A Capital goes to war
The First World War marked the first time a Portuguese special envoy was sent to the battlefield. The conflict’s world dimension made it to have repercussions in the press around the world. Allies and adversaries aside, there was a common factor: the censorship.
THE FIRST SPECIAL ENVOY
«Hermano Neves will give us the Portuguese vision of the war; will give movement and life to his facts, making them familiar in all aspects […]. Only that way History is made and the modern journalism is the story of every day».
On August 29th of 1914, A Capital announced the departure of Hermano Neves to France. The Portuguese reporter was the first special envoy to leave to war.
At the time, the news coverage done in Portugal depended, mostly, of the information that arrived through foreign media and international agencies.
A conflict immortalized in the Portuguese journalism history, being the first to have national reporters on the ground. A war whose first developments had arrived to Portugal two months before.
THE WAR STARTS
«The archduke heir of Austria and his wife killed by pistol shots». On June 29th of 1914, the cover of Diário de Notícias, was dominated by the tragic event.
In the previous day, Franz Ferdinand and his wife had been shot in Sarajevo. The crime had made headlines in the press around the world.
The shooter – the Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip – was arrested, but the crime’s consequences were inevitable. The shooting left more profound wounds, as the top title left already to be seen: «The hatred of races».
On July 28th of 1914, the Austro-Hungarian empire, supported by Germany, declared war to Serbia.
Newspapers were reporting the tension climate lived in Europe, culminating with the war declaration of Germany to Russia, on August 1st of 1914, and, two days later, to France. On August 4th, Great Britain joins the conflict.
Europe was at war.
As the conflicts aggravated in the rest of Europe, in Portugal it was debated if the country should or not be involved. On February of 1916, the Portuguese government commands the apprehension of German ships at Lisbon’s harbor.
Germany declares war to Portugal on March 9th of 1916. In 1917, Corpo Expedicionário Português left to the Flanders.
Joshua Benoliel captured, through his lenses, the departure of the national troops.
Ilustração Portuguesa gave great emphasis to the national participation in the conflict, accompanying the Portuguese in the war through images taken by the photographer Arnaldo Garcez.
On the ground was Adelino Mendes, from A Capital, who accompanied the national army.
Also Adriano Sousa Lopes, named by the Government as the «artist-official» of Corpo Expedicionário Português, was in the western front.
Before leaving, he announced the intention of «document artistically» Portugal’s participation in the conflict and explained publicly his goals, in an interview to O Século.
«In the first place, it is a propaganda work of our military effort. I would collaborate with several foreign magazines, which illustrated the life matters of our army».
WAR OF SILENCE
Around here, the war propaganda machine assembled by the minister of War, the General Norton de Matos, was running well.
The introduction of photography allowed to innovate in the art of telling the news, becoming the main communication vehicle of images and contributing for the first steps of Portuguese photojournalism.
Directed by Augusto Pina, the biweekly illustrated magazine Portugal na Guerra documented the military intervention of the Corpo Expedicionário Português.
The other side of war, that escaped the seriousness of the military reports and documents, was visible in the publication João Ninguém: Soldado da Grande Guerra, a humoristic report of the Corpo Expedicionário Português’ ordeals.
But not all information reached the Portuguese.
The military censorship, instituted by the I República (First Republic) in 1916, excluded of the news coverage any data that was strategic or that could shake the troops’ moral.
The Previous Censorship was under the War Ministry, being seen as a temporary exception, once it clearly was anti-constitutional.
The journalists’ indignation regarding the censoring regime became more evident.
«This war is the war of silence», wrote Adelino Mendes, in A Capital, in 1917.
Even on the ground, special envoys were escorted by militaries, who served as guides, interpreters and, mostly, censors.
The humorist and writer André Brun excelled in the double function of soldier-journalist, fighting in the conflict and, simultaneously, writing for Portuguese and Brazilian newspapers.
There were few newspapers that questioned the Portuguese participation in the war.
The news coverage was filled with flattering descriptions, in a patriotic tone, giving highlight to the deeds of «our brave soldiers», even in the case of defeat.
THE MOST TRAGIC OF THE PORTUGUESE BATTLES
Even La Lys, the most tragic battle of all battles for the Portuguese, was marked by the Portuguese press for the pride in the fighters.
This censorial tendency is common to the international coverage.
On July 1st of 1916, 19,000 Englishmen lost their lives in Somme.
Under censorship and without conditions to report from the battlefield, the journalist Philip Gibbs wrote: “We may say it is, on balance, a good day for England and France. It is a day of promise in this war”.
In the previous year, his 40-page coverage of the Loos battle had also been subject to cuts by the blue pencil.
British newspapers published stories about the Germans without reliable sources, contributing to strengthen the nationalist spirit and the support to war.
In 1914, only four days after the entrance of the United Kingdom in the First World War, the Defense of the Realm Act was approved, which instituted the censorship.
WAR BECOMES WORLDWIDE
Besides the news about the Great War, there were published articles about the domestic front.
A coverage that reached the entire world.
Despite the external constraints, signs were given that the way of making journalism was changing.
The journalist Peggy Hull, from El Paso Morning Times, convinced his editor to send it to France.
At the time, the United States War Department didn’t grant accreditation to female journalists, but that didn’t stop Hull of spending a month and a half in an artillery practice field as a war correspondent.
In 1918, Peggy Hull became the first female journalist accredited by the north-American government.
The changes in the news coverage done in the United States reflected the country’s growing interest in the conflict.
The Germanic submarine war policy, which included attacks to north-American ships and crews, led to the cut of official relations with Berlin.
The neutrality declared by the United States in 1914 became unsustainable.
The United States declared war to Germany on April 6th of 1917.
The conflict that had been triggered almost three years before in Europe became, thus, truly, a world war.
With the entrance of the United States in the war, things became difficult for the Germanic army. Germany would surrender o November 11th of 1918. Peace would return to Europe and to the world.
«Long live Portugal! Long live the Portuguese army and navy!», it was read in Diário de Notícias.
More than 90 years after the conflict, RTP broadcasted, in 2009, the documentary «Portuguese in the Trenches», which documents the Portuguese participation in the First War and recalls some of the stories of the soldiers who fought in the North of France.
The documentary starts with a song sung by the soldier João Neves in a German prisoner camp, in 1918. It is believed that this is the first recording of a non-professional Portuguese singer.