SPANISH FLU: EVENWOOD AND HAMSTERLEY GERMAN POW CAMP
During the summer of 1918, the influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 known more commonly as “Spanish Flu” affected large numbers of servicemen and civilians alike. In one sector of the Western Front over 70,000 American troops were hospitalised and nearly one third of these died. By the end of the summer the virus reached the German Army and this created serious problems for the military leadership as they found it impossible to replace their sick and dying soldiers.
The infection had already spread into Germany and over 400,000 civilians died of the disease. It killed 228,000 people in Britain, 450,000 in Russia, 225,230 in Germany, 166,000 in France, 450,000 in the USA, an estimated 16,000,000 in India and 70 million people world-wide.
The epidemic visited the north east of England in the summer of 1918. Press reports indicate that Spanish flu reached Evenwood in July 1918:
“At one pit 46 boys were employed only 7 were present on Thursday”
“Ramshaw School closed due to influenza epidemic.”
It appears to have returned to the locality during November and December:
“Seventeen deaths in Cockfield from influenza in the last week”
“Miss Jane Cox daughter of Mrs. Cox, Oaks Bank died on Saturday of pneumonia following influenza aged 17 years.”
Jane was the sister of Corporal George Thomas Cox, 1/6 DLI who was killed in action 5 November 1916 as the Battle of the Somme came to an end.
The Evenwood Parish Magazine provides details of burials throughout the period of the war and usually there were between 2 and 5 burials per month but the winter of 1918 – 1919 brought about a higher than average death rate:
- December 1918 – 13 burials
- January 1919 – 7 burials
- February 1919 -19 burials
- March 1919 – 8 burials
By way of further comparison, in November 1918 there were only 3 burials and in April 1919 there were 4 burials.
The following headlines were reported in a local newspaper:
“Influenza deaths in Evenwood”
“Mrs. Gaffney wife of Mr. Cornelius Gaffney, Oaks died of influenza.”
One of the casualties was Private John William Maughan 12/DLI who had just got through the fighting in the Italian Campaign. 5 December 1918, he was admitted into the Military Hospital at Catterick Camp suffering from pneumonia, succumbing to the disease 27 January 1919. Having attested in September 1914, he was one of the first in Evenwood to enlist. It is ironic that he survived the entire war only to be struck down by pneumonia. The Evenwood Parish Magazine (April 1919) included a list of burials from July 1918 to the end of February 1919 and includes the following reference:
“1919 Jan. 30 – John Wm. Maughan, aged 30 years, Catterick Camp, Yorks.”
Another to succumb was Mrs. Selina Parmley, wife of Corporal George Parmley, 1/4th Battalion, the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry who died of wounds 16 October 1917 at Passchendaele. She died 22 February 1919 at Bill Quay on Tyneside from pneumonia leaving her mother to look after her 4 children, all under 10 years of age.
THE GERMAN PRISONER OF WAR BURIALS AT HAMSTERLEY
The WW1 Prisoner of War camp at Harperley was located about 5 miles to the north of Evenwood, in the Parish of Hamsterley. 27 German POWs were buried in Hamsterley churchyard. The Hamsterley Parish Magazine of December 1918 published a list of those buried. It also mentions that Rev. and Mrs. C.E.P. Shearman lost their eldest daughter, “by the epidemic now raging the land” – a clear reference to the influenza epidemic.
Their date of burial and names are given below:
07 November: Sternberg; Paul Ernst Friedrich age 47
08 November: Schink; Albert age 37
08 November: Wloczyk; Felix age 26
11 November: Bertholdt; Fritz age 29
11 November: Garling; Ernst Karl Friedrich age 26
11 November: Hadla; Eduard
11 November: Lange; Alfred Karl John age 31
11 November: Rosnick; Otto Karl age 27
12 November: Fink; Karl Eduard Wilhelm age 35
12 November: Fischer; Otto age 29
12 November: Lehmann; Richard age 27
12 November: Schwendler; Willy age 26
13 November: Balzke; Alfred Paul Alwin age 28
13 November: Merkle; Ernst Heinrich age 22
13 November: Rudloff; Alfred Paul age 22
14 November: Blankefort; Franz Bernhard age 28
14 November: Kempe; Ernst age 22
15 November: Grassoff Arthur age 25
15 November: Horwege; Willy Klaus August age 29
15 November: Schneider; Kurt Gustav age 29
16 November: Bedorf; Anton age 34
17 November: Beck; Karl Eduard age 28
17 November: Bräunigen; Kurt age 29
17 November: Kaussmann; Hermann Gustav age 32
17 November: Walkowiak; Anton age 28
18 November: Krinn; Heinrich Max age 23
23 November: Meier; Rudolf Max Heinrich age 22
In the 1960’s the bodies were re-interned in the German Military Cemetery at Cannock Chase, Staffordshire. Most of those who lie at the German Military Cemetery died in POW camps or were airmen, killed when their airships and aircraft were brought down/crashed or sailors who died at sea whose bodies were washed ashore.
The following is a copy from the Hamsterley Parish Magazine [December 1918] which lists the German POWs buried the previous month.
Cannock Chase German Military Cemetery: The Hamsterley Burials
 There are discrepancies between the details provided by the Parish Magazine, Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfűrsorge and the actual headstones at Cannock Chase Ger,an Military Cemetery.