Thursday, 28 April 2016

“Influenza is still spreading in Manchester and the death rate is high”*......... stories behind the book nu 21

An occasional series on the stories behind the new book on Manchester and the Great War**

All deaths in Manchester, November 1918
Now however you play with the figures the flu epidemic of 1918 was an awful event.

It had begun in the summer, returned later in the autumn, and impacted on industry and commerce, briefly disrupting the tram service and leading to a closure of all Manchester schools on November 30.***

And despite the medical authorities concluding that the outbreak was “reaching the culminating point” and anticipating a decline from the start of December, they called for the closure of all Sunday schools and recommended that children under fourteen should be barred from cinemas and theatres.

Manchester flu deaths as a % of all deaths in November 1918
A wise precaution given that the death toll had risen through November from 81 at the end of the first week up to 297 by November 23, which is shocking enough but is more so when expressed as a % of total deaths.  At the beginning of the month deaths from flu had amounted to 32% of all recorded deaths but by the fourth week that figure had climbed to 53%.

According to one newspaper the mortuaries were full, undertakers couldn’t keep pace with the orders and at the cemeteries the labour available for grave digging had proved quite inadequate.

This had led to efforts to release skilled coffin makers from the army and a call for “greater simplicity in funeral arrangements and a more extensive use of the crematorium.”

And as ever there were those who were swift to make money from the crisis and those who sought easy explanations for its appearance.

Fight the Flu, 1918
So the firm Genatosan Ltd offered up their “Germ Killing Throat Tablet” which would ensure “you will be safe from Spanish Influenza and other epidemics.

It was endorsed by Lady Manns, Lady Jane Joicey-Cecil and Mr Matheson Lang who was ordered by his doctors to take the tablet Formamint which “gave me great relief.”****

It was a set of recommendations bettered only by Lady Firbank who added that “Formamint tablets have completely cured my throat which owing to Influenza has been left weak and painful.”

But perhaps we shouldn’t be over harsh on the makers of Formamint for offering their tablet as a remedy given that at least given some thought that there might a link between the outbreak and arrival of American troops who landed shortly before the epidemic began.

Location, Manchester

Picture; Fight the Flu with Formamint, advert, 1918

*Manchester Influenza A High death Rate, Manchester Guardian, November 9, 1918

**A new book on Manchester and the Great War,

***Influenza, Epidemic at its height in Manchester, Manchester Guardian, November 30, 1918

****Fight the Flu, advert, Manchester Guardian, August 15, 1918

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