No Kiss Hello: The Influenza Epidemic of 1919

1919 was a time of both great joy and sombre reflection. The Great War had ended the previous year, and with it people in Camden were confronted with the final confirmation of brothers, sons, fathers, husbands, and lovers never to return. It also greeted many with the bittersweet reuniting with loved ones forever changed by the experiences of the battlefields.

The warm welcome home to tropps returning from World War I quickly became a greeting of illness. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

The warm welcome home to troops returning from World War I quickly became a greeting of illness. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

During 1919 many were still coming home. But the warm welcome of the large number of troops brought with it something altogether more sinister. The Influenza Pandemic that started in Europe in January 1918 hit Australia in 1919. The large number of troops returning carried it home to Australia (Nixon, 2005).

Numerous measures were undertaken by officials to curtail the spread of the disease. At one point schools, cinemas, libraries, theatres, and churches were closed for a period of 3 months across NSW. In Camden one of the first measures suggested to help deal with the spread was from Council’s Nuisance Officer (who was in charge of things like sanitation). His suggestion was for people to cease kissing when they greeted others in public areas like train platforms. Council deemed it an absurd action and sought more practical solutions (Sidman, 2014).

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The Old Camden Fire Station, was an inoculation centre during the epidemic. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

The first was to set up an inoculation centre in the Camden Fire Station on John Street (now part of the Library) in February 1919. The first case appeared in April, and to deal with the outbreak an Emergency Hospital was established within Camden Public School. This first wave was contained quickly and relatively easily, and it seemed that Camden would be spared the worst to the pandemic that continued to rage in the outside world (Sidman, 2014).

Camden Public School, which became the Emergency Hospital to deal with the 50 patients. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Camden Public School, which became the Emergency Hospital to deal with the 52 patients during the epidemic. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

But after 10 days of heavy rainfall in May a second wave of infections came. This time it was more virulent and was not so easily contained. It now called for great efforts from many people. In the end the virus would claim around 6000 people in NSW (The Influenza Epidemic of 1919). In Camden 52 patients were hospitalised with the disease and spent an average of 21 days fighting the disease. The two doctors to treat patients during this emergency were Dr. F.W. West and Dr. R.M. Crookston. West fell ill, leaving a double load for Crookston (Sidman, 2014).

Although impacting the entire area, of those hospitalised only 4 would succumb to the disease. It was a show of great unity and strength in Camden, during a time that was already heavily charged with joy,  sorrow, and reflection.

References:

N.A. (N.D.) Influenza Epidemic of 1919. Sydney Medical School.

Nixon, R. (2005). Influenza Outbreak of 1919. The District Reporter.

Sidman, G.V. (2014). Inspector Warned Against Kissing. The District Reporter.

One comment

  1. Thanks for the very interesting article. On display at the Camden Museum there is a example of the Voluntary Aid Detachment uniforms worn at this time by the Camden volunteers . The uniform was completely white – which was not very practical for the poor nurses!

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