How ironic that the year I’m (still) editing book II Nothe Fort & Way Beyond I should come across this passage.
‘ There was to be one more devastating event to be thrown into the mix before the world could settle down to peace again. Another invasion. This time something that man could do absolutely nothing to halt. The 1918 flu pandemic, or as it later became known as, Spanish flu. It’s estimated that it affected nearly a third of the worlds population, killing nearly 20% of those infected, with the almost unbelievable figures of having caused the death of between 3-6% of the entire populace of the globe, making it even more deadly than the Black Death. It was highly infectious, killed swiftly, and most unusually seemed to target the young and fit.
Precautions were taken in Weymouth to prevent its spread and defeat the awful ravages of this illness. All schools were closed, as were places of entertainment. Soldiers were confined to barracks, but still it wove its tenacious tentacles though the community like wildfire. Normally, young, healthy people were suddenly taken ill, many dying within mere days. Those tending the sick didn’t escape, doctors, nurses, were all at risk, many paid the ultimate price for doing their duty.
Inset picture; hospital Nothe 2.
In the Nothe archives is a small personal document donated by the family of a young Yorkshireman who served at the Nothe during this period, George Blunt. The booklet is rather quaintly entitled ‘Lovers’ Meeting.’ It outlines briefly how George came to be in Weymouth, how he met, fell in love with and went on to marry 20-year-old Edith Nora Comben, whose family ran Comben’s grocers shop down in Trinity Street.
George was a true Yorkshire lad who at the start of war volunteered for the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) and was based inside the military hospital opposite the Nothe Tavern.
One of the huts within this complex was the Biological Laboratory and during the flu epidemic it was under command of a certain Captain Rimmer. He dished out some rather bizarre advice to those soldiers working under him during this stressful period, in situations where they felt in danger of having been exposed to the deadly virus, he declared that they should immediately
‘smoke a cigarette.’
Their family story goes on to tell how Edith frequently helped out in her parents shop alongside her three sisters. Being in close proximity to the fort and barracks and with a gaggle of attractive, young females serving, not surprisingly their shop was often frequented by soldiers. This is where she met the man of her dreams, George, who would appear in the store to buy various items in the guise of seeing Edith again.
The end of their document contains a rather moving and telling paragraph, which I feel is best left said in the family’s own words as it more than conveys the sombre mood of the time.
‘There is a quiet moment in the shop and Edith is just sweeping the floor. She becomes aware of a sound in the distance. A dread sound that she had heard too often before. The clip-clopping of horse’s hooves on the cobblestones and the beat of muffled drums. Coming into view along the harbour-side is yet another funeral procession. There are sometimes three or four a day. The horses with their black plumes pulling a gun-carriage which bears a coffin. The Military band is playing The Dead March in subdued tones and all the drums are muffled in black crepe.
Another young soldier from the Nothe has fallen victim to the dreaded outbreak of influenza. People are saying that more soldiers have died of flu than have been killed in the war.
She watches the procession with an aching heart. There are so many of them. Will the next one be her friend?’