EXCLUSIVE: Extraordinary colourised pictures from Spanish Flu 100 years ago

Show masks people used to protect themselves - and how some are identical to those we're using to fight Covid-19 now

The 'Spanish' flu cut down a swathe of humanity towards the end of the First World War, lasting from January 1918 to December 1920 and killing about 50 million people.  

In Britain, war-time censorship prevented the sheer scale of the tragedy from becoming public knowledge and it was only given the tag 'Spanish' because, being a neutral country, their journalists could report what ours could not.

One now colourised photograph shows a British soldier sharing a light for a cigarette with his French counterpart in the vast transit camp and military hospital at Etaples near Calais.

Some historians believe that the 1918 outbreak actually began at the camp's piggery having migrated from poultry to swine and then to humans.

The threat to war morale posed by the flu, coming after four years of bloody trench conflict, was so great that it was downplayed by the newspapers of the day with The Times referring to it being 'mostly in the mind'.

The Royal College of Physicians rated it no worse than the earlier Russian flu pandemic and it was not even considered a 'notifiable' cause of death until 1919 when the worst of the outbreak had passed.

It was taken more seriously in the USA who made wearing a mask compulsory in 1918, prompting the launch of 'Anti-Mask Leagues' by those who objected on libertarian grounds.

One photograph, taken in Seattle, USA, shows a bus conductor refusing to allow an unmasked man in a bowler hat to board.Unlike today's epidemic, where the elderly are most at risk, the 1918 version, which infected a third of the world's population, was particularly deadly for young adults.  

Roi Mandel, Head of Research at MyHeritage, said: 'Colourising these amazing images gives us an insight into the remarkable similarities between the times of the Spanish flu and today's coronavirus.

'From travelling on public transport, the wearing of masks to an increased focus on personal hygiene, we can relate to many of the same day-to-day challenges.'

The one group who appear to have been overlooked for face masks were poorer children. One photograph of a soup kitchen in Cincinnati shows unmasked children being served by masked helpers.

Another shows a group of ragged-trousered children with bags tied around their necks. These would have contained camphor, a type of tree oil commonly used in ointments and thought to guard against flu infection.

Health warnings advised people to keep their bedroom windows open and those newspapers who took the disease seriously, were keen to stop the practice of kissing.

One writer in the Perth Daily News of 1919 observed: 'The gentle art of kissing has become far too common especially among the fair sex…let us at this trying time plump for sanitation and let sentiment take care of itself…the public should take a firm stand at least until this devastating epidemic is over and be contented with a handshake and thus avoid the risk of passing from lip to lip the germs of the flu.'

Tragically, the flu was mostly spread by the hands. 

And for those who could not resist a peck there was the 'kissing gauze'. This device, for the fearful but still frisky, was likened to a ping-pong bat and placed between the lips of lovers for the 'germless kiss'.


Coronavirus and the Sun: a Lesson from the 1918 Influenza Pandemic

The true for Covid-19

Coronavirus help for the self-employed – Specific UK support schemes

14 views0 comments
  • Blogger
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Instagram