Folk memory of the Spanish flu, which at the end of the Great War wiped out many of those who survived the conflict and many more who had not been near the front line, lived on in families for decades afterwards. In mine it centred on Uncle Fred Shaw, who married Aunt Betty in 1916 and, after a honeymoon of a few days, headed back to France, where he was serving with the Royal Flying Corps. Shot down almost immediately, he was hugely fortunate to survive the crash, but he was captured by the Germans and detained in a prisoner of war camp near Bonn. Before he could be sent home he caught the flu and died there at the start of 1919.
Early on in her account of the global epidemic, Laura Spinney tries to identify the origins of the disease. It perhaps first materialised in the spring of 1918 at Camp Funston, a military base in Kansas where troops were being assembled before being sent to Europe following America’s entry into