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

True Lovers Knot - a Tragic Tale

True Lovers Knot public house describes itself as a traditional  inn set in a picturesque Dorset valley in Tarrant Keynston. Yet, this historical hostelry is said to have gained its name from a particularly tragic tale and still to be haunted by a distressed former publican. This publican’s son met and fell in love with the daughter of the local squire. Because the young lad was not from the gentry they decided to keep their relationship secret from her father. Unfortunately, a stable hand saw the two young lovers together and told her father. Set firmly against this friendship the squire made plans to send his daughter away from the district. Not able to face up to life without her boyfriend, the young girl decided to commit suicide and hanged herself from a tree in the village. So upset was the publican’s son of hearing of his girlfriend’s death he too hanged himself from the same tree. The Tarrant Keynston publican had, himself lost his wife at child birth and now losing his son b

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

Chimney Sweep Tragedy

Crown Hotel, Blandford is reckoned to be one of Dorset’s oldest hostelries. Yet its most tragic day, during a long history, must surely be when a young chimney sweep lost his life. The chimney sweep, who was just a child, suffocated and was burnt to death in a Crown Hotel chimney which had been alight a little while before. ‘His cries were dreadful and no-one could give assistance. Part of the chimney was taken down before he was got out.’ (Salisbury & Winchester Gazette 27th March 1780) The lad had gone up one chimney and attempting to go down another had become stuck. At the time children were used to climb up chimneys to clean out soot deposits. With hands and knees, they would shimmy up narrow dark flue spaces packed thick with soot and debris. After the 1731 Great Fire of Blandford it was realised that it was important to sweep chimneys regularly while many rebuilt houses had narrower ones. Smaller chimneys and complicated flues were a potential death trap for children. The sw