It was a small In Memoriam notice tucked away in the Family Notices section of the NZ Herald on the morning of 12 November this year that caught my eye….
Choi-Mei (nee Lum)
Passed away on 12 November
1918 of Spanish influenza. Born
1888 in Canton, beloved wife etc…….
……and so continued a tribute from a family to a clearly loved Mother.
My Grand-Father also passed away in 1918, another victim of the Spanish Influenza. Herbert (Bert) Samuel Cameron was 62 years of age and was a Railway Guard who worked at Helensville and Frankton Junction. My mother, his only daughter, would talk lovingly and at some length about her father. He was a talented man who painted quite passable pictures in oil, he wrote long letters to family and friends in rhyming verse in the style of the Australian verse tradition. His death left a family of a widow, two sons and a daughter.
Mum also spoke of the horror of his passing, the steady loss of ability for him to take food and the reliance on a piece of hose pipe to quench a thirst. Of course, this was around the end of World War One, people were coping with more than just an epidemic. 100.000 men had been sent overseas and 16,700 were killed in the war. The epidemic took a further 5,516. But as one commentator described “Mortality in war and epidemic fostered a caring side of NZ Society. The country respected hard work, upheld law and order and practised the tenet charity began at home and believed that kindness matter.
There was also another story that was related to us on many occasions. A young nurse, Hilda Ross, was a regular visitor to the Cameron house to administer aid to the epidemic ill. She would bring quantities of food to help the family in addition to the medical duties she attended to. Until the day my mother died she spoke of the humane and heroic patience that Hilda Ross displayed. She was destined to later stand for parliament and was the first women Minister in the first National Cabinet.
The cures then seem primitive by our standards now with vaccinations, and hospital care. Being lined up in the street to have a disinfectant sprayed into your mouth and down your throat.
Some questions. Who will emerge from the community as heroes in this epidemic? When snapshot descriptions of the values and qualities shown are crafted what will those questions and values be? How will sectors stand up and be measured? And will charity be seen to have started at home and did kindness matter?
I was reminded that a world epidemic, Canton or Frankton – it’s grief across the globe.