Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 24, July 1980
(The following, is the story of the late Mr W. Hammond, recording his personal experience during the Flu epidemic in 1918 Ed.)
We then visited a house where an old couple Mr & Mrs Tamure were dying. When we returned to Mr Stretton's home we saw a Mr Beann, and instructed him to make three coffins. One for Mrs Topia and the others for the Tamure couple. Next morning we collected the coffins and proceeded to Tairua to bury Mrs Topia. On the way we met two Maoris driving. When we informed them that the coffin was for Mrs Topia they asked us to let them have it for the burial of Kura whose body still lay in M. Peka's house. This we did and gave instructions to the Maoris to dig a grave for the Tamure couple. This they did excavating in the deep clay a cubical pit about 8ft square and 5ft deep. We had been led to believe that Kura was buried some days before.
We continued day after day going from house to house, fumigating many. I asked the man at Mere Peka not to enter the place where Kura had died until it had been fumigated. I mixed up disinfectant in a kerosene tin, made a broom of tea-tree brush and asked the Maoris to fumigate the room where the dead body had lain but could not persuade him to do so. So I opened up the room, on the walls hung saddles bridle etc. I took the improvised broom and splashed disinfectant every where - over ceiling walls and floor, opened up window and door and advised Maoris not to enter for a day or two.
On the hillside of the road leading northward was the home of Charlie Castles. It was a well built house and Charlie seemed to be in the best of health but as some of the neighbouring Maoris became sick they came to his home and this perhaps worried him on one occasion I paid him a visit.
He was just coming from the tea-tree near his residence carrying a double barrelled gun. I thought he had been after rabbits but this he denied. He opened the breech of the gun took out the two cartridges and put them in his pocket. He stood the gun just inside the back door of the kitchen.
We chatted for a while then I left went on with my round and returned to Strettons. We were just about to have our evening meal when two Maoris came galloping up to the house, to inform us that Charlie Castles had gone mad and was smashing everything. I suggested that we take some straps and fasten him up. Mr Stretton saddled up two horses and we rode with the Maoris to the scene of action. There on the lawn in front of the house stood Charlie looking skyward and calling upon some imaginary being.
I asked him to come over and have a talk with me. He had taken an axe and smashed out all the glass from the door, smashed boards in the verandah floor and made general havoc. Several sick Maoris had cleared out of the house and stood nearby. Charlie refused to talk, but dashed into the house. I thought that he had perhaps gone for the gun and looked around for a safe getaway. He appeared at the opening of the smashed door waving in his hand wood from the side of a mirror. I went up to try to reason with him but he made a clout at me with his weapon but in doing so fell forward over the broken door frame.
Before he could recover Mr Stretton and I held him down until the Maoris had strapped his legs together. We made him secure placed him on a bed made him as comfortable as possible. He refused to open his mouth for medicine. We left him in the care of the other Maoris, returned home and rang the police. Next morning the police arrived took Charlie to Thames had him medically examined. He was declared insane - sent to Auckland and died within a week.
Soon after my return I received word that a Maori family Reynolds were down with the flu at Kopuarahi and suggesting that I investigate. I immediately agreed and with Mr W. J. Hosking proceeded in the small Government boat to Kopuarahi. The Reynolds were living in a small cottage. A man and his wife and young lad about 10 years of age.
The adults did not seem in too bad a way but the lad was in a terrible state. He was all skin and bone and his body covered with small sores. He had pains in his stomach. We saw that he would have to go into hospital immediately. Bill Hosking made his way to the factory about a mile or more away to ring up Thames Hospital while I remained to do what I could. I removed the sack floor coverings, fumigated the floor and got a fire going in the kitchen to prepare a meal. I went to a nearby farmer for milk. The lady in charge brought over a billy full when a man in the distance shouted out "What are you doing in this hell spot."
She said that the men folk would not allow them to go near the house. However, I managed to get the sick folk a meal of boiled rice and milk some tea and buttered toast, by the time that Hosking arrived. We cut two thin saplings threaded them through a sack making a stretcher for the small boy. We did for the lad all we could, dressed him, the clothes almost fell from his poor thin body. We placed him on the stretcher and carried him down to the Piako River where Fred Wilson with the government boat was waiting to take up back to Thames.
As we approached the river we saw a couple of men talking to Wilson. When they saw us coming with the sick boy they ran for their lives and Wilson's language concerning their conduct was not too complimentary! We made a quick trip to Thames. The poor lad died next day and not long afterward the mother followed.
And so ended my experience with the flu.