ENTERTAINMENT

Christmas in the grip of the Spanish flu: In 1918, war-weary British faced a difficult decision


After spending three Christmases with little to celebrate during World World One, the British people saw a festive season in 1918 amid the conditions of a deadly pandemic comparable to the world's current Covid-19 crisis.

The Spanish flu pandemic, which lasted from February 1918 to April 1920, infected a third of the world's population, some 500 million people, and killed 50 million of them – 228,000 in the UK.

By December 21, 1918 – around that time 102 years ago – the weekly number of deaths from Spanish flu in Britain had fallen to 1,029 after reaching its fatal peak in November when 8,000 people died in the first week alone. Today the UK's weekly death from Covid-19 stands at 3,062.

With no scientific explanation as to why the death toll had started to decline, and after three years of no peaceful Christmas break together, the British public was left with the difficult decision of family gathering during the festive season.

Many did so – despite the hospitals in the UK being more difficult than average – and local newspapers reported an insane rush for current purchases across the country. Some shopkeepers even had a one-off policy that many of us will now know as a social distancing measure.

A young sailor buys a Christmas tree from a greengrocer and a young boy waits in a line of children to buy a mistletoe in London on December 24, 1918

Christmas decorations are displayed in the Eagle Hut, a YMCA center for American soldiers in London, on December 24, 1918

Christmas decorations are displayed in the Eagle Hut, a YMCA center for American soldiers in London, on December 24, 1918

On Christmas Eve 1918, the Yorkshire Post reported that a shop in Leeds "had to lock its doors and let in only fresh customers when those who had been served came out". She added that retailers had almost sold out "turkeys, geese and" rabbits ".

And for the first time in almost four years, shop windows were stripped of their blackout curtains during the war – to prevent main streets from becoming the target of German bombs – and instead decorated with festive displays.

Some businesses have stayed closed on their own or banned entry to people under the age of 14 in the interests of public health, while others, including entertainment venues such as dance halls, cinemas and theaters, have been closed by local authorities.

Schools were only closed if they had severe infections for three weeks over Christmas, and churches remained open for services. No central lockdown was imposed, but the local councils were given authority to implement closings.

Children from a foundling house dance as guests of American officers at the Palace Hotel, London, December 24, 1918

Children from a foundling house dance as guests of American officers at the Palace Hotel, London, December 24, 1918

Children around a greengrocer's selling Christmas trees, December 24, 1918

Children around a greengrocer's selling Christmas trees, December 24, 1918

A hairdresser from 1918 with face covering (picture) - an item of clothing that has become all too familiar to us

A hairdresser from 1918 with face covering (picture) – an item of clothing that has become all too familiar to us

At a children's Christmas party in the hospital, Santa Claus arrives on December 29, 1918 in a candy that is watched by a crowd of children

At a children's Christmas party in the hospital, Santa Claus arrives on December 29, 1918 in a candy that is watched by a crowd of children

And children sang a haunting nursery rhyme on the playgrounds: "I had a little bird, his name was Enza, I opened the window and flu-Enza."

Just a few weeks after Christmas, the Spanish flu, spread by coughing and sneezing, returned for a third wave that lasted until the summer of 1919, significantly increasing the number of deaths from the pandemic.

The flu was rapid, killing entire families only hours or days after they showed symptoms – with a high mortality rate among young people under five, between 20 and 40, and over 65.

Patients had difficulty breathing as fluid filled their lungs, and due to the lack of oxygen, their bodies began to turn blue around their faces, lips, ears, fingers, and toes.

The north and the Central Plateau have been hardest hit by the Spanish flu because of “social and economic inequality”, as is currently the case with the Covid-19 pandemic – Clare Bambra, Professor of Public Health at Newcastle University, found in a recent conducted study.

A children's Christmas party was held on December 29, 1918 at the Savoy Hotel in London

A children's Christmas party was held on December 29, 1918 at the Savoy Hotel in London

As there was no government lockdown, it was up to the authorities in each city to decide what precautions to take. Pictured: a man spraying disinfectant, 1918-1919

As there was no government lockdown, it was up to the authorities in each city to decide what precautions to take. Pictured: a man spraying disinfectant, 1918-1919

A woman wears an anti-germ mask during the Spanish flu. Masks were worn but made from gauze that was too perforated to be functional in many cases

A woman wears an anti-germ mask during the Spanish flu. Masks were worn but made from gauze that was too perforated to be functional in many cases

Here a telephone operator is wearing a gauze mask that was worn by some when they went about their daily lives

Here a telephone operator is wearing a gauze mask that was worn by some when they went about their daily lives

Professor Bambra told The Telegraph, “We have found that similar to Covid today, mortality from Spanish flu is much higher in the northern areas of England and the Midlands.

& # 39; The lowest rates were in places like Surrey – about 200 deaths per 100,000 in 1918 – and the highest rates were in places like Hebburn and Jarrow in the northeast, where there were nearly 1,200 deaths per 100,000. So six times as high. & # 39;

The Spanish flu had an Estimated Mortality Rate (CFR) of 2.5 percent – the death rate from Covid-19 is not yet clear, mainly due to the number of people who unknowingly pass the virus asymptomatically.

However, some reports suggest that the CFR for covid-19 is also 2.5 percent, meaning an average of two or more out of 100 people infected will die from the virus.

With no vaccine and no national health service to provide a standard of care, the general public resorted to basic physical measures of isolation, hand washing, disinfectant use, and restricting public gatherings in attempting to control the H1N1 virus . Masks were worn but made from gauze that was too perforated to be functional in many cases.

Similar was the overwhelming demand for medical facilities and the shortage of medical personnel, with outdoor tents used to treat patients in isolation and wards repurposed for use by infected patients.

Tables crowded with children at a Christmas party at East London Mission for Children in December 1918

Tables crowded with children at a Christmas party at East London Mission for Children in December 1918

American Department at the 4th Scottish General Hospital where most of the patients are influenza cases from incoming convoys. The Red Cross has a staff of American officers and female visitors who attend to their welfare, Glasgow, Scotland, November 1918

American Department at the 4th Scottish General Hospital where most of the patients are influenza cases from incoming convoys. The Red Cross has a staff of American officers and female visitors who attend to their welfare, Glasgow, Scotland, November 1918

During the post-World War I flu epidemic in London on March 2, 1920, a man sprayed the inside of a General Omnibus Co bus with an anti-flu compound

During the post-World War I flu epidemic in London on March 2, 1920, a man sprayed the inside of a General Omnibus Co bus with an anti-flu compound

In shocking contrast to today, however, the Spanish flu was not mentioned in parliament until October 1918. By then, thousands of the population had died from the virus.

The virus was largely reported in Spain, which remained neutral during World War I, giving journalists more freedom to write about the country's problems than other nations with state-sanctioned media – because of the spread of that coverage, the virus was mistakenly known as The Spanish Flu.

The virus is believed to have caught on in Britain when World War I ended in November 1918 when soldiers brought in from the trenches the Spanish flu, a virus they called "Flanders flu" or "Spanish woman".

A staggering 20 million people were killed worldwide in World War I, and when the soldiers returned home, the spread of Spanish flu resulted in more deaths.

And as the Bexhill-on-Sea observer noted on November 16, 1918, the measures recommended to the public to keep warm (but open windows for ventilation) and eat good food were, for most, who lived on rations, unattainable years.

Masked doctors and nurses treat flu patients lying on cots and in tents outside in a hospital camp, 1918

Masked doctors and nurses treat flu patients lying on cots and in tents outside in a hospital camp, 1918

A party singing old English, French and German Christmas carols to raise money for charity, in the hall at Sir Edgar Speyer's residence, Grosvenor Square, London, December 2, 1918

A party singing old English, French and German Christmas carols to raise money for charity, in the hall at Sir Edgar Speyer's residence, Grosvenor Square, London, December 2, 1918

Christmas trees are delivered for the members of the American Army staying at the Palace Hotel in London. (Photo by J. J. Lambe / Current Press Agency / Getty Images)

Christmas trees are delivered for the members of the American Army who are staying at the Palace Hotel in London in December 1918

The paper wrote, "We might as well ask about the moon … the luxury of sitting with the windows open in front of a blazing fire is not for the rationed."

When Christmas came, nativity plays and carols were canceled, although crowds continued to gather in churches, shops, and public transport.

In 1919, Sir Arthur Newsholme, a leading British health expert during the Victorian era, wrote that a government-sponsored stance during the war, urging the population to carry on, contributed to the spread of the virus.

Mr. Newsholme wrote: “Some lives might have been saved, the spread of infections reduced, and great suffering avoided if the known sick could have been isolated from the healthy; if the rigid exclusion of a known sick and drastic increase in floor space for every person in factories, workplaces, barracks and ships could have been enforced; if overcrowding could have been banned regardless.

"But it was necessary to 'move on," and the relentless needs of warfare justified the risk of infection spreading and the development of a more virulent type of disease or mixed disease. The same problem is associated with overcrowded trains, trains and buses occurred. & # 39;

Christmas pudding food production, J. Lyons & Co Ltd., Cadby Hall Food Factory, Hammersmith Road, London, October 1918

Christmas pudding food production, J. Lyons & Co Ltd., Cadby Hall Food Factory, Hammersmith Road, London, October 1918

Women wear surgical cloth masks to protect against influenza. In the fall of 1918, the pandemic had reached its second and deadliest wave in Britain, killing just over 8,000 people in the first week of November alone

Women wear surgical cloth masks to protect against influenza. In the fall of 1918, the pandemic had reached its second and deadliest wave in Britain, killing just over 8,000 people in the first week of November alone

Despite Sir Arthur's attempt to warn the public about gatherings in July 1918, many Christmas party events took place.

Photos from Christmas parties show one such event at the Palace Hotel in London, where children from a foundling house performed a ballet dance for officers of the American Army who lived in the hotel.

In another photo, a children's Christmas party is taking place at the Savoy Hotel, showing several depressed children.

And in scenes similar to today, another photo shows Santa Claus visiting children in a hospital.

(tagsToTranslate) Dailymail (t) Nachrichten (t) Christmas (t) Coronavirus