Thursday, September 8, 2011

Chief Oliver and the Spanish Flu Epidemic

USS New Hampshire in Brest, France, December 1918
Quartermaster Chief Petty Officer J.T. Oliver's granddaughter (and donor of his photographs) relayed this story that Oliver told to her about how he had to get creative in preventing the spread of the deadly and highly contagious Spanish Influenza:

“On one of the U.S.S. New Hampshire's return trips from France, the hold of the ship was filled with coffins of men who died during the 1918-1919 Spanish Influenza Epidemic.  Antibiotics didn't exist in that era, so the threat of infection was great, and the coffins were draped with heavy tarpaulins drenched in disinfectant.  And the hold was off limits to the crew.

However, a group of ‘bad boys’ would sneak down into the hold of the ship at night and play poker, using one of the coffins as a table.  QMC Oliver was told to he had stop these poker games before the flu spread all over the ship.  So one night ... he crept down into the hold and hid in an empty coffin ... and waited for the poker game to start.  When it did and the ‘bad boys’ were focused on the game, he lifted the lid of the coffin and moaned, ‘ooooooooooooooooooooooooohhhhh,’ and let the lid slam closed.

The ‘bad boys’ were a little spooked.  ‘What was that?’  ‘I don't know.’  ‘It sounded like someone moaning.’  ‘I didn't hear anything.’  ‘I tell you I heard someone moaning.’  ‘You're hearing things.’  After a minute or two of silence, the ‘bad boys’ decided it was nothing, just the normal creaking of a ship at sea, and the game resumed.  A few minutes later, Oliver lifted the lid again and moaned in a much louder voice, ‘ooooooooooooooooooooooooooohhhhh,’ and let the lid slam closed.

This time the ‘bad boys’ left ... and in such a hurry that one of them had footprints up the back of his white jumper.  From that point on there were no more card games (or any other activity) in the hold of the ship.”

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