Thomas Ellis (1885 – 1918)


Thomas Ellis (1885 – 1918)
Bob Ellis’s Grandfather

My grandfather Thomas Ellis was a victim of the “Spanish Flu” pandemic of 1918 which is believed to have killed between 50 and 100 million people worldwide, making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history.f

Unusually for influenza outbreaks, which normally have a disproportionate impact on the very young, the very old and those already weakened by ill health, the “Spanish Flu” predominantly killed healthy young adults between 20 and 40. The outbreak had reached its peak when my grandfather died on 25th November 1918 at his home at Woodend, near Kingsbury in North Warwickshire. He was 33 years old and worked on the coal face at a near by colliery.

His death certificate gave the primary cause of death as pneumonia, with the secondary cause as influenza. This is consistent with the findings of recent research which shows that most victims of the pandemic died from bacterial pneumonia. This pneumonia is believed to have been caused when bacteria present in the nose and throat entered the lungs along a pathway created when the influenza virus destroyed the cells lining the bronchial tubes and the lungs themselves.

The newspapers of the time advertised various products which were claimed to offer protection against the disease. See First World War Advertisements.  Most notably the manufacturers of “Veno’s Lightening Cold Cure” described it as “the world’s supreme remedy” for influenza. According to my grandmother Elizabeth, Thomas had already taken so much of it that she was convinced that it was the Veno’s and not the flu that had killed him.

She was now left to bring up her own five growing children ranging in age from 2 to 9. at the time there were pensions for war widows but not for others widows so the next few years were a time of particular hardship until her sons, Charles, Wilfred, Alfred and Arthur, could apply for work at the colliery aged 14. To eke out a living she took in washing, providing a laundry service to those who could afford it. As the oldest child, my uncle Charles was the first to become a bread winner for the family. Fortunately, he was equal to the task and possessed a natural authority, eventually becoming a colliery overman.

The original exhibition display: Thomas Ellis