During the winter of 1918/19, 150,000 people died in Britain as a result of the virulent Spanish Influenza Pandemic. Worldwide it killed more people than had perished during the whole of the War and had swept the Western Front towards the close of war. Many veterans speak of its affect in the book ‘Last Post’. The illness reached Blackmore and Stondon Massey in November 1918.
Revd Reeve wrote: “Stondon is passing through a Visitation of the prevailing ‘Influenza’ epidemic. In England Schools have been closed in many districts, and mortality has been very serious.
“Our neighbours at Blackmore and Kelvedon Common were attacked before us, but we were to be no exception. The School has been closed as from the 15th November and the sickness has found victims in almost every house. When the fever is followed by pneumonia and complications it becomes of course a dangerous visitor. The doctors are barely able to attend their numerous patients, and are at a loss to account for the origin of the scourge. It suffices to keep in check the superabundant rejoicings of Peace” [ERO T/P 188/3 f780-784].
The role of women changed significantly during the War. Reeve looked on with some bemusement during the war years as women took jobs in munitions factories and increasingly took charge in the gathering of the harvest. The call for ‘Votes For Women’ prior to the War was now unquestionable and a free vote given to Members of Parliament met with little opposition becoming law in June 1918. The ‘Representation of the People Act’ created almost universal suffrage for males over 21 years old (previously only three-fifths of the population could vote) and women over 30. Harry Patch, the last surviving veteran who served in the trenches, wrote in his autobiography in 2007, “in part because they could hardly withhold the right to vote from soldiers who had fought for their country” [Patch, p146]. It increased the franchise from 7 million to 20 million. Until then, only those who owned property could vote. A J P Taylor wrote, “War smoothed the way to democracy – one of the few things to be said in its favour” [Taylor, p94].
Reeve wrote on 14th December 1918: “The General Election of Members of Parliament is taking place today. Stondon people go to Blackmore to vote. This is the first occasion of the admission of women to the franchise, and the first occasion when women Candidates for Parliament have been admissible. Motor-cars and carriages are being utilized where possible for the conveyance of electors, and I have seen several amused and smiling faces of village women being taken to the poll, pleased alike with their unwonted excitement of their importance. The Poll will be declared on the 28th, the delay being caused by the inclusion of soldiers’ proxies who are permitted to vote by post”.
Arthur, Max. Last Post. The Final Word from our First World War Soldiers (Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2005)
Patch, Harry, with Emden, Richard. The Last Fighting Tommy (Bloombury, 2008)
Taylor A.J.P. English History 1914-1945 (Oxford, 1965)