11 November 1918 and the flu pandemic

11 November 1918 and the flu pandemic

The influenza pandemic plays a significant role in Peace at Last, as the short sections below indicate:

Many people weren’t going to be getting up for work or school that Monday morning, and would spend the day ill in bed (a sickbed or deathbed), weak, delirious or sleeping. Strict isolation was required for those infected with the flu. But for those people hoping to avoid contracting it, getting up and outside was recommended – among the items of advice offered by newspapers (washing inside the nose with soap, eating porridge, using Vicks VapoRub), there was ‘take walks’; and official medical advice included ‘keep out of doors as much as possible’.

Crowds were to be avoided, though. Schools had been closed for a similar reason and therefore children and teenagers were kept at home, or left by their parents to roam the streets excitedly and join dangerous crowds.

(pp. 29-30)

The poor lighting added to the dangerousness of the crowds and the high jinks and excitement. On a day when the clergy and politicians had tried to see the war and the Armistice as rational and explicable – the most morally decent, devout and brave side had won, when and as God willed it – the celebrations emphasised that life is a collection of accidents, unpredictable, cruel and unjust. It was a day of strict organisation and precise timing before 11 a.m., but then one of freedom, transgression, pure chance and bad luck. Millions had died, but amid the celebrations more people would be injured and killed, and that evening more people would die of flu. Some members of the crowds, in among all that sneezing and coughing in damp conditions, and with all that kissing and touching, would have caught that happy day the flu that would kill them that winter. 

(pp. 162-3)