Clive Gilbert MBEChairman of the British Historical Society of Portugal
On 10th of February 2017, HRH the Prince of Wales, on behalf of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, awarded Clive Gilbert an MBE in recognition of his voluntary work in promoting historical and cultural relations between the United Kingdom and Portugal.
Preserving a uniquely successful line of defence
One reason for the honour was the work Clive has undertaken over many years in bringing about the preservation of some of the 152 forts, redoubts and military roads that form the Lines of Torres Vedras, a defensive line built between 1809 and 1810 by the British and Portuguese armies on the instruction of Arthur Wellesley, Marquis of Wellington and future first Duke of Wellington (1814). Its aim was to prevent Napoleon’s army under Marshal Massena from reaching Lisbon during the Peninsular War (1807-1814). Clive’s interest partly stemmed from family tradition that holds that his ancestor, Thomas Custance, had travelled to Portugal to look after his cousin, wounded at the Battle of Vimeiro in 1808 whilst fighting the French army.
Advanced state of decay threaten to destroy historic forts
Clive had been interested in the Lines since the 1990’s, and was aware of their advanced state of decay and that the Portuguese Ministry of Culture had refused to fund the local councils’ plans for their protection and restoration. When the British Historical Society appointed him as its representative for the commemorations of the 200th anniversary of the Peninsular War, he realised that this was an ideal opportunity to persuade all concerned of the importance of rescuing the Lines.
Forces gather to save the Lines
Clive helped bring together representatives of local councils, the Portuguese military, and the British Historical Society of Portugal. Under the umbrella of the Directorate-General of Buildings and Monuments they set up a working group to garner funds and decide on a plan of restoration. A full 65% of funding came from the councils themselves, with the crucial remainder from the European Economic Area Financial Grants Mechanism.
Clive also realised that the Lines needed greater exposure to attract tourism and hence economic benefits to the area The wider community also needed to be informed of the historic significance of the Lines. This defensive system of interlocking forts connected by the naval semaphore system enjoyed considerably more military success and at a much lower cost than the Maginot and Siegfried Lines, Hadrian’s Wall, and the Great Wall of China, none of which proved successful. This enabled the two allies, Britain and Portugal, to thwart what was then the strongest army in Europe.
In order to raise the profile of the efforts of local councils to promote the Lines, Clive invited the present Duke of Wellington to visit the Lines, riding where his ancestor had once ridden. A descendent of French Marshal André Massena also visited them, as well as representatives of the British and Portuguese armies, the Assembly of the Republic and both Houses of Parliament.
The Lines of Torres Vedras stand as a unique military masterpiece as well as an expression of some of the finer aspects of the Anglo Portuguese alliance. An achievement that had been almost forgotten was saved.
Apart from the museum at Torres Vedras, each municipality possesses a Visitor’s Centre, and many of the forts have been restored or secured. Additionally, the Lines are in the process of being classified as a Portuguese national monument.
Clive spreads the word
Clive has given talks, in both English and Portuguese, in the UK, Portugal and the USA. He has provided local expertise to the BBC for their documentary “Wellington – the Iron Duke” and assisted in translation of books, pamphlets and museum exhibition labels.
Further participation in the British community
Clive has also contributed to the British community in Portugal in many different ways: he has been Chairman of the British Historical Society of Portugal since 2011; he was Vice-Chairman since 2000. He was Governor of St Julian’s School near Lisbon, for fifteen years, was on the committee of the Cheshire Homes for the Disabled in Portugal and on the Council of the British-Portuguese Chamber of Commerce.