[Recollections of the 1918 influenza epidemic].

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Tono kōrero mai

A compilation of interviews [most speakers unidentified] which were used by broadcaster Jim Henderson for the documentary "The Great Plague" - [see ID23785. ]

An unidentified male interviewee talks about driving a dray as a teamster in Wellington and going to get medical supplies, as a runner. He describes going through the fumigator he had to inhale and recalls everything being closed in Wellington at one point, including the hotels. He recalls the most they buried in one day was 108 people. Then the soldiers' camp in Trentham got it and trucks came and took the bodies to Karori cemetery where they were buried in a ring. He says he didn't let it worry him.

An unidentified woman talks about working in a chemist's in Wellington and people dying on the street. She said the prescription was publicised in the newspaper to save on time getting the medicine to the people and so it could be given in bulk form. Some died before getting their medicine. She tells the story of children crying and finding their parents were dead in the house. She says dozens of cases were similar.

An unidentified sub-matron in Wellington recalls an orderly bringing in endless sick people. She talks about having a lawyer named Bob McKenzie there at the hospital to write patients' wills very quickly. She talks about the huge amount of washing which had to be done in three coppers. She pays tribute to the wonderful old washer-woman named Mrs Simpson, who kept going with several drops of 'something' out of the medicine cabinet.

An unidentified male interviewer: " Lieutenant. D. C. Low, who was assistant medical officer, on board the New Zealand transporter, Tahiti. Tahiti left Wellington on the 10 July 1918. Now, during that voyage, Dr. Low, when you were assistant medical officer, you had an outbreak of influenza, a quite serious one. I wonder if you'd tell me the story?

Dr D.C. Low: Just after we left Freetown. In all, I should think we must have had more than 1000 cases of influenza on this ship, out of a complement of troops I think, of about 1500. This disease very like an ordinary influenza only very much more severe, with very severe headache, shivering, high temperatures and very often delirium. One or two people went overboard under these conditions. We had a hospital of twelve beds, three medical officers, one of whom was a British Army medical officer being invalided home with yellow fever from Freetown, so he wasn't much use on this ship. The senior medical officer promptly got influenza and pneumonia and he wasn't much value, so really, the C.O. of troops and myself had to carry out all the treatment. Drugs of course, ran out in two days and whatever was left, we put everything into a bucket and mixed it up with water and gave a dose of this mixture to whoever reported in sick.
The firemen and crew were affected, so the rule was made, after consultation with the commanding officer, that anybody with a temperature of 102 and over was allowed to lie on the deck. And anybody just below 102 had to work, otherwise of course, the ship couldn't go on.
There were a hundred deaths between September the 1st and the 10th, the date we arrived in Plymouth. Ordinary ship's routine had to be altered every day for funerals. For instance, one day we had twenty funerals. We did these in batches of four.
There were questions asked in Parliament about sickness on this ship. Why? Were the medical officers efficient? Were the stores sufficient? Were there sufficient drugs onboard? But shortly after the epidemic struck New Zealand and of course the disaster in this country minimised the other, and it was forgotten."

Transcript by Sound Archives/Ngā Taonga Kōrero

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Year 1967

Reference number 244922

Media type AUDIO

Collection Sound Collection

Genre Interviews (Sound recordings)
Sound recordings

Credits Low, David Collingwood, Speaker/Kaikōrero
Radio New Zealand. National Programme (estab. 1964, closed 1986), Broadcaster

Duration 00:11:42

Date 1967