ALL MEASURES NECESSARY
Parts I, II & III
Part I and Part II , contain a collection of reports from a time when a terrible disease spread throughout the world. They said it began just as WWI was ending, and they called it ‘flu’. It was a particular strain of what was described then and now, as not generally fatal and most common infection – influenza. It was however one that proved to be so catastrophically deadly, that its effects remain beyond belief.
These accounts were included in an earlier work that primarily concerned the activities of the German navy in Irish waters during WWI. They were deleted from the draft document in 2004, as they were considered ‘not relevant’ to the main body of the subject matter. Deleted, the remainder of the book, U-boat Alley, went to print the same year.
A lot of research was put into gathering the details that were contained in the deleted work, and at the time, I felt a need to preserve it. It was simply, just put to one side until now. Even though the reader will notice that some of these accounts have been historically superseded, I have nevertheless, except for some editing, left most of them unaltered. They are interspaced between Parts I & II, with some contemporary comment. There is a weight of reference to conditions in Ireland at the time throughout the book, as this is where the author resides.
Since then, the 1918 pandemic of influenza that occurred during and after WW1, has received a lot of attention from the media and scientists. Despite the exhumation of preserved bodies of its victims that had been interred in the permafrost regions of the northern hemisphere, there has been no unqualified explanation as to where it came, or why almost 50 million people died from what was called ‘the Flu’.
When the details of these horrifying events began to unfold at the time, the descriptions of the disease and its symptoms could not be said to have resembled those are associated with what we know as influenza. When I studied these accounts, they did however remind me of a time when I was a very young boy.
End of author’s note.
Two metres was the proscribed distance for the separation of humans, ‘social distancing’, in order to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, Covid-19. during the crisis in 2020.
The shop assistant said to me, “they’ll wear the park out”. It seemed ridiculous, but as I frequent the local park quite often and prefer to walk in the grass, over the tarmac path, I began to notice ruts forming in the grass where there were none before. These were at the proscribed two metres distance from the centre of the tarmac path. Then I noticed the twin ruts in the open grass, at the same distance apart. The cover image shows a path in my local park that was worn out to two metres wide by ‘social distancing’.
We are nothing if not social; to touch & embrace is our life’s blood.
I can recall, that it was in the late 1950’s I was just a young boy, when my father took me on an unusual outing to the countryside. We changed buses in Dublin city, and after what seemed a long journey we arrived in a country village called Blanchardstown.
It was a lovely sunny day as we strolled through the entrance of a large hospital, where my father had said his brother was sick. After speaking to some nuns, we were admitted to his brother’s room.
Tom seemed glad to see us but he also seemed tired. While my father was speaking with his brother, Tom would occasionally reach for a stainless steel mug on his bedside locker. It had a hinged top on it that was activated open, by pressing with your thumb on a protruding edge
I vividly remember the large clots of blood that he spat into the mug. I had no idea what this meant at the time, except that blood should not come from inside of you.
After a while, we all shook hands, hugged and then parted.
Tom of course had TB, a disease rampant at the time, and he died of it.
[Known as BCG, the vaccine against tuberculosis (TB) was discovered after WW1, and used for the first time in a hospital to treat patients at St Ultan’s, Dublin. Programmes of widespread vaccination began in many countries post WW2. I myself was vaccinated at school while a very young pupil.]
In order to destroy their enemy, both sides diverted vast amounts of the world’s human and financial resources into the manufacture of new weapons.
In their attempts to force the other to surrender, millions died in the most horrible manner. Every single day for four years, servicemen and civilians died from bombs, bullets, disease or from the effects of chemical poisoning.
Horrific as the situation had already become, was there an even more sinister weapon employed by minds of unparalleled evil?
The importance of a food supply to a country’s population, and its troops at the battlefront during war, has always been a strategic consideration for militarists. Preventing the acquisition and distribution of these supplies has always been amongst their goals. A step even further, contaminating and enemy’s food and water, was not an altogether new concept during WWI.
Applying the advances made in the sciences, bacteriology and virology, supposedly developed for the good of mankind, in a macabre plot to spread disease in food, animals and man, was then, as it is now – unimaginable!
It is not generally known today, that WWI was the catalyst that would become the first attack with germs against animals and man on a global scale.
The war was in its second year, when Germany realised it could not bring the Allies to their knees with conventional weapons, embarked on a secret campaign of germ warfare.
The sciences of bacteriology and virology have figured prominently in the search for a cause of the disease that was called ‘flu’ in 1918. It was a disease that plagued the earth, and killed millions of people.
As a layman, without any medical training, I have only dared to attempt a skeletal understanding of the relevant sciences, in so far as they concern this story. Even though some experts may have already identified the virus that was the 1918 ‘flu’, we may never be able to say from where it came.
Amongst other more notable works, my deleted chapter may help to provide others with some kind of additional clues.
There will be a temptation to label it with the modern slang, ‘faction’, suggesting a compilation of fact and fiction. It has many facts, statements by well respected contemporaries, and for my part, it includes some clearly stated conjecture, but it does not contain fiction.
All MEASURES NECESSARY
A Strange Case of the Flu
The spectre of extermination by plague or pestilence has hung over mankind since time began. Amongst the many references to such horrible threats mentioned in the Bible, the following is from the Book of Exodus 9:8. This example was supposedly only one of several equally abhorrent ‘attacks’ carried out by The Lord on Pharaoh’s Egypt, in order to force him to release the Israelites into the care of Moses and the Promised Land. The quote might prompt the uncomfortable questions concerning the first occasion on which lethal germs were used in anger against one’s enemy, originating the well-known sentiment – all measures necessary, in ‘love and war’?
‘And the Lord said unto Moses and unto Aaron, Take to you handfuls of ashes (or soot) of the furnace, and let Moses sprinkle it toward the heaven in sight of Pharaoh. And it shall become small dust over all the land of Egypt, and shall be a boil breaking forth with blains upon man and beast, throughout all the land of Egypt.’
[The reference to soot, boils and their blackness, being loosely interpreted as the affects which result in man and beast, having being infected with anthrax. Or, as it has been suggested in more recent times – from an attack with glanders.]
The posters boldly proclaimed that ‘FOOD WOULD WIN THE WAR’. So it should not come as a surprise, that starvation and an ability to contaminate food became weapons, with which it was hoped a victory could be achieved. Regrettably, millions of ordinary citizens have been killed by the use of these barbaric weapons. In respect of this type of warfare, further researches continued to reveal a dark and chilling side to man’s nature.
This chapter will demonstrate the critical role that food played at the turning point of the war in 1917, and will show that a campaign of unparalleled attacks took place against the basic necessities of life. The campaign (On both sides, in respect of the deprivation of food.) in all its forms, was a deliberate and reckless act, and may have contributed to the unparalleled global catastrophe that struck in 1918. The questions that have arisen, does not seem to have troubled anyone since 1937, and only once before, in 1925. They are questions, which even now, despite being put to relevant and enlightened professionals, fail to produce satisfactory answers.
Even after three long years of killing, there was no apparent or unusual increase of foreboding amongst the populations. That is, over and above what was being expressed in the daily newspaper reports relating to progress or otherwise on the battle-fields. (We have only to look at today’s global conflicts to see how a fickle public can so quickly become disinterested in war news.) Few if any noticed the growing number of reported incidences of rubella, diphtheria, typhoid, and measles. Even the higher than usual rates of infanticide did not ring any alarm bells. The number of infections would rise suddenly in any given area, always catching a sizeable number of the population unawares. The deprivation and unsanitary conditions experienced by so many during the war, was a major factor in the sudden eruption and rapid spread of these diseases.
The world was experiencing a war like no other before, and for most, the conditions were harsh. Despair, induced by no visible end to the anguish, hung like a lingering mist, and refused to let the rays of hope shine through. So when another outbreak of ‘flu’ occurred in the Spring of 1918, there was no particular alarm or upset.
The only peculiarities that were first noticed, was the number of infections that were reported to have ‘risen rapidly’. A clear indication of the scale and sudden increase in the number of cases that occurred throughout the British Isles, and elsewhere, was clearly chronicled in Palmer’s Index to The Times.
For the first quarter of 1918 and before, there was no classification at all for relevant articles under the heading, ‘Influenza’. By June, this new classification had appeared but references to it only occupied a few lines. This was followed by a modest increase during the following quarter. In the final quarter’s publication, references under the classification, ‘Influenza’, occupied five double-column pages. Quite extraordinarily, the references to articles under the classification, ‘inquests’, actually decreased for the same period.
Communications at the time bore no resemblance to today’s, and it was inevitable that in the early months of the pandemic, the situation would only be perceived in the isolation of one’s own community, town or country. So it is not surprising, that early on, nothing more sinister or alarming was suspected.
The earlier Spring outbreak of ‘influenza’, although mild by comparison to what was to follow, had already proved fatal for millions. The Summer of 1918 arrived, and again the number of infections began to proliferate. By October, it was rampant all over the earth, and the incidences were by then being described a lot more alarmingly. Plague, Black Death, Purple Death, Bubonic Plague, Mystery Plague, Swine Fever, Spanish Lady, ‘Influenza’, and La Grippe. German troops knew it as Blitzkatarrh and Flanders’ Fever, the Black Whip by Hungarians and the Coquette in France. Suspicions that the disease might have emanated from one’s neighbouring country were rife, and led Poles to call it The Bolshevik Disease.
Interestingly and quite differently, the celebrated German saboteur, Captain Von Rintelen, who had been captured by the British secret service, recalled it in his book, ‘The Dark Invader’ (1933) as something quite different. Von Rintelen was extradited from Britain and stood trial in America for espionage activities, and was sentenced to four years imprisonment in 1917. He recalled that in the Winter of 1918;
‘The “White Death” was Spanish influenza, and the prison became a cross between a madhouse and an inferno.’
This description of the disease may have been confused with a similar one given to tuberculosis, which was also rampant in America at the time. The treatment and protection afforded to ‘Whites’ suffering from the disease, as opposed to that which Negroes could expect, became an acrimonious issue.
Totally unsuspecting of what was to follow, the Illustrated London News, and The Graphic, reported the outbreak in a somewhat light-hearted fashion on July 20th. Stating that because the disease had attacked the nervous system, it had earlier been confused with botulism, but that, ‘it is by now known as Whatulism’. This was accompanied by an additional speculative swipe at the enemy, when it described the great defences that nature had endowed the body with, in order for it to resist infection from the ‘German-Huns in their trenches. Kill and (whisper it!) devour them bodily’.
No further reference to the ‘flu’ of any note appeared in these censored periodicals for the remainder of the year. Publications appeared almost oblivious to the disaster, from which thousands were dying every day, on the battlefields, in the streets, the workplace, and in their homes.
Despite early suspicions by health officials that the malady was something quite different, and by members of the medical fraternity who had also become alarmed by the strange sequence of events, everyone was completely overtaken by the rapid onslaught of the disease. Too late, there were those who also expressed regret in their lack of professional foresight. In a paper presented to the Royal Academy of Medicine on November 15th, 1918, by Captain John Speares R.A.M.C., then an assistant physician to the Adelaide Hospital in Dublin, he stated that warnings were present, as early as 1916, and that:
‘Local outbreaks of influenza occurring during the past two years should have warned us of the approach of the present pandemic.’
Puzzled by the unusual direction, in which the disease had spread, he also remarked:
‘The course followed by the disease seems to have been from west to east and not east to west, as formerly.’
This early observation proved to be an astute one, and its accuracy was well supported. There had been several outbreaks of influenza in America, between 1915 and 1917, but it was believed by many, that this later and more virulent strain had arrived by way of its Atlantic ports, and had rapidly spread westward. Confusing, statistics compiled later would seem to have substantiated this conclusion.
Although most countries were blaming their neighbour for the spread of the disease to themselves, it was widely presumed that the origins of this disease were to be found in the U.S.A. Said by some to have entered through Boston, the exact place of origin remaining in dispute. The Head of Health and Sanitation Section of the American Fleet Corporation, Colonel Philip Doane, suggested the unusual if not popular source of the disease, when he said, that ‘the epidemic may have been started by men put ashore from U-boats.’ Further elaborating, he added:
‘It would be quite easy for one of these German agents to turn loose Spanish influenza germs in a theatre or some other place where large numbers of persons are assembled. The Germans have started epidemics in Europe, and there is no reason why they should be particularly gentle with America.’
What proof he had for such suppositions or what epidemics the Germans had supposedly begun in Europe earlier, is unclear, but there were many American newspaper reports about German agents operating in the U.S.A. at the time, and many of these were factually based.
[Incidents of biological attacks in Bucharest and Roumania permeate through intelligence reports, but are hard to confirm. An article appearing in the Western Daily Press, Bristol on March 4, 1933, lays the blame for the Spanish Flu at the genocide of Armenians in Turkey and beyond. So much disease from discarded rotten corpses (Over a Armenians million were killed.) had entered into the drinking water that British soldiers had to be treated daily, and that it eventually spread to Western Europe.]
However, Doane’s suspicion of German activities in America, may have been prompted by the inaugural visit made by the large mercantile class submarine, Deutschland (U-155, 2100 tons) to Chesapeake Bay in June 1916. This submarine is understood to have carried the new German diplomatic code, known as ‘0075’, for the German Embassy, which was sent to supersede the already compromised, ‘13040’ code. Both codes were reported to have figured prominently in the ‘Zimmermann Telegram’ affair. This submarine was also reported to have carried dyes, precious stones and mail.
One can only speculate as to what other cargo she might have transported to America but the Deutschland was strongly implicated by the Head of British naval intelligence, Admiral Hall, in the delivery of sabotage material to the U.S. It is also understood, that the Deutschland returned with over a million dollars in donations from patriotic Germans, and a cargo of nickel, silver, zinc, tin and rubber. This submarine was representative of a small number of merchant U-cruisers that were privately constructed with investments guaranteed by the German government. The Deutchland’s mission was to have heralded the beginning of a commercial submarine service to the U.S.A. but the venture was discontinued after only two crossings. Her sister boat the Bremen, was lost mysteriously on her maiden voyage to Norfolk in 1916.
[A fascinating insight into the production of germ cultures in America during WWI by the German American doctor, Anton Dilger, in The Fourth Horseman, was authored by Robert Keonig in 2006. Amongst further references from this book in All Measures Necessary, Part II, he has no difficulty stating that the Deutschland had ‘hidden in the cargo holds, fresh cultures of glanders and anthrax germs for the Chevy Chase germ factory as well as new incendiary pencils for sabotage at munitions factories…’ Her captain, Paul Konig, claimed that he was unaware that there were germ cultures aboard his submarine. Revised 2019.]
The construction of these huge mercantile submarines for cross Atlantic voyages was provoked in great part by Britain’s blockade of Germany, and the declining imports of important raw materials reaching Germany. When the first of these huge submarines docked in America, there was a palpable air of German triumphalism. The implications of such large boats being able to cross the Atlantic to America, unseen, did not go unnoticed by U.S.N. Admirals. These underwater cruisers had the greatest endurance capabilities of any submarine at the time (And for a long time afterwards.), and could cruise for three months without replenishing fuel.
Another one of these converted mercantile class submarines, U-151, visited the east coast of America, between May and June 1918 with intentions of a quite different nature. In the space of two weeks, commencing on the 25th, she sank thirteen ships. Twelve American vessels and one British. Interestingly, only one vessel reported fatalities, the SS Carolina, which lost thirteen crewmen. Most of these vessels were sunk after the crews were ordered to abandon their ships, and bombs placed in their holds by the German submariners.
Whatever the reason for suspecting that the outbreak of ‘flu’ or an attack with germs, might have been connected with the earlier arrival of the Deutschland, or any other German submarine for that matter, it was a suggestion not taken too seriously at the time.
Conflicting with other reports, in so far as anything of certainty can be said about the origins of this terrible disease, its earliest manifestations were accredited at this time to one U.S. Army camp or another. The most recurring of these were, Camp Oglethorpe in Georgia during February, and Camp Funston, Kansas, in March 1918. These dates coincided with outbreaks of the disease amongst the U.S. expeditionary forces, the British army and in the French civilian population.
Another U.S. Army establishment, where the disease was suspected to have emanated, was Fort Reilly, also in Kansas. It was reported in the dramatised documentary, ‘Contagious’, shown on the History Channel U.K. that horse manure had been burnt there for some weeks during March 1918. While the fires burned, a great windstorm erupted, blowing its ash for miles around. Soon after, almost Biblical, people began to get sick. No suggestion was made however, as to how the disease might have got into the horse manure.
The fears expressed then, were seemingly somewhat similar to those expressed by the general public in Britain in 2001, during the mass burnings of the diseased or potentially diseased livestock, after there was a widespread outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the national herd.
By what means the disease had supposedly developed in any of these places during WWI, is equally unclear, and the earliest records of its manifestation may only be attributable to these establishments, because of the military discipline of record keeping. There is nevertheless a very heavy weight of cases recorded from the Spring of 1918, in the southern border States of America.
Uncertainty and the unknown gave way to panic, and after the rapid geographical spread of the disease, there was almost no place remaining where it wasn’t suspected to have originated. The speed with which the disease spread, lead many to wonder, that if it was not flu, it might somehow have been mysteriously present in the atmosphere. It was also suspected that the disease might have been contracted from contaminated fish or meat.
Reports from a small medical practice in England indicated that the disease showed in some of its patient’s – symptoms of swine fever, for which they were successfully treated. Swine fever had not been eradicated in the British Isles, but cases were only being reported in small and varying numbers during 1918, as was anthrax, which was almost exclusively contracted by those working with animals or animal hide products.
Not nearly so minor an incident, and one, accounts of which considerable efforts were made to suppress, was an incident in the U.S.A. This was a ‘new disease’ or strain of Hog Cholera (Hog Flu, Swine Flu etc.), during late September-October, 1918, infecting millions of pigs.
This outbreak was reported to have originated or to have been first detected, at the Cedar Rapids Swine Show, Iowa, which began on September 30th, and ended on October 5th. The outbreak resulted in pigs and farmers over a wide area of the Midwest being infected with the disease.
Thousands of these animals died from a disease, which J.S. Koen, an inspector with the Division of Hog Cholera Control, described as ‘Hog Flu’. His outspokenness on the affair subsequently attracted strong criticism from the industry, and author Alfred Crosby, recalls his stubborn courage of conviction, when he adhered to this unpopular description of the disease. His remarks were published in the American Journal of Veterinary Medicine. The following was his unsheakable conclusion:
‘It looked like ‘flu’[Hog Flu], it represented the identical symptoms of ‘flu,’ it terminated like ‘flu,’ and until proved it was not ‘flu,’ I shall stand by that diagnosis.’
The U.S.A. had a poor record of controlling infectious diseases in animals at the turn of the century, and its failures were no more manifest than in the southern States. The enormity of this devastating outbreak of ‘Hog Flu’ was portrayed by some, as not being a cause for undue concern, and seemingly nothing more was suspected. However, the question that has arisen since – is. Did the little piggys give it to those who brought them to market, or was it the other way around? And when one wonders, what becomes of the little piggys, then surely one cannot help wondering in which direction did the disease subsequently travelled?
Or, should we pay special heed to those experts operating in the world of biological warfare, who have declared, that one of the main indicators of being under an attack from bacteriological weapons, is an ‘unusual number of deaths of people and animals within an area or location’?
Characteristics of a Strange Flu
The characteristics of the pandemic were reported by some inspectors, as being typically ‘flu’, and recurred similarly during the immediate and subsequent years. Mr.W. R. Taggart of South King Street, Dublin, wrote to the Evening Herald on October 22nd, expressing the opinion, that the description ‘Influenza’, which had been given to the disease, was reported to him by members of the medical profession, to have been a ‘misnomer’. He was convinced that:
‘The peculiar feature of this disease is the suddenness with which it attacks its victim, and it is as merciless as the brutal Hun….’
The suddenness of the attacks was indeed striking. So much so, that during the latter days of October, people were literally falling down in the streets of London and being carried to hospitals daily.
Although the war continued to be bitterly contested, by then the end was in sight. The populations may at this point, have been so preoccupied with the optimism of an imminent victory or the thoughts of returning loved ones from the battlefields, that they did not fully absorb the scale of the sickness that was besetting them. It was an unmerciful attack by an insatiable ‘grim reaper’ who only slowly and reluctantly retreated during the 1920’s.
Many have probably become aware of this historic catastrophe event through some of the more recent publicity, but then, and up to only recent years, this global scar of biblical proportions was largely forgotten. It is described as being the greatest pandemic ever, and that its victims were only exceeded in number by The Plague of Justian and the Black Death. Totals quoted for the latter plagues however, covered a much longer time span. The 1918 ‘flu’, is now firmly accredited with infecting half of the world’s population, and killing in excess of twenty million people. More recently, the figure has even been put by some as high as in excess of 50 million, and its origin remains a mystery!
Some nationalities fared worse than others, but this rogue virus knocked on the door of almost every country in the world. India was probably the worst affected, with 12,500,000 deaths. Some of Europe’s countries suffered in the following proportions, Russia 450,000, Britain 228, 917, Germany 225, 230, France 166,000, and Ireland’s figures are given separately in the illustration of a report produced by the Chief Registrar in 1920. In the U.S.A., fatalities exceeded 548,000, and that country has the distinction of having over eighty percent of the fatalities amongst its servicemen in WWI attributed to the ‘flu’. The total number of American servicemen killed in WWI, WWII, and in the Korean and Vietnam wars is exceeded by the number of those killed by the ‘1918 flu’.
[NOTE – the figures above are many years old and may have risen since.]
Protection from the disease could not be afforded by God or man, and even those said to have been under His direct influence did not escape. It is a little remembered that two of the three young Children of Fatima obtained no protection after their alleged encounter with the Mother of God, when they too were taken by the disease.
Most countries called it Spanish Flu, probably because of the early reporting from that country, which was neutral and didn’t suffer from heavy war censorship. But why it was known almost affectionately as the Spanish Lady is still argued.
Whilst ‘Influenza’, ‘Influenza B’ or ‘Pfeiffer bacillus’ seems to have been the more popular technical description given to it at the time by the medical community, again there were those who were convinced that it was something else entirely. The Evening Herald of February 20th, 1919, reported:
‘There is also some evidence that horses, dogs, and cats may be a source of infection. If any of these animals are affected with colds or sneezing they should be isolated.’
For some strange reason, it has been said that, residents in the vicinity of slaughterhouses or petroleum works were mysteriously unaffected by it. And from France, in a not altogether unrelated report, it was stated that people there sniffed at eucalyptus or creosote products to stave off effects of the ‘flu’. Much later, but somewhat similarly, retired manager from the Dublin Gas Works, Kevin Bright (R.I.P.) remembered well, the medicinal qualities that many Dubliners believed were to be had from the ‘cough hole’. This was situated in the company’s works on the South Quays, and consisted of a sump, into which many of the by-products from the production of town-gas flowed. Parents of children, who were suffering from chest complaints, would travel with their offspring from the surrounding neighbourhoods, and hold the tearful wretches over the ‘hole’. This ‘cure’ was well recognised at the time and was recommended by many local doctors.
Doctors in Dublin are also reported to have been well aware of the unusual good health attributed to citizens who resided in the vicinity off ‘O’Keeffes the Knackers’, Newmarket. And for some equally unknown reason, folklore also has it, that the surrounding inner city area, known as, The Coombe, seems to have escaped the worst ravages of the ‘1918 flu’. Seemingly, suggesting that the residents of these areas had acquired some kind of immunity by dwelling in the proximity of dead and diseased animals.
Was this immunity? If that’s what it was, was it as a result of being in an area where germs were being constantly carried on the air from the rendering plant, or from carts laden with the carcasses of diseased animals being transported through the narrow streets.
Given a colloquial title by many communities, the people from Ringsend in Dublin, and Christy Barton, from the town of Kilmore in the county of Clare, called it the ‘Black Flu’. Christy’s story was related to me by his friend, Paddy Nash, an eighty-one year old crop picker from the same county. (Record of Kilmore in the county of Clare could not be found, but Kilmore in adjoining North Tipperary, may have been the town to which he referred.) Paddy left Ireland as a boy and finally settled in Uxbridge. He recalled that when Christy’s mother was struck with the ‘Black Flu’ in 1918, the doctor claimed he could do nothing for her. Believing in local remedies, Christy remembered how he had walked to the neighbouring county of Tipperary, a county that has maintained a long tradition for its production of a superior grade of illicit whiskey called potteen. Christy purchased a bottle of the spirit and returned home with ‘the cure’.
Whilst passing through O’Connell Street in Limerick, he was stopped by a patrol of Black & Tan soldiers who detained him. Even though he informed the patrol of the urgency attached to his mission in order to save his mother, he was nevertheless arrested. He was not released until some hours after his story was checked. After he finally got home, it is unclear whether or not Christy’s ‘cure’ was taken orally or rubbed in, but upon the doctor’s return and following a favourable examination, surprise was expressed by all on the miraculous recovery of Christy’s mother.
Interpreting this little recollection as the power of alcohol to combat this deadly disease as being only sentimental, might be hasty.
Rightly or wrongly, and probably not requiring a lot of encouragement, it was generally perceived by sizeable proportions of the populations of countries like America, England and Ireland, that the application or consumption of alcohol, played an important part in preventing the contraction of a disease that was killing millions.
The ‘cures’ were not just confined to the application of alcohol but as one might expect, these were nearly as prolific as the symptoms. Few companies took the risk of promoting their product as a ‘cure’ for the ‘flu’, but the mighty and well respected ‘OXO Empire’, was not found wanting in this regard. They boasted that the concentrated beef in their OXO cubes was effective in resisting the ‘influenza’.
The secret of immunity from the epidemic was claimed by the manufacturers of Kruschen Salts, a mixture of different salts and citric acid. Promoted as an aid to nature, the elixir would eliminate poisons from the system and promote a rich supply of virile blood. It would be sent to any member of the British Expeditionary Forces abroad for 2/6d, postage paid. It is still advertised as a useful antioxidant. Interestingly, one advertisement for the salts in 1918 was accompanied by an image of the virus strain Pfeiffer’s Bacillus, which was claimed to be the 1918 Spanish Flu.
[There are reproductions of that 1918 image on the cover of this book.]
Nonetheless, the perception of an alcohol cure, and more particularly whiskey, was very common. Not to be taken as just a fickle treatment or convenient placebo, after several condemnations of the Government by MPs at Parliament, for ‘imperilling life’ of the population by not releasing additional stocks of whiskey from bonded warehouses, the Government made this reply:
‘The War Cabinet is considering the question of the release of further supplies of spirits in view of the influenza epidemic.’
Unlike the greedy activities of some milk distributors at the time, who illegally contaminated milk supplies by dilution, a practice which continued for many years after the war had ended the whiskey ‘remedy’ was not one which distillers obviously exploited. In contrast, it is particularly upsetting to read accounts of those milk distributors, who were accumulating ill-gotten pennies from the practice of diluting their product. The practice became rampant, and although most of the offenders were only small businesspersons, these were nevertheless a sight better off than many of their customers, most of who were in dire need of the nourishing liquid. Some of the names included in the lists of prosecutions, and found guilty, are quite surprising. Probably not surprising, some are to be found over popular stores and amongst the well-respected business community to this day.
These petty opportunists, were making hay at a time, when even the poorest governments of the world, were distributing milk free, in order to ease the plight of millions that were facing the most rapidly spreading disease the world had ever seen.
For those who could afford it, alcohol was a ‘cure’, which many members of the medical profession prescribed. Such was the demand created for the stuff that, doctors sometimes complained that they were issuing prescriptions for alcohol, which their suffering patients were later unable to fill, due to shortages.
The initial surprise of distillers to the new level of demand for their products did not preclude some speculation, and an increased level of profit taking in the trade.
Having had their products diluted under previous government orders; distributors seized the opportunity prior to official announcements on the release of additional stocks from bonding houses to get the stuff out.
Contemporary similarities could be made with opportunism displayed in pre-budget speculation on the anticipated rise in government levies on fuel and tobacco. Similarly, the premature price hikes applied by distributors of petroleum products, immediately after the announcements in barrel prices, but before the contents of that barrel ever gets to a pump.
In the ‘land of opportunity’ at the time, the price of a gallon of whiskey in some States of America, reached the exorbitant rate of $52. Drug stores also shamelessly exploited the situation, by charging very high prices for drugs, such as quinine. Although the whiskey ‘cure’ is remembered in a fond way, it seems to have been taken very seriously by many at the time.
Prince Axel of Denmark was reported to have developed a strong faith in plenty of the ‘cure’. His faith in spirits was apparently evident during his trip to America, on the liner Leviathan. Alfred Crosby reminds us of the Prince’s bid to stave off the effects of the ‘flu’ before he reached New York on September 9th, 1918. During the passage, the Prince was reported to have ‘stayed in his cabin with his favourite prophylactic, whiskey’.
Just how the ‘cure’ is thought to have worked, is not altogether clear. If the malady had only been influenza, I presume the ‘cure’ was expected to act in much the same way as a few ‘hot-whiskeys’ one might take for a cold today. Or maybe, it was seen as a pleasant way to create a sterile atmosphere around what was thought to be the principal conduits through which the disease was contracted.
Then maybe not surprisingly, although the production of spirits distilled in Ireland actually increased by 40% between 1917 and 1918, exports actually halved.
Some Of Its Victims
Countless sufferers did not receive an alcohol cure, or any other cure for that matter. The stories of suffering filled the daily newspapers, and these included many harrowing tales of grief from the slum areas of Dublin’s inner city. Whole families were wiped out in as short a time, as two days. Mothers dropped dead suddenly from heart failure while they were tending their families, and some bodies were not discovered until days after they were missed in the street, at work, or by the rent-man on his rounds.
The testimony of devastation that appeared in obituary notices has never been repeated in Ireland. Almost daily, examples such as the following were printed:
The Little Children Die
Cummins – Oct. 24,1918, at No.23 Lr. Buckingham St.,
Eileen, age 1 year,
May, age 3 years,
The beloved children of Joseph and Christina Cummins.
Jeffers-Oct. 24, 1918.
Mary, eldest daughter of the late Andrew Jeffers;
Also her sister Annie, same date.
Three Little Sisters
Larmon-Oct., 1918, at Private Hospital, Dublin, of pneumonia, the three
youngest, darling, and dearly-beloved children of Christopher and
Kathleen Larmon, Beechmount, Merrion:
Josephine-Oct. 14, aged six months.
Lily-Oct. 29, aged 4 years.
Kathleen-Oct. 22. Aged 5 years.
Great disasters from fire, plague and drought have struck mankind in the past. Some of these historic milestones were recorded in song and rhyme, but are sadly now disappearing from memory. Children during street games recited rhymes like:
Ring-a-ring o’ roses,
A pocket full of posies,
We all fall down.
This well known rhyme recalls the effects of the plague that struck Europe during the Middle Ages. The ‘Ring’, supposedly been the dark rings which appeared on the victims’ skin before death. These are said to have been similar to those found on the victims of anthrax. A rhyme, which does not seem to have reached Ireland in 1918 or afterwards, was the one recited by the children in America, and went in part as follows:
I had a little bird,
Its name was Enza.
I opened the window,
The disease gave no quarter to social position or geography but some areas did suffer disproportionately. As you might expect, the likes of city’s and port towns were particularly badly hit. In Ireland, the effects were felt more seriously on Dublin’s northside than anywhere else. Coincidentally this is an area of the port containing the railway heads, where most livestock was loaded for shipping.
It was speculated at one time, that the earliest outbreaks of the disease had emanated in the harbour town of Howth. Men working in close proximity with one another, such as in mines, were particularly vulnerable, as were the thousands who died from it in the trenches. Closed communities, such as Eskimos and the Indians of Alaska, were almost wiped out in some settlements, after the disease got amongst them.
Influenza was not a notifiable disease, so public schools and places of congregation were not closed until it was too late in many cases. Institutions such as prisons, places that one might imagine could have been isolated easily, were particularly badly affected.
Not unlike the serious threat of social disorder in America, after thousands had succumbed to the mysterious ‘flu’, when the number of deaths suddenly rose in Irish cities, anti-municipal demonstrations were threatened, and the authorities began to get worried. Alarm was fuelled when it was reported that burials at Glasnevin cemetery in north Dublin rose to 280 per week, and climbed soon after to 383.
A predominantly Roman Catholic cemetery, burials at Deans Grange cemetery in south Dublin, similarly reflected the course of the epidemic. Figures for July showed a sharp increase but receded during August and September. Combined figures for October and November suddenly showed a large increase of 128% over the same period in 1917. Figures receded once again in December.
Unexpectedly, the predominantly Church of Ireland cemetery at Mount Jerome in the southwest of Dublin, showed a similar trend for the number of burials but were higher in actual numbers than at Deans Grange. The figures for the same two months of October and November showed an increase of 160 % over the previous year.
There were 1814 deaths from influenza registered in Dublin between October 1st and December 31st, 1918.
Yet another peculiarity of the disease was the large number of cities around the world that experienced a peak in the number of deaths simultaneously, during the last two weeks of October 1918. One might imagine that if the disease had emanated and had been carried from a single source, that its climax would have been staggered throughout the countries to which it spread. Why for instance would a peak in the number of deaths occur in Puerto Rico, Paris and Dublin at approximately the same time?
The situation was approaching crisis, when the Archbishop of Dublin was moved in late October to write an urgent letter to his Parish Priests. In his address on the prevalence of the ‘present serious illness’, he advised prayers, Masses, and an appeal to the Throne of Mercy to deliver his followers from the dangers that threatened.
Some say it was this wave of death and disease sweeping over the battlefields of Europe that might have had more to do with the war ending just when it did. The end was more than just a defeat of the German army with bombs and bullets, but a civilisation that had simply been ‘overcome’. A weary people that had been ravaged by four years of maim and destruction, had finally just given up through depression and exhaustion, brought on by the final weight of a plague that had beset them.
And Animals Too
At the same time as the disease was rampaging through the civilian populations, this small news item from Johannesburg appeared on November 2nd, and described how the deadly virus may not have affected humans alone:
‘The extraordinary development in the influenza epidemic has been the mortality among monkeys, which are dying by hundreds. In certain cases whole troops of baboons have been found dead, apparently from pneumonia infection.’
In fact, there had been almost no reporting of how the disease had affected animals. A rare example was the baboons in Africa, but these were not an exception. Buffalo herds in Yellowstone National Park were affected by the influenza and caused haemorrhagic septicaemia amongst the animals. The journal of the American Medical Assoc., reported on April 4th, 1919, that during the epidemic, guinea pigs in a laboratory at Fort Cody, had all died unusually from pneumonia. Two more fresh batches of guinea pigs were experimented with, the second, from which there were no survivors. Monkeys too were experimented with. Although there were several recorded cases of monkeys being successfully infected with the virus, these did not provide any conclusive discoveries. Experiments in America that infected servicemen and prisoners with Pfeiffer bacillus obtained from flu victims also returned the same uncertainty.
If It Wasn’t Flu?
From the most learned opinions to the most unintelligible, puzzlement prevailed. Despite experts old and young, many who had experienced the effects of influenza epidemics before, none had witnessed such devastation brought on by disease. Medical orderlies who developed symptoms of the ‘flu’ knew the difference only too well, and knew they would die Humanity was alone, and ignorant of a disease that was unexplainably consuming it, and it spread like wild-fire.
[‘The Killer Flu’. Discovery Channel programme 2004.]
The symptoms of this ‘flu’ were not what we might associate with an attack of common influenza today. Neither were they consistent or straightforward. As already stated, the symptoms of this ‘flu’ were too numerous to list in total, but the following examples from ‘1918 Book Of Victory’ by Malcolm Brown, have been chosen in order to demonstrate some very special features, that were prevalent in victims of this disease.
In June of 1918 Lt. Harvard Brown (7th Sherwood Foresters.) wrote home from Calais:
‘I am down here for a few days with that new sort of influenza. I hope none of you will get it, it just sprang on me with a temperature of 104 one afternoon in the line, accompanied by all manner of things. It seemed to be spreading through the army like wild fire.” Later he continued. “The Influenza is going for everybody and a great number come down daily, for about ten days one feels simply dead.’
He was fortunate and recovered. And Mrs. Barnett of Surrey wrote to her husband in Mesopotamia on October 28th, 1918:
‘Things here are in a terrible state, this new flu as they term it, is quite a plague and taking people off as they walk along the streets, in fact the undertakers can’t turn the coffins out or bury the people quick enough. There’s families of six and seven in one house lying dead, it’s really terrible dear and makes one nervous of going out, nearly every house along here the doctors are on constant call but so far we have escaped and I do pray that we shall be spared it for your dear sake. I had a dose in July and don’t want it anymore.’
Details of the disease that are contained in these two letters, were by no means isolated, and mark some of the distinct features of the 1918 pandemic. One was the reluctance of the general public to believe that it was just flu. Another was, that those who had received the earlier and milder dose in the Spring or Summer, were somehow ‘vaccinated’ against the more deadly excesses of the Autumn and Winter outbreak.
[Once again, it may have only been coincidence but it wasn’t until June that Britain, France and America were able to train enough specialised units, and to manufacture sufficient stocks of chemicals in order to deploy them on the battlefield against Germany.]
The symptoms were reported to have been typically flu like, and most accounts of the period are generally unquestioning in this respect. However, some prominent citizens, who had seen influenza many times before, were puzzled. Never had they seen people dying from such harrowing symptoms as the ones displayed by those who contracted this ‘flu’.
David Nelligan, the famous ‘Spy In The Castle’, who gained so much notoriety because of his close relationship with the great military leader, Michael Collins, was none too uncertain about it either. Seemingly convinced that ‘Whatever it was, it was not flu’. He described the familiar symptoms of high temperature, the aches and pains etc. that had been prevalent amongst some of his colleagues who had died from the disease. He also described the severity of the attacks, and their rippling effects throughout the community:
‘The older police were decimated. Gravediggers worked overtime. Undertakers did a thriving business’.
Nelligan was also overcome by the disease, and recalled his journey to the County Infirmary in a horse and cart:
‘I could not help noticing the mourning crepe on the doors in the poor streets and the continual processions of funerals passing by. It was like the Plague or the Black Death’.
Having arrived at the infirmary, Nelligan had to wait on a stretcher until a bed became vacant. He hadn’t long to wait, before a deceased victim was removed from one, into which he was promptly placed. He subsequently displayed all the familiar hallmarks of the infection but recovered after the familiar ‘nosebleed’, which Sir John Moore said, saved his life.
Nelligan was also impressed by the power of belief in the ‘alcohol cure’, which his staff sergeant believed was to be had from a ‘diet of stiff whiskey’.
A man, who was in just the right place to observe the progression of the ‘flu’ amongst the ranks of combatants, was stretcher-bearer, Frank Dunham of the R.A.M.C. Contrary to regulations, he kept a diary during WWI, and its contents were published in, ‘The Long Carry’. His first contact with the ‘flu’ or P.U.O., as it was known in the service, was on September 16th, 1917, when ‘he felt queer with a touch of the ‘flu’. There is no reference by Frank Dunham to another encounter with the ‘flu’, until five weeks after his Battalion was bombarded with phosgene, mustard and lachrymatory gas shells during the German’s big push towards Amiens on March 21st, 1918.
On May14th, he clearly noted a different type of ‘flu’ that was infecting the men in the trenches:
‘Just about this time, the army became acquainted with ‘The Flu’, which in our official terms was designated ‘P.U.O.’, meaning, ‘Pyrexia, unknown origin’. One by one, it caught hold of the troops, and there were very few who escaped its clutches during the following few months. It seemed to be a very dangerous enemy, and many of our finest soldiers were carried off by it, whilst many others were rendered unfit for active service for months.’
He also thought it important to note, that ‘curiously, one of the first to be stricken by the ‘flu germ’, was their Battalion M.O., Dr. C. Rowlands’. Dr Rowlands was one of the first U.S. servicemen sent to relieve the hard pressed British medical staff, soon after America had entered the war.
The last references to the ‘flu’ made by Frank Dunham in his diary, was on June 18th and 20th, when he said, that ‘it was continuing to spread’.
The precautions of staying indoors, disinfecting the streets and wearing masks were all eventually taken but the disease had already got a grip and continued its unmerciful rampage undiminished. As yet unexplained, the crisis was reached almost simultaneously in Ireland as it did in Britain, and in most of the U.S.A., during the last two weeks of October and the first week of November, 1918. It ebbed in ferocity during winter but erupted for a third time in February 1919, with particular severity across several States in America.
After what was by then a prolonged epidemic of the disease, and when added to a growing awareness of the most horrible effects it was having on its victims, the public began to suspect that something was not quite right with its description – ‘flu’. Despite reassurances, fear amongst the public began to escalate. Denying that there was an increasing number of corpses showing signs of premature discoloration, and that their decomposition, ‘was not rapid’, did nothing to allay fears. The public mood soon began to swing towards panic as the unknown disease continued to spread.
Referring to the large amounts of frothy blood found in the lungs of many victims, the physician and poet, William Williams, described it this way:
‘They’d be sick one day and gone the next, just like that, fill up and die.’
It was not only the general public who felt there was something wrong with the description, ‘flu’. Yet another eminent member of the medical profession harboured a similar fear. He too was in doubt, and suggested in this article contained in the Evening Herald on October 28th that there might have been more than one disease on the rampage:
WAS IT INFLUENZA?
‘Some doubt is felt, not only among the public, but by some doctors, that the epidemic now raging is solely influenza. There is no question but that we have veritable influenza among us, and that the majority of cases are of that disease, but the violence of attack and high mortality in many households gives colour to the suggestion that combined with influenza is a deadly malady not yet identified.
Writing in the ‘Lancet’, Dr. William Collins of Oxford, says – “Surely we are seeing a type of influenza quite different from anything we have seen before. I well remember the severe epidemic of 1889-90 and attended a large number of cases, but the signs and symptoms which have been exhibited by patients I have attended during the past few days are quite new to me.”’
The same issue carried a letter from a ‘Dublin Doctor’ describing the urgency of enlisting the help of all available medical personnel. His appeal included the release of Irish doctors who had been incarcerated on suspicion of harbouring republican sympathies. As doctors and nurses had no special immunity, shortages caused in the profession by the spread of the sickness, became critical. Speaking from his ‘personal professional knowledge’, this doctor submitted:
‘That the need for doctors which at present exists in most of our civil hospitals and public institutions has had no parallel in medical history since leprosy in the Middle Ages attacked the human race without distinction.’
The Dublin Corporation also made a special appeal for the release of the doctors, McNab and Cusack, who along with the medical officer for the South Dublin Union, Doctor Hayes, were ‘lying in English jails’. Alderman Thomas Kelly ‘didn’t care what might be said’, and added that a champion of the poor, Dr Kathleen Lynn was ‘on the run, and could not stop in her house’.
A deadly feature of the disease was its virulence. It spread like ‘wild-fire’ through communities, some faring worse than others and almost no exceptions. The Moslem and Jewish populations of India were probably the worst affected. Staggering figures were published in this letter from a correspondent in Barcelona to the Times (London), dated October 24th, 1918:
‘Wherever one goes he is disinfected. Music halls and theatres advertise they disinfect twice daily.’ He also reported that there was a great reluctance by many there to believe that ‘it really was the flu’ and that the ‘number of deaths were reported by the newspapers as being 300 per day, by the Governor at 600, and by the medical profession at no less than 1200’. Not unlike the remainder of the world he stated that the disease nearly always became pneumonically complicated and that death occurred between seven hours and four days in the most recurrent age range of ‘between twenty and thirty eight years’.
The situation must have been worsening as he wrote, adding that there was ‘panic in places’ and that ‘dancing was forbidden.’
The figures given for Ireland by the Register General in the illustration show an unusual exception for the county of Clare. An interesting speculation for that county’s least number of ‘flu’ cases, mentions the special qualities of the soil. It has been suggested, that when passed through the livestock, and into its inhabitants, these may have bestowed a certain but unknown resistance to the disease.
Or another; due to that county being very pro republican during the war, less volunteers went abroad to fight, so less returned to contaminate the county. Indeed, it has been suggested, that of those who did enlist, the majority would probably never have returned because of the shame they would face.
Figures contained in the same report for the Western Counties, such as Mayo, also produced very low numbers of cases, and might also suggest that the further west from the busy cities and towns you where, the less likely was the chance of infection, at least in Ireland. But just like many of the theories attempted with this pandemic, figures belied trends, and showed a dramatic rise in the county of Galway.
[The report by the Registrar General, Sir William Thompson was an annual statutory report on the number of deaths and their causes in Ireland, 1918. Today, the figures may be considered unreliable in a number of respects. The deaths registered as being a result of ‘influenza’ do not include the equally abnormal figures from other causes such as pneumonia. It was desirable to inter victims as soon as possible, and an unknown number of the dead were buried without any autopsy. The cause of some death may also have only been conjectured by an MD or from family reports.]
One reads of so much death and sickness during those dark days, it is no wonder there were food riots around the world threatening a breakdown of social disorder. As Mathew said, ‘the poor are always with us’ and there were certainly plenty of poor in 1918. There were citizens who stood in milk and food queues that had seen their relatives die from Famine and disease in the middle of the 19th century. There was very little food shortage or incidents of riot because of the lack of it in Ireland.
Rationing was in place in most countries, but even so, there were still food shortages. The shortages had nothing to do with the effects of ‘flu’ sweeping across countries. It was instead the result of a world at war. Central Europe was particularly badly hit from 1917, due to the Blockade of Germany by the Allies. The other side this coin was the blockade of Britain by German submarines. A crude strategy intending to crush the spirit of a nation in order to overcome its leaders, it is totally immoral and dehumanising. Militarists have nevertheless seen such strategies as useful weapons, ones that are still being deployed to this day.
Food riots continued across Europe into 1919, and again it had nothing to do with ‘flu’ – profiteering was the culprit and maximum prices orders were introduced.
At the outset of the Armistice negotiations, the world was described as being in ‘Social Chaos’. And that no one would play as big a part in the settlement of the world as the United Kingdom, and that ‘Germany, a nation of criminals must be severely punished.’ (Paraphrased from a speech by Rt. Hon. Mr Edward Short, Coalitionist, and reported, December 6, 1918.)
Young and not so young men had gone away to fight. After the Armistice, it took months to demobilise the troops from Europe and beyond. At home, men had still occupied vital areas of production, such as in farming, munitions, and transport. The military and civic police were everywhere to be seen. It must have seemed like a world of just women and children.
In so far as censorship allows, one cannot detect the existence of anything like a severe food shortage in the UK and Ireland. Food rationing was in place but seems to have provided an adequate amount of food. There remains this feeling that the population, a majority of women and children, were tired but just got on with. A huge amount of soldiers returned for Christmas celebrations and problems were parked for long awaited festivity.
However, returning men from the trenches brought new pressures on the social fabric of society. The bind of togetherness in order to defeat a common enemy dissolved, and the world returned to politics as usual – competitive.
NOTE. No part of this post, text or pictures, should be reproduced without the author’s permission.
All Measures Necessary Part I http://ouzelgalley.net/ouzelgalley/all-measures-necessary-part-1-of-iii/
All Measures Necessary Part II http://ouzelgalley.net/ouzelgalley/all-measures-necessary-part-ii-of-iii/
All Measures Necessary Part III http://ouzelgalley.net/ouzelgalley/all-measures-necessary-part-iii-of-iii/
Epilogue of a Disease http://ouzelgalley.net/ouzelgalley/epilogue-of-a-disease/
BIBLIOGRAPHY is at end of Part III.