Peace Day Centenary, 19th July 2019

Background

(The Gazette, 6th July 1919)

To celebrate and mark the end of the First World War, a Bank Holiday was declared in Britain, having been decided by a committee chaired by Lord Curzon, foreign secretary (Gazette issue 28547):

The British contingent of the Victory Parade in Whitehall passing the Cenotaph on Peace Day, 19th July 1919
© Illustrated London News Ltd/Mary Evans

‘We, considering that, with a view to the more wide-spread and general celebration of the Conclusion of Peace, it is desirable that Saturday, the Nineteenth day of July instant, should be observed as a Bank Holiday and as a Public Holiday throughout the United Kingdom’

Though November 1918 had marked the end of fighting on the Western Front, negotiations were to continue at the Paris Peace Conference until 1920, with the ‘high and tremendous task of settling the peace terms’ (Gazette issue 31223).  The Treaty of Versailles was not signed until June 1919 (Gazette issue 31427).

Once negotiations were nearing their end and ‘proper peace’ was within sight, a peace committee was set up with the intention of deciding how Britain would publically mark the end of the war and do justice to the widespread feelings of jubilation.

The committee first met on 9th May 1919.  Its members, led by Curzon, at first considered a 4-day August celebration, including a river pageant.  But this was simplified and reduced to a single day on 19th July, under the perhaps more reserved direction of David Lloyd George, prime minister (Gazette issue 31506).

Though the prevailing mood was in the main triumphant, the proposal of a day of celebration and victory parade attracted some criticism from those who felt that the money would be better spent supporting returning servicemen who faced physical and mental injuries, and who needed work and a place to live.  The Unemployment Insurance Act of 1920 (Gazette issue 32118) attempted to address this by raising the amount of contributions given and the number of workers who could claim.


Peace Day 1919

(The Gazette, 6th July 1919)

On the morning of the 19th, thousands gathered in London, having arrived overnight.  It was a spectacle never seen before, with nearly 15,000 troops taking part in the victory parade, led by Allied commanders Pershing (head of the US Expeditionary Force), Foch (Allied supreme commander) and Haig (British Commander in Chief), who saluted fallen comrades.  Bands played, and the central parks of London hosted performances and entertained the crowds.

That morning, King George V issued a message: ‘To these, the sick and wounded who cannot take part in the festival of victory, I send out greetings and bid them good cheer, assuring them that the wounds and scars so honourable in themselves, inspire in the hearts of their fellow countrymen the warmest feelings of gratitude and respect.’

A monument to those killed and wounded was unveiled in Whitehall, to mark the end point of the victory parade, soon to be decorated with flower wreaths.  Architect Sir Edwin Lutyens (Gazette issue 30607) was commissioned by Lloyd George at the start of the month to design the monument, and had just 2 weeks to create a piece befitting of the memory of the fallen.  Though it was a temporary wood and plaster construction, another made from Portland stone was to replace it in 1920, which still stands today.

Though the main spectacle was in London, other celebrations organised by local authorities and communities took place in cities, towns and villages across the country.


Local Celebrations

The Belfast News-Letter, 11th August 1919

There was very little time to organise official Peace Day celebrations.  Following on from the government announcement in May 1919, cities and towns in Ulster formed committees to agree how peace would be celebrated. 

Newspaper articles in the Belfast News Letter of 11th July 1919 detailed the initial plans for some of the places in Ulster:

Antrim – It was agreed by the organising committee that Antrim’s  peace celebrations would be on 19th August.  School children would be entertained in Fir Field (courtesy of Lord Massereene) with sports and other amusements.  The local inhabitants are to be asked to decorate and illuminate their houses.

Ballymoney – The local committee decided that the celebrations in Ballymoney would be on 19th August.  There would be sports in the park, confined to ex-soldiers.  In the evening, there would be a dance at the Town Hall followed by a torchlight procession.

Belfast – Belfast Corporation agreed that a grant of £6,000 be authorised.  The celebrations would take place during the first week in August.  The Corporation’s General Purposed Committee would work with the Citizens Committee.  It was emphasised that Belfast should not lag behind in spending lavishly on peace celebrations.  Belfast would give a reception to all Ulster soldiers and sailors who had served.  There would be entertainment also for children and old people.  All creeds and classes should be included.  Local clergymen advised that they would be willing to cooperate with the Citizens Committee.

Coleraine – A huge procession is planned with the Urban Council members, ex-soldiers, the Boys’ Brigade, Girl Scouts, Girl Guides, Fire Brigade, local athletic clubs, trade societies and school children taking part.  There would be sports events at Anderson Park with school children being entertained.  The inmates of the workhouse will be granted extra fare.

Dromore – A meeting of residents agreed that there would be a parade of school children, similar to that on Empire Day.  Discharged men, demobilised men, local bands would also take part in the parade.  An athletic sports day would be organised. 

Gilford – The Gilford celebrations would take place on 19th August.  There would be a cricket match, a procession, a fancy dress parade, a concert, and bonfires amongst the festivities.  School children will be entertained at Moyallon House (courtesy of Mr and Mrs Richardson).

Lurgan – Lurgan selected 2nd August for their celebrations.  A subscription list is to be opened to raise funds.  £200 will be committed from local rates.

Newcastle – It was agreed that 600 school children will be entertained at the Mill field (courtesy of Lady Mabel Annesley).  The town is to be illuminated at night.

Portadown – The town is to be decorated.  Returned soldiers and school children will be entertained.  The Town Council will donate a reasonable sum to supplement public subscription.

Portrush – A comprehensive programme of celebrations was agreed.  There would be a parade of ex-soldiers, school children and others.  In addition, the Blue Pool and Harbour would be the venues for free bathing.  The committee will provide dinner for the ex-soldiers and tea for the school children, who will also get free rides on the hobby-horse


A week later on 19th July 1919, advertisements for the events would be published in the Belfast News Letter:

Belfast is to celebrate peace officially on Friday & Saturday, 8th & 9th August.  The Lord Mayor requests that [today] the official day [London and the rest of GB] 19th July should also be recognised with a military procession and citizens displaying flags and other emblems of victory and peace. 

Friday & Saturday, 8th & 9th August are to be regarded as peace holidays say the Belfast Chamber of Commerce. 

The Childrens Victory Excursion – donations are requested for the Poor Children’s Holiday Fund by the Rev R M Ker, Grosvenor Hall, Belfast. 

The first list of subscriptions to Belfast Peace Celebrations and Reception are published with the sum of £2,760 being subscribed.

The route of to-Day’s Military Pageant was publicised.  The procession would leave Victoria Barracks via Clifton Street, Donegall Street, Royal Avenue, Castle Place, High Street, Victoria Street, Chichester Street, Donegall Square North (with a Salute being taken at the city centre platform), Bedford Street, Dublin Road, Shaftesbury Square, University Road and into Botanic Gardens Park where the troops will be entertained to luncheon.

Belfast Peace Day Parade, By Weekly Telegraph, 16th August 1919 – courtesy Nigel Henderson

Reports of Saturday’s events were detailed in the Belfast News Letter of 21st July 1919 and 22nd July 1919:

Antrim – On Saturday there was a parade formed of mobilised and demobilised soldiers, 150 in number.  At the rear of the military fell in over 1,000 school children of all denominations under their respective teachers.  In a display in Massereene Park, there was an unmistakable spirit of joyousness associated with the observance, as one would expect to find in that loyal centre [Antrim].  From whatever standpoint, the project  may be looked at, Antrim proved itself a thoroughly exemplary community.  All combined as one family in celebrating the peace that the world had so much longed for, and they were one also in doing honour to the memory of the glorious dead. 

Armagh – Armagh’s event had been postponed from 19th to 26th inst.  However, on Saturday the Cathedral bells rang at noon and successful sports were held at Milford and Loughgall. 

Ballycastle – A wreath was placed on the Roll of Honour at the courthouse.

Ballyclare – All the children from the town and surrounding districts paraded with ex-soldiers marched to ‘Craig Hill’.  To mark the occasion each child was given a coin of 1919 as a souvenir.

Ballymena – The town presented a more imposing spectacle with huge streamers of bunting fluttering in the breeze at all the principal squares of the town.  The Castle grounds were thrown open to the public.  Many  school children marched in a procession with the demobilised soldiers.  A sports programme and fireworks display ended the evening.

Ballymoney – Upwards of 150 were entertained to supper, and an attractive concert followed.

Banbridge – Each child was presented with a miniature Union Jack, and also with an ornamental plaque containing the flags of the Allies.

Bangor – There were scenes of enthusiasm, gaiety and animation as thousands of people promenaded the streets, happy and care free, and proud of the knowledge that Bangor had nobly done its duty, in war as well as in peace.  It was estimated that some 2,500 children assembled at the Esplanade and marched, accompanied by bands to Ward Park where Peace Medals bearing the inscription ‘To commemorate the Victorious conclusion of the Great War’ were presented to the little ones by Miss Connor.

Belfast – The newspaper reporter described the Military Parade as a ‘route march’ with around 1,100 men taking part.   It was anticipated that there would be a much larger parade on 9th August.  This parade will be composed of Ulstermen or men who have served in Ulster regiments.  The troops parading on Saturday  included a large number of recruits, but there were also many men who wore the British War Medal and other decorations. 

Belfast – In a report entitled ‘Rejoicings in the Workhouse’, the Board of Guardians placed £350 at the disposal of a committee to provide a sumptuous tea, large quantities of fruit, and sweets, pipes, tobacco, snuff and suitable prizes in a sports tournament.

Belfast – In a report entitled ‘Treat for Hospital Patients’.  The Lady Mayoress visited the Ulster Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, Clifton Street; the Hospital for Children and Women, Templemore Avenue; the Children’s Hospital, Queen Street and entertained the whole of the patients to tea, in addition to presenting gifts to the children.  Her kindness helped make ‘Peace Day’ memorable.

Clones – A parade of ex-servicemen to Hilton Park.  Shooting competitions and other sports took place.  A splendid firework display in the Diamond.

Clogher – Demobilised soldiers were entertained to lunch at Clogher Park.  Procession of ex-soldiers and school children of all the neighbouring schools.

Coleraine – A large detachment of discharged and demobilised soldiers and sailors took the lead of a fine procession, followed by the members of the Boys’ Brigade, V.A.D., industrial concerns, sports’ club, Masonic lodges, and immense numbers of school children.  The streets were thickly lined with spectators, and the houses along the route were handsomely decorated, although no public scheme was undertaken.  Several bonfires ended the evening.

Cookstown – Following a parade, the chairman of the urban council welcomed the men home and thanked them in the name of the town for what they had achieved.  A decorated cycle parade, football, other sports, bands and a huge bonfire ended the night.

Derry – Derry’s Victory March.  The day was observed in Londonderry in loyal and enthusiastic fashion.  Business establishments were closed and the day regarded as one of general holiday and universal rejoicing.  A victory march through the city by discharged and demobilised soldiers and sailors and men of the Mercantile Marine.  The men marched to a field at Boom Hall.  A sports programme ended the evening.

Downpatrick – The Celebration Committee carried out an elaborate programme at the grounds of the Downpatrick Cricket Club where a gymkhana and band promenade afforded enjoyment to over 4,000 people.  A concert party and dancing ended the evening.

Dromore – At an early hour the bells of the cathedral rang out a merry peal. and the sounding of factory horns proclaimed the glad event.  There was a procession of ex-soldiers and school children, accompanied by local bands. to a field at the Old Bishop’s Demesne. 

Dungannon – The celebrations were of a slight nature.  Only a few shops were closed.  Childrens sports and other forms of rejoicing took place in Newmills and Moy.

Enniskillen – In a gala day at Enniskillen there was a grand Victory parade followed by athletic sports, a bicycle carnival and dancing on the Fort Hill.  Bonfires ended the evening.

Gilford – A cricket match between the district and the boys at Rockford School took place.  A procession of some 500 children made its way to Moygallon House where they were entertained.  A fancy dress cycle parade followed.  Sports, open-air concert and bonfires ended the day.

Larne – Joy-Bells at Larne.  There was an early start at 8:00 am for the ringing of church bells for 5 minutes. followed by the sounding of factory hooters, engine horns and sirens.  A United Thanksgiving Service was followed by a parade and march past of ex-service and serving men.  School children assembled at the Market Yard where souvenir medals were distributed.  A sports event and fireworks ended the evening.

Limavady District – In addition to a luncheon to hundreds of ex-soldiers, there was a procession of school children, many hundreds strong who were marched to Roe Park, where they were entertained.  In the evening many bonfires blazed on the hills encircling the Roe Valley.

Lisburn – A formal celebration would be held early next month.

Lurgan – Peace Day celebrations have been fixed for 2nd August.

Magherafelt – A procession of ex-servicemen accompanied by the local Scout band made their way to a field beside the railway station.  Sports were held and tea was distributed to the children and ex-soldiers.

Monaghan – A march of the demobilised and discharged soldiers, sports, and an entertainment of schoolchildren took place in Rosamore Park.

Newcastle – All the principal shops were closed and the town was bedecked with flags.  A children’s march with a local pipe band marched to the Donard Demesne where sports took place.

Newtownards – The day started with 5 minutes of ringing of the church bells at midnight followed by the sounding of factory hooters.  Bands paraded through the streets later in the morning, followed by a united thanksgiving service.  The main parade took place in the afternoon.  The school children assembled at their respective schools, where souvenirs suitable to the occasion were presented to them.  The evening ended with patriotic songs and dancing in the Square.

Newtownards Peace Parade, Belfast Telegraph, 26th August 1919

Omagh – In honour of the occasion no market was held and all the business establishments and public offices were closed.  A military pageant was held with a march past afterwards.  A sports carnival with an attendance of about 5,000 was followed in the evening by a grand fancy dress cycle parade, torchlight procession and fireworks.

Portadown – Peace was celebrated by the inhabitants of Portadown with great cordiality.  About 700 demobilised soldiers were entertained to luncheon in the Town Hall.  In the afternoon, an imposing procession of the demobilised soldiers and over 4,000 school children was accompanied through the town by bands.  A fancy dress parade with prizes and tea for the children followed by sports events at the Show Grounds.

Portrush – In Portrush there was a day of joy and thanksgiving.  The famous North Antrim watering-place never, perhaps, looked so brilliant.  Flags, streamers, and bunting in almost endless variety fluttered gaily in the breeze, and loyal emblems were everywhere worn.  A grand procession headed by a military band, followed by sailors, soldiers, ex-servicemen, a St John’s Ambulance detachment Church Lads, school children, people in fancy dress, decorated jaunting cars, motors, vans, bicycles with thousands of cheering spectators lining the route.  One of the bicycles was a very smart representation of an aeroplane.  In the afternoon was a free matinee at the Main Street Picture House supplemented by a concert.  A great sports meeting with a fireworks display at Ramore Head followed in the evening. 

Portrush Peace Day Programme – 19th July 1919

Portstewart – A procession was formed at the harbour that included a Scottish pipe band and Portstewart fishermen.  School children were given a treat with free rides on the swing-boats and hobbyhorses.  A social evening and a bonfire ended the day.

Tandragee – A fancy dress parade, a most successful sports programme, a procession and a bonfire made up the celebrations.

Warrenpoint – The town was gay with flags and bunting when festivities commence in the afternoon.  The local Boy Scouts were presented with new colours.  Various exhibitions of physical and ambulance strength, and Morris dancing were given by the Scouts.  An impressive ceremony of the saluting of the flags of the Allies took place in the afternoon.  The evening consisted of a grand patriotic concert  in the gardens followed by illuminations and a water pageant on the sea front.


On 26th July 1919, more advertisements for events would be published in the Belfast News Letter:

Belfast – The second list of public subscriptions was published and added to £2,760 previously collected, brings the total to £4,010.

Belfast – Advertisement – Civic Reception and Review of Ulster Troops, August 9th, 1919.  A reception in the form of (1) a march past his Excellency the Lord Lieutenant (2) Public Dinner to all taking part in the march-past (3) Presentation of a Memento to all taking part in the march-past.  Free railway warrants to everyone qualified to take part to Belfast from within the boundaries of Ulster. 

Belfast – A Miss Mary E Cunningham intimated at the Catering Sub-Committee that she would give all the luncheon guests cigarettes out of the ‘Welcome Home’ Fund.


An advertisement on behalf of Belfast Lord Mayor appeared in the Belfast News Letter of 9th August 1919 outlining the route of the Belfast parade later that day.  Streets would be closed for vehicular traffic on the said 9th August from 10:30 am till 3 o’clock pm.

Antrim Road from Fortwilliam Park to Carlisle Circus, Carlisle Circus, Clifton Street, Donegall Street, Royal Avenue, Castle Place, High Street, Victoria Street, Chichester Street, Donegall Square North, Donegall Square West, Bedford Street, Ormeau Avenue, Ormeau Road to Ormeau Park.


The Belfast News Letter of Saturday 9th August 1919 prepared its readers for today’s Victory Parade:

Belfast – Following 12,000 children being entertained in Belfast parks yesterday [Friday] as the inauguration of the peace festivities, today there will be a great march of 36,000 men and women who served their country during the war.  Citizens are displaying tremendous enthusiasm and they are determined to give their guests a reception worthy of the great cause they played.  Along the route the streets are decorated with bunting and flags and practically every street within the boundaries of the city has its own array of patriotic emblems.  The feeding of such a large number of adults is a stupendous task with 1,500 ladies giving their services as waitresses.  Yesterday the Corporation agreed to double its financial contribution to £12,000.

The Belfast Evening Telegraph of Saturday 9th August 1919 wrote:

Headlines – Ulster’s Warrior Sons.  Gratitude of Homeland.  Wonderful Day in History of Belfast.  City Peace Celebrations.  Viceroy Reviews Great Parade.

The wonderful response to the invitation to take part in the great march to Ormeau Park was a revelation even to patriotic Belfast.  Over 73,000 men joined the Army in Ulster, not to speak of the Navy.  Many are still serving.  Many are dead.  Many were not available from various causes.  Yet instead of the 20,000 originally arranged for there were 36,000 notifications from demobilised men that would accept the hospitality of the Citizens Committee.

And who had more right to be proud of this day that Ulstermen?  They played a notable part in the war from beginning to end.  Their deeds will live for ever in the story of the great war.  Volumes could be written concerning them.

From an early hour the railway termini of the city presented a busy, bustling aspect.  Thanks to those citizens who responded and placed their motor cars at the service of the wounded or limbless heroes.  The bulk of the provincial contingent travelled over the Great Northern Railway, the numbers aggregating close on 10,000.  They included representatives from Donegal and Fermanagh.  York Street experienced the same and the County Down system had many special trains.

The Belfast News Letter of Monday 11th August 1919 wrote:

Headlines – Ulster Salutes the Dawn of Peace.  Memorable Parade of War Heroes.  Scenes of Enthusiasm in Belfast.  Homage to Our Immortal Dead.  A Moving and Inspiring  Spectacle. 

Saturday was a red-letter day in Belfast.  In celebration of the signing of the Peace Treaty, troops from all parts of Ulster took part in a march through the central thoroughfares of the city, and  at the City Hall the salute was taken by the Lord Lieutenant (Field-Marshal Viscount French, K.P.).

The marching was perfect in smoothness and precision.

Near the City Hall a cenotaph was erected, and this monument was saluted by the whole of the officers as they approached it.  A wreath of flowers was placed on the cenotaph by a detachment of the troops, and subsequently a large number of other memorial tokens were deposited on it.

Weekly Telegraph, 16th August 1919

Written by Gavin Bamford, Chair of History Hub Ulster, with images courtesy of Nigel Henderson, Member of History Hub Ulster.

Guinness employees in the Great War

At the outbreak of the war, the Guinness Brewery at St. James’s Gate was the world’s largest brewery.  The company actively encouraged its workers to enlist for war service and an article on the Herald.ie website in February 2015 estimated that a fifth of the Guinness workforce served.  Like many other industrial and commercial concerns, the company guaranteed that the jobs of men enlisting for war service would be there for them on their return.  However, Guinness went further, and paid half of the men’s ordinary wages to their families during every week in which they were engaged in the conflict.

Guinness employees in the Great War

After the war, those men who returned expressed their gratitude to the company for its philanthropic attitude by presenting the Directors with an illuminated address on 16th February 1920.

Guinness employees in the Great War

A duplicate address was prepared to enable a number of employees, who had not had the opportunity to subscribe to the address in the first instance, to similarly express their thanks.  The two addresses were installed in the Board Room at St. James’ Gate in Dublin.

The company subsequently produced a parchment Roll of Honour and a Roll of Honour book in which the names of 645 employees who served in the Great War are listed by Department.  104 Guinness employees (16% of those who enlisted) died, with 96 being killed in action or dying of wounds.  One of the Roll of Honour books is on display at the Museum of Orange Heritage in Belfast.

Guinness employees in the Great War

Two of the company’s directors served in the Great War.  Captain Edward Guinness, Viscount Elveden, served with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and was an Aide de Camp to His Majesty King George V from 1916 to 1918.  Lieutenant-Colonel, the Honourable Walter Edward Guinness served with the Duke of York’s Own Loyal Suffolk Hussars and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (with Bar) and was Mentioned in Despatches on three occasions.

Guinness employees in the Great War

The company had its own steamers for making deliveries to Great Britain and one ship was lost to enemy action.  The SS “W M Barkley” was built by the Ailsa Shipbuilding Company of Troon in 1898 for William M Barkley & Sons (coal merchants, steamship owners and agents) of Wellington Place in Belfast but was later sold to John Kelly & Company before being purchased by Guinness in 1913.   On 12th October 1917, the SS “W M Barkley” was transporting a cargo of stout from Dublin to Liverpool when she was torpedoed by German submarine UC-75 and sank seven miles east of the Kish lightvessel.  Five men from the crew of 14 were lost and their names are commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial in London. Whilst the Guinness Genealogy Archive lists all five men as employees of the company, only Able Seaman Ernest Arthur Kendall (40) of Meany Place in Dalkey is listed in the Guinness Roll of Honour.  The other fatalities were Ship’s Master, Edward Gregory (46) of Meadows Lane in Arklow, First Engineer Alexander Corry (48) of Victoria Villas in Dublin (who is commemorated on family memorials in Belfast City Cemetery and Movilla Cemetery in Newtownards), Second Engineer Owen Francis Murphy (27) of South Main Street in Wexford and Fireman Thomas Murphy (29) of Lower Sheriff Street in Dublin.

Guinness employees in the Great War

First Engineer Alexander Corry

Another anomaly on the Guinness Roll of Honour is William Geoghegan, who had joined the company in 1889 at the age of 24 and worked as a labourer in the Brewhouse Department.  He is listed as a Sergeant with 8th Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers and he had given his age as 52 when enlisting in October 1914.  He was discharged as “unlikely to make an efficient soldier” on 21st November 1914 and died of pulmonary tuberculosis at his home address in Dublin on 22nd February 1916. The Register of Deaths records his age as 51 and his occupation as “Sergeant R.D.F.”.  However, he is not listed as a war fatality by Commonwealth War Graves Commission as he was not a serving soldier and his death was not attributable to war service.        

The first Guinness employee to die was Private Thomas McDonagh, 1st Battalion Irish Guards, who died of wounds at Coulommiers on 8th September 1914 at the age of 25 and is commemorated on La Ferte-sous-Jouarre Memorial in France.   The Guinness Genealogy Archive records that Thomas McDonagh was born on 30th May 1889 and had joined the company as a cleaner in the Engineer’s Department on 13th November 1911.  He left the company on 5th August 1914, being recalled from the Army Reserve, and was deployed to France on 13th August 1914.   He was a son of Thomas McDonagh and the husband of Elsie McDonagh, later of 24 Pancras Square in London.

The last Guinness war fatality was Private James Kennedy, 1st Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers, who died of influenza at a Military Hospital in Shropshire on 9th April 1919, aged 31, and is buried in the Dean’s Grange Cemetery in Dublin.  The Guinness Genealogy Archive records that James Kennedy was born on 19th March 1888, joined the company as a labourer at the Cooke’s Lane Maltings on 18th July 1911 and left on 27th March 1915.  He was stationed at Victoria Barracks in Cork when he married Ellen Doyle of Montpellier Parade in Blackrock on 4th September 1915. He was deployed to the Western Front after 31st December 1915.

The Guinness Roll of Honour records that 47 employees received gallantry awards during the war, with several men receiving multiple awards:

  • Distinguished Service Order awarded to three men (four awards in total)
  • Distinguished Conduct Medal awarded to eight men
  • Military Cross awarded to nine men
  • Military Medal awarded to 16 men
  • 18 men were “Mentioned in Despatches” (25 awards in total)
  • Three men were awarded the Croix-de-Guerre.

Two employees serving with the Irish Guards are recorded as having received the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM).  However, the United Kingdom only issued DSMs to naval personnel in the Great War.  It is possible that Henry Corrin (a fitter in the Engineer’s Department) and George Woods (a Gate Porter in the Brewhouse Department) were awarded DSMs by the United States of America.

Four men were awarded the Meritorious Service Medal and Captain Trevor Crotty, Royal Army Service Corps, was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire.  Major Edward Gordon Peake, Royal Engineers, and Major Frank Douglas Stevens, Royal Air Force, were made Officers of the Order of the British Empire and Major John Lumsden, Royal Army Medical Corps, was made a Knight of the Order of the British Empire.

One of the Guinness men to be awarded the Military Cross was James Plowman.  He was born at Skerton in Lancashire on 15th September 1890 to Louis Plowman and Eliza Thomas, being the second of their seven children.  Their third child was born in Dublin in 1892 at which time Louis Plowman was employed as a Coach Painter for the Great South Western Railway.  James Plowman joined Guinness as a Fitter in the Engineer’s Department on 9th June 1913.  The family was living at St. Patrick’s Terrace in the New Kilmainham district when James married Isabella Small of Rosemount Terrace in the Arbour’s Hill district on 29th July 1914 in St Paul’s Church of Ireland.  The Guinness Genealogy Archive records that James left the company on 6th August 1914.  He was deployed to France with the South Irish Horse on 17th August, receiving a commission with the Leinster Regiment on 28th August 1915.  James Plowman was awarded the Military Cross for an act of gallantry in June 1917, the citation being published in the London Gazette on 9th January 1918.  Captain James Plowman MC was serving with 2nd Battalion Leinster Regiment when he died of wounds on 29th April 1918, aged 27, and he is buried in the Cinq Rues British Cemetery at Hazebrouck in France.

Guinness employees in the Great War

History Hub Ulster acknowledges the assistance of Dr Jonathan Mattison in providing access to the Roll of Honour book to photograph and transcribe the contents.  A copy of our transcription and the photographs of the pages have been provided to the Museum so that visitors can access the information whilst preserving the integrity of the artefact.

Additional information was obtained from the Guinness Storehouse.

Written by Nigel Henderson, Member, History Hub Ulster

Combating the “flu”: Spanish influenza in Ulster – Part 2

This is the second part of a long read. Read the first part of the article here.

Influenza in Ulster

The first outbreak of influenza in the province of Ulster visited the towns of Belfast, Lurgan, Portadown and Londonderry during June 1918, causing havoc as businesses had to close or function on reduced staff.  Services were disrupted throughout these towns. In other Ulster towns such as Larne, Clones, Cookstown, Newry and the county of Donegal, their main influenza outbreaks occurred during the second and third waves in the autumn of 1918 and spring of 1919. 

In Ulster, as elsewhere in Ireland and Great Britain, it was the local authorities and their Medical Officers of Health that had responsibility for public health in their respective towns and cities. They were tasked with the management of the disease at a local level. It was the Poor Law medical system of the Union infirmary and dispensary districts – administered by the Board of guardians – that bore the brunt of medical care.  However the Local Government Board for Ireland (LGBI) controlled the activities of the boards of guardians in relation to the administration of the dispensary medical system, union infirmaries and fever hospitals it also controlled the administration of the Public Health Acts by the rural, urban and County Councils.[36] So how did these combined forces in Ulster respond to the public health crisis of epidemic influenza?

During the first wave the Medical Superintendent Officer of Health for Belfast Corporation, Dr Hugh W. Bailie ordered school closures and recommended the thorough disinfection of cinemas once or twice a day. He also proposed sending out his public health department inspectors around their districts to advise people on what measures they should take if they contracted influenza.[37]  In Londonderry the main recommendation by the corporation was school closures.[38]  This is surprising as influenza was rampant in the city with burials at the City Cemetery reaching a record number of 50 during the week ending 6 July 1918 and nearly 20 burials alone on Monday 8 July 1918.[39]   There was no evidence that any specific steps were taken to prevent the spread of influenza in either Lurgan or Portadown during the first wave. Again this is noteworthy as there were 31 influenza deaths were recorded in the town area from the middle of June until the end of July 1918.[40]  The lacklustre response from these local authorities during the first wave may be due to the consensus that this outbreak of the disease was a seasonal flu and therefore unworthy of any particular action. 

During the second wave, there was a more proactive response by local authorities in Ulster towns as many of the councils took preventative measures.  A common recommendation was the closure of day, Sunday and technical schools. It was not a compulsory measure but in general, school managers adhered to it.  However, Methodist College in Belfast remained open during this virulent wave with tragic results. Influenza hit the school at the end of October 1918. Student boarders contracted the flu and only the Medical Officer, matron and headmaster of the school avoided contracting the disease.  Sadly during November, two members of staff, George Manning and the Rev P. P  O’Sullivan, as well as one of the boarders, Oliver Crawford, aged 15 died from pneumonia following on from influenza.[41]  The Friends school in Lisburn may also have regretted its decision to remain open.  Influenza was rife and by 31 October 1918 only 17 boarders and two members of staff had not contracted the disease.  Helen Clarke, a day pupil died on 31 October 1918.  When pupils Anna Magowan and Sadie Walsh died on 3 November and 8 November 1918 respectively, it was then decided to close the school and send the remaining 16 pupils home.  The larger dormitories in the school acted as wards where the remaining students who were ill were nursed.  The housekeeper, Miss McCullough and headmaster’s daughter, Frances Ridges, a student from Queen’s University, Belfast, worked as nurses but unfortunately they both lost their lives to influenza.  The school eventually opened again in early January 1919.[42]

In Ulster, as with the rest of United Kingdom, several councils singled out places of entertainment for closure and ventilation under the pretext that people gathered there and could therefore spread the disease. In Newry both local cinemas closed for one week at the Medical Officer of Health’s request, however, one of them, the Imperial, re-opened without consulting the Public Health Authority, while the other, the Frontier, remained closed.[43]  The Public Health authorities in Belfast, Portadown and Newtownards requested permission from the LGBI to close cinemas in their towns.  However, the LGBI advised that they had no powers to close the cinemas, as this action was not approved in any part of the United Kingdom.[44]

Mass gathering of people in the cinemas, theatres and trams were not the only cause for concern and the Irish News feared that the congregation of huge masses of people on the streets during the armistice celebrations would further spread the disease.[45] It has been suggested that an ironic impact of the war was the extra infections and deaths that occurred as a result of the armistice celebration, where the celebrations became the foci of new or recurring outbreaks of influenza.[46] In Belfast the armistice celebration occurred during the peak of the second influenza wave in the city.  Interestingly, deaths from pneumonia – a common complication of influenza – peaked in Belfast on 23 November 1918 not long after these celebrations took place.[47]   Whether the celebrations aided this peak is a matter for debate. 

In Belfast, Larne and Cookstown, public notices of preventative measures were displayed in public places, published in the local newspapers and printed on handbills for distribution. These notices recommended avoiding crowded gatherings, good ventilation and cleanliness in homes and discouraged spitting on the streets.  Influenza sufferers should go to bed early and remain there until completely recovered.[48]

The Irish tradition of waking the dead came in for much criticism as it was feared that the custom would aid in the spread of infectious disease. Both Newry and Ballyclare councils produced public notices which recommended the prompt burial of influenza victims without a wake being held for the deceased.  However, again there was no official central government support given to forbid the holding and attendance at wakes.  Again it was not a compulsory measure but only a strong recommendation as the local Public Health Authorities had no powers to stop wakes. These were not the only towns to criticise the tradition of holding wakes In Dublin during the second wave, an Irish Times editorial complained that attending wakes of people who had died from influenza was an objectionable practice that was believed to be a fruitful cause of the spread of infection and that this custom more than anything else frustrated the efforts of the public health authorities to eradicate influenza.[49]

There were valid objections to ‘waking the dead’. Contemporary opinion was that infection was thought to remain in the corpse and therefore could be spread to the living.  However, there is no evidence that this was the case with respect to the influenza virus.[50]  Waking the body in an open coffin may not have spread the disease through the corpse.  However, anyone attending the wake who had the ‘flu could bring the infection to a small house where many people congregated in confined spaces.  Once there it could be spread quickly within a community. 

Medical Response

The main medical response in towns was by the Poor Law Union under the auspices of union infirmaries and the dispensary system.  However, these institutions were unprepared for the number of influenza patients needing treatment. During the first wave in Belfast the number of influenza patients admitted to the union infirmary was so large that it greatly increased the workload in the hospital and the Visiting Medial Officer, Dr Gardner Robb stated:

‘Never in my recollection has the strain on the staff been so great as during the past few weeks.’ The whole staff has worked most enthusiastically and the generous recognition of our efforts by the Board is most appreciated by all.[51]

The Lurgan union infirmary was also under pressure and there were reports that it had not been so full in over thirty years due to an influx of influenza sufferers.[52] The workhouse infirmaries throughout Ireland were extremely busy.  During 1918 the number of deaths in Irish workhouses increased by 3,329 on the previous year with influenza and pneumonia deaths rising by 2,551.[53]

There was also a scarcity of medical professionals as many doctors were serving at the western front.  Temporary doctors were difficult to source for both the union infirmaries and the dispensary districts. Doctors that were available could, in many cases, demand whatever salary they wanted much to the annoyance of the guardians.  However these doctors were justified in requesting a higher weekly salary as they were under severe pressure.  During 1918 the Medical officers of health worked long hours to treat their patients, paying 100,000 more home visits during this period than in the previous year, indicating not only the virulence of the disease throughout Ireland but also the work pressure that dispensary doctors were under during this pandemic.[54]

Cures and treatments

Unsurprisingly, as the real cause of influenza was unknown at the time and as there is still no known cure for the disease, there was little consensus among the Irish medical profession on the best treatment for, or, prevention against the disease, which resulted in many cures and treatments being suggested.  According to Ida Milne, some Irish doctors recommended gargling with a tincture of creosote or a solution of permanganate of potash; calomel (as a purgative); oxygen; stimulants (such as strychnine); some preparation of opium for sleeplessness.[55] An article in the Armagh Guardian advised that if attacked by influenza, the sufferer should at once take a dose of opening medicine such as castor oil, and if possible take a hot bath and go to bed and send for the doctor.  It advised that to work or walk off an attack is dangerous.[56]  A popular treatment choice was quinine and the Belfast MOH, Dr Bailie recommended taking quinine tablets of between 2 and 5 grains twice daily as a tonic and preventative.[57] 

Some doctors widely endorsed the use of alcohol in influenza cases to relieve pain and bolster strength.[58]  This treatment was so popular that in February 1919, the Dublin Public Health Committee requested the War Cabinet to call for the immediate release of supplies of whiskey in the interests of public health.[59]  The lack of a cure for influenza meant that people resorted to over-the-counter cures to help treat the disease.[60]  An immense assortment of products claimed curative or preventative powers against influenza.   Disinfection was considered a good preventative as influenza was believed to be a bacterial infection. Lifebuoy soap claimed to be a ‘reputable germicide and sure disinfectant.’[61]

A nationally established disinfectant proclaimed ‘Guard against Influenza by the daily use of Jeyes’ Fluid.’[62]  Disinfection with Jeyes’ Fluid was one of the recommendations of the Dublin Medical Officer of Health, Dr Charles Cameron in dealing with influenza.[63]  Oxo and Bovril were popular beef teas of the day and were thought to strengthen the body against the onslaught of disease.[64]  So popular were these products that during December 1918, a series of advertisements apologised for the shortage of Bovril during the influenza outbreak.[65]  Bovril was considered a very important form of nourishment during the epidemic. So much so that during November 1918 the Belfast Guardians increased the nurses’ Bovril rations by one quarter of an ounce per day to boost their diet to help them cope with their increased workload

In reality there was no cure for influenza and traditional nursing care provided the best and only effective treatment for the disease.[66]  However, nurses like doctors were in short supply as many professional nurses had also volunteered for both army and naval medical corps during the war.[67]  This situation was further exacerbated when remaining nurses started to contract influenza themselves. In Ulster where there were numerous reports of professional nurses being infected with influenza during the course of their duties.  Workhouse infirmaries reported the absence of their nursing staff due to influenza.  Many nurses in the Belfast Infirmary contracted influenza during the first and second waves and six died from the disease.[68] Similarly, during the second wave several nurses in the Londonderry Union contracted influenza with two fatalities.[69]  Also during the second wave, eight nurses in the Lurgan Union infirmary contracted influenza and two later died from the complication pneumonia.[70]

The medical response during the second and third waves was similar to that of the first.  Influenza sufferers availed of treatment and medicines through the dispensary system and the workhouse infirmaries.  The demands of war impacted on the workhouse infirmaries because in many cases wards or entire workhouse hospitals were requisitioned for military patients. The workhouse infirmaries were filled to capacity and suffered from overcrowding.In Strabane, the military acquired the workhouse for treatment of troops just prior to the outbreak of influenza in October 1918 and most of the inmates were sent to the Londonderry workhouse.[71] The chairman of Strabane council was very concerned about the lack of treatment and hospital accommodation for the sick poor in the town.  The council eventually convinced the guardians to provide hospital accommodation for those suffering from influenza but not before a young boy, who was forced to lay ‘on a bed of straw and bags’, had died from influenza.[72] 

The local authority response to influenza in towns like Belfast, Londonderry Lurgan and Portadown was poor but the United Kingdom as a whole did not respond effectively to the crisis.  Central government was pre-occupied by the war and left it up to individual local authorities to deal with influenza at a local level.  In Manchester, the public health committee—aware of the gravity of the influenza pandemic — were more proactive. They supplied additional help to nurse and provide domestic assistance to influenza sufferers where it was needed in the city.  They also supplied food and coal for those unable to provide the same for themselves. It has been suggested that in Manchester public aid with food, fuel and nursing during the pandemic was of much more value than treatment by local physicians in the city.[73]

There is no evidence that the bigger industrial towns such as Belfast, Londonderry and Lurgan took similar measures as Manchester to help their citizens. Nevertheless, some Ulster towns took more concrete measures to help the sick poor.  Influenza was rife in Newry with many people dying of the complication pneumonia. Newry council was aware that the poor needed more substantial charitable help especially with nutrition.  The provision of nourishing food was deemed important.  The council arranged for two Newry creameries to supply sufficient quantities of free milk for distribution due to the influenza outbreak.[74]  The staff of the domestic department of the Newry Technical School provided nourishing foodstuff for the sick such as beef tea and mutton broth during their closure.  This work was discontinued on 25 November 1918 when the school re-opened.[75]

Despite this aid, the situation in Newry was very serious.  A Relief of Distress Fund Committee was formed to ‘consider the best means of meeting the exceptional expenditure that has been and is being incurred by the various charitable organisations in the relief of distress arising out of the influenza epidemic.’[76]  A circular was sent out inviting subscriptions to the fund and it was hoped that a sum of at least £1,000 would be raised.[77] The fund was closed on to 31 December 1918 and a total £734 4s. 2d. was raised and was allocated as follows: three-quarters (£550 13s. 2d.), to the Catholic Charitable Organisations such as the St Vincent de Paul Society, and one quarter (£183 11s.), to the local Protestant clergymen for distribution.[78]  The fund reimbursed the St Vincent de Paul Society for the expenditure it had already incurred in Newry, where it had spent several hundred pounds on clothing, coal, groceries, butter, milk and other necessities for the poor during the pandemic.  This indicated that charities in the town rose to the challenges imposed by the pandemic in a timely manner.[79]

In Cookstown, although both the council and the guardians made efforts to combat the pandemic, it was the middle class population of Cookstown who made the biggest contribution in dealing with the effects of influenza in the town.  As in Newry, a subscription list was opened and a committee was formed to look after the sick poor in the town and dispensary district.  Many local trained ladies volunteered to act as nurses in the district offering their services for no payment.  The Sick Nursing Society used the Technical School kitchen to provide nourishing food, not only for the sick poor in the town, but, also for those families that could afford to feed themselves but were too sick to provide food and nurture for other family members.  This was a popular service with up to 170 families in the town and district receiving this aid.[80]

In Clones the workhouse hospital was full and doctors were working to full capacity.  The Clones Relief Committee was formed to assist families incapacitated by influenza with both nourishment and nursing.  The committee established a kitchen in the Town Hall and prepared and distributed soup, beef tea and porridge to those patients requiring them. The St Vincent de Paul society placed their funds at the disposal of the relief committee.  The committee did not raise a public subscription in the town but instead they took action first and sought reimbursement later from the guardians for any expenses incurred.[81]

In conclusion the response from most local authorities in Ulster consisted of applying preventative measures such as closing schools, producing public notices, encouraging disinfection of factories, cinemas and public buildings.  However they lacked the authority from the central body of the LGBI to enforce recommendations such as closure of cinemas or prevention of wakes.  The boards of guardians actively tried to obtain sufficient medical personnel to help during the pandemic and in general adhered to the requests of their Medical Officers of Health with respect to treatment of the disease.  However public aid with food, fuel and nursing during the pandemic could be of much more value than treatment by local doctors.[82] So although local guardians in Ulster actively tried to obtain sufficient medical personnel to help during the pandemic, maybe if they and the local councils in towns such as Belfast, Londonderry and Lurgan looked towards the physical nourishment and welfare of the poor, then the influenza death toll may have not been so high.

Dr. Patricia Marsh: Queen’s University, Belfast

Dr. Marsh will be giving a talk entitled “The Spanish Influenza Pandemic in Antrim and Down 1918-1919” at Bangor Library on Thursday 21st February 2019 at 7.30pm, and Lisburn Road Library on Wednesday 27th February 2019 at 6.30pm 6.30 to 7.30 p.m.


[36]Report of the Irish Public Health Council on the public health and medical services in Ireland [Cmd 761], H. C. 1920, xvii 2, 1075, p. 4.

[37] Marsh, ‘The effect of the 1918-19 influenza pandemic on Belfast’, pp. 66-7.

[38]Irish News, 25 June 1918; Derry Journal, 26 June 1918; Dungannon Democrat, 26 June 1918.

[39] Derry Journal, 10 July 1918; Irish News, 9 July 1918.

[40] Lurgan Medical Officer of Health Report, 5 Aug. 1918 (P.R.O.N.I., Lurgan Medical Officer of Health Report, LA/51/9D/6); Lurgan Mail, 10 Aug. 1918.

[41] John Watson Henderson, Methodist College, Belfast, 1868-1938: A survey and retrospect Vol. 1 (Belfast, 1939), p. 271.

[42]Neville H. Newhouse, A History of the Friends School, Lisburn(Lurgan, 1974), pp. 90-1.

[43]Newry Reporter, 19 Nov. 1918.                                                                                            

[44] Marsh, ‘The effect of the 1918-19 influenza pandemic on Belfast’, pp 71-73.

[45]Irish News, 13 Nov. 1918.

[46] Niall Johnson, Britain and the 1918-19 influenza pandemic: A dark epilogue, (London/New York, 2006), p.193.

[47]Weekly returns of births and deaths in the Dublin Registration area and in eighteen of the principal towns in Ireland 1918, (Dublin, 1919).

[48]Irish News, 31 Oct. 1918; Belfast News-Letter, 31 Oct. 1918.

[49][49]Freeman’s Journal, 2 Nov 1918; Irish Independent, 2 Nov 1918, Irish Times, 4 Nov 1918

[50] S. S. Bakhshi, ‘Code of practice for funeral workers: Managing infection risk and body bagging’, in Communicable Disease and Public Health, 4:4 (2001), p. 284.

[51] Belfast Board of Guardians Meeting, 9 July 1918 (P.R.O.N.I., Belfast Union Minute Books, BG/7/A/100).

Irish News, 10 July 1918; Belfast News-Letter, 10 July 1918.

[52]Belfast Evening Telegraph, 19 July 1918, Belfast News-Letter, 20 July 1918, Armagh Guardian, 26 July 1918.

[53]Annual Report of the Local Government Board for Ireland for the year ended 31st March 1919, p. xxiii.

[54]Annual Report of the Local Government Board for Ireland for the year ended 31st March 1919, p. xxvi.

[55] Ida Milne’s contribution to Guy Beiner, Patricia Marsh and Ida Milne ‘Greatest killer of the twentieth century: the Great Flu of 1918-19’ History Ireland (March/April 2009), pp. 40-43.

 History Ireland article

[56] Armagh Guardian, 08 Nov 1918

[57]Irish News, 31 Oct 1918 and Belfast News-Letter, 31 Oct 1918

[58]Lori Loeb, ‘Beating the flu: orthodox and commercial responses to influenza in Britain, 1889–1919’ Social History of Medicine 18:2 (2005), p. 220.

[59]Irish Independent, 22 Feb. 1919.

[60]Loeb, ‘Beating the flu’, p. 203.

[61]Northern Whig, 28 Nov. 1918; Ulster Herald, 15 Feb. 1919; Belfast News-Letter, 12 Mar. 1919; Irish News, 18 Mar. 1919, 25 Mar. 1919.

[62]Belfast News-Letter, 5 Mar. 1919, 12 Mar. 1919, 19 Mar. 1919.

[63]Lurgan Mail, 2 Nov. 1918; Larne Times, 2 Nov. 1918; Ballymena Weekly Telegraph, 2 Nov. 1918; County Down Spectator, 2 Nov. 1918.

[64]Loeb, ‘Beating the flu’, p. 220.

[65]Irish Independent, 23, 27 Nov. 1918, 4, 13, 23 Dec. 1918; Irish Times, 29 Nov. 1918, 7, 21, 28, 30 Dec. 1918.

[66] Carol R. Byerly, Fever of war: The influenza epidemic in the U. S. army during World War 1 (New York/London, 2005), p. 144.

[67] Barrington, Health, medicine and politics in Ireland, p. 73.

[68] Marsh, ‘The effect of the 1918-19 influenza pandemic on Belfast’, p. 32.

[69] Londonderry Board of Guardians Meeting, 9 Nov. 1918 (P.R.O.N.I., Londonderry Union Minutes, BG/2/A/33), Derry Journal, 11 Nov. 1918.

[70] Belfast News-Letter, 23 Nov. 1918, Belfast News-Letter, 7 Dec. 1918; Irish News, 23 Nov. 1918; Lurgan Mail, 23 Nov. 1918; Lurgan Board of Guardians Minutes, 21 Nov. 1918,  5 Dec. 1918 (P.R.O.N.I., Lurgan Union Minute Book, BG/22/ A/114).

[71] Strabane Board of Guardians Meetings, 27 Sept. 1918 and 8 Oct. 1918 (P.R.O.N.I., Strabane Union Minute Book, BG/27/A/50).

[72]Belfast-Newsletter, 6 Nov. 1918; Derry People, 9 Nov. 1918; Ulster Herald, 9 Nov. 1918.

[73] Fred, R Van Hartesveldt, ‘Manchester’, in Fred van Hartesveldt (ed.) The 1918-1919 Pandemic of Influenza: The Urban Impact in the Western World (Lewiston, Queenstown, Lampeter: The Edward Mellon Press, 1992), p. 103.

[74]Newry Urban District Council meeting, 4 Nov. 1918 (P.R.O.N.I., Newry Urban District Council minutes, LA58/2CA/6).

[75]Newry Reporter, 29 Oct.1918; Newry Reporter, 28 Nov. 1918.

[76]Newry Reporter, 16 Nov. 1918.

[77]Newry Reporter, 16 Nov. 1918.

[78]Newry Reporter, 11 Jan. 1919; Belfast News-Letter, 13 Jan. 1919.

[79] Patricia Marsh, “‘An enormous amount of distress among the poor’: Aid for the Poor in Ulster during the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919’ in Poverty and Welfare in Ireland 1838-1948, Eds. Crossman, Virginia and Gray Peter, (IAP, 2011), pp, 217-218.

[80]Irish News, 18 Nov 1918, Belfast News-Letter, 18 Nov 1918, Mid Ulster Mail. 17 Nov 1918, 30 Nov. 1918 and 7 Dec. 1918.

[81]Belfast News-Letter, 21 Nov. 1918, Anglo-Celt 30 Nov. 1918, 1 Feb. 1919, 15 Feb. 1919.

[82] Van Hartesveldt, ‘Manchester’, p 103

Combating the “flu”: Spanish influenza in Ulster – Part 1

Dr. Patricia Marsh: Queen’s University, Belfast

Dr. Marsh will be giving a talk entitled “The Spanish Influenza Pandemic in Antrim and Down 1918-1919” at Bangor Library on Thursday 21st February 2019 at 7.30pm, and Lisburn Road Library on Wednesday 27th February 2019 at 6.30pm 6.30 to 7.30 p.m.

Towards the end of the First World War in June 1918, a fatal influenza epidemic not only hit troops in the western front but also the civilians throughout the world. Although the exact mortality figures are unknown, it was responsible for the deaths of more people than the First World War[1] and in 2002 the global death toll of the pandemic was estimated to be approximately 50 million.[2]  Although called the ‘Flanders’ grippe ‘by English soldiers’;  ‘Blitzkatarrh’ by the Germans; ‘the disease of the wind’ in Persia; the name it became commonly known as was the ‘Spanish Influenza.’[3]  So why Spanish influenza? The neutrality of Spain during the First World War meant that there was no newspaper censorship in that country and consequently reports about the disease were published not only in Spanish newspapers and also in the worldwide press. The Times reported 100,000 victims in Madrid of an unknown disease responsible for 700 deaths in 10 days, which had caused disruption to public services, offices and factories.  King Alfonso XIII of Spain and other leading politicians were among those afflicted.[4]  It was these reports that gave rise to the erroneous impression that influenza had originated in Spain, leading to the misnomer Spanish influenza.  However, the Spanish themselves called it the soldier of Naples.[5]

The disease, however, did not originate in Spain.  One theory is that the pandemic originated as early as the winter of 1916, on the Western Front at the British Army camp at Étaples. The outbreaks at Étaples were diagnosed at the time as purulent bronchitis but in retrospect they showed the same symptoms as the Spanish ‘flu.  Dr Herbert French, author of the 1920 Ministry of Health Report was strongly of the opinion that the fatal cases from purulent bronchitis were likely to be the same as those of the pandemic.[6]  It has also been suggested that the pandemic could have originated in China and that the movement of a very large number of workers from China to France during the First World War might have played a part in the pandemic’s development.[7] However the most popular theory was that influenza started in America. The earliest recorded outbreak of the disease was on 5 March 1918 among army recruits at Camp Funston, Fort Riley, Kansas. By the end of March it had spread to military training installations in several US mid-western and south eastern states and from here it travelled with the troops on the ships to the Western Front.[8] 

1918 influenza victims crowd an emergency hospital at Fort Riley, Kansas

The Flu in Ireland

Spanish influenza struck in three concurrent waves throughout the world and Ireland was no exception with three distinct waves of influenza, which occurred in June 1918, October 1918 and February 1919.[9]  Speaking in 1920, the Registrar-General for Ireland, Sir William Thompson was of the opinion that influenza in Ireland was the worst disease of an epidemic nature since the period of the Great Famine.[10]  The death toll in Ireland was approximately 23,000,[11] however this is a conservative estimate as not all influenza deaths in the country were registered and also some were registered incorrectly. The morbidity from the disease is more difficult to ascertain as no accurate records of incidences of influenza were kept during this period.  However, Ida Milne suggests that as many as 800,000 people could have been infected in Ireland.[12]  As many as 300,000 people could have been infected in the province of Ulster, where 7,582 people were recorded as dying from influenza.  However, the death toll could have been much higher.[13] 

The first recorded outbreak of Influenza in Ireland was on the United States Ship Dixie docked in Queenstown (now Cobh),[14] however this outbreak was confined to the ship as there were no reports of ‘flu in the town.  The first wave proper was reported to be principally in Belfast and other districts of the north of Ireland.[15]  First mention of influenza in the province appeared on 11 and 12 June 1918 in Belfast newspapers when a notice appeared regarding the re-opening, after influenza, of a department in James Mackie & Sons munitions factory situated in the Springfield Road.[16]  Influenza spread from Belfast across the north of Ireland probably via the rail network. Elsewhere in Ireland there were also sporadic outbreaks at towns such as Ballinasloe, Tipperary town and Athlone.  It is notable that these towns were situated near army bases as the general consensus was that ‘flu was brought to Ireland with troops returned home on leave or to convalesce from wounds and then spread via the rail network.[17] 

The second wave originated in Leinster. Howth on the east coast appeared to be the entry point and was reported to be there as early as 1 October 1918.[18]  From Howth it spread to Dublin and then throughout Ireland.  In Ulster influenza was first reported in the naval port of Larne on 9 October 1918.[19]  The disease did not reach Belfast until the end of October 1918.[20]  Influenza spread to most Ulster towns during this wave and this was the most virulent wave in the province.  County Donegal was badly affected during this outbreak, especially the Inishowen Union District, which had the highest death rate per thousand of population in Ulster.[21]

The third wave which started in February 1919, again originated in Leinster.  It was first reported on 5 February 1919 in the Celbridge district in Co Kildare.[22]  Initial reports of influenza in Ulster during this wave were in Holywood on 6 February 1919[23] and it was in Belfast by 18 February 1919.[24] Influenza visited most Ulster towns but in many such as Belfast, Lurgan, Larne, Newry and Dungannon this was a milder wave than those in 1918 and this may be because immunity was gained from previous waves. However, Dublin county and borough suffered severely during all three waves of the disease. County Donegal was again severely affected with a higher mortality during the third wave in 1919 than in both waves during 1918.  This was also the case with other counties in the west of the country such as Mayo, Sligo and Galway.

Age distribution

There was an unusual age distribution for this pandemic as it targeted young adults in particular.  Normally influenza kills the very young and the very old but Spanish influenza showed an unusual age distribution of deaths.  Although there was still high mortality for the very young and very old there was also a very high mortality for the age group between 15 and 44.[25] In England and Wales mortality was  concentrated among those aged 20 to 40 and especially those 25 to 35.[26]  It has been suggested that this peculiarity helped to produce Britain’s ‘lost generation’ caused by not only from the high mortality among young men killed due to the war but also from influenza on the home front.[27]

 In Ireland 55.5% of all influenza deaths in 1918 were of those aged between 15 and 45.[28]  In 1919 more than 58% of the total influenza mortality was between the ages of 20 and 65.[29]  Figure 1 is a graphical representation of the age-specific influenza death rates for Ireland comparing 1918 and 1919.  It shows that the age-specific death rates for Ireland followed the global trend of targeting young adults and that during 1918 it was those aged 25 to 35 who suffered the highest mortality of any age group.[30]  The Irish figures also show that infants under one year were also at particular risk during the pandemic.  This was hardly surprising as, even without epidemic disease, the urban areas of Ireland such as Dublin and Belfast suffered from one of the highest infant mortality rates in the United Kingdom due to infection and poor diet.[31]


Figure 1: Graph comparing the age-specific influenza death rates for Ireland for 1918 and 1919

Why was the pandemic so detrimental to 25 to 35 age-group? 

One theory was that elderly people had gained immunity to the 1918-19 pandemic due to previous exposure to the influenza epidemic of 1847-48 which may have been caused by a similar H1 virus.[32]  Another is that young adults were more likely to attempt to work through illness, thus maximizing their risk of succumbing to influenza.[33]  It has also been suggested that many of the age group 20-45 had been soldiers living in miserable conditions on the western front which would have lowered their immunity, but the same death rates were seen in young people in countries unaffected by the war.[34]  However, the answer may lie in a scientific study that took place in 2007, which suggested that the strong immune systems of young adults overreacted to the 1918 virus causing this particular age group to be at the most risk during the pandemic.[35]

Read Part 2: Spanish Influenza in Ulster

[1] Howard Phillips and David Killingray, ‘Introduction’ in Howard Phillips and David Killingray (eds.) Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918-1919: new perspectives (London, 2003), pp 3-4.

[2]Niall P.A.S. Johnson and Juergan Mueller, ‘Updating the Accounts: Global Mortality of the 1918 –1920 “Spanish” Influenza Pandemic’ Bulletin of History of Medicine. 76 (2002),, p. 115

[3] Pete Davies, Catching cold: 1918’s forgotten tragedy and the scientific hunt for the virus that caused it (London, 1999), p. 58.

[4]The Times, 3 June 1918.

[5] Davies, Catching cold,  p. 58.

[6] J. S. Oxford, ‘The so-called Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918 may have originated in France in 1916’ Phil. Trans. Royal Society London 356 (2001), pp 1857-1859.

[7]Christopher Langford, ‘Did the 1918–19 influenza pandemic originate in China?’ Population and Development Review 31:3 (2005), p. 492.

[8] K. David Patterson, and Gerald F. Pyle, ‘The Geography and Mortality of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic’, Bulletin of History of Medicine  65 (1991), p. 5.

[9]Annual report of the Local Government Board for Ireland for year ended 31 March 1919, [Cmd 1432], H. C. 1920, xxi, 1, p. xxxvii.

[10] William J. Thompson, ‘Mortality from influenza in Ireland’ Dublin Journal of Medical Sciences 4th Series 1 (1920), p. 174

[11]Patricia Marsh, ‘The Effect of the 1918-19 Influenza Pandemic on Belfast’, ( M.A. thesis, Queens University Belfast, 2006), p.42

[12]IdaMilne, ‘Epidemic or Myth?: The 1918 Flu in Ireland’. (M.A. thesis, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, 2005), p. 35.

[13] Patricia Marsh, ‘The effect of the 1918-19 influenza pandemic on Ulster (PhD dissertation, Queen’s University Belfast, 2010), pp 42-57.

[14] United States Navy Department, Annual report of the Secretary of the Navy, Miscellaneous reports (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1919), pp. 2423-4.

[15]Annual report of the Local Government Board for Ireland for year ended 31 March 1919, p. xxxvii.

[16]Belfast Evening Telegraph, 11 June 1918; Belfast News-Letter, 12 June 1918.

[17] Marsh, ‘The effect of the 1918-19 influenza pandemic on Ulster, p, 67

[18]Irish Times, 1 Oct. 1918; Irish Independent, 1 Oct. 1918.

[19]Larne Board of Guardians Meeting, 9 Oct 1918 (P.R.O.N.I, Larne union minute book 1918, BG/17/A/132)

[20]Belfast News-Letter, 30 Oct. 1918.

[21] Fifty-fifth detailed annual report of the Registrar-General (Ireland), pp. v.

[22]Irish Independent, 5 Feb. 1919.

[23]Holywood Public Health Committee meeting, 6 Feb 1919 (P.R.O.N.I., Holywood Urban District Council minutes, LA/38/9AA/3)

[24]Belfast Board of Guardians meeting, 18 Feb. 1919 (P.R.O.N.I., Belfast Union minutes, BG/7/A/101).

[25]Andrew Noymer and Michel Garenne, ‘The 1918 influenza epidemic’s effects on sex differentials in mortality in the United States’, in Population and Development Review, 26:3 (2000), pp. 566-67.

[26] Herbert French, ‘The clinical features of the influenza epidemic 1918-19,’ pp. 90-1.

[27] Niall Johnson, Britain and the 1918-19 influenza pandemic: A dark epilogue, (London/New York, 2006), p. 84.

[28] Thompson, ‘Mortality from influenza in Ireland’, p. 183.

[29]Fifty-sixth detailed annual report of the Registrar-General (Ireland), p. xvi.

[30] Mortality figures calculated from Fifty-fifth detailed annual report of the Registrar-General (Ireland), p xvi and Fifty-sixth detailed annual report of the Registrar-General (Ireland), p. Xvii

[31] Ruth Barrington, Health, medicine and politics in Ireland 1900-1970 (Dublin, 1987), p. 75.

[32] Christopher Langford, ‘The age pattern of mortality in the 1918-19 influenza pandemic: An attempted explanation based on data for England and Wales’, in Medical History, 46 (2002), p. 15. Ann H. Reid, Jeffery K. Taubenberger, Thomas G. Fanning, ‘The 1918 Spanish influenza: Integrating history and biology’, in Microbes and Infection,3 (2001), p. 83.

[33] Johnson, Britain and the 1918-19 influenza Pandemic, p. 88.

[34]Reid, Taugenberger and Fanning, ‘The 1918 Spanish influenza’, p. 83.

[35] Kerri Smith, ‘Concern as revived 1918 flu virus kills monkeys’, in Nature, 445 (18 Jan. 2007), p. 23.



“1919 – 2019 Peace Day” Commemorative Lapel Badge

 

“1919 – 2019 Peace Day” Commemorative Lapel Badge

Following the Great War Armistice signed on 11th November 1918 various peace treaties were signed during 1919. These culminated in a series of ‘Peace Rally’s’ throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland during August 1919.

History Hub Ulster are offering for sale a ‘1919 – 2019 Peace Day’ commemorative lapel badge. Designed for History Hub Ulster by John McCormick, antique brass finish, measuring 35mm x 25mm with 2 pins & clasps on reverse.

1919-2019 Peace Day Centenary BadgeCost is as follows. Postage will be by 1st class.

1 to 5: £3.50 each plus £1 p&p (max) 
6 to 10 maximum: £3.00 each plus £1 p&p (max)
any number collected: £3.00 each

Badges may be purchased via

www.paypal.me/historyhubulster

or by sending a cheque f/o History Hub Ulster to 12 North Circular Road, Lisburn, BT28 3AH with number required and postal address.

Please message us on facebook for prices outside the UK