News

Illness was a major killer in a war without antibiotics

WAR SERVICE: The McNaught brothers.
WAR SERVICE: The McNaught brothers.

WHEN we think of the many thousands who died in the First World War, most of us imagine they were all killed in battle or died later from wounds received.

However, these were the days before immunisation. childhood diseases such as measles, mumps, and chicken pox, as well as influenza and pneumonia, could spread like wildfire through a camp.

Many of the recruits were from isolated country regions and they were often the first to contract these illnesses.

Some, like Pte Alexander Lindsay Eden McNaught, died before they could even embark on a ship to take them overseas.

Alexander and his brother, Cyril Auckland McNaught, were the sons of Alexander and Ellen Caroline McNaught of Uki. Alexander is said to have been a bridge builder who enlisted at Brisbane on February 18, 1916, aged 22. He was attached to the 11th Depot Battalion and started his training at Enoggera.

However, he soon contracted measles and then pneumonia and died in Enoggera Hospital on March 22, 1916. He is buried at Murwillumbah.

His brother Cyril, a school teacher, also enlisted in 1916 and went overseas. He rose to the rank of warrant officer and was attached to the Army Ordnance Corps. It is assumed that he returned to Australia but many of the ordnance corps stayed in England to organise the return of others.

Many of those who died of illness had pneumonia. The First World War was notorious for its use of mustard gas. If inhaled this was deadly as it attacked the lungs. Apparently even a small dose of gas could result in pneumonia.

Without antibiotics or even sulphur drugs, death or at least disability followed swiftly. Some of our soldiers to suffer in this way were Pte Albert Walter Victor Bailey (Tenterfield), who died at sea before reaching England; Pte Alfred John Brett (Rock Valley), who died in France; Pte Joseph William Collette (Ulmarra), who also died in France; and Pte Thomas Currie (Kyogle), who died in England but not until February 1919.

Some soldiers are said to have died of pneumonia where perhaps it was not associated with mustard gas. Pte Norman Johnston (Brooklet) died in Greece in 1915. Although he was in the infantry it is unlikely he came into contact with gas.

There were also pneumonia deaths in other theatres of the war - in Palestine Sgt Herbert Victor Valentine Ellis (Gundurimba) and Tpr Thomas Kenny Gwynne (Gundurimba); in Egypt Pte Ernest Donald Gow (Ulmarra) and Pte James Alexander Stewart (Nimbin).

Quite often the official records simply tell us that someone died of illness. This could apparently mean dying from wounds as well as from some complaint.

Influenza caused the death of many of our soldiers in the latter part of the war, including some who became ill on the journey home or after they arrived back in Australia.

There were also many accidental deaths in training camps and later at the front.

Malaria was one of the dangers in the Middle East region. This caused the death of Sgt Walter Sydney Harvison in Syria. He was from Casino and was a member of the Light Horse.

Pte Horace Atkins (Kyogle) died in France of heart failure. Possibly he had a heart problem when he enlisted, but no details are given.

A strange one, however, is Pte Albert Leonard Withers (Lismore), who died of cerebral haemorrhage. He was with the 15th Infantry Battalion. He died in 1917 and was buried at Panama. Were boats coming home via Central America? If not, why was he there?

Topics:  historian world war 1



Ford sues ACCC over automatic gearboxes

The 2015 Ford Focus Hatch Sport.

The ACCC has launched court action against Ford.

Police officer 'lucky to be alive' after crash

A police officer is being treated by paramedics after crash.

Police car crashes into embankment on Summerland Way

The buildings can't talk but Bob Moran and Barry Dennis can

PROUD OF THE TOWN: Casino Folk Museum's Barry Dennis and Bob Moran at the 1879 post office building.

Come on a tour of Casino's old buildings

Local Partners

MOVIE REVIEW: War for the Planet of the Apes

Andy Serkis monkeys around with Apocalypse Now in War For the Planet Of the Apes.

Ninja Warrior airs clips of dead contestant Johann Ofner

Johann Ofner has been identified as the man shot dead in an incident in the Brisbane CBD this afternoon

He was killed before the series went to air.

Meet 7 of the Fraser Coast's most eligible bachelors

Fraser Coast eligible bachelor - Bobbi Depp.

Are you single and looking for love?

Justin Bieber speaks after cancelling 14 concerts

Helal’s selfie with Bieber

So is he starting his own church or not?

Kendall Jenner's raunchy pose could breach standards

Kendall Jenner

Other celebs including Rita Ora, Bella Hadid posted similar shots.

The best and worst reality TV coming

Matty J in a scene from episode two of The Bachelor.

Reality TV bonanza as Hell’s Kitchen, The Block and Survivor launch.

Tenant: Let me rent, I'll fix your property and pay for it

Noosaville tenant Tony Conyers thought his tenancy was guaranteed until 2035, so he spent his own money on the property. Now he's been told he may not be able to stay for even one more year.

Renter spent $30k on maintaining, improving property over 17 years

TENANTS FROM HELL: See the mess left by evicted couple

DISGUSTING: Mess left by evicted tenants. Owner of the Mongogarie property Christine Beatty has been left at least $5000 out of pocket.

Couple were 'living large' while not paying their rent

How Gladstone's cheapest and most expensive homes stack up

SPECTACULAR: This home on Springs Road, Agnes Water, is selling in the mid-$2 million range.

With the market currently low, now is the time to invest.

'We’re goin' to Bonnie Doon!' and now you can too

How's the serenity?

The experience will have you exclaiming “how’s the serenity?”