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Spanish Flu Pandemic Begins: March 1918

Spanish Flu: 401st Ponton Park
In early March 1918, soldiers with the flu began reporting to the infirmary at Camp Funston, an army training camp in Kansas. Within three weeks, 1,100 men at that camp had also come down with the flu. It was the start of a pandemic that would kill as many as 100 million people worldwide.

Though commonly called the Spanish flu (because of a highly publicized outbreak in Spain), it likely began in Haskell, Kansas, where it spread to Camp Funston and from there to the rest of the world. Wartime conditions, like troop movements and overcrowded cantonments, accelerated and aggravated the spread of the virus, which proved to be much deadlier than the normal flu, in part because of a particularly tough strain of pneumonia that often accompanied it.

119 out of 204 soldiers sick with Spanish flu; 3 die
The Spanish flu afflicted cities across the nation and around the world, but since it disproportionately hit young adults in their prime, the military felt its effects strongly. The US Navy would later estimate that 40 percent of its men had gotten the Spanish flu, while the Army reported 36 percent. Of the three waves of the flu (March–June, September–November, December–March), the second wave was the deadliest for both civilians and for the military. In fact, between September and November, the flu killed about as many soldiers as World War I did in that same time period.

The Spanish flu affected the war itself as it ravaged the armies of both the Allies and the Axis. While many soldiers were sick for three days or so and then began to recover, a substantial number either developed the deadly pneumonia as well or contracted a version of the flu that could kill in as little as 24 hours. For every soldier that died, another four or five were too sick for weeks afterward to carry out their duties. Military attacks and operations on both sides had to be postponed because of the huge number of soldiers incapacitated by the flu.

35 squadron members sick with Spanish flu; 3 of them die
Despite failed attempts by the medical community to control the virus, the pandemic eventually began to die down on its own, with the worst of the third wave finished in the United States by the end of March 1919. By 1920, the danger was finally over.

Learn more about the Spanish flu pandemic on Fold3. The WWI Officer Experience Reports are an especially good source for first-hand accounts about life in the military during the flu pandemic.


  1. Terrence MacArthur says:

    They were NOT the “Axis”. In WWI, Britain, France and Russia were in the Triple Entente, and Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy were in the Triple Alliance. The Axis came onto being a couple of decades later, and consisted of Germany, Italy and Japan. It grew out of the 1936 Anti-Comintern Pact between Germany and Japan (which Italy joined in 1937), for the stated purpose of resisting the international Communist movement. In 1939 they signed the Pact of Steel, which turned the so-called “Rome-Berlin Axis” into a military alliance, .Finally, in 1940, they signed the Tripartite Pact, which coordinated the militaries of all 3 countries, similar to today’s NATO alliance.

    • Lawrence Ledgerwood says:

      Thanks, Terrance for noticing the wrong names of the two sides or WW1. To take it a step farther the two sides were called the Allies or Allied Powers and the Central Powers. The pre-war sides were as you mentioned: the Triple Alliance and the Central Alliance. Once the war started they then became Allies and Central Powers.

    • Ken Callison says:

      Ken Callisoon Was not Italy on the side of Britan in WWI?

    • John William Duke says:

      Thank you for correcting an obvious error on this page. My Great-Grandmother died from Spanish Flu in 14 December 1918 in Dayton, Ohio.

    • James Horn says:

      Italy was on the side of Britain and France. The Battle of Caparetto was a major defeat of the Italians by the Germans and Austrians in the eastern Alps. Rommel came to prominence for actions as a small unit leader against the Italians

    • James Horn says:

      In addition to the Italians switching sides between the wars, Turkey was on the German side in WW I (Lawrence of Arabia fought against them) and were neutral in WW II and Japan was on the Allied side in WW I and, of course were part of the Axis in WW II. Russia was on the allied side in both wars, but were horribly incompetent in the first war. The Netherlands were neutral in WW I but were not given that option in WW II. Belgium was overrun in both wars by the Germans.

  2. Joyce Devorss says:

    I know that the Spanish Flu pandemic took at least 2 members of my mothers family, her sister ad an older relative. Does anyone know if there are Death Lists available for Virginia?

    • Margaret Worrall says:

      My grandmother died of Spanish flu in 1918 when my father was 9 months old. Are there death lists for MD as well? That’s about all I know about her.

    • I have ancestors in Virgina as well. Going to check into this pandemic further. I may have lost some to it as well. I do know there was a young woman among my ancestors who died in her early twenties, but I don’t know the cause of death … just that she died young. Young even for that generation where people lived into their fifties or so.

    • Linda Keefer says:

      My grandmother’s mother died too at age 25. Leaving 3 children under the age of 7. She was from Virginia too but living in Maryland near Curtis Bay(near Baltimore).

  3. Ollie Woodard says:

    My 18 year-old mother caught the flu in 1918. She was nursed in a home along with four others who died.

  4. Robert C. Rice says:

    My maternal grandfather died in Los Angeles of the “Spanish Flu” at the end of October, 1918, when my mother was seven years old. She, my uncle, aunt, and grandmother survived him, and I regret never having known him.

  5. John Waigh says:

    My Grandmother died of the flu in 1918 in K.C Missouri. Are their any death lists for Missouri ?

  6. My father was a teenager when the pandemic hit and he used to tell of people dropping in their tracks–or off park benches–who would die in that place. There are a couple of really good books about the pandemic, and make for really great reading.

    • Cathy Oldham says:

      Missouri has a great website called Missouri Digital Heritage where you can print death certificates for anyone between the years 1909 and 1950. Cause of death is on their certificate.

  7. Mary McIntosh says:

    My great grandmother, Julia Barnes (Estill County, KY), died of the Spanish Flu, exactly one day after giving birth to my grandfather, Glen McIntosh.

  8. Kat says:

    My great-great grandmother died while she was pregnat with her 23rd child from the spanish flu…

  9. Paula says:

    My material grandmother was 4 and survived. Her sister was 6 and died in Toledo, Ohio.
    Do any of you seem to have gain antibodies to flu because of a surviving grandparent? Except for swine flu in 1968, I have never had flu.

    • James H Swor says:

      Seven people in my family died of the Spanish Flu during 1918-1919. My second cousin was born in Dec 1918 while several people in the household had the flu. They subsequently died within days. At the age of 96 my cousin is still alive and has never had the flu even once during her life.

    • I almost never get flu. I’m wondering if that could be the reason as well. I don’t know the cause of death of any of my ancestors but do know a few died quite young. If it was the flu, perhaps that’s why. We build up immunities to pathogens were exposed to, and sometimes those can be passed along genetically.

    • Donna says:

      Both my husband and I have parents who survived the flu in Toledo, OH and neither of us nor our siblings have ever had the flu. In the last couple of years we’ve gotten flu shots (doctor’s orders) but otherwise we’ve never gotten a flu shot. Maybe just coincidence.

    • Mary Ann says:

      My father was born in 1902 and survived, my mother born in 1911 also survived, both sets of parents were told their children would not survive. I have never had the flu, altho I do always get the flu shot, never thought about possibley having immunitries from it.

    • K Dvis says:

      Not the flu, but my grandmother got smallpox when she was pregnant with my father. Neither he nor I have ever had a smallpox vaccination “take”.

  10. Paul Baltzer says:

    This flu destroyed my Balcer family line that arrived from Poland and died in Lorain, Ohio. Killed Jacob Baltzer. the father on 23 March 1900 and 7 days later killed his wife Mary Baltzer Rossa who was the mother of Helen Baltzer. This left Helen Baltzer without parents at the young age of 11 years old…welcome to America.

    • Virginia Murray says:

      My grandmother told me that during the Spanish Flu time she cared for neighbors in Jackson, MI. She kept onions under her bed so didn’t get the flu. I saw an item a few months ago that stated onions can collect bacteria.

  11. E Wood says:

    The military death lists for WWI are contained in the book ” Soldiers of the Great War”. It’s in three volumes divided into the volumes by states, and a soldiers death is listed in his home state. The books contain many photos. has copy’s . The Washington state archives also has all three volumes on their web site…free. Cause of death is listed.

  12. My great grandfather died from the Spanish Influenza on March 27th, 1918 in New York,N.Y.. He was put in quarantine where he died leaving behind a pregnant wife who didn’t speak any english and four small children. Is there a list of people who passed from during this pandemic in New York?

  13. Glenford Baket says:

    My Grandmother died of Spanish infuenza 1918 she had 11 childern she died in New Britten Conn, the youngest was 4 years old

  14. Twyla Hinzman says:

    My Dad was in Camp Lee, Virginia, when the flu broke out there. He said as he spent time in the infirmary, big guys would be brought in one day, and by the next, they had been replaced by someone else. He said the “little guys”, like he was, survived better than the bigger one. He thought it was really strange.


    My dad (born in 1903) lived in Snow or Finley Oklahoma
    when the flu hit. I think, 4th in the family. He had a younger
    sister die from the flu and I always heard that he and his dad
    had to bury her them selves because everyone else in the family
    had the flu. I often wondered how people living far enough back
    in the mountains that they had to ride a horse to a town to
    get mail contacted the flu. I have thought about how hard that
    would be for a 15 year old. sad times.

  16. Jane Arends says:

    My mother’s 4 yr old sister, an older brother and father had the flu; perhaps because there were hundreds of soldiers hospitalized in the local Iowa State College Armory, Ames. The preacher conducted her funeral while standing outside the house. He changed his clothes before he left and the family burned them. She had been a local celebrity as she had donated her small pig to the Red Cross auction. It was returned to her by the buyer and she raised it until it could be slaughtered.

  17. riki destine says:

    My husbands grandmother Florence Weingartner Schaefer did of it in 1918 when she was 20 leaving my husbands father motherless…if it wasnt for her I wouldnt have my hubby..she is honored

  18. Julie Chitwood says:

    “The World After WW1, 1918-1921” is a book of letters written during that period of time (about 700 pages). A lot of information is given about the Spanish Flu (SI), including the description of a small child and a very fit young man. Three sisters, one based in St Louis, one in Chicago area, and the third serving in the Red Cross overseas, keep each other informed as to what was happening in the world. It is like reading a ‘you were there’ history book written by the people living it at the time. The book is available in both paperback and Kindle format. The three sisters were my 2 great aunts and grandmother.

  19. Leslie Nichols says:

    My grandfather and grandmother met and married in Montana. They were both from Sweden. Gust Swanson, and Beda Marie Larson. Marie gave birth to her 5th child, Gust brought her home in a buggy, and then went up stairs ( and died from complications of the flu). Marie had phlebitus in her leg, and had to stay off it. The oldest two children were 10 & 12. When dinner came, the children came and said ” dad won’ t wake up.” Marie couldn’t get help or let the authorities know for several days. There was a blizzard out side, and she had no phone, and lived to far from a neighbor to send a child for help. Her phlebitus was so bad, she couldn’ t even attend her own husbands funeral. 6 months later, his sister Anna also died of the same flu. 2 sisters had married two brothers, so John, Gusts brother, and his wife, Beda Maries sister, and Marie and her children all movrd to Queen Anne hill in Seattle Washington, shortly after arriving, John was in the car with some other, and the cars brakes failed, the others jumped out, but John did not get out as it plumeted down Queen Anne hill, and he died. I can t imagine the grief of their parents in Sweden, who sent their young adult children to America for a better life. First Gust, then 6 mo later, Anna, then 6 mo later John.

    • Leslie Nichols says:

      Are there any death lists for Milltown , Montana, very close to Missoula?

  20. Kelly Smith says:

    My paternal grandmother’s first husband died from the flu right at the end of the 3rd wave on March 24, 1919. Then, 55 years to the day I was born. In a weird twist of fate, if it wasn’t for the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918-19, she would not have met and married my grandfather, my dad would not have been born and I would not be here today.

    • Laina says:

      I’ve, knock wood and thank God, have never had the flu. Horrendous and untreated ear and throat infections until my teens, but no colds. Does anyone know WHAT reason for the Kansas origin of that?

    • Laina says:

      Had her first husband not died, I assume there would have been children!

  21. howard tyler says:

    My grandfather, greatgrandfather’s wife and one of their girls died in 1918. Also my great great great aunt died in 1918.

  22. cathy moore says:

    My father, now 96 years old was born in August 1918. He is a triplett
    All three boys had the flu and my father’s identical twin died in December 1918. My father was very ill and had multiple seizures but survived .

  23. candy reeve says:

    Camp Funston is part of Fort Riley in Fort Riley, KS which is located in Haskell County, KS. There is no town called Haskell, KS. Camp Funston was not only a training camp but also a detention camp for conscientious objectors, most of whom were Mennonites and Quakers. Because of delays in determining who and what consisted of suitable conscientious objectors and alternatives to active duty, many of them were imprisoned, beaten and tortured. It is not a proud moment in Kansas or U.S. history.

  24. Jim Bousman says:

    This website is worth a read:

  25. Mimi says:

    Laina, I believe what Kelly was saying is that she herself would not have been born because her mother would have not met her father, not that this woman would not have had other children by the first husband.

  26. Betty Schatz says:

    i don’t know if there are official lists of victims anywhere but I do know our local newspaper, during that time, printed lists once a week and sometimes oftener. I assume they received the names from the hospital or local medical persons.

  27. Catherine Knowles says:

    My mother, her father, and other family members and relatives living in the tight-knit small neighborhood of Italian-Americans outside of Syracuse, NY, had the Spanish Flu. My Mom was born in September of 1915, so was 3 or 4, depending on which wave of the flu she was in. My Mom (of course) and her father survived but I know others didn’t. There was an Army encampment outside of Syracuse on the State Fair grounds, and I’ve read that it spread from the camp. I don’t recall my mother every having the flu in my lifetime – she passed 5 years ago – but I’ve had it once or twice, my sister has, but I don’t remember hearing that my brother ever did. I’m not sure there’s an immunity for flu that gets “passed down”, especially since the flu virus mutates so much.

  28. Deborah Jordan says:

    I have three original family letters, one from my great-aunt to her brother, my grandfather, telling him their mother had taken the train from Ohio to Arkansas to where her son, my grandfather’s brother was stationed. He was a lieutenant. The CO had sent a letter to their mother, my great-grandmother, Hannah Lambert Mayne, telling her that my Great Uncle Daniel Mayne was very sick with the flu, but there was no one left to nurse him, or any others who had come down with the flu, or those who would later contract it. He asked her if she would make the trip to Arkansas to nurse Daniel, warning her that she may, herself, become ill, and there was no guarantee he would still be alive when she arrived. The third letter was from Hannah to my grandfather, dated Christmas Day. She told my grandfather Dwight, that his brother had eaten some turkey brother that morning and kept it down. He was conscious, but very tired, and she expected him to make a full recovery, unlike many of the men she saw while she was there. Hannah did not contract the disease, and Daniel not only recovered, but he also returned home healthy after The Great War, and later became Vice President of Patents for Eastman Kodak. He was the only member of my family to contract the disease, though three of the four sons served in the military in WWI.

  29. Carol Teinert Moravec says:

    I don’t know about my family or my husband’s family having the Spanish Flu. We seem to not get the flu, but we have allergies. A member of my church lost his parents, a day apart, to the flu. None of their nine children took the flu. My husband’s cousin was a missionary in Nain, Laborador some years ago. He commented that the Inuits were told not to go out to the ship to sell items to them. A generation of parents were lost to the flu.

  30. Cathy Warner says:

    My maternal grandfather was stationed in Georgia during the Spanish flu epidemic. He said they had them carrying bodies of flu victims and stacking them like cord wood. I couldn’t imagine the horror.

  31. Michael Boyle says:

    My grandfather’s sister, Ethel Tice of Peekskill NY died in 1918. She was dressing to go to a dance and collapsed.

  32. Roberta says:

    It is believed that the homes that stored onions in the cellars were the homes that were spared the wrath of the flue. The doctors who treated people during the out break made these conclusions as they smelled the onions while making their house calls. Onions ward off illnesses. I have one on my bedside table all the time and I eat a lot of onions. I am rarely sick.

  33. Jeanne says:

    My grandparents lived down the road from a cemetery. My aunt told me that they would see hearses taking bodies all day long. My grandmother would go and help her sick neighbors. Another aunt, who was 4 years old at the time, went to her sick friend’s house and sat with her. Her friend died but my aunt never got the flu. My grandfather made all of them wear garlic around their necks. Don’t know if it helped but no one in the family got the flu.

  34. Gayle Hegland says:

    My great-uncle Reginald George Manley, Birth 15 May 1899 in South Dakota, died while in the Army during WWI, 15 October 1918 in Llano Grande, Hidalgo, Texas, USA of the Spanish Flu. He ENLISTED IN THE 16TH CAV. TROOP H. on OCT 24, 1817. Yet with all this specific information, I can find no trace of him listed on any WWI documents. Why? Thanks!

  35. Gayle Hegland says:

    Also, my Grandmother Hilda Josephine (Bjorklund) Hegland (1884-1978) of Plentywood, MT took the local school teacher in and nursed her back to health from the Spanish Flu. This was quite risky, of course, and she also had a husband and 3 small children to care for in their very small home. Apparently, as I have been told, no one wanted to care for the young school teacher when she fell ill, but my grandmother said she would as it was her Christian duty to do so. My grandmother was a very strong-willed, religious Swedish immigrant, and with the help of prayer they all survived.

  36. VJ McDonald says:

    Ken Callison– Yes, Italy was on the Allied side in WWI. Good article at

  37. Frances Vlahos-Rohm says:

    My great grandfather’s journal tells of his first days in Camp Rosencrans in San Diego. He arrived there on November 2, 1918. He writes of recieving his shots and vaccinations, and after his 3rd round of shots, reports feeling bum and feverish. He was sent to sick bay on Nov. 12th, the day after the Armistice was signed. On November 14, he reports feeling a bit better. The final journal entry is a note penciled in much later by my grandmother stating “on November 18, my father died.”

  38. Erma says:

    Hi everyone! First, let me say the stories on here very interesting. My grandfather’s first wife also died from the Spanish flu. Him and his wife, Helen Pearl Tanner and their 3 young daughters move from Alabama to Cincinnati Ohio in 1917 during the first wave of African Americans who left the south for a better life. She stayed at home while he worked in a factory that was making tanks for the US army. One day she was walking outside and slipped and fell hit her head on the icy sidewalk sometime in February of 1918. The fall caused a head concussion. That same month while at work my grandfather had an accident which burned the lower part of his body. Now both of them were incapacitated; however, family came to their rescue and waited on them hand and foot. Nevertheless, Helen caught the flu which turned into pneumonia. She died April 30 1918. I’m sad to say that if she had not died my grandfather would not have married my mother’s mother and I would not be here. He married my grandmother Lucile Payne Tanner and they had 18 more children and 13 lived into adulthood.

  39. Debbie Brock says:

    I always thought it was strange that my Grandfather who fought in WW1 for the British, never mentioned the flu epidemic. He was in a prison camp through most of the war and I’ve wondered if they might not have taken notice of it In a German prison camp.

  40. Peggy Blackmore Peschell says:

    My maternal Grandfather died of this disease in Cleveland I believe 1918 or ’19. His last name was Brown, that’s about all we ever learned about him. I wish we could find out more…

  41. janet udall says:

    I never knew my grandmother and grandfather because they were casualties of the Spanish Flu in 1919. They were ages 39 and 41, and lived in Nashville, Tennessee at that time. They left 9 children, my father being one of them. I remember hearing of the sad funeral when afterwards, family members from far and wide came into their home to pick a child to take home and raise. My father and siblings were each split up, and their lives were never the same. Some of the children were abused, some went to happy homes. Years later at a 40th reunion, it was obvious who the lucky ones were.

    • Mary Lou Milhorne Huffman says:

      In August 1918 my great grandfather died of the flu. 2 weeks later my grandfather died on Wednesday and the next Wednesday my 10 year old aunt died. My mother and grandmother were left alone. So sad 4 years later her mother died and she was left an orphan. Age 9 yrs.

  42. Barbara Roesch says:

    Tidbit: I had an aunt during this period of time who was quite a diligent community servicer, census taker, etc. During the flu period many caskets had to be built quickly. She contributed to the effort by buying cloth and sewing casket linings for the deceased.

  43. Both Italy and Japan were associated with the Allies, not Germany

  44. Richard Arnold says:

    Both Italy and Japan were with the Allies against Germany, Austria, and Turkey

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  46. Sharon Cunningham says:

    If y’all are interested in WWI, and like mysteries, get all copies of the Ian Rutledge novels by Charles Todd. Fiction, yes, but the research into WWI and later is excellent. Setting is England; protagonist is home from 4 years at war in France, back at his old job as Inspector at Scotland Yard…. pretty good reading.

    Go to and start with the first book, published in 1996.

    Charles Todd is a writing duo of mother and son, one from Delaware, the other in North Carolina.

  47. Judy says:
    Here is a great article from the National Institutes of Health website on the Spanish flu. It is believed to have begun in Haskell County in southwest Kansas and carried 300 miles to Camp Funston at Fort Riley (which is in Geary and Riley counties) by a soldier or soldiers from Haskell County or by Haskell County visitors to the Army post. Be sure to read the whole article–it does mention the names of some flu victims. Hard to believe a disease that killed between 21 and 100 million people likely began in a county with only a couple of people per square mile!
    An interesting Wikipedia article cites a paper published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases that suggested that some “flu” deaths may have actually been from aspirin poisoning! Doctors, including the Surgeon General of the U.S. Army, were recommending very high dosages. Because Bayer’s aspirin patent expired in 1917, many companies jumped into the market making it widely available. Who knows?

  48. Bettye Marsh says:

    My great grand parents died in Jackson Co. Florida in October 1918 just days apart. My father was six days old. I don’t ever remember my dad having flu or even a cold. Does anyone have info on deaths from flu of 1918 for Jackson Co. Florida. I can’t find death certificates on either of them. Last name Spooner.