Armistice Day

Page 5 – Armistice Day and the flu

Most newspaper accounts suggest that the premature celebrations on 8 November didn’t cause those for the real armistice to be less enthusiastic. The Evening Post described them as a ‘merely a practice’, while the Otago Daily Times noted that they were thrown ‘completely into the shade’ by the later celebrations. But the influenza pandemic did dampen some festivities, particularly in Auckland.

On 12 November, Aucklanders heeded acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Frengley’s advice not to congregate together. The only visible sign of celebration was the many flags hanging from the city’s buildings – and some of these were at half-mast in acknowledgment of the death of a former city councillor, Maurice Casey, from influenza. Unlike elsewhere in the country, shops generally remained open. But most businesses and government offices closed, included post and telegraph offices and telephone exchanges – a move that came in for severe criticism. The New Zealand Herald argued that, even though they’d kept on some emergency staff, the curtailment of these services had ‘seriously impeded’ relief work. Dr Frengley said that as Auckland was in ‘a much more serious position than any other centre’, the authorities should have referred the matter to him.

The spreading epidemic also influenced celebrations elsewhere. Some communities postponed children’s gatherings until the situation improved. Christchurch’s celebration committee struggled with this decision and only abandoned its plans after a long discussion with the District Health Officer, Dr Herbert Chesson. He objected strongly to bringing children together, commenting that there were ‘many “seedy” children’ who might persuade their mothers to allow them to attend. Dr Chesson also vetoed all general ‘indoor gatherings’, and thanksgiving services were held in the open. Featherston residents cancelled ‘a fully-organised procession of motor-cars’ out of respect for several soldiers from the local camp who had died of influenza and were being laid to rest that day with full military honours.

In his speech marking the armistice, Deputy Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward noted the great relief the German surrender must be to those with loved ones at the front. Sadly those at the front were also caught up in the influenza pandemic, with conditions aboard ship, and in camps at home and abroad, ideal for the spread of the disease. Those who left in the second portion of the 43rd Reinforcements shortly after Bulgaria’s surrender were spared action, arriving in England nearly a month after the German armistice. But several died from disease in the months that followed, most likely from complications arising from influenza. Several had dependants, including Harold Gold-Smith of Auckland, who left behind a wife and a young daughter. Men from the 47th Reinforcements also died from disease in camp; James Stringer of Rangiora left behind a wife and two young children.

How to cite this page

'Armistice Day and the flu', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/armistice-day/armistice-day-and-flu, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 27-Aug-2014