Clive Gilbert graduated in Ceramics in the United Kingdom and worked at Fábrica da Loiça de Sacavém, becoming its administrator in 1970. Specialist in Military History and lecturer, he wrote several articles on the Lines of Torres Vedras and the Peninsular War. He was president of the British Historical Society of Portugal and a guide in the BBC production “The Iron Duke”. He was awarded, in 2017, with the distinction “Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire”.
We spoke with Clive Gilbert about the role of the Lines of Torres Vedras in the historical and cultural relationship between the United Kingdom and Portugal.
How does a ceramic specialist become interested in the subject of the Peninsular War and the French Invasions of Portugal?
My early interest in the Peninsular War was initially sparked by the military figurines from various regiments and nationalities of the period being produced at the family ceramic factory where I worked.
To what extent do you consider this historic event and the Defence Lines of Lisbon, built by the British and Portuguese, an element of historical and cultural connection between these two countries?
I consider that the Historic Alliance and shared economic/political interests between Great Britain and Portugal, combined with Wellington’s visionary leadership and the tenacity of the Portuguese troops/local resistance were essential features that contributed to the successful outcome.
The British Historical Society of Portugal has developed consistent work on the Peninsular War in Portugal, becoming a reference on the subject, producing and sharing knowledge through its lecturers and guides, specialists in military history. What was the objective behind its creation?
The British Historical Society of Portugal (BHS) was originally created in 1974 to promote “the study, conservation and publication of documents on the shared history of Portugal and Great Britain and its diffusion, as well as the organisation of lectures, visits and support to cultural-historical institutions, either Portuguese or British”.
You accompanied Robert Bremner in what is still a reference work for the study of the third French Invasion, “As Linhas de Torres Vedras”. What was the contribution of this book?
Robert Bremner, a good friend and expert on the French Invasions further captured my interest by organising guided tours along the Lines of Torres Vedras (LTV) as well as writing extensively on the subject. On his retirement, shortly before leaving for England, he entrusted me with his entire collection, including the book on the Lines (1986), which I then, as a member of the BHS, promoted extensively both in Portugal and abroad.
As a representative of The British Historical Society of Portugal, you were part of the delegation that presented to the European Commission the project for the recovery, enhancement and dissemination of the Lines of Torres Vedras and the Commemorations of the 200th anniversary of the Peninsular War. How did you face this challenge?
The Portuguese Delegation, representing the 25 Municipalities, during the trip to the European Union (Europe Direct, in 2013), of which I was a member, was warmly welcomed by its EU hosts. They listened attentively to the Portuguese needs and briefed us on the European Union work methods as well as giving us on a guided tour of Waterloo – quite an experience.
In 2016, you were made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE), in the Queen Elizabeth II Birthday Honours List, for being considered “a cornerstone in Anglo-Portuguese relations” and for your long work and dedication to promotion of the Lines of Torres Vedras. What keeps you passionate about these Lines?
The MBE Award was naturally a great honour for me and my family. I continue to be fascinated by the Lines due to their unique nature and the rewarding Anglo-Portuguese relations that have developed as a result.
How do you see the heritage of the Lines of Torres Vedras today?
Thanks to all the hard work carried out by all those concerned and especially by the six Municipalities involved with the Lines, the LTV heritage continues to be beautifully preserved as well as an amazing example of restoration and information. In fact, in 2008, PILT (Inter-municipal Cooperation of the Lines of Torres Vedras) was praised by the Polish representative who, during an International Seminar held at Arruda dos Vinhos in 2008, said “in Poland such teamwork would not have been possible”. Currently, PILT no longer exists, but an association was set up for tourism and heritage development of the Lines of Torres Vedras – Historical Route of the Lines of Torres, whose mission is to contribute to the sustained development of the territory of the Lines of Torres Vedras, through the safeguard, conservation and enhancement of the heritage of Lines of Torres Vedras and its promotion as a tourism and cultural product.
You have been vital in the contact and collaboration with the municipalities of the Historical Route of the Lines of Torres Vedras. How do you analyse the work of these municipalities in recent decades?
The last two decades have seen huge progress in the promotion and restoration of these hitherto neglected lines, namely with the creation of several Interpretation Centres, organised tours, film screenings, brochure publications & guides, improvement of the access roads and monument rehabilitation. All this was achieved in partnership between the six municipalities, recently renamed RHLT (The Historical Route of the Lines of Torres Vedras), the plus generous donor contributions from entities such as the European Financial Grants Mechanism (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein).
Do you consider that the community is currently more informed about the significance of the Lines of Torres Vedras for the history of Portugal and Europe?
Yes. Overall, I feel, there is now a much greater public awareness about the Lines than 20 years or so ago, thanks to the team effort of the municipalities, BHS and numerous other entities.
How can the Friends of the Lines of Torres Vedras contribute to encouraging British interest in the Lines of Torres Vedras?
The Friends of the Lines (a British Association) can contribute in various ways: namely with the organisation of guided tours aimed at the public in general and at schools, both Portuguese and International, as well as working with organisations such as the Royal Engineers (military tourism) and local representatives to promote bilateral cooperation.