January 2018 saw the UK in the grip of its worst flu season for seven years. All parts of the UK had seen suspected flu cases increase. Yet the current deaths attributable to influenza, though tragic are minute compared to the outbreak in 1918.
At that time there were influenza outbreaks all over Essex and the death toll was high. The Romford Times gave an update on 13th November 1918. It reported an alarming
INFLUENZA EPEDEMIC and its increasing mortality rate. Official figures revealed in London 2,458 deaths had resulted from influenza. Throughout West Ham, East Ham, Ilford and Walthamstow over 500 deaths had been notified during the previous week which included five teachers employed by the West Ham education authority. These figures were substantially higher than those recorded the previous week.
Essex County Council made several appeals for undertakers’ assistants and noted that undertakers could not obtain enough coffins. Eventually the War Office agreed to send a team carpenters to assist in making coffins. It was further reported that many bodies were waiting in East Ham for 8 to 10 day for burial and there alone were 53 bodies in the chapel Manor Park cemetery. One undertaker had to conduct 100 funerals in a week.
In Southend delay has been caused in sending out the remainder of the new ration books owing the ravages of influenza among the staff and crowds have been besieged the Food Office there.
The 1918 outbreak was estimated to have killed more than 50 million people worldwide, far more than all the military related deaths in the First World War.
You can read more about the 1918 flu pandemic in They Did Their Duty, Essex Farm now available.