Account of the 1918 Influenza by Vice Admiral Albert Gleaves, Commander of Convoy Operations in the Atlantic, 1917-1919.

Spanish Influenza Epidemic

In fitting out transport medical departments, no expense was spared to make them as near to being real hospitals as possible. Each ship was fitted with a surgeons' examining room, dispensary, a laboratory, dental office, dressing room, operating room, special treatment room, sick bay and isolation ward. In addition to these, several dispensaries and dressing stations were established throughout the ship for minor cases, which the troop surgeons utilized for those patients not requiring sick bay treatment.

The Spanish Influenza Epidemic taxed the resources of the transport medical departments to the utmost. Although every effort was made to eliminate sick troops at the gangway, it was inevitable that large numbers of incipient cases were taken on board, and naturally the crowded berthing spaces favored contagion.

As an example, during the September, 1918, trip of the [transport, USS] George Washington, although 450 cases and suspects were landed before sailing, on the second day out there were 550 new cases on the sick list. Entire troop spaces were converted into hospitals. Strict regulations in regard to spraying noses and throats twice daily and the continual wearing of gauze coverings over the mouth and nose, except when eating, were rigidly enforced. The soldiers were kept in the open air as much as possible, while boxing bouts, band concerts and other amusements on deck were conducted to keep up morale. The result was gratifying and the epidemic was soon under control. Admissions to the sick list were on a rapidly decreasing scale and although there were 131 cases of

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pneumonia and 77 deaths before arrival in Brest [France], still there were only 101 additional cases for the hospital and the remainder of the troops went ashore cheering and in fighting trim.

Computation of final tabulations from all ships show that 8.8 per cent of troops transported during the epidemic became ill, and of those who had either influenza or pneumonia, 5.9 per cent died. This gives an average Army death rate for the individual trips of 5.7 per cent per thousand. Navy morbidity rate was 8.9 per cent, and Navy death rate 1.7 per cent.

It is believed that these final statistics are highly favorable to sanitation on cruisers and transports, the morbidity and mortality being lower than in camps and civilian communities.

During this scourge in transports and cruisers there was a total of 789 deaths, and necessity required that many of the Khaki and the Blue be buried at sea. The following description of the ceremony of burial at sea was written by the Gunnery Officer of the [Armored Cruiser No. 11, USS] Seattle, to send to the parents of a seaman buried from that ship early in the war.

War-Time Burial at Sea from the Cruiser Seattle

The armored Cruiser Seattle was six days out on her third war cruise as ocean escort for troop convoy. News travels quickly in a ship, and before the morning muster at quarters we all had heard that one of the crew, ill of pneumonia, had passed away during the night.

The people of a ship are thrown intimately together on an ocean voyage and, in this case, war service added to the community spirit. The loss of our shipmate touched us all. Little was said but much thought was given as we assembled aft in answer to the tolling of the

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bell and the boatswain's pipe of the solemn call, "All hands bury the dead."

The service was conducted on the starboard side of the quarterdeck, the official place for ceremonies in a man-of-war. The bier was mounted outboard and draped with flags. Just inboard and forward stood the escort under arms. Space was left for the funeral party to march aft from inside the superstructure.

At the appointed hour, the ship's company, numbering about one thousand, ranged themselves in inverse order of rank around and abaft the turret guns. At the rail was rigged the gangway over which the body was to make its final passage from ship to sea.

The flag was then lowered to half-mast and the accompanying troopships in the convoy also lowered their ensigns to half-mast, thus joining in the ceremony, rendering homage in memorial of the life given just as truly in service for the cause as though it had been lost by the blow of a torpedo or an enemy bullet.

When all was ready the band played the funeral dirge, while the body bearers with the casket, followed by the pall bearers and Chaplain, marched aft at "slow time." The escort came to "present arms" and all hands stood at "attention" until the casket was placed on the bier and the dirge finished.

The Chaplain read the church services. At their completion the band played "Nearer, My God, to Thee." Then all hands "uncovered," the escort again came to "present arms," the Boatswain and his mates piped the side, and in reverent quiet--even the ship's engines were stopped--the body enfolded in the Stars and Stripes was committed to the deep.

Three volleys of musketry were fired, and the bugler ended the ceremony by sounding taps. The familiar

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and now mournful notes echoed in all hearts the call to the final sleep.

After a short pause the Captain gave the word "Carry on." The band struck up a march and the divisions went forward at "quick time" to their respective parts of the ship. Gun drills were resumed. Carpenters, shipfitters, blacksmiths, and machinists picked up their tools. The propellers again churned the water, flags were masted, and the ship's work continued.

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Source: Gleaves, Albert. A History of the Transport Service: Adventures and Experiences of United States Transports and Cruisers in the World War. (New York: George H. Doran Company, 1921): 190-193.