Pandemic: Its Reappearance

Influenza, Victoria Cross, Royal Flying Corps

The grave of Alan Arnett McLeod VC, at Kildonan Presbyterian Cemetery, Winnipeg, Manitoba. McLeod died from influenza in 1918.
(P. Ferguson image, July 2017)

It has occurred, an unwanted centenary

Following commemorations marking the days and events of the Great War Centenary, we now face the reappearance of an unwelcome 2020 visitor – a global pandemic. Mimicking the timing of the influenza pandemic of 1918 – 1920 we now have Coronavirus or COVID-19. The new virus first appeared towards the end of 2019 and continues to enfilade the globe through 2020.

Some 100 years ago the earlier pandemic infected the lives of nearly 46,000 Canadian soldiers and nursing sisters. Sir Andrew MacPhail, author of a Great War history of the Canadian Medical Services wrote, There were 45,960 cases, of which 2,672 were amongst officers and 43,228 in the other ranks. Of these 776 ended in death (…) No specific treatment was discovered by any serum, and the remedial measures common in civil life were hard to apply. (p. 266)

The virus knew no boundaries, crossing at will across the divides created by our species and claiming in its wake several million souls estimated between 17,000,000 – 100,000,000 lives. It knew no distinction between class or clan, rich or poor the charitable or the greedy. It knew no respect, honour or care for who it claimed. This disingenuous harvest of life belongs to no one and yet to everyone.

In 1884 a cholera epidemic led to the French government creation of the Médaille d’honneur des épidémies (Medal of Epidemics) to recognize individual devotion to duty. The medal honoured those individuals…

Exposing themselves to the dangers of contamination, by providing care to patients suffering from contagious diseases; Preserving, by personal intervention and worthy of being reported, a territory or locality from the invasion of an epidemic disease; Helping to spread the practice of disinfection operations during an epidemic.

The Médaille d’honneur des épidémies is presented in one of four classes – gold, vermeil, silver and bronze. Several soldiers and nursing sisters of the Canadian Army Medical Corps were presented with the honour between 1919 and 1926 including seven awards of the 2e Classe en Vermeil, 59 awards of the 3e Classe en Argent and 119 4e Class en Bronze.

The Great War related influenza respected no form of courage and claimed the lives of those recognized for valour. After surviving the battlefield at least five recipients of the Victoria Cross died from influenza and its related complications.

  • Captain Julian Royds Gribble VC, 10th Service Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment. Died as a prisoner of war 25 November 1918 at Kassel, Germany. Buried at Niederzwehren Cemetery, Kassel, Germany. Headstone inscription “SON OF GEORGE J. & MRS. GRIBBLE OF 34 EATON SQUARE, LONDON AND KINGSTON RUSSELL HOUSE DORSET”. Age 21.
  • Able Seaman Albert Edward McKenzie VC, Royal Navy. Died 3 November 1918 at Chatham Naval Hospital, Kent , England. Buried at Camberwell Old Cemetery, South London, England. Headstone inscription “ALSO HIS BELOVED MOTHER FOR THEIR TO-MORROW WE GAVE OUR TO-DAY”. Age 20.
  • Lieutenant Alan Arnett McLeod VC, Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force. Died 6 November 1918 at Winnipeg Manitoba. Buried at Kildonan Presbyterian Cemetery, Winnipeg. Age 19.
  • Lieutenant George Raymond Dallas Moor VC MC and Bar, 1st and 2nd Battalion Hampshire Regiment. Died 3 November 1918 at Mouvaux, France. Buried at Y Farm Military Farm Cemetery, Bois-Grenier, France. Headstone inscription “VINCAM ET VINCAM” (Win and Win). Age 22.
  • Captain William Leefe Robinson VC, Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force. Died 31 December 1918 at the home of his sister, Baroness Heyking, Stanmore, England. Buried at All Saint’s Churchyard Extension, Harrow Weald, Middlesex, England. Following Robinson’s Victoria Cross action he was shot down and taken prisoner of war. His brother Second Lieutenant Harold Leefe Robinson, 103rd Mahratta Light Infantry, age 22, was killed in Mesopotamia 10 April 1916. W.L. Robinson VC was aged 23.

About The Author

Paul has worked with the Paradigm Motion Picture Company since 2009 as producer, historian and research specialist. Paul first met Casey and Ian WIlliams of Paradigm in April 2007 at Ieper (Ypres), Belgium when ceremonies were being held for the re-dedication of the Vimy Memorial, France. Paul's sensitivity to film was developed at an early age seeing his first films at RCAF Zweibrucken, Germany and Sardinia. Paul returned to Canada in 1967 and was captivated by David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Bridge on the River Kwai". Over time Paul became increasingly interested in storytelling, content development, character, direction, cinematography, narration and soundtracks. At the University of Victoria, Paul studied and compared Japanese and Australian film and became interested in Australian film maker Peter Weir and his film "Gallipoli" (1981). Paul was inspired when he learned Weir visited the beaches, ridges and ravines of the peninsula. "Gallipoli", the film, led Paul on many journeys to sites of conflict in England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Malta, Hawaii, Gallipoli, North Macedonia and Salonika. When Paul first watched documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, "The Civil War", Paul understood how his own experience and insight could be effective and perhaps influential in film-making. Combining his knowledge of Museums and Archives, exhibitions and idea strategies with his film interests was a natural progression. Paul thinks like a film-maker. His passion for history and storytelling brings to Paradigm an eye (and ear) to the keen and sensitive interests of; content development, the understanding of successful and relational use of collections, imagery and voice. Like Paul's favorite actor, Peter O'Toole, Paul believes in the adage “To deepen not broaden.” While on this path Paul always remembers his grandmother whose father did not return from the Great War and how his loss shaped her life and how her experience continues to guide him.


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