FIRST, THE background: On 30 November 1943, following a navigational error and lack of fuel, the US Liberator bomber crashed into the sea south of Faro. Five of the crew of 11 were killed in the crash; six survived. The wreck itself was not discovered until 2007.
The crash occurred close to a five-metre open fishing boat, manned by Jaime Nunes, José Mascarenhas and the latter’s 13-year-old son, Manuel. The three immediately set about rescuing the six remaining crew members, two of whom were badly injured.
It was a moonless night, making conditions poor. Nunes and Mascarenhas provided what help they could to the men they rescued, giving them the limited provisions and clothing that they had on board. Forced to wait for the incoming tide that would allow them to row their heavily-laden craft back to shore, they reached the fishing harbour at 3.15am on 1 December.
Once on land, the airmen were taken to the nearby hospice for medical treatment. Subsequently, they were evacuated to their home base in Morocco. It is both tragic and shocking that the valiant efforts by Jaime Nunes and José Mascarenhas were overlooked by the authorities at the time.
Much later, in July 1999, due to the persistence of a Faro journalist, Carlos Guerreiro, Jaime Nunes was honoured for his actions. He was presented with a plaque at Gambelas University, at an event attended by dignitaries from the United States and Portuguese governments. Sadly, Jose Mascarenhas and his son were no longer alive.
What happened then? Over to Englishman, Michael Pease, a long-time resident of the Algarve. Inspired by the findings of Carlos Guerreiro, Michael took it upon himself to research – painstakingly – Portugal’s role in the War, a mission to which he devoted close to 12 years, as more findings came to light.
The concept of bringing history to life became a mission of passion, one that saw Michael gather information, and approach officialdom with the idea of mounting a memorial that was also a celebration of past actions.
His plan was this: that a monument be erected overlooking the marina in Faro that captured not only the heroism of Jaime Nunes and José and Manuel Mascarenhas, but also that of the many Portuguese fishermen from the mainland and the Atlantic Islands who rescued combatants and non-combatants from the sea during the Second World War.
He envisaged a massive structure in bronze or steel that incorporated water and lighting features, and would become an integral part of Faro’s personality.
He took his vision to the Mayor of Faro, and to the directors of regional tourism and culture, in a bid to gain approval for his ambitious scheme, and what had become Michael’s dream started moving towards reality.
Nine years ago, he approached Toin Adams (toinadams.com) known for her big, brave works. “We went through many design concepts,” she says. “We struggled with different budgets, we reworked ideas and reworked them again. We met with councillors and presidents, all of whom were very positive and loved the story, but nothing actually happened. Then Michael met Humberto Lopes of Faro Câmara, whose wife is the daughter of José Mascarenhas, and things started moving in the right direction.”
In 2019, having developed and discarded countless creative approaches, Toin, inspired by the Mandela monument in South Africa, came up with a new concept. “I made and presented a model and that was immediately understood – achieving something words alone never would,” she recalls. “At our next meeting with the Camâra, there was an offer of €30,000 to supplement the €10,000 Michael had already raised through private donatorship.”
And so the work began for a massive structure, eight metres long and five metres high, made up of individual sections that come together to tell the story and deliver respect to the past.
“Four months work has been spread over two years,” Toin explains. “Covid happened. There were huge, unavoidable delays. We had problems with the weather, problems within the team, problems with the actual workspace, which is way too small for such a gigantic project, and problems with my equipment and tools dying because the process is so arduous.”
The challenge has been substantial. On the flip side, however, amazing people stepped in to fill the gaps, even non-making members of Imaginary Beings joined in to help. Also, outsiders, from 15-year-olds to seniors of 76; their enthusiasm and desire to be part of this has been overwhelming.
“It is still a work in progress, but soon it will be complete, in situ, and unveiled – hopefully in September. It has been a labour of love for so many people.”
Words: Susi Rogol-Goodkind