Influenza at The King’s School

Contributed by Jenny Pearce

For most boys the news that the start of the new school year was to be delayed would bring shouts of jubilation. However, for the 260 or so boys enrolled at The King’s School in Parramatta in 1919, the extra leave was but one consequence of a crisis that was gripping the world.

For the School, ‘la grippe’ or the ‘Spanish flu’ meant a delay to the start of the 1919 school year. No day boys – of which there were 58 – were allowed to attend. Those boarders who did return all boarded at School House; Broughton and Macarthur House did not reopen for some weeks. Classes were held in the open or on the verandah of the school hospital. One class of Prep boys met under the large elm tree that stood beside the river and spent many lessons observing the water fowls that inhabited their ‘classroom’.

As the State Government had banned large public gatherings, Saturday sports were cancelled except for the 1stand 2ndcricket competitions and the 1stIV rowing. That term only three cricket matches took place. For three months, the majority of the students did not leave the school grounds. There were moans and complaints of boredom on the weekends, with staff organising card games and impromptu concerts to while away the hours. So bored where the boys that they cheerfully attended classes on Easter Monday. Mid-winter holidays were brought forward to June instead of July in the hope that rugby could continue when the termrecommenced.

However when the new term began, the teams were still without many of their country cohort – the Government had still not given the all-clear to return to school. All non-competition games were cancelled and the boys played games amongst themselves. Ten teams had been reduced to five and so the standard of play dropped. There was more than the usual interest in tennis, however, and positions in the house teams were hotly contested.

The regular school calendar lapsed and events such as Commem Day did not eventuate. Cadet drill was also suspended until August, even though it took place outside. Old Boys’ Union events and committee meetings for the War Memorial were not allowed to take place. It was over six months until the outlying Houses of Broughton and Macarthur were given the all-clear to re-open and the boys enjoyed the walk to and from school each day.

Fortunately for the school, while the hospital was busy isolating boys with the usual winter colds, none succumbed to the flu nor did any require further hospitalization. Nevertheless, there were reports of Old Boys such as SM Grigson (TKS 1911–12) and JA Martin (TKS 1881–82) succumbing to the illness, despite having survived time at the front. Other former students amongst the Australian casualties included Lieutenant-Colonel GA Read (TKS 1900–01) , GML Innes (1888–93), Reverend HMA Pearce (1896–98) and NW Brown (TKS 1855–62).

By the beginning of the final term for 1919, school had returned to normal. The boredom of earlier times forgotten, sport, cadets and lessons once again took precedence in the daily routine of The King’s School.

Reference:

The King’s School Magazine.

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