The War Memorial in the Praça da Liberdade in the centre of Tavira stands mutely posing a question. It shows that, like Great Britain, Portugal was at war from 1914 to 1918. But war was declared between Portugal and Germany only on 9th March 1916. The question to be answered is, why does Portugal claim to have been at war in the years 1914 -1916?
The answer lies not in Europe but in the African colonies. Since before the outbreak of hostilities, Britain and Germany had been negotiating about the splitting of Portuguese colonies between themselves. Germany was to receive Angola, and had already formed the Angola Bund, which was the German organization which promoted the take-over. Britain had its eyes on Mozambique, the southern part of which was already a seaside holiday resort for South Africans in Pretoria and Johannesburg, as well as settlers in Sother Rhodesia.
Right from the beginning of Britain´s war, Germany had attacked Portuguese possessions in Angola. In the light of possible attacks on Angola´s southern border, Portuguese reinforcements landed at Moçamedes at the beginning of October 1914. In the interior there were clashes at the forts of Naulila and Cuangar in late October 1914. A further clash at Naulila in December 1914 saw the Portuguese forced to withdraw, leaving the German troops in possession of the fort. It was not until mid July 1915 that the German forces surrendered, and Portuguese troops under the command of General Pereira d´Eça reoccupied the Humbe region, including the abandoned forts. The lack of success attendant on Portuguese military efforts was the major cause in the fall in prestige of Portugal´s armed forces among the indigenous inhabitants of Angola.
In early September 1914, South African forces had occupied Lüderitz in German South West Africa on behalf of the Allies and after the Boer Rebellion they occupied the whole of German South West Africa by July 1915. This territory remained under the control of South Africa until Namibian independence in 1988.
In November 1915, Portuguese troops arrived in Moçambique with the objective of recapturing the Quionga triangle from German East Africa (today´s Tanzania). This tiny territory of 1000km2 south of the Rovuma River had been occupied by Germany in 1894. At the post war conference, the Quionga Triangle was returned to Portugal.
But before the end of the war, Moçambique suffered a major invasion by a German column commanded by von Lettow-Vorbeck and pursued by a major force of British and Empire troops. The story of the devastation of East Africa, caused by the Europeans during the First World War, is little known and disgraceful. There is no recorded count of the number of Africans who died in this conflict, in which they can have had no interest, but estimates range from 100 000 upwards.
The War Memorial itself was begun in 1932, and the foundation stone was laid by the President of the Republic, General Óscar Carmona. The completed Memorial was inaugurated a year later in 1933. The memorial itself bears no names of the casulaties from the town, but the memorial stones in the Atalaia Barracks show the names of the men from the Regiment based in Tavira who died in France, Angola and Mozambique.