A century has passed since the last global flu pandemic but our responses to it have striking similarities judging by these newly colourised photographs from the time.

Face masks became a vital piece of equipment during the 1918 Spanish Flu – be it for those out for a stroll on a street, Red Cross nurses treating the injured or a worker spraying the top of a London bus.

While many masks were made of cotton, some innovated and hooked themselves up to breathing contraptions, believing the air itself was toxic.

These photos have been brought to life by online geneology website MyHeritage, whose colouring tool can now be used by anyone to update their black and white photographs. 

The ‘Spanish’ flu cut down a swathe of humanity towards the end of the First World War, lasting from January 1918 to December 1920 and killing about 50 million people.  

A century has passed since the last global flu pandemic but our responses to it have striking similarities judging by these newly colourised photographs from the time. Pictured: A couple out on the street in London in 1919. Their masks only cover their masks leaving them vulnerable through their nose. It is not known why they wore them like this

A century has passed since the last global flu pandemic but our responses to it have striking similarities judging by these newly colourised photographs from the time. Pictured: A couple out on the street in London in 1919. Their masks only cover their masks leaving them vulnerable through their nose. It is not known why they wore them like this

Face masks became all the rage – be it people going about their daily lives, Red Cross nurses treating the injured (above) or a worker spraying the top of a London bus

 Face masks became all the rage – be it people going about their daily lives, Red Cross nurses treating the injured (above) or a worker spraying the top of a London bus

While many masks were made of cotton, some innovated and hooked themselves up to breathing contraptions, believing the air itself was toxic (above). In fact, experts say most infection was transmitted by hand

While many masks were made of cotton, some innovated and hooked themselves up to breathing contraptions, believing the air itself was toxic (above). In fact, experts say most infection was transmitted by hand

The 'Spanish' flu cut down a swathe of humanity towards the end of the First World War, lasting from January 1918 to December 2020 and killing about 50 million people. This picture, taken in March of 2020 shows a still masked cleaner spraying the top of a London bus with anti-bacterial spray as Britain prepared for a fourth wave of the disease

The ‘Spanish’ flu cut down a swathe of humanity towards the end of the First World War, lasting from January 1918 to December 2020 and killing about 50 million people. This picture, taken in March of 2020 shows a still masked cleaner spraying the top of a London bus with anti-bacterial spray as Britain prepared for a fourth wave of the disease

This photograph shows a British soldier sharing a light for a cigarette with his French counterpart in the vast transit camp and military hospital at Etaples near Calais. Some historians believe that the 1918 flu outbreak actually began at the camp's piggery having migrated from poultry to swine and then to humans

This photograph shows a British soldier sharing a light for a cigarette with his French counterpart in the vast transit camp and military hospital at Etaples near Calais. Some historians believe that the 1918 flu outbreak actually began at the camp’s piggery having migrated from poultry to swine and then to humans

In Britain, war-time censorship prevented the sheer scale of the tragedy from becoming public knowledge and it was only given the tag ‘Spanish’ because, being a neutral country, their journalists could report what ours could not.

One now colourised photograph shows a British soldier sharing a light for a cigarette with his French counterpart in the vast transit camp and military hospital at Etaples near Calais.

Some historians believe that the 1918 outbreak actually began at the camp’s piggery having migrated from poultry to swine and then to humans.

The threat to war morale posed by the flu, coming after four years of bloody trench conflict, was so great that it was downplayed by the newspapers of the day with The Times referring to it being ‘mostly in the mind’.

The Royal College of Physicians rated it no worse than the earlier Russian flu pandemic and it was not even considered a ‘notifiable’ cause of death until 1919 when the worst of the outbreak had passed.

It was taken more seriously in the USA who made wearing a mask compulsory in 1918, prompting the launch of ‘Anti-Mask Leagues’ by those who objected on libertarian grounds.

One photograph, taken in Seattle, USA, shows a bus conductor refusing to allow an unmasked man in a bowler hat to board.

Unlike today’s epidemic, where the elderly are most at risk, the 1918 version, which infected a third of the world’s population, was particularly deadly for young adults.  

Roi Mandel, Head of Research at MyHeritage, said: ‘Colourising these amazing images gives us an insight into the remarkable similarities between the times of the Spanish flu and today’s coronavirus.

In Britain, war-time censorship prevented the sheer scale of the tragedy from becoming public knowledge and it was only given the tag 'Spanish' because, being a neutral country, their journalists could report what ours could not. Pictured: A typist wearing a cotton mask while at work in New York

In Britain, war-time censorship prevented the sheer scale of the tragedy from becoming public knowledge and it was only given the tag ‘Spanish’ because, being a neutral country, their journalists could report what ours could not. Pictured: A typist wearing a cotton mask while at work in New York

It was taken more seriously in the USA who made wearing a mask compulsory in 1918, prompting the launch of 'Anti-Mask Leagues' by those who objected on libertarian grounds. Pictured: Two fashionable women chat through a car window while both wearing cotton masks

It was taken more seriously in the USA who made wearing a mask compulsory in 1918, prompting the launch of ‘Anti-Mask Leagues’ by those who objected on libertarian grounds. Pictured: Two fashionable women chat through a car window while both wearing cotton masks

Here a bus conductor in Seattle, Washington, refuses to allow a man without a mask to board his bus. Reports from the time say people were shot for refusing to wear a mask

Here a bus conductor in Seattle, Washington, refuses to allow a man without a mask to board his bus. Reports from the time say people were shot for refusing to wear a mask

In the US, it became a legal requirement to wear one during periods of 2018 and Anti-Mask Leagues being formed of those who objected. Most of the deaths came in the deadly second wave of the virus at the end of 1919. Here, policemen in Seattle are all wearing facemasks

In the US, it became a legal requirement to wear one during periods of 2018 and Anti-Mask Leagues being formed of those who objected. Most of the deaths came in the deadly second wave of the virus at the end of 1919. Here, policemen in Seattle are all wearing facemasks

Unlike today's epidemic, where the elderly are most at risk, the 1918 version, which infected a third of the world's population, was particularly deadly for young adults. In Japan 1919, girls walked to school all wearing face masks

Unlike today’s epidemic, where the elderly are most at risk, the 1918 version, which infected a third of the world’s population, was particularly deadly for young adults. In Japan 1919, girls walked to school all wearing face masks

‘From travelling on public transport, the wearing of masks to an increased focus on personal hygiene, we can relate to many of the same day-to-day challenges.’

The one group who appear to have been overlooked for face masks were poorer children. One photograph of a soup kitchen in Cincinnati shows unmasked children being served by masked helpers.

Another shows a group of ragged-trousered children with bags tied around their necks. These would have contained camphor, a type of tree oil commonly used in ointments and thought to guard against flu infection.

Health warnings advised people to keep their bedroom windows open and those newspapers who took the disease seriously, were keen to stop the practice of kissing.

One writer in the Perth Daily News of 1919 observed: ‘The gentle art of kissing has become far too common especially among the fair sex…let us at this trying time plump for sanitation and let sentiment take care of itself…the public should take a firm stand at least until this devastating epidemic is over and be contented with a handshake and thus avoid the risk of passing from lip to lip the germs of the flu.’

Tragically, the flu was mostly spread by the hands. 

And for those who could not resist a peck there was the ‘kissing gauze’. This device, for the fearful but still frisky, was likened to a ping-pong bat and placed between the lips of lovers for the ‘germless kiss’.

These photos have been brought to colour for the first time by MyHeritage, whose colouring tool can now be used by anyone for their black and white snaps. Pictured: Poor children in America were given small sacks containing Camphor to wear around their necks and the oil was considered a good way to guard against the flu

These photos have been brought to colour for the first time by MyHeritage, whose colouring tool can now be used by anyone for their black and white snaps. Pictured: Poor children in America were given small sacks containing Camphor to wear around their necks and the oil was considered a good way to guard against the flu

Health warnings advised people to keep their bedroom windows open and those newspapers who took the disease seriously, were keen to stop the practice of kissing. It wasn't until the 1940s that people started to receive a jab to inoculate them against the flu (above)

Health warnings advised people to keep their bedroom windows open and those newspapers who took the disease seriously, were keen to stop the practice of kissing. It wasn’t until the 1940s that people started to receive a jab to inoculate them against the flu (above)

Leave a Reply

avatar

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  Subscribe  
Notify of