Australian society and brass bands: The Pneumonic Influenza pandemic of 1919

19190624_AIF_VAD-Band_phot16531
Bandys Picnic June 24th 1919. Photo was taken at an Australian camp in England. (Source: IBEW)

Introduction:

Early in 1918 it began to be whispered that a new plague, the first pandemic scourge of the present world war, had made such inroads upon the German military machine, as well upon the “home front” behind, that the Western offensive had to be postponed until the worst of it was over.  The end of the third week in March saw this point reached, and the onslaught began. (Hirshberg, 1919)

So wrote M.D. Leonard Keene Hirshberg in an article for the Australasian newspaper in March 1919.  The years of 1918, 1919 and 1920 were tumultuous times for society with the end of the First World War, the return of service men and women to homelands, and this horrific pandemic.  This influenza touched every corner of the globe and has been noted in medical and social history.

This post will be about some of the local responses to the pandemic and the effect it had on the nations brass bands as they were nominally affected by what was going on around them.  There were a number of ways the bands were affected, some through loss of members, others through loss of rehearsal spaces and performances, and other bands sought to keep up morale by continuing as best they could under the circumstances.  Pandemic rules and responses from national, state and local government meant that the bands had to adapt to an ever-changing situation.

Some might consider that there are parallels between this time and ours with many of our community bands in enforced recess.  However, as they were back then, the bands were resilient enough to survive and continue to make music.  I personally give my respect to all Australian bands and band members who are in recess due to the COVID-19 pandemic – this post is dedicated to you all.

The “Spanish” Influenza:

For want of a more accurate name this modern plague, the like of which has not been experienced by humanity for 400 years, has commonly been called Spanish influenza.  Yet it did not originate in Spain, nor was it exactly the grippe or influenza of other days. (Hirshberg, 1919)

To provide some context, a little history of the influenza must be explored.  Hirshberg was right, the influenza did not originate in Spain.  It was given this name as the then King of Spain was one of the more high-profile sufferers of this pandemic (he survived) (McQueen, 1976).  Most accounts tell of a milder influenza originating in the USA and American troops bringing this form over to Europe in 1918, which then mutated and rapidly spread around the world (McQueen, 1976).  This “Spanish” Influenza is reputed to have killed more than 50 million people around the globe (National Museum Australia, 2020).

Australia must face the fact that the scourge which has taken so heavy a toll from the rest of the world has invaded her own frontiers. (“Influenza,” 1919)

Australian troops that were demobilizing and convalescing in Britain were hard hit, as were troopships (McQueen, 1976).  Australia was forewarned and enacted various quarantine measures in late 1918.  Despite this, the influenza did arrive in Australia with returning troops and “40 per cent of the population fell ill and around 15,000 died.” (National Museum Australia, 2020).  While countries such as New Zealand and South Africa sustained heavy loses, Australia appears to have got off lightly in comparison.  What made this influenza so dangerous was that it was indiscriminate and affected age groups beyond the usual sufferers of influenza with young adults being particularly affected (National Museum Australia, 2020).

Victoria has today been declared an ‘infected’ state on account of the presence of pneumonic influenza which appears to be spreading fairly rapidly (Vosti cited in Frost, 2012, p. 104)

The first case of this influenza in Australia was recorded in January 1919 in Melbourne (National Museum Australia, 2020).  Around Australia, Federal cooperation was fragmented and States closed their borders, set up quarantine stations, camps and emergency hospitals, and imposed social restrictions (McQueen, 1976).  Times of infection varied depending on location and travel.  While much of Eastern Australia faced the influenza from early 1919, the first case did not appear in Perth until June1919 (National Museum Australia, 2020).  By the end of 1919, this influenza pandemic had largely abated (National Museum Australia, 2020).

The bands are affected:

19180000_St-Arnaud_Soldiers-Parade_3361762672_o
Band leading a Returned Soliders march at St Arnaud in 1918 (Source: HistoryInPhotos)

Society is the big picture; brass bands are a microcosm of society.  And as mentioned in the opening of this post, brass bands were affected in a number of ways.  To start with we can look to New Zealand which suffered through the influenza pandemic at a slightly earlier time frame than Australia, and their brass bands were similarly affected.  In November 1918, a Mr Cyril Warin died at the Auxiliary Hospital in Warkworth, aged 19.  He was noted as being “very musical, and was a member of the local brass band” (“Mr. Cyril Carson Warin,” 1918).  A champion drummer of New Zealand and member of the Masterton Brass Band, Mr John Page died in December 1918 (The Referee Special, 1918).  However, in more positive news for one NZ brass band, the Kaitangata Brass Band “obtained permission from the Health authorities to resume their musical practices, which were suspended during the epidemic” (“Kaitangata News,” 1918).

19190214_Newcastle-Herald_Boolaroo-BB-Function
Newcastle Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 14/02/1919, pg. 5

In Australia, local bands started experiencing the impacts soon after the first cases of the influenza appeared.  The Boolaroo Brass Band was to have held a sports carnival in aid of the band in February, only to have it cancelled – this was a decision of their committee (“BOOLAROO.,” 1919).  However, the Boolaroo Brass Band did participate in the welcoming home of a local soldier from France in this week of February (“BOOLAROO.,” 1919).  Further south in Tasmania, the Stanley Brass Band found itself without a rehearsal room as their building at the showgrounds was taken over by the council for a hospital (“Local and General.,” 1919).  All was not completely lost as the local council arranged for the band to rehearse in the local school (“Local and General.,” 1919).

The Ipswich Brass Band had the distinct misfortune to be south of the Queensland border in New South Wales when the State border was closed.  They were interred with many other Queenslanders in a temporary quarantine station set up on the Tenterfield showgrounds.  However, they put their time to good use presented some impromptu concerts to entertain the other internees (“INFLUENZA.,” 1919).

An interesting discussion took place amongst the Richmond City Council (Melbourne, Vic.) in March 1919 over the activities of two of the local bands and proximity to the local hospital, which was no doubt treating influenza patients.  Initially, the council had declined an application from the Richmond Juvenile Brass Band for the use of the City Reserve, similar to an application, which was also declined, made two weeks earlier by the Richmond City Band (“City Reserve Not Available,” 1919).  The reason for both applications being declined by council was the “assembling of a large number of persons” (“City Reserve Not Available,” 1919).  The second part of this issue was the proximity of the local hospital to the reserve, and the city band room.  One councillor argued that patients “would be disturbed by the band performance” while another councillor took the position that the sounds of the band would be appreciated (“City Reserve Not Available,” 1919).  The refusal of applications for use of the reserve was upheld by the council.

00000000_Dapto-Brass-Band_phot11479
Dapto Brass Band (date unknown). (Source: IBEW)

In April 1919, the activities of one local band was disrupted with the Dapto Brass Band being the victim of an unfortunate set of circumstances.  It must be noted that safety was important however, the loss of a function to aid the band (as detailed in the article below), would have hurt the band financially (“SAFETY FIRST,” 1919).

19190419_Sun_Dapto-BB_Flu-Scare
Sun, 15/04/1919, pg. 5

Sadly, the bands, as in society, felt the loss of their members due to the influenza.  In May 1919 the President of the Stawell Brass Band, a Mr David John Thomas, passed away due to influenza (“STAWELL.,” 1919).  The obituary tells of a man that was embedded in his community and participated in a wide variety of activities.  Likewise, the passing of Mr. R. L. Tulloch of Morwell from influenza was also keenly felt by the town.  He was only 26, a father of three young children, a fit gentleman who also participated in a range of activities including being a member of the Morwell Brass Band (“Influenza Victim.,” 1919).

19190510_Ballarat-Star_Stawell-Obiturary
Ballarat Star, 10/05/1919, pg. 6

Influenza very prevalent in Moonee Ponds and Ascot Vale though mostly in a mild form. (Vosti cited in Frost, 2012, p. 127)

For other bands, the times were tough as detailed in some reports presented at Annual General Meetings.  The Taree Civilian Band, while surviving through enforced recess, found itself without a bandmaster as he had taken up an appointment as bandmaster of the Port Kembla Brass Band (they soon appointed a new bandmaster) (“Taree Civilian Band.,” 1919).  In the AGM report, the secretary Mr. F. W. Barnett also makes mention of the effects of the influenza where he noted,

Owing to the unfortunate outbreak of influenza the band has been in enforced recess for the last couple of months, but notwithstanding this Mr Drake was able to get a scratch band together for the Peace Day celebrations on July 19.  The band has now resumed regular practice and will be before the public in the near future. (“Taree Civilian Band.,” 1919).

The Franklin Brass Band had faced similar difficulties throughout this time period and said as much in their annual general meeting report.  This meeting, which was the first since they reformed after a five-year recess, told of the difficulties brought on by the great war and the influenza epidemic (“FRANKLIN BRASS BAND,” 1919).  To the band’s credit, the retiring secretary of the band had worked hard to reduce the debt from five years ago despite the “stressing times” (“FRANKLIN BRASS BAND,” 1919).

00000000_Franklin-Brass-Band_phot17032
Franklin Brass Band (Date unknown). (Source: IBEW)

With life gradually returning to normal by the end of 1919, the effects of the epidemic were still being felt and in early 1920 we find little stories of bands being called upon to provide their services.  In the tiny town of Westonia, located halfway between Perth and Kalgoorlie, the local band was called upon to help commemorate “the unveiling of two tablets over the graves of W. Lockie and Vic Fuhrman (victims of the recent influenza epidemic)” (“‘LEST WE FORGET.’,” 1920).   Both men had returned from active service in the First World War.

Conclusion:

It has been interesting documenting some of the little band stories from 1919 as there were a variety of ways in which bands reacted to the rapidly changing circumstances.  At times the circumstances were beyond their control, however, this did not stop them trying to carry on their operations as normal.  If there is anything to be learnt from 1919 is that bands, for the most part, survived and thrived.

19190000_Riggs-Brass-Band-Gawler_photo821
Rigg’s Brass Band Gawler, 1919 leading a parade of returning servicemen. (Source: IBEW)

References:

Band leading a Returned Soldiers march at St Arnaud in 1918. (1918). flickr: HistoryInPhotos [Photograph]. Retreived from https://www.flickr.com/photos/historyinphotos/3361762672/in/album-72157613028413958/

Bandy’s Picnic June 24th 1919 : The best of the 300 Sisters, V.A.D.’s, Patients were shy. (1919). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia [Photograph]. Retreived from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.htm

BOOLAROO. (1919, 14 February). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article139644485

City Reserve Not Available for Band Performances — Would Music be Soothing to Sufferers in Hospital? (1919, 01 March). Richmond Guardian (Vic. : 1907 – 1920), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article255877197

Dapto Brass Band. (n.d.). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia [Photograph]. Retreived from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.htm

FRANKLIN BRASS BAND. (1919, 09 December). Huon Times (Franklin, Tas. : 1910 – 1933), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article140944253

Franklin Brass Band. (n.d.). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia [Photograph]. Retreived from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.htm

Frost, L. (2012). Bandsman Vosti’s Diaries : war and peace in Essendon, 1917-1920. Essendon: Lenore Frost.

Hirshberg, L. K. (1919, 29 March). “SPANISH” INFLUENZA. Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 – 1946), p. 32. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article140221010

Influenza. (1919, 28 January). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15822176

INFLUENZA : Seven Deaths To-day : Another Victim in Sydney – Case from Argyllshire. (1919, 12 February 1919). Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article176303325

Influenza Victim. (1919, 01 August). Morwell Advertiser (Morwell, Vic. : 1888 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article65922832

Kaitangata News. (1918, 13 December). Clutha Leader, p. 3. Retrieved from https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/CL19181213.2.7

‘LEST WE FORGET.’ : Unveiling Ceremony by the R.S.A. (1920, 07 February 1920). Westonian (WA : 1915 – 1920), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article212529404

Local and General : Bandroom Wanted. (1919, 19 February). Circular Head Chronicle (Stanley, Tas. : 1906 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article162263034

McQueen, H. (1976). The ‘Spanish’ Influenza Pandemic in Australia, 1918-19. In J. I. Roe (Ed.), Social policy in Australia : some perspectives, 1901-1975 (pp. 131-147). Stanmore, N.S.W.: Cassell Australia.

Mr. Cyril Carson Warin. (1918, 27 November). Rodney and Otamatea Times, Waitemata and Kaipara Gazette, p. 5. Retrieved from https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ROTWKG19181127.2.14.6

National Museum Australia. (2020). 1919: Influenza pandemic reaches Australia. Defining Moments: Influenza Pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/influenza-pandemic

Rigg’s Brass Band Gawler. (1919). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia [Photograph]. Retreived from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.htm

SAFETY FIRST : Scare Spoils Social. (1919, 15 April). Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article221450689

STAWELL : Obituary. (1919, 10 May). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article212640834

Taree Civilian Band. (1919, 02 August). Northern Champion (Taree, NSW : 1913 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article157096567

The Referee Special. (1918, 18 December). INFLUENZA : Heavy Losses Sustained in Sport and Stage. Referee (Sydney, NSW : 1886 – 1939), p. 7. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article120312959

 

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