The Influenza Pandemic of 1918 - 1919

Jennifer Ayto

2018 will see the centenary of the signing of the Armistice but also of the single largest demographic disaster of the 20th century, Spanish flu.[1]  A sample of entries in School Log books suggest that it was prevalent throughout Hertfordshire.

The signing of the Armistice was a cause for celebration.  At the Harpenden Board School[2] it was noted that on 11 November 1918:

The children finished lessons at 11.45 in honour of the Armistice being signed.  Mr Ackroyd brought in a tray of buns to give to the children before they dispersed“.

However, the preceding entries were:

23 October 1918 –  School closed – both teachers ill.

11 November 1918 –  School reopened after closure for influenza“.

At another Harpenden school, Kingsbourne Green[3], the situation was worse:

25 October 1918 –  There are several children absent this week on account of influenza in the home.

18 March 1919 – School has been closed until today (from 31 October) by order of Dr May, Medical Officer of Health on account of influenza“.

In Hitchin, St Andrew’s school was also affected[4]:

28 October 1918 – Cancelled this morning’s attendance.  School closed on account of influenza.

18 November 1918 – Reopened school attendance still very irregular“.

Pupils at Digswell school[5] were able to celebrate the Armistice:

12 November 1918 – Today is a Holiday to celebrate the “End of the War””.


25 November 1918 –  several children away with influenza – 23 children present out of 74“.

A similar picture was recorded at Bengeo, Waterford C of E school[6]:

11 November 1918 – Half holiday given today owing to the excitement caused by the Armistice being signed.

18 November 1918 – school closed for a week owing to many children away with influenza

2 December 1918 – school re-opened after being closed for a fortnight for influenza“.

At nearby Bayford,[7] influenza had struck earlier:

5 October 1918 – No school. Several families have the influenza. 

11 October 1918 – School closed.  Very few scholars at Bayford or Brickendon are free from the epidemic. 

28 October 1918 – Re-opened.  Several scholars still ill“.

In the south of the county,  Monken Hadley school (infants)[8] in Barnet recorded:

17 October 1918 –  Owing to epidemic Influenza  school was closed today till 28 October.

15 November 1918 –  As influenza was still prevalent school was not reopened till Monday 12 November“.

It was at another Barnet school, East Barnet Board, Girls’ Department,[9] where influenza struck earlier:

“7 September 1918 – School closed by Medical Officer for 7 days owing to outbreak of influenza.

14 September 1918: Scholars reassembled but the number was so small that school was again closed by doctor’s orders – attendance continued low for rest of year“.

The effects of Spanish flu were devastating but the closure of a school because of the prevalence of infectious diseases was a regular occurrence.  At Digswell, for example,

9 June 1915 – colds and measles – School closed after the morning meeting by order of the Medical Officer of Health for three weeks.

1 July 1915 – school re-opened – 29 out of 77 present.

 2 July 1915 –  25 scholars present – 3 fresh cases of measles – School closed again by Medical Officer of Health to re-open on Monday 26th

26 July 1915 –  School re-opened Only 45 scholars present“.

and an even sadder  report from Harpenden:

27 March 1918 – There has been a lot of sickness among the children this term chiefly among the smaller ones.  12 cases of whooping cough 14 of mumps and 22 cases of chicken pox and 4 of ring worm, making the serious total of 52 infectious illness in this small school

Over 300 School Log Books and Admission Registers for schools in Hertfordshire are available at Findmypast


[1] Writing in the Summer edition of the Local Historian, Professor Killingray suggested that the centenary of this pandemic was an opportunity for local groups to study its impact on their community.
[2] HALS/HEd 1/23/5.
[3] HALS/HEd 1/24/2.
[4] HALS/HEd 2/6/7.
[5] HALS/HEd 1/19/2.
[6] KALS/HEd 1/13/2.
[7] HALS/HEd 1/20/3.
[8] HALS/HEd 2/4/2.
[9] HALS/HEd 1/11/1.

This page was added on 05/12/2017.

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