Graves of Wellingtonians killed in 1918 flu epidemic restored

The graves of hundreds of Wellingtonians killed in the 1918 flu epidemic are being restored in time for next year's centenary commemorations.

Dozens of locals have been pitching in to help at Karori cemetery in a working bee.

The world had just emerged from the horrors of World War I, when soldiers returning home brought with them an even deadlier foe - influenza.

Half a billion people worldwide were infected and the influenza killed more than fifty million.

Harry Nicholls has vivid memories of his mother's experience.

"My mother was nursing during this epidemic and I remember her telling me that, so often, she went to bed praying that she would go down with the flu, so she could get a few days' rest," he told Newshub.

Mr Nicholls is just one of those involved in a project to restore the graves of victims at Karori cemetery.

More than 700 people died from influenza in Wellington and 656 of those are buried there. The team is progressively cleaning and restoring each of those graves, a mammoth project that will have taken two years by the time it's finished.

Barbara Mulligan came up with the idea, to help shine a light on a disaster that is being forgotten, along with the graves of the victims.

"They were overgrown, they're neglected like so many other in every old cemetery," she said. "There was a centenary coming up, and we needed to do something about remembering all those people who died and came into this particular cemetery."

Nearly 9000 New Zealanders were killed during the epidemic.

In two months, the country lost about half as many people to influenza as it had in the whole of the First World War.

The Māori mortality rate was especially high, killing one in four people in communities such as Mangatawhiri in Waikato.

Jane Bradshaw lost both her grandparents in the pandemic, leaving her mother an orphan at the age of four.

"I suspect it was emotionally very devastating, but she never mentioned it," she said.

Those involved in the project hope their work will not only restore the graves of those who died, but also ensure the memory of the terrible epidemic isn't forgotten


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