Andrew Jackson: Pandemic stories and family memories old and new

Where were you in the Spring of 2020? How did you cope at home during the pandemic? Were you struck by the flu? The answers to such questions will enter our personal histories and family memories. We might agree already that nothing has come this close in recent times to affect so many of us at once, and so much.

As the days pass, more and more of us are hearing of loved ones lost, or indeed may have lost close friends or members of our families. For others, we hope to be able to give thanks eventually for surviving through it. For those with family who are serving as key workers at the NHS front line, memories will be perhaps among the more deeply etched, and gratitude most heartfelt.

A Twitter follower shared with me a personal memory from their family’s history in Lincoln, which tells of how one ancestor survived the ‘Spanish Flu’ pandemic of 1918, while another did not. Stories of such tragedy and chance leave a mark in the record. 2020 will also create a legacy of recollections that will live long for many of us, in the same way that for some the effects of the 1918 influenza outbreak turned fortunes sharply, one way or the other.

For myself, my maternal grandmother and her sister survived the flu epidemic of 1918, if only just. One of her brothers had returned recently from the Western Front, having been gassed. However, he had received instructions on how to protect himself against flu as part of his basic military training.

‘The whole street went down with it’, so family memory has it. I asked my mother, now aged 83, how did he save them? He ‘lined the whole household up like members of a military unit’, morning and night, and issued orders for them to gargle salt water.

My grandmother, with her sister, went on to teach among poorer communities in central London. She later married, and had three children. My mother, the youngest child, went on to train and then work in the National Health Service over the course of some six decades, and subsequently serve as a hospital governor.

Turning from my family history to our nation’s history, ‘Protect the NHS’, now and forever more, must surely be at the top of the list of the lessons learnt by us all in 2020?

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