he returned to Portugal and back to agriculture, to restart his life. He started to receive a small pension from the State, on the Order of the Tower and Sword.[5] Even so, it was enough to live 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]

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 1 January 2009. Retrieved January 25, 2009. 
  2. ^ a b c “The Soldado Million – A Hero For Torre and Sword”
  3. ^ Rodrigues, Hugo “France at War – Portugal in the Great War”
  4. ^ Azevedo, Janet (2014), A Promise In Portugal 
  5. ^ a b c d e f “Miles, Anibal Augusto”

Further reading[edit]