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Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 11, May 1969

By (the late) W.T. Hammond, M.B.E.

(Fifty one years has elapsed, since the terrible 1918 Influenza Epidemic which older people will remember with sorrow. At the age of 96, the late Mr Hammond wrote us his recollections of it - another token of his regard for the Maori people. Though it is a sad story it is also an heroic one which no doubt had its counterpart in every district.) Ed.

Hauraki was in a bad way. People were dying every day. Fumigating rooms were opened and visited by hundreds hoping to make themselves immune from the dread disease. Both Thames and Waihi hospitals were filled with patients, the Nurses working day and night, and many civilians, male and female, offered to help them. But there were more cases than accommodation and temporary hospitals were set up.

Schools were closed and when I offered my services, I was told that the Maoris at Waitakaruru were in a desperate way and receiving no attention. A riverboat was due to leave Thames early the next morning and Mr W.J. McCormick, Chairman of the Hospital Board and I boarded it at Shortland Wharf soon to find ourselves at the landing at Waitakaruru. Nearby was the home of Mr Stretton and this was to be my home during my work among the Influenza victims. Mr Stretton acted as our guide and was soon driving us from house to house. I particularly remember one in the direction of Kaiaua. Everything was spotless and I think it was a Mrs Paraore who was ill, but there was no mattress between her and the wire-wove [wired metal weave which was designed to support a mattress – E]. Mr Stretton went away to bring one and how I admired Mr. McCormick for handling the situation as he did, in spite of running a big risk of infection.

Retracing our steps we drove up the two mile straight road to what was known as Haley's Corner (after Ike Haley who owned land there). At the cross roads on the north-east corner was the house of Mere Peke which was still occupied although a young girl Kura had died there a day or two before. We warned the people of the danger and asked them to vacate the place until we fumigated it. After taking the temperatures of all present we left them with medicine to take in case of an attack.

That evening Mr. McCormick returned to Thames and the next morning Mr Stretton and I again set out on our round of inspections, taking in our vehicle jars of sago and milk, beef-tea and medicine for the sick people. At Haley's Corner we once more visited the house of Mere Peka who had taken our advice and vacated it. She had driven two forked stakes into the ground, put a tea-tree rail across and had slept under the shelter of a sheet of corrugated iron on one side and a sheet on the other.

Driving north to Tainui's we came to a large building made of split palings but it was by no means weather-proof. On the ground floor lay nearly a dozen people suffering from influenza. At the doorway with an oilskin coat round his shoulders sat Topia and nearby in a tent lay the dead body of his wife. We arranged for the burial of the dead and did all we could to make the sick people comfortable, leaving with them a good supply of sago and milk. For some time the only food some of them had has was tawhara - the fruit of the Kiekie, (Freycinetia Banksii) which grew in the nearby Kahikitea swamp.

Day after day we continued on our rounds, witnessing some heartbreaking scenes but glad when we could render some measure of relief. At length Nurse McKinnon, a Maori Nurse arrived and took over the supervision of the district. Thirteen had died while I was on the Waitakaruru work and the daily record I had kept of all deaths and of all the sick proved useful when officials were later collecting information.