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Ninetieth Anniversary of the Influenza Pandemic

Ninetieth Anniversary of the Influenza Pandemic

“The 11th of November 2008 commemorated the 90th anniversary of the Armistice and the ‘Coming Home’ of our soldiers from the First World War”, said Ministry of Culture and Heritage Acting Chief Historian, Neill Atkinson.

“This month is also the anniversary of the global influenza pandemic or ‘Spanish Flu’ which coincided with the end of the war”.

“Between October and December 1918 New Zealand lost almost half as many people to influenza as it had in the whole of the First World War. No event in our history has killed so many New Zealanders in such a short time”.

“The death toll reached 8600 out of a total population of just over one million. Maori suffered especially heavily with at least 2160 deaths. And this happened at the end of a war that had left more than 18,000 New Zealanders dead. Multiply these figures by four to get a sense of the impact today”, said Atkinson.

A new feature on which draws on research from Dr Geoffrey Rice of Canterbury University tells the story of how the flu came to New Zealand and, once here, why it caused such losses.

The website includes tables showing death rates in counties and suburbs throughout the country. Some communities were decimated while others escaped largely unscathed. Medical staff, already depleted by the war, suffered among the highest death rates from the pandemic. Volunteers helped in the communities.

On the site you can hear the personal stories of people who lived through this time in a series of clips taken from a radio documentary ‘The Great Plague.’ Some tell of the indifference they felt to the celebrations marking the end of the First World War. Others tell of the noise of ambulances day and night and of watching helplessly as family and friends died.

Worldwide, the flu pandemic is now thought to have killed up to 50 million.

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