Skip to main content

Blandford Camp's Fatal Flu


Around 100 years ago, there was an influenza outbreak in Blandford and the surrounding villages which had similarities with the corona virus pandemic. Just as Boris Johnson and Prince Charles have been viral victims so were Prime Minister David Lloyd-George and King George V in 1918.

Called ‘Spanish Flu’, there is little on record showing how the Blandford district was affected. This was because of widespread press censorship. At the end of World War I, newspapers were not allowed to publish stories that might have undermined national morale. However, at Blandford Camp there were so many ‘Spanish Flu’ deaths that the authorities were unable to suppress this story. Today, the camp is associated with the British Army yet in 1918 it was a massive Royal Flying Corps/Royal Air Force base.

Blandford Camp’s story broke in October 1918, when it was suggested that sick recruits had to lie on dirty straw mats and there were insufficient doctors and nurses. Despite this, new recruits continued to arrive. The virus seemed to leave people with disturbed minds. A Blandford RAF serviceman wrote that a small wood nearby was known as ‘Suicides Wood’ because of the number of men with flu committing suicide there. It was claimed there were between 4,000 and 5,000 men under canvas at Blandford Camp. Ten men slept in each hut and there were no drying facilities. The overall death rate was reckoned to be between 50 and 60 young servicemen each week.

On 6 November 1918, the Under-Secretary of State to the Air Ministry, Major Baird responded to a parliamentary question on the conditions at Blandford Camp.  He reported that between 21 September and 2 November 1918 the average number of men under canvas was 6,611. Furthermore, there had been 77 deaths at the Camp as a result of the influenza virus.

Unlike corona virus, ‘Spanish flu’ disproportionately affected fit people between the ages of 20 and 40 years. It struck quickly as victims could be fine at breakfast but dead by tea time.

‘I had a little bird, its name was Enza, I opened the window and in-flu-enza.'

(Children’s rhyme 1918.)

Graves in Blandford Cemetery of young Royal Air Force recruits who died between October and November 1918 are likely to be those of victims of the influenza epidemic. ‘Spanish flu’ was one of the greatest medical disasters of the 20th century. There were three separate epidemic waves and an estimated 500 million people worldwide became infected.

(Illustration: Blandford Camp in 1918 but without social distancing!)




Popular posts from this blog

Tarrant Rushton's Nuclear Secret

Tarrant Rushton was a large RAF base used for glider operations during World War II. It was then taken over by Flight Refuelling for the conversion of aircraft for the development of aircraft in-flight refuelling. However, between 1958 & 1965, the Tarrant Rushton airfield had a much more secretive and less publicised role. This was in support of the nation’s nuclear bomber deterrent, as Tarrant Rushton airfield became a QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) dispersal unit.   During 1958, contractors Costain reinforced the main runway and carried out other work to ensure the giant bomber aircraft could be accommodated. At times just a few miles from Blandford, there would have been up to four RAF Vickers Valiant bombers at Tarrant Rushton ready to become airborne in minutes charged with nuclear weapons. The bombers were from 148 Squadron at RAF Marham in Norfolk. As there was no suitable accommodation at the airfield, an old US Air Force Hospital building at Martin was used. At the time, the

Shapwick Sea Monster

On a Tuesday in October 1706, a travelling Poole fishmonger was wheeling his cart on the outskirts of the village of Shapwick. Unknown to him, a large crab fell from his barrow. This was to cause panic and alarm among the Shapwick villagers. Living inland, and perhaps in the 18 th century not having travelled beyond Blandford, the Shapwick villagers had never before seen a crab. Trudging home and exhausted by his day’s labour, a Shapwick farm worker discovered this crawling creature by stepping on it. So strange was its appearance, he believed it was the devil himself. Running on to the village, he told everyone excitingly of his horrid find. Fearing it was the work of the devil, the villagers armed themselves with pitchforks, sticks and stones. Knowing not what to do, they decided to consult the shepherd Rowe considered by many to be the local wise man. Sadly, the aging oracle was now past his prime and for the last six years had been confined to his bed. The old man was as infirm as

Blandford Races

It might not have been Ascot, Epsom or Aintree but Blandford Races was once quite an important event in the county’s social calendar. Blandford Races date back to 1603 and were held on the downs which today would be part of Blandford Camp. Meetings continued until the middle of the 19 th  century with few breaks in between. The longest interruption was when Oliver Cromwell was Head of State and Government. As Lord Protector he was not amused by such events. Apart from horse racing, there were other entertainments. These included wrestling matches, cock fighting and dancing. Much feasting took place which was highly lucrative for the town. In 1780, cudgel playing was advertised and resulted in a Shaftebury man losing his left eye. This was then replaced by a sword and dagger contest between the gentlemen of Dorset and Somerset. One of the race patrons was Lord Palmerston who was later to be Prime Minister. In 1824, he had had a winner, Luzborough in the Dorsetshire Gold Cup. Normally he