26/2/1919 Influenza: the third wave

Influenza is continuing its march across the world, snatching life even in places that were barely touched by the war. The great and the meek alike are its victims (President Alves of Brazil has recently succumbed) but it is cutting a particular swathe through the ranks of the poor, who are often already weakened by poor diets and live in overcrowded conditions that are ideal for the virus’s transmission.

In Ireland a third wave of the pestilence has arrived. The Irish Times reports today on a shocking incident that recently occurred in Dublin. Neighbours of Frances Phelan noticed that she and her family had not been seen for some time. Breaking into the family’s apartment, they find Mrs Phelan dead in a bed, with her husband, son and sister-in-law huddled around her, all dying of the flu. Scenes of horror like this are being repeated all over the world.

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Influenza cartoon from Sunday Independent, 23/2/1919 (Century Ireland: Dublin struggles to cope with volume of flu deaths)

31/12/1918 Pestilence in Samoa

The armistice has paused the fighting on the Western Front, but the struggle of mankind against the influenza pandemic continues. The second, extremely virulent strain of the epidemic is cutting a swathe across the world, bringing death and destruction to places that the war barely touched. One of these is German Samoa, which has been occupied by New Zealand since 1914. Unlike in nearby American Samoa, the New Zealanders failed to institute an effective quarantine, so when a ship landed in November, its infected passengers were able to spread the contagion throughout the colony.

The Samoans prove to be exceptionally vulnerable to the influenza. By now nearly 90% of them have been infected and a fifth of the islanders (7,542 people) have died. In American Samoa however the governor’s quarantine has meant that there have been no flu cases. As the shock of the last two months of horror begin to pass, the German Samoans begin to compare their situation with that of their neighbours, seeing their calamity as the product of New Zealand’s maladministration. Some begin to argue that if they cannot be entirely free of imperialist shackles they would be better off under US rule.

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New Zealand news paper report (New Zealand History: Reporting Samoa’s influenza pandemic)

Samoan obituaries (New Zealand History: Samoan influenza obituaries)

11/11/1918 Celebrating the end of the fighting #1918Live

News of the armistice engenders a certain levity among the Allied commanders. Haig and his army commanders discuss the practicalities of continuing the advance into the German occupation zone and the problems of keeping the men usefully employed now that the fighting is over. But then men from a cinema company arrives to film the generals; as they pose for the camera they start playing tricks on each other like a bunch of schoolboys.
Pétain meanwhile marks the day by visiting a village theatre where soldiers and local civilians put on an impromptu performance. Pétain himself takes the stage to read the armistice communique to the delighted attendees.

In Mons, liberated just this morning, there is an outpouring of emotion as a Canadian army band plays the Belgian national anthem, previously banned by the German occupation authorities.

In Paris, after his meeting with Clemenceau, Foch retires to his apartment. Cheering crowds greet him but he is too exhausted after the final rush of the negotiations to join the celebrations. He sits alone smoking and thinking. The rest of the city gives itself over to a bacchanal. Paris explodes with tricolours and everywhere people are laughing, singing, embracing, and kissing. The conditions are perfect for the further transmission of the influenza.

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Haig and his generals

Paris celebrates (Le Blog Gallica: 11 novembre 1918 : Marthe Chenal chante l’arrêt des hostilités)

7/11/1918 The ship of death arrives in German Samoa #1918Live

The influenza pandemic is spreading across the world, its tentacles reaching even communities that the war has largely passed by. The most vulnerable to this pestilence are those living in isolated communities, whose lack of exposure to common ailments leaves them with weakened immune systems. Recognising this, the authorities in some of these places institute quarantine regimes to prevent ill persons arriving and infecting the local inhabitants. In American Samoa the governor, John Martin Poyer, does just that, keeping sick arrivals onboard their ships to prevent the flu’s spread to his islands.

The situation is different in nearby German Samoa. This cluster of islands has been under New Zealand occupation for almost the whole of the war. Robert Logan is the governor here but unlike his American counterpart he is not overly concerned about the threat of influenza. No serious quarantine is instituted.

Today the Talune arrives in German Samoa, carrying cargo and passengers from New Zealand. The ship is also carrying the Spanish Flu, as several of its passengers are seriously ill with the influenza. They disembark and make their way into the local community, carrying death with them.

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The SS Talune in 1908 (New Zealand History: Influenza hits Samoa)

31/10/1918 The cold grip of influenza

The war’s end seems to be approaching both on the Western Front and in Italy, but the struggle of humanity against the influenza pandemic shows no sign of abating. The more virulent second strain of the flu is wreaking havoc across the world, taking far more people to the domain of Hades than the war. In the USA some 195,000 people have died in the last month alone, far more than the USA’s total losses to combat in France. But the pestilence is not striking everywhere equally: Germany’s soldiers and civilians, weakened through their reduced diets, appear to suffering more so than their Allied counterparts. Some 3,000 people die of the influenza in Berlin this month, with Prince Max, the Chancellor, lucky not to be one of their number.

The flu’s effect on Germany’s army is even more striking. The influenza kills only a tiny proportion of those it makes ill, but while soldiers are ill they are unable to fight. In the last month the German army has suffered some 420,000 flu cases, more than three times October’s combined total of flu cases in the Allied armies on the Western Front. The German army cannot afford to have this number of men too sick to fight and the ravages of the influenza must have played a part in forcing Germany to request an armistice.

Elsewhere the flu has political consequences. In restive Ireland, newspaper reports of high rates of influenza among Sinn Féin prisoners in Belfast fuel rumours about their maltreatment by the authorities. Elsewhere in the country the flu particularly singles out those whose work brings them into contact with the public, a pattern seen across the world. Doctors and nurses are particularly afflicted, but so too are policemen, clergymen, public transport workers and shop assistants. So many teachers are struck down in Dublin that the city’s schools are temporarily closed.

29/10/1918 Mutiny breaks out in the German fleet #1918Live

President Wilson has stated that the Allies will not negotiate with an authoritarian Germany. To placate him the Germans have sacked Ludendorff and rewritten their constitution to sideline the Kaiser and transform Germany into a parliamentary democracy. Although Prince Max has been struck down by influenza, the Chancellor’s indisposition has not paralysed the German government. A note has been despatched to Wilson drawing attention to the constitutional changes and asking if now at last substantive negotiations for an armistice can begin.

But not everyone in Germany wants an immediate end to the war. Ludendorff’s dismissal has neutered resistance within the army, but the leaders of Germany’s navy do not an armistice before they have had a last crack at the British fleet. Hipper, the fleet commander, and Scheer, the naval chief of staff, have made secret plans for the fleet to sail out and attack enemy shipping in the Channel. This will inevitably bring out the British fleet, leading to a final showdown between the two great navies. Of course, the German fleet is now much smaller than the British, so the battle will end with its destruction and the loss of thousands of lives, but honour of the German navy will have been restored.

Preparations for this death ride are proceeding in secret but rumours begin to spread among the German fleet’s sailors. They are less keen on this suicidal mission. When word spreads through the fleet that tomorrow they will embark on their death ride, sailors on three of the battleships declare that they will not obey orders. Insubordination spreads, obliging the naval commanders to call off the mission. In an effort to contain the sailors’ unrest, they now order the dispersal of the ships with the most unruly crews to different bases. The ringleaders of the mutiny are also placed under arrest by loyal sailors.

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The Helgoland, one of the ships on which the crew mutinied (The Local: The sailors who brought down the German Empire)

16/9/1918 The more deadly return of the influenza pandemic #1918Live

After its mysterious emergence earlier this year, the influenza epidemic had appeared to abate as the summer wore on, so much so that some thought that it was effectively over. This belief was unfortunately premature. A second wave of the influenza has now erupted, emerging simultaneously in Brest, Baltimore and the West African port of Freetown, all ports playing a vital role in the Allied war effort. From these three centres it has spread rapidly across the globe, crossing the lines and affecting the malnourished Central Powers as much if not more so than the Allies.

The first wave of the influenza pandemic was more infectious than an ordinary flu but not noticeably more lethal to those who contracted it, with mortality rates remaining at around 1% of those infected. Since then however the influenza has undergone some kind of mutation and it is now killing some 2.5% of those who fall ill. The symptoms of those who die can be pretty gruesome, with haemorrhaged blood flooding lungs and the skin around the face shrinking and turning black through loss of oxygen (which may be why some refer to the disease as the Black Flu).

The influenza is also different from an ordinary flu in who it takes down. Young adults appear to be its preferred targets (with roughly half of those killed by it being between the ages of 20 and 40 years). The more usual victims of influenza (the old and children) are proportionately less affected. In the USA it is also noted that Black Americans are far less likely to be struck down than their White compatriots.

The influenza spreads quickly through the cramped conditions prevailing in army camps and troopships. Overcrowded tenements hasten its spread among the civilian populations of urban centres. Because people are infectious before they have any obvious symptoms, people now dread the sound of a neighbour coughing or sneezing, as it means that in a day or two they too will fall ill and perhaps suffer a terrible death.

Public health notice (Crozet Gazette —1918: War and Influenza, Battling on the Home Front)