I was enchanted by the walled town of Elvas in Portugal. Near the Spanish border this is a lovely town with complex walls, a castle, a handsome square and the beautiful Chapel of Igreja das Domínicas. Exploring the narrow streets we came across the British Cemetery on the edge of the city occupying one of the seven bastions in the fortifications. This is one of the oldest British military cemeteries and has five known graves, two died at the Battle of Albuera (1811) and one at a siege of nearby Badajoz; thousands of British soldiers died in both these battles.
Elvas held a key position in the Peninsular War (1808 – 1814) facing Badajoz in Spain and the cemetery was opened in 1811 for the body of Major General Daniel Hoghton, who died at Battle of Albuera. Today Elvas is a fascinating city that is deservedly a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its extensive fortifications.
The British Cemetery (the Portuguese call it the Cemitério dos Ingleses) fell in to disrepair until 1997 when the small British expat community, with help from the Portuguese army, renovated the neglected cemetery and took over responsibility for its ongoing maintenance. Today it is a peaceful and attractive spot with views over the plain towards Badajoz.
I don’t often include memorial benches from other countries for the simple reason I rarely find them in other European countries. In this British Cemetery the custom of memorial benches has been exported and I discovered this moving tribute to Victor Hunter Reynolds.
I was lucky to come across this full and interesting account of Victor Hunter Reynold’s life translated from an article written by Alberto Franco in 2004. Victor Hunter Reynolds was born in Lisbon in 1901, his father from Anglo-Portuguese wine and cork merchants and his mother from a Portuguese banking family. The family moved back to England for a short time, returning to Portugal in 1917. Victor went to work for an uncle on his estates and learnt to speak Portuguese and when his uncle died he took over the management of the Quinta do Carmo near Estremoz (still a wine producing quinta).
In 1936 Victor Hunter Reynolds was very much affected by the bombing of nearby Badajoz and as, ‘the frontier was only a short distance from his estates, and as an Anglo-Portuguese, Victor could not ignore the thousands of Spanish refugees who crossed the frontier in search of safety. In common with many Portuguese, Reynolds lent a hand to the Republican refugees escaping Franco’s troops, hiding them temporarily on his estates.’ When the Second World War began Victor Hunter Reynolds volunteered to fight in the British army but instead was asked to stay in Portugal as a useful secret agent. Many refugees from different countries, fleeing prisoners of war, RAF pilots who had been shot down and other agents passed through the Quinta do Carmo on their way to Lisbon and Britain.
Alberto Franco goes on to describe a caring and generous landowner who understood the hard conditions his workers endured and goes on to say, ‘his reputation as a good man and a just employer turned to his advantage during the Agrarian Reform. His properties were not occupied, although he had certain difficulties, as might be expected.’ I felt privileged to have been able to learn a little more about the people of this lovely part of Portugal thanks to this memorial bench.