Influenza 1918

Natural calamities in New Zeland have proved the worth of the military, which with a trained and disciplined workforce and access to resources can respond efficiently in a manner that civilian organisations can match. Be it floods, heavy snow, cyclones or earthquakes the men and women of the New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps have often been found at the front line of relief efforts.

One of the earliest examples of New Zealand’s Ordnance Services providing emergency relief was during the Influenza epidemic of October 1918, when the most massive public health crisis ever to strike New Zealand occurred when the worldwide influenza epidemic reached New Zealand shores. Between October and November 1918, an estimated 9000 New Zealanders would perish as a result of the Influenza epidemic.[1] In the capital city of Wellington, the onset of the Influenza epidemic caused the existing medical facilities to be overwhelmed and unable to cope with the unprecedented number of people struck down with Influenza.  Stepping up to assist the Public Health Department, The New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps based at Alexandra Barracks were mobilised to establish emergency hospitals around the Wellington region.

McCristell

Major Thomas James McCristell, Director of Equipment and Ordnance Stores, 10 April 1916 – 20 January 1920.

Under the management of the Director of Equipment and Ordnance Stores, Major Thomas McCristell, the 123 men of the Ordnance Corps equipped the various emergency hospitals with over 300 beds, supplied the stores and supervised the hospital arrangements and general machinery of each establishment  in and about Wellington, so that by 20 November the following hospitals and convalescent hospitals had been established:[2]

  • Hospitals
    • Normal School, 91 women,
    • Sydney street Schoolroom, 41 men.
    • Missions to Seamen, 65 men.
    • John’s Schoolroom, 67 men and women.
    • Alexandra Hall, 20 men.
    • Wellington College, 105 men and women.
    • Patrick’s College, 48 men.
    • Brooklyn Hall, 32 men and women.
    • Johnsonville, 23 men and women.
    • Seatoun, 10 men and women.
  • Convalescent Hospitals
    • Thomas’s Hall, 35 men.
    • Wellington Convalescent Home, 24 women.
    • Salvation Army Training College, 16 women.
    • Anne’s Hall, 30 men.
  • Untended Children’s Home
    • Miramar Golf Club, 56 children

The 1916 census listed the population of Wellington as 95235, deaths in Wellington attributed to the influenza were 795 which gave Wellington a death rate of 7.9 per 1000. This rate was slightly higher than Auckland but well below the death rate found in other North Island Locations which was as high as 43 per 1000.[3] It would be optimistic to believe that the work carried out by the Ordnance Corps in establishing emergency hospitals contributed to Wellingtons low death rate.

hero_wellington-ambulances

Emergency ambulances alongside the Wellington Town Hall during the 1918 flu pandemic. Ref: PAColl-7489-69 Alexander Turnbull Library

The Ordnance men were not immune to the effects of the Influenza, and at one stage 7O men were laid up with influenza, placing extraordinary demands onto the very much reduced staff.[4] Private F.W  Maynard, a 35-year-old Ordnance Soldier, died as a result of the complications caused by Influenza on the 28 November.[5]

By December 1918 the influenza epidemic was under control, and the crisis has passed with the emergency hospitals progressively shut down. Much of the credit to the success of the setting up and management of the emergency hospitals were placed directly on Major McCristell and his team from the Ordnance Corps.

Copyright © Robert McKie 2018

flu-poster

Influenza instructions for nurses.Ref: Eph-B-HEALTH-1918-01, Alexander Turnbull Library

 

 

Notes

[1] Manatū Taonga – Ministry for Culture and Heritage, “100 Years since Influenza Pandemic, 28 September 2018,”  https://mch.govt.nz/100-years-influenza-pandemic.

[2] “Revelations,” New Zealand Times, Volume XLIII, Issue 10133, 22 November 1918.

[3] “North Island Influenza Death Rates, 11 January 2018,”  https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/influenza-pandemic/north-island-death-rates.

[4] “Under Control,” New Zealand Times, Volume XLIII, Issue 10131, 20 November 1918.

[5] “Soldiers Deaths,” Evening Post, Volume XCVI, Issue 131, 29 November 1918.

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