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bbcdorset

Spanish Flu

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bbcdorset

Hello - first post from a new member.

One thing that doesn't seem to get mentioned much when reading or talking about the Great War is something that killed almost as many people world wide as the war itself - Spanish Flu.

I'm particularly trying to find out how it affected my home county of Dorset, in comparisson to the more populated areas like the big cities.

And did it start claiming British lives before or after 11th November 1918?

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Bernard_Lewis

Before as far as Swansea was concerned. Summer I think but yet to check sources and write it up.

Bernard

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Guest

The first reference to " Spanish Flu " I can find in Newspapers is 24/6/1918 It was no doubt in evidence as flu? before this. A report in Derby Daily Telegraph a Professor in Rome had noted temperatures of 45 °C 113 °F

Mike

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Moonraker

Hi BBCDorset

Perhaps the best way is to check a couple of Dorset newspapers for the last half of 1918 and the first half of 1919.

(Years ago I looked at local Wiltshire papers for this period and must confess I can't recall very much in them about an influenza epidemic, not that I was overly interested in the civilian population, but probably I would have noted references to it affecting soldiers - if reporting such health problems within a camp was allowed. I do have a couple of references to women in Chippenham, dying from "influenza" in mid-October 1918, and this may have been on the Spanish variety.)

Without going off at too much of a tangent, I wonder when the infection was diagnosed as "Spanish influenza", as distinct from "influenza".

Welcome to the forum, by the way. Do I infer correctly that you're the latest of a stream (well, trickle) of BBC local radio stations to contact us about the centenary?)

Moonraker

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MrSwan

Hello bbcdorset,

The Official Medical History of the War: Casualties and Medical Statistics mentions that in 1918 the general sick rate (in the British Expeditionary Force France & Flanders) was low and that...

"...there was little or no infectious disease until influenza broke out with startling suddenness, first in June and July and again in October, in a world-wide epidemic which no medical service could control, and which laid low both friend and foe alike. The complete figures for the year are not available, but from 18th May to 10th August there were 226,615 admissions, including pyrexia of unknown origin, and from 5th October to 28th December there were 87,323 admissions, including 6,627 cases of broncho-pneumonia, with 5,377 deaths. These totals alone over a period of 24 weeks show a ratio of 157.81 per 1,000 of ration strength, and give some idea of the extent of the epidemic."

Vol III of the Official Medical History recorded that a mild influenza had been prevalent in the First Army during May and June, but by 20th June the Director of Medical Services issued a special instruction that patients should be retained in the Army area (ie Fld Ambs and CCS) and not evacuated to base, with the intention of returning men to duty after a week or ten days. However the next day 3,000 beds were set aside at Etaples for influenza cases. Patients were sent there by special ambulance trains, labelled "First Army PUO [pyrexia of unknown origin] Special, Etaples". This plan foundered because the men sent back brought with them their kit and equipment and the base hospitals had no facilities for storage of these items. The 3,000 beds were filled up in three days. An attack which had been planned by 29th Division against La Becque on 20th June had to be postponed because of the high rate of sickness.

Interestingly, given your original question and skipman's and moonraker's responses, the Army Medical Services do not describe it as "Spanish" flu.

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KevinBattle

The "Spanish" Flu was unusual in that it seemed to strike hardest at the fittest, usually young men such as soldiers.

Influenza normally wreaks more havoc with the weak and young (pensioners and babies etc).

A search of Dorset deaths which affect otherwise healthy young men would probably capture many Spanish Flu deaths, ignoring the old and young.

I think it came to be called Spanish Flu because it was the largest non combatant European Nation freely reporting deaths in its populace.

Most of the combatant Nations either wanted to minimise how affected front line troops were or harboured the suspicion that it was an infection being spread by the other side.

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Moonraker

Some of us are wary of Wikipedia, ut it does say that "to maintain morale ... censors minimized early reports of illness and mortality in Germany, Britain, France, and the United States; but papers were free to report the epidemic's effects in neutral Spain (such as the grave illness of King Alfonso XIII, creating a false impression of Spain as especially hard hit ] thus the pandemic's nickname Spanish flu".

I quote this extract partly because of the implication in my first post that local censorship might have prevented reporting outbreaks in military areas - such as south east Dorset.

I suspect that BBCDorset is well able to research for him/herself the international background to the epidemic, though perhaps it might be useful if someone could confirm - or refute - my (completely uninformed) idea that it might have been brought to England by soldiers returning from mainland Europe.

Dorset's chief medical officer (I assume there was some such official a century ago) probably compiled a report on the epidemic locally, and I wonder if this survives in the county record office or elsewhere?

Moonraker

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Moonraker

Oh, how my chest puffed out with pride when I Googled and found a reference dated June 1, 1919 about influenza and Dorset. Alas, it related to an Australian newspaper report on an outbreak on the transport ship "Dorset". And there appears to have been an expert called Dorset. However

this document

promises a county breakdown of statistics and may be downloadable.

Moonraker

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MrSwan

The "Spanish" Flu was unusual in that it seemed to strike hardest at the fittest, usually young men such as soldiers.

Influenza normally wreaks more havoc with the weak and young (pensioners and babies etc).

A search of Dorset deaths which affect otherwise healthy young men would probably capture many Spanish Flu deaths, ignoring the old and young.

I think it came to be called Spanish Flu because it was the largest non combatant European Nation freely reporting deaths in its populace.

Most of the combatant Nations either wanted to minimise how affected front line troops were or harboured the suspicion that it was an infection being spread by the other side.

More than a touch of Wiki in this response. Spanish 'flu was highly contagious and widespread - the apparent impact on the young and fit was simply because it was so obvious in the armed forces. This was a world wide epidemic and affected all ages. The disease was also reasonably easy to diagnose and differentiate from other conditions (rapid onset, high fever, severe headache, neck and back pain).

There are many references in local and national newspapers to the epidemic and its impact at home - questions were asked in Parliament about the impact on mining and industry.

Towns in Dorset would have had an individual entitled the Medical Officer of Health who would have been the official tasked with public health matters for the local council. Records should therefore be available.

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Sue Light

Influenza is a mix of various viruses, some of which lay dormant for many decades. So the elderly may well have been protected because they had met the virus before and survived, or had immunity, and therefore were less likely to be affected by a recurrence of a virulent form. Babies may well have received some natural immunity and protection from their mothers via breast milk, which would have protected them into toddler-hood.

I think the flu that was widespread a couple of years ago was similar in that the elderly were far less affected than young adults.

Sue

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Guest

I'm sure I read somewhere :whistle: that it affected the young and fit so severely, because their immune systems were too good, and in effect this over reaction to the virus, was what proved so lethal?

Mike

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Sue Light

For the London area, Wellcome Library's great new resource here gives full copies of yearly reports of the Medical Officers of Health

Taking London's Pulse

Sue

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Sue Light

I'm sure I read somewhere :whistle: that it affected the young and fit so severely, because their immune systems were too good, and in effect this over reaction to the virus, was what proved so lethal?

Mike

I don't think I go along with that. If your immune system is good, it means more protection. If you've never encountered a virulent virus before, it may well overwhelm you, however good your immune system is. The young were affected because they'd never had any previous contact, and therefore had no immunity.

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CGM

I think it's worth reading about the suggestion that it originated in the USA - if only to give a possible date for the beginnings of the pandemic.

Epidemiological data indicate that pandemic began in the US in March 1918, at a crowded army camp in Fort Riley, Kansas. Subsequently, the transport of hundreds of thousands of infected troops in close physical contact between camps caused influenza to spread quickly even before troops assembled in East Coast ports en route to France. The troops brought the influenza to the trenches of the opposing armies and to other parts of Europe and beyond.

See here.

CGM

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Guest

OK thanks Sue. It may have been Horizon or similar documentary. This might be worth a look? Click

Mike

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MrSwan

The 1918-19 'flu swept through the UK in three waves - the first in the summer (end-May/June/July), the second in the autumn, and the third in the winter and into the following spring, ending in May. The statistics showed a greater mortality in younger people in the first wave, but the second wave was bigger and the overall mortality higher, over all age groups. In terms of the epidemic within the UK there are links with socially-disadvantaged groups and population density (as crowding).

It has been suggested that the older population had a limited immunity from exposure to the Russian 'flu epidemics of 1890-92.

I think it is generally agreed to have started in the US.

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Guest Andy Y

Looking at the dates on the graves at the Commonwealth Cemetery on Cannock Chase where many POWs from Brocton Camp were interred along with NZ Rifle Brigade soldiers it's evident Spanish 'flu killed many more soldiers from late October onwards than the year(s) before.

23 deaths from 1917 up to 26 October 1918 and 64 deaths after that up to 03 December 1918; see http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead.aspx?cpage=2&sort=dateofdeath&order=asc

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maxi

PBS had a very good documentary on this subject in the American Experience series.

Maxi

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Khaki

I remember my uncle talking about the 'spanish flu' and he recalled that a special train was used to take the dead direct from the city hospital

to the city cemetery for burial in a separate section. The train line ran alongside the cemetery which it still does today.

khaki

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bbcdorset

Hi BBCDorset

Perhaps the best way is to check a couple of Dorset newspapers for the last half of 1918 and the first half of 1919.

(Years ago I looked at local Wiltshire papers for this period and must confess I can't recall very much in them about an influenza epidemic, not that I was overly interested in the civilian population, but probably I would have noted references to it affecting soldiers - if reporting such health problems within a camp was allowed. I do have a couple of references to women in Chippenham, dying from "influenza" in mid-October 1918, and this may have been on the Spanish variety.)

Without going off at too much of a tangent, I wonder when the infection was diagnosed as "Spanish influenza", as distinct from "influenza".

Welcome to the forum, by the way. Do I infer correctly that you're the latest of a stream (well, trickle) of BBC local radio stations to contact us about the centenary?)

Moonraker

Hi Moonraker - many thanks for all the info on Spanish Flu.

Yes, I am part of the BBC local radio BJs who've been tasked with compiling a collection of stories about the Great War as seen from the home front from our respective counties

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Bernard_Lewis

From the Swansea MOH reports:

Influenza deaths:

1915 21

1916 12

1917 10

1918 273

1919 161

1920 54

Not looked into these figs in any way; just raw data for now. What got recorded as 'influenza' might have changed in response to the outbreak e.g. raised awareness might mean more flu diagnoses?

Bernard

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ackimzey

This is the first mention of influenza in my great uncle's personal diary:

June 24, 1918 – Went to batteries in a.m. Several sick. Many cases of influenza. In p.m. to wagon lines. Also many cases of influenza there. Very busy day.

At that time he was south east of Doullens.

Ann

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Anthrophony

Hi BBCDorst,

It is a bit off your specific topic. I found a great paper on 'Mortality Risk Factors During the 1918–1919 Influenza Pandemic in the Australian Army' by Shanks, MacKenzie, Mclaughlin, Waller Dennis, Lee & Brundage.

My grandfather joined the AIF in 1918 and their troopship Barambah picked up influenza in South Africa, most likely Durban where they had shore leave just before all shore leave was cancelled due to influenza. Over 480 of the 1000 on the ship became ill with 25 dying at sea or onshore at Sierra Leone from 17-23 October 1918. It would appear that the Bakara which was travelling with the Barambah also suffered multiple deaths - scant news reports mention some 30 deaths. Recovered soldiers had lasting effects over the English winter on the Salisbury Plains.

Many troopships were hit including the Boonah which was turned back to Australia after reaching South Africa after the Armistice and there was quite a scandal about it not being able to put ashore in the panic. I think 4 nurses who were sent to the quarantine station where they eventually landed also died. Homeward bound ships including the Medic also picked up influenza and were quarantined. I believe one NZ troopship suffered 75 deaths, and there were around 90 deaths on 3 Canadian troopships. I have collected newspaper reports of these events, so do have references, but have not yet put together the information in reference format. Happy to provide further information if requested.

Cheers

Jo

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researchingreg

My Aunt, Theodora King, born 7 August 1902, died on 29 October 1918 in Cambridge of Spanish Flu. It did disproportionately hit younger fitter people, however three of her brothers who were in the Army were unaffected, even though they visited the family home during her illness.

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Guest

Thanks Jo

Hi BBCDorst,

It is a bit off your specific topic. I found a great paper on 'Mortality Risk Factors During the 1918–1919 Influenza Pandemic in the Australian Army' by Shanks, MacKenzie, Mclaughlin, Waller Dennis, Lee & Brundage.

My grandfather joined the AIF in 1918 and their troopship Barambah picked up influenza in South Africa, most likely Durban where they had shore leave just before all shore leave was cancelled due to influenza. Over 480 of the 1000 on the ship became ill with 25 dying at sea or onshore at Sierra Leone from 17-23 October 1918. It would appear that the Bakara which was travelling with the Barambah also suffered multiple deaths - scant news reports mention some 30 deaths. Recovered soldiers had lasting effects over the English winter on the Salisbury Plains.

Many troopships were hit including the Boonah which was turned back to Australia after reaching South Africa after the Armistice and there was quite a scandal about it not being able to put ashore in the panic. I think 4 nurses who were sent to the quarantine station where they eventually landed also died. Homeward bound ships including the Medic also picked up influenza and were quarantined. I believe one NZ troopship suffered 75 deaths, and there were around 90 deaths on 3 Canadian troopships. I have collected newspaper reports of these events, so do have references, but have not yet put together the information in reference format. Happy to provide further information if requested.

Cheers

Jo

Hi Jo,

This information interests me. i am writing the family history of a soldier who traveled on BAKAKA and who got influenza. If you have any information about the voyage of BAKARA I would be very interested. For example, did the boys get shore leave at Durban or at Sierra Leone?

The war diary of BAKARA for the voyage asks more questions than it answers.

It does, however, identify the 14 boys who died and were buried at Sierra Leone, and the 9 others who died and were buried at sea.

i would love to receive any assistance you can offer.

Best wishes ... Terry

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