Strange Times.

I have started drafting a few different posts recently but have kept abandoning them. The focus of this blog is life in the 1950s and 60s in Britain as seen through the eyes of a child and I try to stay true to this. However, it didn’t feel right not to even mention what we are all living through just now. Prompted by my friend H, I began to cast my mind back over ‘plagues and pestilences’ I remember from when I was growing up. I do like to brighten my posts up with pictures but this topic doesn’t lend itself to nostalgic photographs so there aren’t many.

This is meant to be interesting, informative, positive and somewhat relevant to the current problem.

Anthrax. Maybe a strange choice to start off with. I heard about it when I was really very young. I’m pretty sure I overheard adults discussing it, and I became seriously worried for a while that I and my family were going to catch it and die. As a child I was a natural worrier with an over-active imagination. Not always a good combination. I picked up on the fact that it could be caught from cows and I lived in a farming area. I have looked anthrax up and I realise that it was in the news a fair bit in the 1950s because that was when a vaccine was developed. I and my family were never in any danger of catching it from the local cows as my childish mind believed but it is very, very nasty indeed and has even been used in what used to be known as germ warfare. Gruinard Island, a remote uninhabited island off the coast of Scotland was used by the Ministry of Defence in the 1940s for anthrax experiments. It remained contaminated until its eventual decontamination in the 1980s using formaldehyde and sea water. It was declared safe for humans and animals in 1990 and returned to its rightful owners. It remains uninhabited.

Gruinard Island is located in Ross and Cromarty   The location of Gruinard Island.

Smallpox is a real success story. It was massive, all over the world. When I started looking into it I realised that it deserves 1 000s of words just to itself. Here are some facts courtesy of Wikipedia.

During the 18th century the disease killed an estimated 400,000 Europeans each year, including five reigning monarchs, and was responsible for a third of all blindness.

Between 20 and 60% of all those infected—and over 80% of infected children—died from the disease.

During the 20th century, it is estimated that smallpox was responsible for 300–500 million deaths worldwide.


An 1802 cartoon of the early controversy surrounding Edward Jenners vaccination theory, showing how the use of a cowpox-derived smallpox vaccine was causing cattle to emerge from patients.

The link with the 50s and 60s is that I remember a smallpox outbreak here in the UK which sent everyone running to get vaccinated. We went as a family to our GP’s surgery in the nearby town to get vaccinated and it’s the only time I remember being there and seeing people queueing out of the door and along the pavement.

Thanks to vaccination it has now been eradicated from the whole world. How good is that?

Polio was a very familiar word when I was a child. We all knew people who had either died from it or recovered and left disabled to a greater or lesser extent. I remember hearing about the ‘iron lung’ used in the treatment of polio. In the late 1950s my dad lost a good friend to polio who was 32. It was an isolated case and left two little boys without a father. I well recall the first time we all received the oral vaccine against polio. I was in secondary school then and we all had to queue up a class at a time to go into the library and be given a sugar cube to eat. I’ve been looking all this up and the development of the first live oral polio vaccine was in 1962 and was ground-breaking. With mass immunisation, polio became a distant memory. It still exists in the world but is under control. Europe was declared polio free by WHO in 2002.

From 1956-8 there was a pandemic known as Asian flu. I remember little about it. I was five years old in 1956 so, like my daughters are doing now with their small children during Covid-19, parents probably shielded their children from the full facts. Also, we lived in the depths of the Welsh countryside and people didn’t travel so widely then. Researching it now I see how appalling it really was. Here are some statistics, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Estimates of worldwide deaths caused by this pandemic vary widely depending on source; ranging from 1 million to 4 million, with WHO settling on about 2 million.

Hong Kong flu, also known as 1968 flu pandemic, was a category 2 flu pandemic whose outbreak in 1968 and 1969 killed an estimated one million people all over the world.

In comparison to other pandemics, the Hong Kong flu yielded a low death rate, with a case-fatality ratio below 0.5% making it a category 2 disease on the Pandemic Severity Index. I read somewhere that this was because populations had some resistance following the 1958 flu pandemic as the viruses were closely related.

I was more aware of this one as I was a teenager and we had a TV by then so saw national and world news screened every evening. However, I don’t remember anyone panicking where I lived. People my age who were in towns and cities might remember it differently.

It has been fascinating digging into all this and there is so much more I could have covered – measles, rubella, TB to name but a few. I have tried to make it upbeat rather than morbid and I hope I have succeeded.




13 thoughts on “Strange Times.

  1. Ok troops..this IS..about the time had chosen. We all..back then..had to ‘imagine’ ways to solve..empty places, gone fabrics/medicines/or entertainments..right? So..the way I see it, are bringing up..for our consideratiopns..the ‘walls’..of death/destruction/emptyness’..that were soon to hit our those years. We their children..are using..those ‘tricks of the trade’ make our family historys..lead us into..’newness’. During a pe my freshman year..i went as..joan of arc. The whole..outfit..having been made at home. I won the best costume. What all did I the sewing boxes/the barn leftovers etc? Scraps! I lastly..painted a long pole..and made a ..maid of Orleans..lily adorn it. The pe a long time past. BUT..i formed my vision of..wanting to help, to attend..those who had survive/heal. doing continuing..the blog..and bringing up, for our consideration..those the human global systems..that our various family generations..ran into. Thank you! ina

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ina, your responses are always so interesting – and this time very moving. I can just picture your Joan of Arc costume! Most of the fun in fancy dress is putting it together yourself. I always did that when my kids were young and now they do it with their children. Much more fun than buying a ready made outfit. I’m so glad you liked the post. I hope you’re well and healthy in this awful time. Meryl


  2. Thank you kindly..and good. I am planning however..on voting this coming Novembers OUST..the trump..we have. Blessedly..there are medical persons..with many, administrations..of service to former presidents..who my mind..taking the lead, and helping the the worst is..still coming at us. I am counting upon your reading the offering of..emails..and being able to grab this mail of mine..OUT of the blog..and toss it off to the a poorly stored deceased rat! 😉 hugs, ina

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good for you!!! I would do the same. I will never disregard one of your messages, Ina. They are not poorly stored deceased rats! That made me smile. Hugs to you too – 2 metres apart, of course! Meryl


  3. I certainly remember people with polio. One in particular as my parents used to have tenants in our house and one had had polio and wore a leg brace. I also recall my dad – who was a family doctor – having to give his patients vaccinations via sugarlumps and apart from boxes of sugar lumps, he took to ‘collecting’ ones from cafes and restaurants he went to. I often wondered if he actually used them for vaccines or if he had a secret sugar-habit!!

    Smallpox… whenever I think of that disease it puts me in mind of what happened to Native Americans. Look it up. Not a nice history, that one. Also – and separate from that – there are a few vials of the virus in a lab somewhere… hopefully, one day they will have the sense to destroy it, but if they don’t and it gets into the wrong hands, sheesh, I hate to think of the consequences.

    What interests me most, but I can’t find the info I want to read, is how these other pandemics were resolved. That would help me feel better about the one we’re in the middle of.


    • It never occurred to me then that doctors added the vaccination liquid to the sugar cubes themselves! I thought they were specially prepared sugar cubes made in a lab.
      The smallpox story is huge and there is still more I want to read about it now that I’ve started. As for how the other flu pandemics were handled, I haven’t been able to find that out either. I think they must have just been allowed to run their course. Thanks for commenting! Meryl

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I remember standing in line in a gymnasium to get my sugar cube. I also remember that our high school librarian had polio as a child, which left one arm completely paralyzed. All of her dresses were custom-made with a pocket for her hand. My great-uncle Fred was a public health doctor in Massachusetts when a case of polio was diagnosed on Cape Code. He closed the beaches at the height of tourist season, which made him very unpopular, but there was no spread of the disease.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The UK..and such good countrys..WILL always be ahead..and, leading the science directed todays living rough..and NOT liking it! America dropped the ball..when we had our 2016 election. We will be paying for THAT!!!..for years to come! arrrrgghhh. ps. huzzah from Bletchly (sp? house heros/herorines..the ‘then’..and those..who stride the we speak! ina

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh, I can see I’ve got a lot of catching up to do on your blog. My grandmother (who would have been in her early twenties at the time) and my mother, who was probably about a year old, both had the “Spanish flu”. I wish I’d thought to ask my grandmother more about it. Mind you, she was living on a farm, so she would not have had first-hand experience of its impact in the towns and cities.
    I remember polio well – a neighbour’s son had had it, and was left unable to walk well, so he rode about everywhere on a tricycle. Our vaccine was given to us at school in the form of little pink drinks in paper cups.
    When I first travelled overseas in 1971 I had to have the smallpox innoculation – it left my armpit and upper arm very sore for a few days. The eradication of smallpox has been one of medicine’s great success stories.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s