In 2018 the BBC reported that over the last three years the number of children who are being homeschooled in the UK has risen by around 40%. It’s not hard to see why; for parents, ensuring their child’s schooling is top quality is vital, and home schooling is definitely worth consideration as the new school year starts. Whether you’re considering homeschooling for your little ones or terrible teens, choosing to self-teach offers the perfect method for many parents who seek a more hands-on approach in their children’s education. In the UK, as a parent you must ensure your child receives a full-time education from the age of 5, moving through Key Stages 1-3 and on to GCSE and potentially A-Level education.
So is homeschooling right for you? Whatever the age or abilities of your child(ren), learning from home presents many benefits. Let’s look at a few of these advantages, which may help you decide.
Two of the main reasons influencing UK parents’ decision to choose homeschooling include protecting their children’s mental health and the ability to avoid exclusion. Being in a large classroom environment can present a number of challenges for children, including exposure to bullies, feelings of inadequacy from being around superior-performing peers and being singled out for being ‘different’ from other children. Many children may feel as if they simply don’t ‘fit in’. Home schooling offers a solution to avoid these situations and protect your children’s mental health and wellbeing.
The chance to learn one-to-one rather than one-to-many offers many children the chance to feel fully involved and immersed in their own learning. This increases their chances of remaining engaged and interested in their studies. This also allows you, as a parent, to build a stronger bond with your child; to be able to identify their strengths and weaknesses and work with them on these. It is attention that they may not get in a large classroom environment.
Homeschooling allows your child to proceed through their education at their own pace rather than that of scheduled class. Every child is unique, with their own abilities, and these abilities may vary from subject to subject. If your child needs more help with Mathematics and less so with English, you can adjust their learning schedule accordingly.
This means more healthy sleeping patterns and time to study – you have the time to flex your child’s learning timetable around your lifestyle and circumstances. You can take holidays when you want, too. A definite win-win.
Homeschooling offers many benefits over more traditional school classroom study. It’s worth weighing up the pros and cons of both options before making a decision to homeschool of course, and there are plenty of resources to do this, including the UK Government’s website, which can provide further advice.
In the January of 793, Danish Vikings attacked the small island of Lindisfarne, off the coast of Northumberland. They came early in the morning, attacking the monastery there, killing many of the monks, enslaving others, looting their gold and jewels and sacking the surrounding lands.
The Anglo Saxon Chronicles, which recorded much of life during the period, says that in AD.793, “This year came dreadful fore-warnings over the land of the Northumbrians, terrifying the people most woefully: these were immense sheets of light rushing through the air, and whirlwinds, and fiery dragons flying across the firmament. These tremendous tokens were soon followed by a great famine: and not long after, on the sixth day before the ides of January in the same year, the harrowing inroads of heathen men made lamentable havoc in the church of God in Holy-island, by rapine and slaughter.”
These chronicles, though broadly accurate in their recordings, are often prone to literary exaggeration, though; something that modern day films and fiction have continued to do when it comes to Viking behaviour. Although films and books like to paint the raid of Lindisfarne abbey as a complete sacking of the island, it is unlikely it was that extreme. Vikings were clever and sensible. They planned their raids carefully with a mind to leaving enough resources behind so that, after enough time had passed, they could revisit the area and profit from it again. Vikings were far from the mindless savages that they are sometimes portrayed to be.
The attack on Lindisfarne was only the beginning of a larger campaign to increase lands and resources. Raids on the British mainland continued in 794, when Viking ships attacked the monastery of Jarrow in Northumbria, and again in 795 when they targeted the Scottish island monastery of Iona, as well as various sites in Ireland. These raids were not as successful as the one on Lindisfarne as the weather was against them. The raid on Iona suffered particularly, with many Vikings lost to storms. After this setback it was not until 835 that such a large Viking force returned to Britain. This time hundreds of ships crossed the ocean and then rode up the country’s rivers. It was a tactic they copied across Europe, with France and Russia becoming similarly lucrative targets.
The Vikings originally came from the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The name doesn’t refer to them as a race, but more to a calling or way of life. A Viking was someone who joined an expedition expressly for the purpose of raiding others for personal gain. The Old Norse phrase fara i viking (“to go on expedition”) meant piracy and robbery. However, even though Vikings may have begun as pirates, they soon realised that the resources and minerals available in Britain and across much of Europe was worthy of a more organised attack strategy.
In time, the Vikings changed from opportunist raiders to armies who were ready to become localised communities and join and rule the resident population. The Viking incursions, which included further raids and subsequent settling, continued to hit the British coast until 1066. The attacks ended when the Norwegian king, Harald Hardrada (1046-1066) defeated the English king Harold Godwinson in 1066, a fact which contributed significantly to William the Conqueror’s Norman victory over King Harold at The Battle of Hastings later the same year.
Grigori Rasputin was born into a peasant family in a village in Siberia, Russia, in approximately 1869. At that time life in Siberia was hard. The area was virtually untouched by the rise in technology that was sweeping much of Europe during Industrial Revolution. As a result of his poor upbringing, Rasputin received little schooling and it is believed that he never learnt to read or write.
Accounts of Rasputin’s early years claim that he possessed supernatural powers, while others cite examples of extreme cruelty. It was this dubious, frightening reputation that was and has remained associated with Rasputin, and earned him the nickname, “the Mad Monk.”
In fact, although Rasputin entered the Verkhoture Monastery in Russia at the age of 19, with the intention of becoming a monk, he left shortly after to marry Proskovia Fyodorovna, with whom he had 3 children; only one of which survived. However, by his early 20’s he’d returned to what he considered his calling, and took on the life of a wandering holy man, or strannik, who lived off the goodwill and gifts from peasant communities he visited. It was on these travels, which took him as far afield as Greece and the Middle East, that Rasputin gained a reputation as a healer.
In 1903, Rasputin’s wanderings brought him to St. Petersburg. Such was his fame as a mystic and faith healer at this point, that by 1905 he was introduced to Russian Tsar Nicholas II and his wife, Alexandra Feodorovna. Desperate for help for their son Alexis, who suffered from haemophilia, they invited him to court. Rasputin was able to convince the Tsarina, falsely, that he could cure the boy, with the royal family firmly believing in his reputation as a starets; a Russian holy man.
In the following years Rasputin grew in influence. Then, in October 1912 Alexis became seriously ill. The Tsarina sent a telegram to Rasputin who replied that Alexis would live. He was proved correct. So it was that when the boy recovered, the Tsar and Tsarina’s faith in him was confirmed. But this success and rise to prominence would lead to his eventual downfall. Between 1906 and 1914, his association grew with the Royal family to the extent that he began to undermine the dynasty’s credibility by the press. His predictions also now took a darker tone. On the eve of World War One, he was saying that calamity would befall the country; A concerned Tsar Nicholas II took command of the Russian Army, with Tsarina Alexandra assuming responsibility for domestic policy. She dismissed ministers who warned her of Rasputin’s undue influence.
It was around this time, June 1914, when a woman named Khioniya Guseva stabbed but failed to kill Rasputin. It is believed that the woman, who’d been disguised as a beggar, stabbed him at the behest of a political rival. The stab wound was severe and led to Rasputin spending weeks in recovery after surgery. It would not be the last time such an attempt was made.
As the wandering monk’s influence over the Tsarina grew, the country’s officials became more worried about his power. It sealed his fate, as Prince Felix Yusupov, another member of the Russian royal family, finally decided that the murder of Rasputin was essential.
On 29th December a group of conspirators, including the Tsar’s first cousin, Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich and Prince Yusupov, invited Rasputin to Yusupov’s palace and fed him wine and cakes laced with cyanide. However, though Rasputin became rather drunk, the poison had no effect. Amazed that Rasputin had survived, the prince and his helpers then lured Rasputin to a party early in the morning of 30th December 1916. This time they made no mistake, as Prince Yusupov shot him. The murderers wrapped the body in a carpet and threw it into the Neva River. When Rasputin’s body was found three days later, three bullet wounds covered his body. He was buried on 3rd January 1917.
Yet even after his death, Rasputin’s strange reputation for prophecy did not fade. Just prior, he had predicted that if he were to be murdered by government officials, the entire imperial family would be killed by the Russian people. It came true 15 months later, when the Tsar, his wife and all of their children were murdered by assassins amidst the Russian Revolution.
Christopher Colombus’ legacy presents him as the great Italian explorer who discovered the New World. Venerated by Colombus Day and in history textbooks alike, their depictions of him as the hero of the New World paint a rather skewed picture of him and his explorations. The less romantic reality is that, with his famous voyage in 1492, Colombus didn’t just discover the New World, he forcibly took it.
Funded by the Spanish monarch, Colombus set out on an expedition on August 3rd, 1492, to find a Western route to India – a route he never actually found. On December 5th, 1492, he and his crew reached their third landfall of the trip, Hispaniola, or present-day Haiti.
When Colombus landed in Hispaniola, he was warmly welcomed by the indigenous Taino people, a subgroup of the Arawak people who were populous throughout the Caribbean. The Taino were a well-developed community with an established social system. They were farmers, navigators, artists, and above all, peaceful inhabitants of the New World – their world.
In every sense of the word, the Taino were an advanced society; they just weren’t advanced in Colombus’s sense of the word. They used farming techniques for crop cultivation, went hunting and fishing and were divided into two social classes under a chiefdom. They had clan laws, spoke an Arawakan language, and wrote in petroglyphs ( rock engravings ). Before Colombus’s arrival, they were a thriving agricultural society.
On his first voyage, Colombus agreed with Cacique Guacanagari, a leader of the Taino people, that he could leave some men on the island to establish a settlement. La Navidad, the first colony in the New World, was thus founded. But in a sign of things to come, the colony was quickly destroyed by the greed of the settlers, as violence ensued over the men taking gold and Taino women.
On Colombus’s second voyage in November 1493, he started to capitalise on the Taino’s generosity, and this time demanded paid tribute from them. Those that weren’t able to pay were brutally killed. He set up his second settlement, La Isabela, in 1494, where relations between the natives and the settlers quickly deteriorated. At the time, the slave trade was rampant, so many of the Taino were sent to Spain to be sold. They were forced into extreme working conditions on plantations and subject to European diseases, like Smallpox, to which they had no immunity.
Colombus took the Taino’s land and gold and dissolved their society. They lost all self-governance and became pawns to European invaders bringing warfare to their once peaceful land. The Taino society quickly became a shadow of its former self as it was aggressively wiped out by European expansion into the New World.
Colombus’s complete demolition of the Taino people only scratches the surface of the genocidal atrocities of the Age of Exploration, with various similarly advanced, even greater civilisations of the Americas all brought to ruin by it. Commemorating Colombus as an explorer of the New World fails to acknowledge the barbarism of his actions. Whilst he was undoubtably a skilled naval navigator, he was unable to navigate the new social and cultural institutions he found. Ultimately, instead of exploring and embracing the Taino people and their culture, he exploited it.
On January 20th 1265 the first truly representative English Parliament met at Westminster Hall. This Parliament, led by the baron rebel, Simon de Montfort, was significant because it formed the basis of a more representative democracy; inspiring the House of Commons as we know it today.
Although England was officially under the rule of King Henry III in 1265, it was de Montfort who truly controlled England. After growing dissatisfaction with King Henry’s unwillingness to adhere to the terms of the Magna Carta, de Montfort and his baron supporters, at a parliament in Oxford in 1258, forced Henry to adhere to a radical programme of power-sharing between the nobles and the monarch. This system of reforms was known as the Provisions of Oxford and was the first time parliament became a set part of the country’s government. Unsurprisingly, King Henry III hated working under the constraints of the Provisions, and in 1261, after building support for his cause, he is quoted as saying, “I’d rather break clods behind the plough, than rule by the Provisions!”
The situation almost inevitably erupted into violence, in what became known as the Baron’s Rebellion. Frustrated by the king’s lack of compliance, in 1264, de Montfort captured both King Henry and his heir Prince Edward at the Battle of Lewes. Taking charge of England soon after his victory, on Thursday 14th December, de Montfort summoned a representative Parliament. This new look Parliament met at Westminster from January 20th until February 15th 1265, and ultimately contained 23 lay magnates, 120 bishops, two knights from each county and two citizens from each town, and four men from each of the Cinque Ports. In the first instance, this Parliament was summoned to discuss arrangements for Prince Edward’s release. Although there had been counsels and advisers supporting every monarch prior to 1265, this was the first time that a form of democratic representation was involved within the parliamentary process.
Speaking to the BBC about the 1265 Parliament, historian Professor David Carpenter explained, “The Great Charter (Magna Carta) laid down the first written constitution, but it was primarily a charter for the elite… It did not envisage anything resembling a House of Commons…. It is not until 1265 that the momentous step is taken to invite the commons to parliament.”
As with modern MP’s, those who attended the 1265 parliament even had their costs covered.
History often credits King Edward I with the formation of the modern parliamentary system. In 1295 his Model Parliament insisted on regular attendance by commoners during parliament. However, it was Simon de Montfort, during his brief period of power (which lasted only until he was killed during the second Baron’s Rebellion later in 1265), that innovated parliamentary representation. It was his rebellion that produced a landmark moment in England’s political evolution.
In 1957, Russia sent Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, into space. America’s response was a promise to send a man to the moon. It was the then President Kennedy who made this risky claim, but it was met in 1969 when, on 20th July, Neil Armstrong and pilot Buzz Aldrin landed the Eagle lunar module on the Moon.
Eventually the Cold War ended, and the USA and USSR decided to work together. Since then, although space exploration has continued remotely, the race for physical discovery in Outer Space appears to have subsided. Or has it? In recent weeks, a film celebrating the life of Buzz Aldrin, First Man, hit the big screen. Its reflection on an original ‘Man on the Moon’ comes as a new space race is gathering pace. Rather than government bodies such as NASA running the race however, it is the billionaires of America who have their hands on the controls.
The Falcon Heavy car, made by one such billionaire Elon Musk’s (above, right) Tesla company, was produced so that he could start exploring the possibility of carrying tourists on “slingshot” trips around the moon. As The Economist reports, ‘Mr Musk’s ambition is to propel humanity beyond its home planet…. In the days of the space race between America and the Soviet Union, the heavens were a front in the cold war between two competing ideologies. Since then, power has not merely shifted between countries. It has also shifted between governments and individuals.’ For his part, when speaking to The Guardian, Musk underlined the assertion with enthusiasm: “We want a new space race,” he said, “Races are exciting.”
Musk is not the only one to have taken over from space agencies like NASA and their main contractors, Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos beat Musk to landing a reusable rocket through his own company, Blue Origin, and the UK billionaire Richard Branson and a slew of other entrepreneurs have followed with lighter-lift rockets.
Phil Larson, a senior science adviser in Barack Obama’s White House and a former SpaceX official, explains, “There are many new rockets being developed, some light, some super-heavy, some in between.” There are some inevitable concerns. NASA has strict safety requirements for human spaceflight, but there are fears the new breed of explorers won’t always adhere to them in their race to be the first to reach the next popular goal.
NASA is preparing for a return of American astronauts to the moon, and last year China deemed an expanse of desert in the country’s north-west to be sufficiently Martian to be reserved as a training ground for Mars-bound “taikonauts”. China is not working alone in this, though. For the first time, Pakistan appears to be entering a space race, this time with rivals India. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry has said that, “Pakistan will send a human to space for the first time in 2022, with China’s help.”
Meanwhile, India is promoting itself as a low-cost provider of rocket launch services for overseas satellite projects. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is no stranger to space exploration. The ISRO has already sent remote exploratory missions to Mars and intends to be the first to reach the Moon’s south pole in 2019. They also plan, in 2022, to send a crew of three astronauts on a seven-day orbit of Earth. As The Economist reports, “If the mission is successful, India will become only the fourth country in the world to independently develop a manned space flight, following in the footsteps of the former Soviet Union, US and China.”
While the race to reach the Moon has already been won, there is much still to learn. Mars features high on the wish list of the space explorers of the modern age. But who’ll win the next race? The established space agencies or a rich billionaire who has always dreamt of walking amongst the stars?
The celebrated explorer, navigator and cartographer James Cook was born on October 27th, 1728 in the village of Marton, near Middlesbrough. He was from a large farming family, and helped out at home until he was 16. He then took an apprenticeship with a shopkeeper, but never settled, and soon swapped to another apprenticeship, this time working on coal ships. James loved the work, and in 1752 he passed the exams which would eventually enable him to help command a ship.
The Mariner’s Museum records how Cook, “…completed his three-year apprenticeship in April 1750, then went on to volunteer for the Royal Navy. He would soon have the opportunity to explore and learn more about seafaring. He was assigned to serve on the HMS Eagle where he was quickly promoted to the position of captain’s mate due to his experience and skills. In 1757, he was transferred to the Pembroke and sent to Nova Scotia, Canada, to fight in the Seven Years’ War.” During this war, Cook’s skills as a surveyor and cartographer were put to great use and led him to plan many attacks.
In 1760, Cook helped map the entire coast of Newfoundland. Once again, his exceptional mapping skills brought him attention, particularly that of the Royal Society and Admiralty, who would use his maps for voyages for the next 200 years.
On 30th July, 1768, Cook set off on his first great expedition, aboard the Endeavour, with a crew of 84. Amongst them were several scientists, their mission being to record the journey on new maps and explore as many unknown lands as possible.
In 1769 the Endeavour reached South America. Proceeding further, the crew set up a research base in Tahiti, which they named Fort Venus. One of Cook’s most renowned achievements occurred on June 3rd that year, when the transit of that planet was observed and recorded.
They left Tahiti in August, and sailed blindly for several weeks. It wasn’t until October 6th that land was sighted again, when Endeavour reached the country we now know as New Zealand. Cook named its first feature Poverty Bay. On all his travels, Cook tried to mix with the local populations and collect plant and animal life. In Poverty Bay, however, the native population was unfriendly, so he decided to sail south along the coast. As he did so, Cook noted many of the separate islands that cluster around New Zealand, and he named most; from Bare Island to Cape Turnagain. When the Endeavour turned around to reface the northernmost tip of the island, Cook realised that New Zealand itself was made up of two large separate islands.
In April 1770, Cook spotted the coastline of Australia. He landed in Botany Bay near modern day Sydney, before exploring the area. Then began the long journey back to England, via Batavia in Indonesia, before they finally returned to London in July 1771. A full chart of this first expedition is pictured above.
In 1772, Cook was promoted to full Captain and given command of two ships, the Resolution and Adventure, tasked to look for the Southern Continent. His explorations continued until he was 50, when his interest in the lives of native populations led to his downfall.
Captain Cook’s final voyage took place on board the HMS Resolution, and now he became the first sailor to land a ship on the Hawaiian Islands. This visit was initially successful, and Cook left the island with much information, before heading to America. A few months later he returned to Hawaii – but he’d outstayed his welcome. The local population had tired of him interfering in their way of life and at Kealakekua Bay, while trying to negotiate repairs to his boats, on 14th February, 1779, a fight broke out and he was killed.
James Cook is the first British ship commander to circumnavigate the globe in a lone ship. He is also the first British commander to prevent the outbreak of scurvy by regulating his crew’s diet, by serving them citrus fruit. He charted many regions and recorded many European islands and coastlines for the first time. Cook also provided new information about the Pacific Ocean and its islands. Further, he met with and recorded information about their various peoples. Again, none were previously known at the time.
While his methods would be seen as intrusive today, Cook was a man of his time, and his skill at surveying unexplored lands and seas can’t be denied. The long term importance of Captain Cook’s discoveries, coupled with his fearlessness to do so, have meant that we continue to commemorate his achievements today. A NASA space shuttle is even named Endeavour, after his first ship.
On October 23rd, 1642, on fields between the town of Kineton and the village of Radway, Warwickshire, the first battle of the English Civil War was fought. As the fighting took place in the shadow of the Edgehill escarpment, it became known as the Battle of Edgehill.
Although this was the first battle of the war, the Crown had been in a state of war against Parliament since the 22nd of August that year. King Charles was in conflict with his Parliament because he believed in the Divine Right of Kings; that the monarch should be able to rule however he liked. Charles was particularly insistent that he should be able to raise money for foreign wars as often, and in whatever way, he saw fit. Conversely, Parliament believed they were entitled to a say in the rule of England, and that they had the right to approve or deny funds to the crown without consulting the king.
It was when, in October 1642, as the king’s army headed for London, they met with Parliament’s forces coming in the opposite direction (from Worcester) and blocked the Royalists route to the capital, that physical battle became inevitable. The Parliamentarian force, of approximately 12,500 men, was led by Robert Devereux, Third Earl of Essex (known as the Captain General). King Charles was represented by Patrick Ruthven, the Earl of Forth, from Scotland. He had 13,500 men to his company. Beginning with an exchange of cannon fire at two o’clock in the afternoon, the battle entered into its first active combat situation at three o’clock. As the light faded, only three hours later, the fighting broke off, only to resume again in occasional bouts over the next two days. It ended on the Tuesday, when the Earl of Forth’s men attacked the Parliamentarian baggage train in Kineton.
The battle, which had involved both cavalry and infantry engagements, ended in a stalemate, with between 1,000 and 1500 men dead and over 3000 injured; many of whom later died from their wounds. Although neither side had gained the upper hand, King Charles declared Edgehill a victory for his side, as his troops had opened the road to London, which the Parliamentarians had previously been barring.
Only a few weeks later however, the Earl of Essex had taken control of London, and the Civil War began in earnest. The Battle of Edgehill was the beginning of a war which would see mass disruption to the whole of England, and would not end until King Charles I was captured in 1646. Charles was then executed, sending England into the status of republic for the next 11 years as a under the rule of the victorious Oliver Cromwell.
On 11th October 1982, King Henry VIII’s flagship, the Mary Rose, was raised from the ocean bed after 437 years beneath the sea.
Originally due to join the English forces against the French on 19th July 1545, her campaign ended almost before it had begun. As she left Portsmouth harbour a freak gust of wind tilted her onto her side and she filled with water at a terrifying speed. Even though the ship had travelled less than a mile, only 30 of the 415 men on board survived. Trapped by the netting that had been put up to prevent the French from boarding the ship during battle, nearly everyone drowned, including the Vice Admiral, Sir George Carew and her captain Roger Grenville. King Henry VIII gave orders for the Mary Rose to be raised straight away, but all attempts failed. Another attempt was made to liberate her from the ocean in the nineteenth century, but it wasn’t until the twentieth century that historians were successful in their quest.
In 1967 the Mary Rose Committee was formed. This group recognised the cultural, military and historic importance of the ship and it was decided to excavate the hull completely, to attempt to recover her for conservation and permanent display. In 1971, with very little money and a team of volunteers, the shipwreck excavation began; continuing until 1978.
Straight away the underwater archaeologists began to uncover information about Tudor life on the ship. They discovered the bow was preserved just as it had been in 1545 when it settled on the seabed, with artefacts, personal possessions and ship’s stores all intact. Far more was learned about the Tudor way of life once the ship was raised in 1982. The procedure, which was difficult and delicate, was achieved by attaching a vast metal cradle lined with air bags beneath the hull, which was slowly and gently raised to the surface. It was another 30 years however, before the timbers of the ship were preserved well enough to be displayed to the public.
The Mary Rose is a time capsule of Tudor life. The historian David Starkey referred to it as, “Britain’s Pompeii.” Not only can we learn about the ship’s construction, but we can gain a real insight into the daily lives of the sailors on board, but about the men themselves. Maritime archaeologist Alex Hildred explains, “…men and boys – whose ages range from 12 to 40 – were found on board… (giving) a really good glimpse of Tudor males at a moment in time… They were pretty well fed once they were on the ship – we know that from the diet. But there had been severe famines in the 1520s, so some of their bones have got evidence of vitamin deficiency, such as rickets or sometimes scurvy from the fact that they suffered as children. They’ve also got a lot of healed fractures – which is what you’d expect on a warship – a number of broken noses, one arrow wound and some arthritis. These guys were used to lifting heavy things.”
The Mary Rose also provides us with a perfect snapshot of the tools used by many of the tradesmen of the time; such as carpenters, cobblers and cooks. Nearly all of the items from the sailors’ working lives and their personal possessions, including gaming dice and other recreational activities, have been captured within the wreck.
The tragedy of the Mary Rose was a major blow for King Henry VIII’s war effort and the local population of Portsmouth. Today, however, it provides us with a window to the past, and a unique historical catalogue of Tudor life.
The year 2018 is the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the first worldwide influenza pandemic. Known as Spanish Flu, this major outbreak claimed the lives of between 50 and 100 million people across the globe in 1918. The Guardian newspaper records that, “By the time the pandemic finally ended, it had killed around 25 times more people than any other flu outbreak in history. It killed possibly more people than the first and second world wars put together.”
Unlike the flu strains we recognise today, Spanish Flu was not claiming the lives of young children and the elderly as we’d expect, but was at its most virulent in healthy young adults. At a time when the First World War was already claiming millions of men’s lives, it must have felt like the end of the world, and at its height, panic was rife.
Many myths and misconceptions have grown up around Spanish Flu. The biggest of all being that it had begun in Spain. This was not the case. As the epidemic raged against the backdrop of the First World War, the countries involved, Germany, Austria, France, the United Kingdom and the U.S, did not want morale worsened by either side believing that their own nation was the source of the flu. Consequently, and much to its annoyance, the neutral country of Spain was chosen to have the virus named after it and create the false impression they were bearing the brunt of the disease. In reality, the geographical starting point of the pandemic is still debated, with both East Asia and other parts of Europe more likely hosts.
As the virus spread very quickly, killing 25 million people in the first six months, it is understandable that many came to believe that Spanish Flu was a uniquely lethal strain. However, recent studies have suggested that it was only so virulent because of the conditions of the time. War meant that there was severe overcrowding and poor sanitation in many environments such as military camps. Poor living conditions led to bacterial pneumonia in the lungs being a relatively common condition amongst soldiers during the war years; once this has been contracted, the flu could get hold much faster. If the flu hadn’t had each an easy path to contagion, then it may have caused no more deaths than other epidemics.
As Richard Gunderman, the Chancellor’s Professor of Medicine, Liberal Arts, and Philanthropy at Indiana University, explained to The Conversation newsletter, “During the first half of 1918, new studies reveal that the death rate was relatively low. It was in late October and November of 1918 and early 1919 that higher death rates occurred, when people with flu symptoms began to crowd into hospitals in panic, and thus spread the disease further.”
In 2008, researchers announced that they had successfully determined the gene sequence of Spanish Flu. This was possible because one of the flu’s original victims, British diplomat Mark Sykes, was disinterred from his lead-lined coffin so that researchers could study his remains. The Guardian reports that, “The purpose was to enable researchers to take samples, from his remains, of the H1N1 virus strain that caused the Spanish flu. Such samples, now under high-security lock and key in Atlanta, have been examined for clues as to why this strain was so potent and how a future pandemic might be contained.”
Every few decades a new flu epidemic occurs. Scientists believe that the next pandemic will happen sooner rather than later, and that the more we can learn from the 1918 outbreak, the more prepared we will be.