Millions fall victim to the flu

Spanish flu nurses.
Spanish flu nurses.

The majority of the casualties researched by the Northumbria World War One project died as a result of action in the field.

Naval casualties went down with their ship either torpedoed or as a result of striking mines.

However, probably the next biggest killer was influenza, erroneously dubbed ‘The Spanish Flu’.

Incidentally, the only reason why this particular pandemic got linked to Spain rests in the fact that Spain, a neutral country in the First World War and therefore free to publish any news about the war, happened to pick up on the number of deaths due to the flu. Because of that the moniker ‘Spanish’ got attached.

Although the origins of the pandemic are shrouded in mystery, a strong suspicion that it originated in US Army training camps just after America entered the war still remains. However, men were dying from bouts of pneumonia from the very start of the war. Take the case of Private Robert Ker. Born in 1871 in London, Robert was a Shoeing Smith by trade and, although he is still living in the capital according to the 1911 census, he moves to our area sometime after because he gets married to Eleanor Dunn, a marriage registered in the old Borough of Tynemouth in 1913.

With the outbreak of war he signs up with the Northumberland Fusiliers in Newcastle on August 11, 1914. While undergoing training he contracts pneumonia and dies on September 4 in the military hospital in Lincoln and is buried in that city’s Newport Cemetery.

The project reveals a number of men throughout the next few years who die of similar flu related symptoms.

But this is nothing compared to the numbers who would lose their lives to the deadly flu virus that would sweep the trenches from May 1918. A characteristic of this virus is the tendency to strike young healthy males. The trenches are, of course, crammed with soldiers who fall into this category.

The number of deaths in the First World War among all the combatants of all nations totalled some 18 million.

The total figure for the deaths due to the pandemic, which leapt out of the trenches and affected the civilian populations of all nations is estimated between 20 and 40 million.

One of the earliest casualties on the database for May 100 years ago is Lieutenant Henry John Kydd, of the Duke of Wellington regiment, who died of Septic Broncho Pneumonia on May 13, 1918, at the temporary hospital at Percy Gardens in Tynemouth.

He would soon be joined by many others.

To find out more about the project, visit or call in at B9 in the Linskill Centre in North Shields or can contact me at