The pneumonic influenza pandemic of 1918 and 1919 had a devastating impact on the world population, leaving more casualties in its wake than the Great War. Between March 1918 and the last recorded case in March 1920, an estimated 50 to 100 million people had died from the pandemic.1 Troops from the Western Front returning home, brought the virus with them. It took hold in the cities first then spread to the country-side.2
The first cases reported in the Manning Valley were Oscar Latimore, from Upper Manning River, and Corporal Ede, of Strathcedar, both returned soldiers. They had been in Sydney on holidays and were staying at the Exchange Hotel in Taree when they fell ill. The two men were admitted to the isolation ward of Manning River District Hospital and the Government Medical Officer imposed quarantine conditions on the Exchange Hotel which was closed and those who were in the hotel at the time confined to the premises.3
Emergency hospitals were set up at the Taree and Wingham showgrounds to cope with the number of patients affected by the virus. The first reported deaths were Mrs J. W. Walker of Dingo Creek and her son William who were being treated at the Taree showground.4 By the end of the pandemic, 438 patients had been treated with 12 deaths at the Taree and Wingham showgrounds and the Taree Volunteer Aid Detachment Depot. These figures do not include M.R.D. Hospital admissions or the number of people who were nursed privately in their homes.5
Author: Katherine Bell
1 Laura Spinney, ‘Spanish Flu: The Virus that Changed the world’, World Histories, Issue 4, 2017, pp.68, 70-71.
2 Robert Hume, ‘When Spanish Flu hit Britain’, BBC History Magazine, January 2018, p.42.
3 29 March 1919, Northern Champion, p.4.
4 16 April 1919, Northern Champion, p.2.
5 11 November 1919, Wingham Chronicle, p.2.