Only Australia Was Spared

My favourite grave in Bristol is that of the Humpage family, the father an inventor, the grave shows a column with piping and bolts that can be unscrewed. A man I used to know grew up there and he used to play on this grave, pretending it was a ship and when his mother called him to meals he would tell her he would be late as he had to bring his ship to shore. The son of this inventor was W.T.J. Humpage, cook on the HMS New Zealand who died shortly after the end of the Great War. His grave states ‘We have whacked the Huns.” This again is unusual, triumphant rather than commemorative. He died of the horrific outbreak of influenza that swept the world as the exhausted world tried to recover.

This is from science editor Jeremy Laurance in the i newspaper:

“On Monday 11 March 1918, Albert Gitchell, a cook at Fort Riley in Kansas, a military training camp, reported to the hospital with a “bad cold”. He was feverish, and complained of a sore throat, headache and muscular pains. By noon that day, 107 patients had been admitted with similar symptoms. Within 5 weeks 1,.127 men out of 26,000 in the camp were infected.

The death rate was relatively low in the first US outbreak but the second wave which started in Boston in the early autumn was much more severe. The virus appeared to have mutated over the summer. Philadelphia, hardest hit of all US cities, was struck in October with 700 deaths in the first week, 2,600 by the 2nd week and 12,162 by 2 November.

The disease emerged in pockets across the globe. Soldiers in the trenches in France became ill with what became known as la grippe – sore throat, headache and loss of appetite. The illness was highly infectious and spread rapidly in the primitive, crowded conditions, but recovery was swift and doctors at first called it “3 day fever”.

The label did not last. This was no ordinary flu. Glasgow was the 1st British city to be affected, in May 1918, and within weeks the illness had spread south, reaching London by June. During the next few months, 228,000 people died in Britain. The cause of death was usually pneumonia or septicemia, affecting a fifth of those infected. Unlike ordinary seasonal flu, which was worst in the elderly, weak and sick, the new illness disproportionately struck those aged 20 to 30.

London, like other British cities, was ill equipped to cope with the epidemic. /The war had cost the country most of its fortune, industry was disrupted, there was damage to public services and millions were dead, missing or wounded. And ships were bringing soldiers back from the front carrying the virus into their homes.

Hospitals were overwhelmed, and doctors and nurses worked to breaking point. Medical schools closed their 3rd and 4th year classes and students helped in the wards. There were no treatments against flu and no antibiotics to treat such complications such as pneumonia. In many towns, theatres, dance halls, churches and other public gathering places were shut. Streets were sprayed with chemicals and people wore anti-germ masks.

On 3 November 1918, the News of the World suggested ways to combat the epidemic: “Wash inside nose.. each night and morning. Do not wear a muffler; take sharp walks regularly and walk home from work; eat plenty of porridge.”

Armistice Day on 11 November, marking the end of the war, set off a second wave of infection. As people gathered to celebrate, the virus swept through them. Parties and parades turned into disaster.

Katherine Garvin, daughter of James Garvin, editor of The Observer during the First World War, described going to London to join the Armistice Day celebrations with her mother, Cristina.

“I remember her crying through all the rejoicing and saying ‘It is too late for me’. Nearly [2] months later she died in her sleep after a bad attack of influenza that had overrun England after the war. She was a war casualty. The doctor had been i the morning and said she was better but at some time in the afternoon of Christmas Eve, the eve of her 43rd birthday, her heart gave up and she went.”

The pandemic circled the globe. As the illness swept through Europe, Spain was hardest hit, with an estimated 8 million dead which led the BMJ to label the disease “Spanish Flu”, though it is thought to have originated in China. No country was spared, except Australia, which imposed strict quarantine rules. Entire Alaskan villages were overcome and Western Samoa lost 20% of its population. Worst hit was India, where an estimated 12 million died By the end, a fifth of the world’s population had fallen sick. No one escaped its effects. “

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