2018 marked 100 years since the outbreak of Spanish Flu, the last major pandemic which the world faced.

A crowded Paignton Sands and promenade in August 1964 (PR24538) Photo: Western Morning NewsA crowded Paignton Sands and promenade in August 1964 (PR24538) Photo: Western Morning News

Torquay Museum held an exhibition to mark this centenary and part of this detailed the inevitability of another pandemic on a similar scale.

Thankfully, in 2020 the world is better placed to deal with a pandemic and thanks to the National Health Service the population of the UK is much better looked after.

Sometimes known as Purple Death, the 1918 flu outbreak had similar symptoms to seasonal flu but could be much more severe. Healthy young people could complain of sore throats and fevers and within hours suffocate, their skin taking on a terrible purple hue.

The flu did not act so quickly in all cases, the first stages often brought a high temperature, chills, shivering, and an almost unbearable headache. Pain in muscles and joints made it hard to stand. A red bloated face, a chesty cough and congestion from catarrh added to the discomfort.

A Salmon postcard showing Paignton Harbour (PR24954)A Salmon postcard showing Paignton Harbour (PR24954)

Some people appeared to recover after a few days but then relapsed and died. In others, the flu brought on pneumonia or sepsis and since neither of these could be treated at the time, victims usually died. The many people who survived Spanish flu were often left with ill health long after the virus had passed.

Like almost the entire world, Torbay felt the impact of Spanish flu. In a council meeting on October 31, 1918, the disease was described as prevalent. Schools were closed, public gatherings postponed and school aged children excluded from cinemas.

Even so, in Torquay, 96 people had died of influenza by the end of the year.

The deaths continued into 1919. In February, the Torquay Directory covered the story of nine-year-old Harold J. Hannaford, of 39 Mallock Road. On the Tuesday, he got a headache and a cold and on the Thursday night he suffered a convulsive fit and died. “The suddenness of death,” the newspaper stated, “is characteristic of the type of influenza prevalent just now.”

Paignton train station circa 1885 prior to the laying of the double track to Torquay (PR10730.1)Paignton train station circa 1885 prior to the laying of the double track to Torquay (PR10730.1)

Most people who died were aged between 20 and 40 and many of the casualties in the Torbay area were servicemen.

At Oldway Mansion in Paignton, which at that time was being used as a hospital for US troops, there were more than 100 deaths. New Zealand troops stationed in Torquay were also affected and there is a monument to their dead in Torquay Cemetery.

In Brixham, airmen sent from Torquay to the base on Berry Head took the flu with them and while in the cottage hospital, they infected almost the entire staff.

It has long been universally believed among scientists and health professionals that one day there would be another pandemic on the scale of 1918.

At national and international level, there have been plans in place to combat such an occurrence, little did anyone know that it would occur so soon after commemorating 100 years since the last pandemic.