Feature Christmas 2008: Great Britons

Churchill’s flu poem

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a2890 (Published 16 December 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a2890
  1. Angus Nicoll, influenza coordinator1,
  2. Kei Mori, assistant official2,
  3. Masato Tashiro, director3
  1. 1European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, 17183, Stockholm, Sweden
  2. 2Health Service Bureau, Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, Tokyo, Japan
  3. 3WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza, National Institute of Infectious Disease, Tokyo, Japan
  1. Correspondence to: A Nicoll Angus.nicoll{at}ecdc.europa.eu

    Angus Nicoll and colleagues unearth the young Churchill’s poem about the Russian flu pandemic of 1890-1

    The Winston Churchill Museum contains a poem on the Russian flu pandemic of the 1890s written by Churchill when age 15, towards the end of his school days at Harrow. That poem is reproduced below, and it records features probably common to all pandemics. Firstly, that the virulence of infection usually diminishes with time and extension of a pandemic:

    “Yet Father Neptune strove right well

    To moderate this plague of Hell,

    And thwart it in its course;

    And though it passed the streak of brine [the English Channel]

    And penetrated this thin line,

    It came with broken force.”

    Secondly, that the intensity of transmission often falls in late spring and summer:

    “For though it ravaged far and wide

    Both village, town and countryside,

    Its power to kill was o’er;

    And with the favouring winds of Spring

    (Blest is the time of which I sing)

    It left our native shore.”

    The 1890-1 pandemic was perhaps the sixth pandemic of that century and certainly …

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