Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

Influenza (The Great War #AtoZChallenge 2021)

I (AtoZ Challenge 2021)

The Spanish Flu pandemic started in the very last stages of WWI. Historians have long determined that the war indeed factored in the insurgence and spreading of the pandemic. Unprecedented numbers of people moved with modern and faster transportations allowing influenza to spread worldwide at an alarming speed. 

Historians still debate where exactly the Spanish Flu originated. It had long been thought it arose in a faraway farm in Kansas (USA), though recent archival researches have shown that it probably arose in China. 
In any case, it is a fact that the mobilisation of millions of soldiers and not combatant labourers across the globe, both to reach the battlefields and then to go home after the Armistice, was a huge factor in the spreading of the pandemic. 

Infections in the trenches

The Great War - Influenza- Historians have long determined that the war indeed factored in the insurgence and spreading of the Spanish Flu pandemic. Unprecedented numbers of people moved with modern and faster transportations allowing influenza to spread worldwide at an alarming speed.

In all wars previous to WWI, more soldiers had died of infections and diseases than of wound from bullets and shells. This may explain why doctors and nurses were so worried about infections of any kind and did all they could to stop them. 

Life conditions in the trenches were undoubtedly the perfect spreading ground for an infection like the flu. Soldiers were exposed to cold and dampness for long periods. Stress was rampant, both because of the bombardments and for the emotional strain characteristic of that life. Soldiers were also often malnourished, especially during the time in the frontline trenches. 

All of these are factors that cause the immune system to become weaker. 
Soldiers all lived cramped together, in a filthy environment, where wounds were great hazards. Even superficial wounds could get infected by mud or other diseases commonly endemic in the trenches.

It may seem surprising that an epidemic didn’t break out earlier, but statistical researches have shown that the Spanish Flu had a lower mortal rate among soldiers who had served in the trenches for longer periods of time. This suggests that in the years after recruitment, but before the pandemic outbreak, soldiers became progressively immunised by exposure to seasonal flu. 
Smaller flu epidemics probably occurred in the trenches often, but the Spanish Flu hit in a specific moment: the end of the war and the demobilisation of millions of soldiers. 

Influenza (The Great War #AtoZChallenge 2021) The Spanish Flu pandemic started in the very last stages of WWI. Demobilisation probably fuelled its spread #WWI #SpanishFlu #pandemic Click To Tweet
Trenches of WWI

Modern transportation and the flu

The Spanish Flu pandemic reached every corner of the globe, even far away places like Alaska and the Pacific Islands, where it was particularly deadly due to the vulnerability of people not accustomed to flu exposure. 
There’s no doubt that both the needs of the war efforts and the new, swifter means of transportation factored into the insurgence of the flu and its subsequent fast spread. 

This influenza infection hit the trenches more or less in the spring of 1918. Clustered emerged in different cities across Europe and North America in that time, probably brought over by soldiers on leave. But it was the Armistice that caused the most damage. 

Men wearing face masks in a US Army hospital
Men wearing face masks in a US Army hospital

The harsher wave hit in November-December of that year, precisely when, after the ceasing of combats, armies demobilised, and millions of soldiers and other war personnel went home. 

People all across the world were involved in the war in Europe in different capacities. These people had been exposed to the new influenza. Regardless of the slow demobilisation times, they reached their home quite swiftly, thanks to the modern transportations, and once home, they celebrated the end of the war. People crowded in the streets to celebrate or gathered in private houses, welcoming the soldiers home. 
It would be difficult to imagine more ideal circumstances for the spreading of a pandemic.  


RESOURCES

National Geographic – History of the Spanish Flu Pandemic
The Wall Street Journal – Influenza
OpenLearn – What was the impact of ‘Spanish flu’ on the armistice?
The Conversation – World War One’s role in the worst ever flu pandemic


LIVING THE TWENTIES by Sarah Zama - The Great War created a new world. This is that world.

14 Comments

  • Linda Curry
    Posted April 10, 2021 at 08:06

    Everyone seems much more aware of the Influenza epidemic after WW1 since COVID arrived. People can relate to it even though it was different.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 13, 2021 at 08:25

      I’m actually shocked at how similar the two experiences are, inspite of the 100 years in between.

  • Dara
    Posted April 10, 2021 at 10:54

    Maybe, as flu typically flourishes in winter, and the War ended in November, the timing of the migration home helped increase the pandemic effect.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 13, 2021 at 08:53

      Historians say that it did. Apparently, both the demobilisation and the celebrations for the end of the war plaid a part in the speading of the flu.

  • Gail M Baugniet
    Posted April 10, 2021 at 19:43

    Your header “Modern transportation and the flu” highlights one of the main factors in the rapid spread of the 1918 flu. Having first appeared in Spain, the country suffers the unfortunate distinction of the flu’s eponymous label. Modern transportation must certainly factor into the spread of this century’s virus also.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 13, 2021 at 08:58

      Even more ironic, since historians are uncertain where teh flu started, but they know it wasn’t in Spain 😉
      I think both the concentration of people in crowded places like the trenches and the subsequent ‘fast’ demobilisation were factors int he spredinf of the flu worldwide. The world was becoming very small even back then.

  • Carrie-Anne
    Posted April 11, 2021 at 05:29

    The influenza pandemic killed two of my favorite artists, Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt. I strongly suspect in hindsight that I’ve had the flu twice, at seventeen and twenty-one, and it was a horrible experience. I can only imagine how much worse the strain in the influenza pandemic was.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 13, 2021 at 09:00

      Oh gosh! I didn’t know Schiele and Klimt died of flu!

  • Tarkabarka
    Posted April 11, 2021 at 09:19

    The Spanish flu hit my grandparents’ village really hard too. A lot of young people died.
    Ministerio del Tiempo did an episode on it that was very well done.

    The Multicolored Diary

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 13, 2021 at 09:01

      It’s funny, I never heard stories abotu the flu here in Italy. My grandparents told me many stories about WWII (when they were parents) and even about WWI (when they were kids), but never abotu the flu.
      I wonder how this is.

  • Pradeep
    Posted April 11, 2021 at 20:52

    How history repeats itself!

  • Birgit
    Posted April 13, 2021 at 07:02

    My dad was 5 years old when this flu hit and I wish i would have asked him about it but I was too young(23) when he died in 1988. I was always intrigued by this flu pandemic and remember reading books where it was claimed that it started in Spain while others were better and stated they had no idea where it started. The latest was that it had started in the barracks somewhere in Kansas but I have also heard, recently, that they believe it started in China. I wonder about this latest claim and question if this is now not just a scapegoat since the States does not like to have this start in their own country. Of course, I need to read more on this new revelation and the theories why this is correct and not the one in Kansas. I think we can learn so much from this flu if people would just read. They are so right that the flu would not have spread so widely if it were not for the war.

Leave a comment

Captcha loading...

0