Ida's story


Ida, who died at the age of 102, was a young woman working at Smith and Caughey’s in Auckland when she was struck with influenza.

“I was living at the YWCA hostel in Scotia Place and my sister and I shared a room. She didn’t even have a sore throat. Now it was a fairly big office and one or two colds around as they always were. I had been to a fancy dress dance with a friend in a period dress and I got up early in the morning to have my photograph taken, and at quarter past nine that same morning I was unconscious in Upper Queen Street. That happened to a lot of people it was quite common.

My next consciousness was that I could hear the bells ringing and I wanted to get up and send my father a telegram for his birthday and I could hear the bells. What I do remember was my temperature of 106 for three days and Dr Maxwell saying if she survives this she'll have a weak heart and I am hoping I will meet him in the next world and tell him .

It ‘d be couple of days before Christmas, and of course later on Christmas time, all the hair came out .That was really something. I had a lot of hair it was very soft and fine and long of course in those days, and I thought I would give my hair a good brushing and it all came off, filled a waste paper basket. And tho the scalp wasn’t bare, it was covered with baby hair. There were what they called boudoir caps all over Auckland at that time. They had brims and things dropping from them and fancy hat pins and what not. Oh no, no-one would go out without a hat than you would without your pants on. No lady ever appeared in Queen Street with bare hair. and Gladys my friend whose father was a doctor, she had lovely thick hair and she used to plait it every night, we did in those days, and put a bow, and she pulled the plait and the whole plait came off. And she fainted. (laughs). Hers came back alright.

And the lemons. My sister was in her last year at Grammar and there was a group of them being taken around the suburbs looking for any garden that had any lemon trees in it and they went in and asked the owner could he or she make a donation. There were soup kitchens everywhere and lemons were sixpence each and sixpence was a lot of money in those days, you could go to the pictures for sixpence. And this man had quite a big garden and he flatly refused to give them the lemons and that night some people came in and cut the trees down and how they did it without making a noise I don’t know but they did it.

There were soup kitchens everywhere and some churches were closed, a lot of theatres were closed and then the news of the Armistice; I can still hear the bells ringing so — it would be St Matthews.

In Dunedin, Anderson Bay, there was one grave with 150 flu people, they had run out of coffins and they were all put in one grave, they have probably been separated since. This day , it was just before Christmas when Gladys and I we walked down Queen Street. Everything was so quiet, there must have been trams and things but all we could see were carts with boxes on , there was a mortuary at Seddon Tech. All the shops had chairs by the counter where you could sit down and everything was so quiet. And it was queer, well I was only 18, 19 to come back to work again and the general atmosphere of paleness everything seemed grey and of course by then it was after Christmas and I suppose the Christmas atmosphere wasn’t there but we were young we soon bounced out of that.

Gladys my sister was never nearly as strong and there I was dying of the flu and she didn’t even have a sore throat, and going around with the Grammar School girls. It was the selectivity or whatever it was. And the Niagara came ashore and brought the germs and put down half the staff of the Auckland Hospital. Oh yes, with the flu.

From what I remember, I was still going to pictures and dances and things like that. There might have been something in the newspaper but I am perfectly sure the general public didn’t know about the influenza epidemic. That would be what the argument with Russell and Forbes was about because it would have suited one for the people of Niagara to come ashore immediately but it wouldn’t have suited the other side and that was a kind of a weapon between them. I knew George Russell, he was the Minister of Health and he was also the Minister for Riccarton and at the next election he was voted down and called a murderer and it broke his heart. He was under terrific political pressure because the people in Auckland who had anything to gain all said. “don’t be silly it is only a cold it will be over soon”.

Oh yes that was the real tragedy behind it. But I suppose with politics it happens all the time. But not usually so tragically.”

Ida's interview was held before website publication was considered and she has since died. Ida gave her consent for her story to be published to encourage immunisation.