The COVID-19 outbreak of recent months has been more than adequately destructive and frightening, but the influenza epidemic that followed World War 1 was far worse. In South Australia its progress was recorded in an odd way by my grandmother Kathleen Cudmore (1908-2013), the daughter of an Adelaide doctor.

In 1919, just eleven years old, she composed a hand-written newsletter called ‘Stuffed Notes’ [sic. I think because her toys were stuffed animals], about an imaginary hospital which had many cases of Spanish flu. On 14 March 2018 I blogged a transcription of her newsletter. Oddly enough, or perhaps not, the ebb and flow of cases of influenza she recorded in her newsletter follow much the same pattern as South Australian cases as a whole.

Kathleen and Rosemary

Kathleen and her older sister Rosemary about 1919

 

Looking just at the mentions of Influenza (my transcription retains the original spelling and grammar)

February: There has been one case of influenza which was fatal. But we are glad to say no more cases have been proved influenza.

March: No more cases of Enfluenza have accured.

April: There has been one more case of Influenza. But he is recovering.

May: The are 8 cases of Influenza 2 deaths and 3 dangious cases all the rest are getting better.

June: Five cases of Influenza have accured 1 death and 2 dangirus the other two a getting better the outbreak of Influenza is very bad at present.

July: There are 10 cases of Influenza 3 deaths and 5 dangrous cases. Nurse Wagga is ill with Influenza so Nurse Sambo is taking her place. … Nurse Wagga is is not so very dangious but she is fairly bad.

August: Influenza
Cases = 12
Deaths = 4
Dangious = 3
Mild = 5

Nurse Wagga is quite well now and has gone away for a Holiday a Henly Beach.

We are not removing the Influenza cases to the Isolation Hospital at the Exhibition. As we heard the conditions are not very good.

September: There a five cases of Influenza but they are all recovering.

October: There were no deaths lately and most of the dangerous cases are getting better.

November: No more cases of Influenza have accrued.

Here is a graph of the number of influenza cases in Kathleen’s hospital:

Stuffed Notes Influenza graph

Here is a graph of South Australian influenza cases:

Influenza South Australian notifications 1919

Graph of South Australia influenza notifications, January–December 1919 from Kako, M., Steenkamp, M., Rokkas, P.J., Anikeeva, O. and Arbon, P.A. (2015). Spanish influenza of 1918-19: The extent and spread in South Australia. Australasian Epidemiologist, 22(1) pp. 48-54 Retrieved from the Flinders Academic Commons: http://dspace.flinders.edu.au/dspace/

I once thought that Kathleen’s “Stuffed Notes” had their origin in dinner-time conversation among the adults of her household, but recently I noticed that in early 1919 her father Dr Cudmore had not yet returned from the War, so the dinner conversation was not based on hospital information at the beginning of the year. Perhaps Kathleen followed Adelaide newspaper reports of the local outbreak.

Influenza South Australian newspaper articles 1919

1919 South Australian newspaper articles mentioning influenza by month (retrieved from Trove.nla.gov.au)