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RegHannay

Malaria on the Western front

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RegHannay

At the beginning of August 1915 my grandfather was detailed off by his C.O to test the stagnant water around the front line (Houplines trench farm areas) for mosquito larvae because there had been a number of malaria cases occurring in the British lines.  Was it common for Malaria to be present in Northern France in the 1900s and has since been eradicated. I have always associated malaria with warmer climates. Thanks.

Dave  

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Dai Bach y Sowldiwr

Europe was officially declared to have eradicated malaria in 1974.

This paper gives a history of the rise and fall of malaria in Europe.

There was malaria in Italy in 1945 when my father was there with the RAF.

https://www.intechopen.com/books/towards-malaria-elimination-a-leap-forward/malaria-eradication-in-the-european-world-historical-perspective-and-imminent-threats

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TEW

Were either man medical?

 

Malaria was common but I always associated it with troops arriving from the warmer climates along with a host of other tropical diseases.

 

Malaria is not contagious other than via transfusions. I suppose someone might have thought some mosquitoes arrived with the men and were breeding in France.

 

Somewhere in the memory I have a feeling there is or was non-tropical malaria in Europe.

 

Either that or the malaria was a mis-diagnoses or just being over cautious.

TEW

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MrSwan

From the official Medical History of the War, Casualties and Medical Statistics:

Malaria: British and Dominion Forces 

France and Flanders         Admissions        Deaths

1914                                  1147                   4

1915                                  4297                   4

1916                                  58                       0

1917                                  781                     2

1918                                  2739                   4

 

Unfortunately there is no commentary concerning the origin of the malaria, some forms of which are recurrent and as TEW mentions these could be men who picked up the disease from service in other theatres. The history is silent on France and Flanders being malarial areas per se.

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BFBSM

A. G. Butler, who wrote the Australian Medical History of the First World War, gives some details in the two sections: 

 

https://s3-ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com/awm-media/collection/RCDIG1069630/document/5519122.PDF

and

https://s3-ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com/awm-media/collection/RCDIG1069632/document/5519124.PDF

 

The information is not in great detail but there are statistics and information on preventing vector born diseases.

 

From, An Unending War, The Australian Armies struggle against malaria 1885-2015 by Ian Howie-Willis (ISBN: 9781925275728), p.51:

 

Quote

Most nations in western Europe were seasonally malarious; and so the AIF divisions in Flanders fought in places where they were at some risk of malaria. That the risk was real enough was evident in the hospital admission statistics for malaria in the British military hospitals in France. During the four years 1915—1918, the British hospitals there treated 1,050 confirmed  cases of malaria, which required a total number of 24,475 days of treatment and an average of 23 days of treatment per case. The comparable figures for Egypt were 550 cases, 10,993 days of treatment and an average 20 days of treatment per case.  

 

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Dai Bach y Sowldiwr

Thanks BFBSM,

That ties in with the paper  in post #2.

The Netherlands (Not a million miles away from Flanders ) was only declared malaria free in 1970.

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RegHannay

Thank you all for your response. It never crossed my mind that Europe would have been affected by malaria. Then again it never crossed my mind the world would have another pandemic.

Mr Swans stats explain why the doctor was sent out looking for larvae anopheles, over triple the cases between 1914/1915. Dodgy game that natural history, as Reg wrote - 

 

 " peering into the weedy water for larvae while the German bullets were hitting the sandbags like pistol shots. I thought how inconsiderate!"

 

And BFBSM's figures showing double the figures between Europe and Egypt at the time!!

 

Thanks again, never to late to learn.

Dave 

 

 

 

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A Lancashire Fusilier by Proxy

My grandfather, who served exclusively on the Western Front, does not mention malaria in his diary.

However, he has transcribed into it a ditty entitled "My Dug Out - A Lay of the Trenches", of which the final verse reads thus:

Where is it that I catch a chill

And lose my only quinine pill

And probably remain until

I’m Dug out?

My Dug-out.

I had naturally assumed that this ditty was about the Western Front, because of its title and the fact that the other verses dwell on damp conditions etc. which I have always associated with the Western Front, and clearly my grandad thought it very apposite to his own experience.

However, this thread, and the reference to quinine, made me wonder briefly whether it might actually have been written by somebody in the Salonika area or similar.

Having now googled it, I see that the poem is not anonymous, as I had thought, but was included by Captain Bruce Bairnsfather in his Fragments from France, so it was definitely about the Western Front, as I had originally thought.(my grandfather had written the poem beside a Bairnsfather cartoon which he had pasted into the diary, and which I have obtained permission from the Bairnsfather estate to reproduce in the published version of my grandfather's diary - I had better check that that permission also extends to the poem!)

Captain Bairnsfather served on the Western Front himself  with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment from 1914 to 1915.

I am wondering whether quinine was issued routinely to soldiers on the Western Front to guard against malaria, even though it does not seem to have been especially prevalent there from the articles quoted above, at least not year round, or was it used as a preventative against other diseases?

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RegHannay

The two diaries have much in common apart from the situation these men found themselves in. There is a cartoon stuck in the front of one of Reg's diaries. I don't suppose he had a picture of his dog as well? 

Dave

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Hedley Malloch

Many regular army 'old sweats' contracted the disease in service in the colonies, especially India, and brought it back with them to Great Britain. There were some notorious malarial hot spots such as Nowshera, a garrison on the North-Western Frontier where, in 1906, 372 soldiers were diagnosed with the sickness.

The first recorded mention of the disease on the Western Front in WW1 is in the memoirs of of Princess Marie de Croÿ whose home in Bellignies Château served as a hospital for British wounded from the battle of Mons. She noted that there were several soldiers in her care who were suffering from malaria, including one whose condition caused her great concern. This was before the end of August 1914.

The disease would lie dormant and when it became active then its symptoms would often be very mild: lethargy, headaches, loss of appetite, congestion, sleeplessness, and would often be confused with cold or 'flu symptoms. For this reason it is likely that the official figures vastly understate its prevalence amongst the BEF.

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MrSwan
1 hour ago, A Lancashire Fusilier by Proxy said:

I am wondering whether quinine was issued routinely to soldiers on the Western Front to guard against malaria, even though it does not seem to have been especially prevalent there from the articles quoted above, at least not year round, or was it used as a preventative against other diseases?

 

It is worth noting that quinine had a wider use at the time. The regimental medical officer's Field Medical Companion pack contained a supply of both hypodermic quinine hydrochloride (2 tubes) and 200 No. 10 Tablets containing quinine sulphate.

 

According to the 1915 Burroughs Wellcome catalogue, quinine products were used to treat malaria, fever, stomach and digestive problems, as a purgative and as a tonic. In "Minor Maladies and their Treatment", 1913, the author suggests "As a general tonic after a cold, nothing in my experience has proved so useful as quinine..." preferably in liquid form. He also recommends it highly to aid the recovery from influenza, and to treat neuralgia. 

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Dai Bach y Sowldiwr
13 minutes ago, MrSwan said:

"As a general tonic after a cold, nothing in my experience has proved so useful as quinine..." preferably in liquid form. He also recommends it highly to aid the recovery from influenza, and to treat neuralgia. 

Thanks,

That's what the purveyors or quinine wished their clientele to believe back then.

It seems ignorance about the therapeutic benefits of quinines in the treatment of viruses is nothing new then...

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kenf48
19 hours ago, MrSwan said:

Unfortunately there is no commentary concerning the origin of the malaria, some forms of which are recurrent and as TEW mentions these could be men who picked up the disease from service in other theatres.

 

The surges in number in 1915 and 1918 are self evident and reflect the battalions returning from India and other stations of Empire in 1915, and then being posted on to the Western Front e.g 27th and 28th Divisions.  In 1918 more Battalions were  posted from the Palestine and Salonika to provide reinforcements after the German Spring Offensive.  Up to 80 % of the men  in these  Battalions were suffering from the disease.  As the WFA article cited above points out there were limited opportunities for the Anopheles mosquito to breed on the Western Front,

Medical Diseases Vol 1 describes the incidence of the disease in France as 'insignificant' compared to those theatres where the disease was endemic.

 

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MrSwan

 

1 hour ago, kenf48 said:

 

The surges in number in 1915 and 1918 are self evident and reflect the battalions returning from India and other stations of Empire in 1915, and then being posted on to the Western Front e.g 27th and 28th Divisions.  In 1918 more Battalions were  posted from the Palestine and Salonika to provide reinforcements after the German Spring Offensive.  Up to 80 % of the men  in these  Battalions were suffering from the disease.  As the WFA article cited above points out there were limited opportunities for the Anopheles mosquito to breed on the Western Front,

 

I've found a couple of old articles that confirm kef48's comment. A post-war article by Maj-Gen Sir Wilmot Herringham on medicine in the war supports kenf48  that "Troops from the East brought malaria with them, and some battalions were badly infected. But regular quinine treatment combined with rest restored them, and they were able to take their place in the line." (BMJ 4 Jan 1919)

 

An earlier BMJ article on JSTOR from 26 August 1916 reviewed some French work into the subject of malaria in France, with a general conclusion that there were reservoirs of the disease in French colonial troops and also in colonial workers employed in munitions work. Although they identified a number of locations suitable for the Anopheles mosquito to breed, they did not believe malaria was endemic in these areas.

 

 

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A Lancashire Fusilier by Proxy
10 hours ago, RegHannay said:

The two diaries have much in common apart from the situation these men found themselves in.

Dave, you may well be right that there are many similarities. I have just posted a little more information about my grandfather's diary on another thread if you are interested https://www.greatwarforum.org/topic/282434-private-publication-of-personal-war-diary-1915-to-1918-help-required/?do=findComment&comment=2901331, I have also just replied to your post on the "Gardening in the Trenches" thread identifying at least one difference between the two men.

Anyway on the subject of the dog photograph, yes, there is a photograph of a dog, in fact two photographs, but not his dog, but the regimental pet, the one who"left his post without permission"! (https://www.greatwarforum.org/topic/282303-afb-252-airedale-terrier-leaving-his-post-without-permission”/?do=findComment&comment=2897989

 

 

 

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Robert Dunlop

There is a very detailed paper on Ague (aka malaria) in the Fenland region of England here:

 

S0025727300067107

The experience in France, The Netherlands, and Belgium was similar, most likely due to the presumptive causative organism being the less virulent Plasmodium vivax

 

Robert

 

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kenf48
52 minutes ago, Robert Dunlop said:

There is a very detailed paper on Ague (aka malaria) in the Fenland region of England here:

 

Your link doesn't work, is this the paper?

 

https://europepmc.org/backend/ptpmcrender.fcgi?accid=PMC1291929&blobtype=pdf

 

The epidemic in Kent and Essex 1917-1918 is discussed here

https://www.jstor.org/stable/4575382?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

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Robert Dunlop

That isn't the paper, kenf48, but it adds to the thread. Here is the link again: Link

 

Robert

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Dai Bach y Sowldiwr

Very interesting Robert.

Thanks for the link.

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rolt968
On 15/06/2020 at 10:56, Hedley Malloch said:

Many regular army 'old sweats' contracted the disease in service in the colonies, especially India, and brought it back with them to Great Britain. There were some notorious malarial hot spots such as Nowshera, a garrison on the North-Western Frontier where, in 1906, 372 soldiers were diagnosed with the sickness.

The first recorded mention of the disease on the Western Front in WW1 is in the memoirs of of Princess Marie de Croÿ whose home in Bellignies Château served as a hospital for British wounded from the battle of Mons. She noted that there were several soldiers in her care who were suffering from malaria, including one whose condition caused her great concern. This was before the end of August 1914.

The disease would lie dormant and when it became active then its symptoms would often be very mild: lethargy, headaches, loss of appetite, congestion, sleeplessness, and would often be confused with cold or 'flu symptoms. For this reason it is likely that the official figures vastly understate its prevalence amongst the BEF.

One of the men I researched re-enlisted in his forties in 1914, his reserve service having expired some years before. He had served in India and South Africa if I remember rightly. He died in the 1930s, one of the causes of death being a recurrence of malaria (which I always assumed he picked up on his original service).

 

One of my lecturers from many years ago told the story of arriving somewhere in colonial East Africa and going down with a recurrence of malaria. She was very unpopular as the place was about to be declared a malaria free station.

 

RM

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seaJane

Not on the Western Front, but in case of interest, a couple of references to malaria contracted in England:-

  • Bassett-Smith, PW. Naval cases of malaria contracted in England. Journal of the Royal Naval Medical Service, vol. 5 (1919), pp. 201-202.
  • Malone, AE. A case of malaria contracted in England. Journal of the Royal Naval Medical Service, vol. 5 (1919), p. 202. https://archive.org/stream/JRNMSVOL5Images#page/n263/mode/2up

Most of the JRNMS references during the Great War are to malaria in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean, with a few articles regarding Africa, East and West.

 

seaJane

.

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Dai Bach y Sowldiwr

Thanks Jane,

Blimey, Pembroke Dock?

That's very interesting.

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