First World War Project

Ernest BLACK (of Teynham)

bapt. 6th November 1892
d. 6th November 1918. Aged 27

Mate, Service Number L/8161
H.M.T. "Afternoon"
Mercantile Marine
Les Baraques Military Cemetery, Sangatte
[Bleriot-Plage, Departement du Pas-de-Calais, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France]
Plot 6, Row E, Grave
Died of Influenza

Les Baraques Military Cemetery, Sangatte

Son of William and Minnie (née Millen) Black, of 2 Eastwood Cottages, Conyer, Teynham, Kent. His brother Benjamin Black also fell.

If you visit Teynham, St. Mary's Church, you will find a family plot with a remembrance headstone for Ernest, his brother Benjamin (who also fell in the war and is buried in St. Mary's churchyard) and sister Edith who died at four years old (1912-16). This is not Ernest's burial place, as his remains are in the Les Baraques Military Cemetery, Sangatte. Sangatte became an 'overflow' cemetery for several War Hospitals around Calais from September 1917 and contains 1,303 Commonwealth burials.

A curiosity, one year later, was the identification of Sangatte as the point at which a Channel Tunnel would emerge - planned for a cost of £25 million. There were also ideas for a bridge joining Alaska with Russia.....

Benjamin's CWGC headstone can also be seen behind the family headstone (right).

There is very little about Ernest Black in the official records, although we do know that he died from Influenza, like so many people during the Spanish influenza epidemic.

Faversham and North East Kent News of 14th December 1918
TEYNHAM MAN'S DEATH. The death has occurred in France of Seaman Ernest Black, H.M. Transport Service, a Teynham man, who contracted illness while on active service. He was buried in France.

Obituary Notices across the UK and throughout this period regularly featured examples of "died from influenza" in hospital at Calais. Although the greatest mortality was from 'complications' such as pneumonia or, perhaps, heart attack. Even today, the whole picture is not fully understood as to why this particular pandemic took such a heavy toll. Suspicion has fallen on the mobility of soldiers in and out of the European and other theatres of war, exhaustion of military and civilian people unable to fend off the ravages of the virus, proximity to animals (had the virus jumped between species), how many strains of influenza were there (was there more than one epidemic or strain)? Calculations of global impact vary between 50-100 million deaths out of many more millions who were infected - mortality was more than 2.5% of the whole population. Perhaps half the world population was exposed to and contracted influenza either to recover or succumb to this or associated conditions. Cinemas and theatres were closed at times; schools similarly closed as numbers of ill and dying increased in November 1918 in our area. Salt water gargling and irrigation of nostrils was proposed as a preventative but it was acknowledged that no treatment was available and the deaths were particularly high amongst the fittest!

Reported by the East Kent Gazette on 16th November 1918:


"BLACK. In loving memory of Ernest Black, the dearly beloved son of Mr. and Mrs. W. Black, of Conyer, Teynham, who passed away November 6th 1918, after a serious illness in the General Hospital, in France, aged 26 years. "Peace perfect Peace."
From his sorrowing Mother, Father, Sisters, and Brothers."

His "Record of Effects" concludes pay owed to his family of £21 10s but unusually omits a sum for War Gratuity. [See Appendix 2]

He was posthumously awarded the British War and Victory medals - not confirmed. [See Appendix 1]

Military Experience of Ernest Black

While he was the Mate aboard H.M. Transport "Afternoon", we have found nothing for this ship to describe the likely course followed by Ernest.

Circumstances of the death of Ernest Black

Like so many others in late 1918, Ernest Black succumbed to influenza.

Life on board ships was very enclosed, disease could very easily be spread. Not least in a Transport ship where there was a constant passage of soldiers to and from theatres of war.

There is no relevant War Diary entries or other military records surviving for Ernest.

Family of Ernest Black

Family tree for Ernest Balck of Teynham

Other Family Members and WW1

- Brother: Alfred Black, brickmaker, standing 5 feet 4 inches tall, chest measuring 39 inches hair was dark, eyes brown and fresh complexion. He joined the Royal Navy on 3rd April 1916 and served successfully throughout the war - "Very Good" Conduct against his name. He served on HMS Erebus from 12th August 1916 as Stoker, Second Class, until 11th January 1917 when he was promoted to Stoker, First Class. He was discharged back to Chatham, 20th February 1919.

Brother: Benjamin Dan Black: Died serving on H.M.S. Botha 8th December 1918.

Additional Documents

The Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald carried this report on 15th February 1919, which serves to illustrate how the epidemic was being experienced at home and how indiscriminate it was as to age, gender, or occupation:


The following interesting report on the influenza epidemic in Faversham during the past year was presented at the meeting of the Faversham Town Council last week:-

During the year there were two distinct outbreaks of Influenza, one in July and one in October, November and December. The former in this district was comparatively mild in character and only caused two deaths, but the latter was very severe and widespread and caused many deaths being the worst since 1890, if it did not surpass that in severity, as many believe.

(Week ending)
February 9th
  2 to 5 years
July 20th
  5 to 15 years
August 24th
  15 to 25 years
October 19th
  25 to 45 years
October 26th
  45 to 65 years
November 2nd
  Over 65 years
November 9th
November 16th
November 23rd
November 30th
December 7th
December 14th

NOTE.- Over 80 per cent of the deaths occurred between the ages of 15 and 45 - the prime of life - not in extreme old age or infancy.
Six of these deaths should be referred to other districts.

It is difficult to estimate the number of cases that occurred; but between two and three thousand would not be an over-estimate I should say if all the slight cases are included; on this basis the case mortality is low; but the death-rate among the complicated cases was very high indeed; there were few deaths from influenza pure and simple; but when certain complications set in they were most refractory to treatment. Pneumonia was the most formidable symptom, but many died without any gross signs having developed; apparently from a general Toxaemia. In some cases the complications might have been attributed to exposure of want of early treatment, but in others they developed in spite of every care.

Previous attacks did not seem to afford any protection, in fact persons who had had attacks in June had second attacks in October.

The large number of cases and their severity made it very difficult to obtain proper nursing; the Cottage hospital and the Nursing Home were utilised for the worst cases. The infectivity of the disease seemed to be greatest where many people were gathered together, as in schools and factories, and seemed to be lessened by dilution with fresh air; free ventilation gave more protection from attacks than anything I could discover.


Leaflets were distributed based on the recommendations of the Local Government Board and large placards were publicly exhibited.

The Infant Departments and one Girl Department of the Public Elementary Schools were closed for a time; also all the Sunday Schools. Also the afternoon performances of the public entertainments in the town.

Owing to the impossibility of obtaining nurses or help of any kind, it was impossible for the Authority to make any public provision of this nature.

The outbreak was so universal that it was impossible to say that any particular occupation or district was effected more than others.

I am, Yours obediently, CHARLES J. EVERS. M.D., M.O.H.
January 1919.

The Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald of 1st March 1919 also contained official advice on management that appear almost impossible to adhere to for large families in small homes or crowded tenements; the need to work to buy the food or doctor's time needed; soldier's at all times; naval personnel. All that said, subsequent research questions whether this influenza discriminated according to occupation.


The following memorandum has been issued by the Local Government Board of precautions to be taken by the public:-

The golden rule is to keep fit, and avoid infection as much as possible.

The way to keep fit is to cultivate healthy and regular habits, to eat good food, and to avoid fatigue, shill and alcoholism. Healthy living does not of itself ensure against attack, but it makes the patient better able to withstand the complications which kill.

The early symptoms of influenza are usually those of a severe feverish cold. Though the actual cause of the disease is unknown, we do know that it is rapid in onset, that it is most infectious in its early stages, and that it is spread by discharges from the mouth and nose, and that it kills mainly by its complications. Every person suffering from the disease, no matter how mild the form, is a danger to others.

It is not always possible to avoid infection, but the risks can be lessened by - Health living, working and sleeping in well-ventilated rooms, avoiding crowded gatherings and close, ill-ventilated rooms, wearing warm clothing, gargling the throat and washing out the nostril, by wearing a mask and glasses when nursing or in attendance on a person suffering from influenza.

Do not waste money on drugs in the false hope of preventing infection.

Those attacked should go home, go to bed, and keep warm. Call in a doctor. Occupy, if possible, a separate bedroom or bed that is screened off from the rest of the room. When coughing or sneezing, hold a handkerchief in front of the mouth; the handkerchief should be boiled, or burnt if of paper. use a gargle, consisting of a solution of common salt (one teaspoonful to a pint of warm water) to which a few crystals of potassium permanganate are added - enough to make the solution pink. Be careful during convalescence in order to avoid relapse or complications. Avoid meetings and places of entertainment for at least one week after the temperature has become normal.

The mask, which may be made of gauze (four layers) or butter muslin (three layers), should cover the mouth and nose. To protect the eyes it is advisable to wear goggles.

It is stated that no drug has yet been proved to have any specific influence as a preventive of influenza.

[Note: the same newspaper carried claims from snuff retailers that those who took snuff appeared to be protected....]

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