Rendez-vous at Portuguese National Cemetery - Richebourg
Close to the Neuve-Chapelle Indian Memorial stands a white walled cemetery with an imposing entrance: on one side of the thick wrought-iron gate stands the chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima; on the other, the Portuguese National Cemetery of Richebourg which is the final resting place of 1,831 soldiers and the only place of remembrance to honour the Portuguese soldiers of the Great War.
Abandoning neutrality in 1906, the young Portuguese Republic entered the war on the side of the Allies. The Portuguese Expeditionary Corps comprised up to 56,500 men and, under the command of the British Army, was assigned to the front in Flanders between the villages of Laventie and Festubert. The Portuguese Command took up quarters in Peylouse Manor in Saint-Venant.
Not only did the lusophone soldiers discover the damp and muddy reality of the trenches in Lys Valley, transport problems caused by a lack of available shipping from Portugal to the shores of France meant that officers were in short supply.
On 9th April 1918 the German Army launched Operation Georgette in the Lys Valley, in the hope of a decisive victory before the arrival of American reinforcements. In three successive waves, ten divisions overwhelmed the two Portuguese divisions which were incomplete, badly-organized and surprised in the process of being relieved. Portuguese losses amounted to 7,500 men on that day, and yet the next day, shoulder to shoulder with the Scottish, the survivors defended La Couture before eventually being forced to retreat. The Germans took Estaires, Armentières and Bailleul but failed to take Béthune and Hazebrouck. Operation Georgette was called off on 29th April.
In honour of the soldiers who defended the village of La Couture, the French and Portuguese governments inaugurated a monument there in 1928. The startling frieze shows the ruins of a Gothic church and an allegory of the Portuguese Republic coming to the aid of one of its soldiers.