In the closing months of World War One a new influenza virus appeared in American army barracks and sailed with soldiers bound for France. A centuries-old disease was suddenly killing the young and healthy in hugely frightening numbers.
By October 1918 this new strain of flu, nicknamed “Spanish Influenza”, was in Aotearoa New Zealand. Its toll was devastating. Between November and December 1918, half the number of Kiwis killed across the entirety of World War One, would die at home of Spanish Flu. Those that died were young and fit, aged between 25 and 40. While some countries fared well, imposing quarantine on returning troop ships, closing schools and enforcing the use of masks, New Zealand was slow to respond. The result was a disaster, a terrifying conclusion to the tragedy of World War One.
Slideshow | scan through the images below for a snapshot of our experience of Spanish Flu, in New Zealand and abroad.
WHY “SPANISH FLU”? | Governments did not want people to fear a disease while a war was underway. All news about the flu was censored except in neutral Spain, where cases of a new and deadly disease were freely reported. This is why the 1918 influenza pandemic is still known today as the Spanish Flu. Even though the virus originated in America, news of its appearance has been forever tagged to Spain.