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Brian Wolfe

Remembering the Influenza of 1918

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A little over 100 years ago a pandemic spread out over the world with devastating results. Misnamed the Spanish Flu it seemed to accompany the soldiers returning from the Great War. In actuality started in the State of Kansas in the United States, spread through the thousands of American volunteers for war service then crossed the Atlantic. Recent research has shown that the facts involving the influenza, or flu, were withheld from the general public so as not to start a panic and the thinking was that the governments didn’t want the public to think that there was a another threat to their “boys” besides German bullets. The one country that remained neutral was Spain and the news media in Spain reported the virus infection in its fullest thereby giving the influenza of 1918 the name of “The Spanish Flu”. The soldiers returning home brought with them a new wave of infections that, in the end, resulted in 500 Million people worldwide, or about ¼ of the world’s population being infected with deaths of from 17 to 50 million people worldwide. The 1918 Influenza Pandemic was the first of two pandemics caused by the N1H1 virus, the second being the so-called Swine Flu of 2009.

 The reason that the first pandemic in 1918 was so devastating was due to the general poor health of the soldiers as well as the general public at the time, coupled with overcrowding and unsanitary conditions. Having said that, we are at a point in history where we can only hope that the current pandemic will not eclipse the devastation of 1918 to 1920.

 I have taken this opportunity to present to you an item from my collection that is very important to me and is a small part of the story of a contemporary of mine. This sounds strange, even to me, that a man who served in the Great War was a contemporary of mine but such is the case and sadly such is my age. More about this in another post I will start soon.

 Sherman De Groat, Private, number 3137517 was drafted into the Canadian Army 21 November, 1917 at the age of 24 and discharged 17 May, 1918. During this time he fell ill with the 1918 Influenza and was hospitalized at the Beach Hill Hospital, Sheffield,  where he recovered before being shipped home, a survivor of the Great War and the greatest pandemic to hit the world to date.

 Below is a section from his Medical Records along with his BWM. There is a photo of a group of soldiers as well. It was easy for me to pick him out as he looked a lot the same when I knew him and I will bet you too will be able to recognize him as easily. He is in the middle row, second man from your left.

 Regards

Brian

 

Sherm's medal.JPG

photo of Sherm.JPG

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As you indicate the flu pandemic of 1918-1919 certainly had a devastating effect on the troops in Europe at the end of the war and after, affecting many of those who fought and survived in France and Belgium for the entire war.  I have the medals to a Royal Artillery officer who spent over four years on the Western Front only to go home on leave in December 1918 and die of flu at home in Scotland. Another, a Major, died of the flu in France on the day of the armistice. 

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Thanks for your feedback and comments Gunner 1 and BalkanCollector. It is much appreciated.

Regards

Brian

 

 

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Brian,

My father lived through the First World War, and thus the Spanish Flu, but I never gave the flu much thought in relation to him until I read your thread.  The effects on the Spanish Flu on my  family was never talked about.  My Dad left Canada in 1916 and returned in 1919.  Too bad I can't ask him for his recollection of the period.

Regards,

Gordon

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Perhaps the one regret, that I will ever admit, is all of the questions I could have asked those who served and just didn't. Now, obviously, it is to late.

Thanks for your reply, Gordon.

Regards

Brian

 

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Thank you for this great and timely article. 

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You are most welcome and thank you for the feedback.

Regards

Brian

 

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Very Interesting article ! remembering my Oma ,she told me about the desvstation of the flu in Vienna where she was living until December of 1918 . the flu found easy targets in the Vienese people much weaked due to a continued starvation .she remembered that the days when the number of deaths taked to the Cementery reached the 1000 ,a black flag was hoisted .

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Thank you Bayern for your input. Those horrible times were much worse than today, as your story reflects. Perhaps this new era where the news comes into our lives through our computers, phones and tablets on almost a minute by minute basis makes today seem almost as frightening. 

I think that we can take comfort in the knowledge that if we stay strong we will get through this.

Regards

Brian

 

 

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Brian , Is very accurate your perception of the frightening character imposed to the present pandemia by the constant Artillery barrage or Trommelfeuer of news . and as during a bombardment the only thing to do is to stay in the shelter , I wish that Spring descends promptly over Ontario . Bayern

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Many thanks for your comments and wishes for Spring's arrival. I don't know where spring is hiding as it is snowing here at the moment. Like winter, we will be happy when this virus becomes a part of history.

Stay safe.

Regards

Brian

 

 

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Kind regards Brian !

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Thank you for another excellent contribution, Brian.   Like you, I am old enough to have known veterans of WWI.   In the early 1950s I even shared a hospital ward with a Boer veteran of the Anglo-Boer War.  Like you, I regret not taking the opportunities of learning about their experiences in those far off conflicts.

Kind regards,

Brett  

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Brian, thank's for a great summary. As a sidenote, although the Asian flu wasn't an N1H1 virus (N2H2), it actually killed more people than the Svineflu 2009. My grandfather got the 1918 flu and lost all his hair and my whole family except your's truly had the Asian flu 1957. I've managed to navigate myself through life without ever having had any flu (guess it's not too late though)😉

cheers/Peter

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Thanks for the kind comments Brett and Peter.

An additional tip of the hat to Peter for setting the record straight regarding the Asian flu. I like my writing to be as accurate as possible and anything medical is a long way from my comfort zone.

Regards

Brian

 

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