From The Archives: 1918 ‘Flu Term’

Community News |

Alike to today’s coronavirus pandemic, the Spanish flu, lasting from 1918 to 1920, found people unprepared. Dragon School, 41 years into its education, was faced with closure for the first time in its history. Gay Sturt, Dragon School’s Archivist, shares entries and photos from the 1918 Dragon archives …

During this Easter Term Skipper reports that there were 82 boarders in School House. The weather in that term had been excellent and all were doing the new “morning drill” in the playground. He reported, “Every boy in the House has put on weight and despite the lack of some foods the catering has managed well. The sick rooms were improved and increased, during the summer holidays and now there is a ‘Sick Bathroom’ upstairs.” Skipper writes that he is glad that there was no epidemic apart from a few bad fingers and a very few colds. Alan Smith was operated on successfully for a ‘grumbling appendix’.

By the time the next House report appeared in April 1918, the numbers in School House have risen again. Hum Lynam (now in charge of the School House with his wife) reports 84 pupils boarding there this term.

On the whole we have been exceedingly fortunate in the matter of health, though early in the term we had some cases of flu and soon after half-term we started ‘measles’. The later was limited to seven cases, all quite normal in character and the epidemic ceased before the end of the term.

Much is owned to the careful attentions of Nurse Keith, who came this term in succession to Nurse Dawson. Nurse Southgate is now Matron and Miss Osbourne is now Matron at Charlbury House.

In August 1918 the House notes began with a verse:

“If you’ve got a particular programme in view,
It’s well to take account of the rain & the ‘Flu.
To crock on the eve of the concert’s a bore,
or to sit watching the rain’ for the duration of the war”.

This was really the only major blemish on a perfect Summer Term.

“We had five cases of the flu about a fortnight before the end of the term, and well after the ‘all clear’ there was an unfortunate revival on Sports Day when six collapsed at midday. Fortunately, the outbreaks were of the mild type and we feel very grateful for the otherwise ‘clean health’ record”.

At the bottom of a page in the 1918 December Draconian issue there is a brief paragraph:

‘The Armistice term’ was also the ‘Flu Term’ and will be remembered as the first occasion that the boarders were sent home during term time. It was a preventive measure, which was fully justified by the results, and we are heartily thankful that we were spared the anxieties and the prolonged interruption of work, which was the lot of many schools. Except for a few mild cases of flu just before we dispersed, we have been entirely free of illness. The dozen boys, who for various reasons could not go home, had some jolly expeditions and did a little work. They also made good use of the Carpenter’s shop.’

Gay Sturt, Dragon School Archivist