Sunday, 23 September 2012

Gertrude Taylor nee Wilkins (1890-1919), victim of Spanish Flu

Gertrude Wilkins was my grandmother, the mother of my father, Eric William Taylor (1913-2003). She was born on 1 Feb 1890 in Woolwich Dockyard, the eighth of nine children born to Henry William Wilkins (b1850 in Bethnal Green, London) and Jane Wilkins nee Cornwell (b1851 in Kelvedon, Essex). The name given on her birth certificate is Gertrude Helen Wilkins. However, the middle name given on her marriage and death certificates is Amy, not Helen.

The 1891 census shows Henry Wilkins aged 41, a grocer, living at 31 Kidd St (a shop), Woolwich Dockyard with his wife Jane (40) and their children Elizabeth (15), Albert (13), Alice (11), Ethel (9), Cecilia (7), Annie (5), Herbert (3) and Gertrude (1).

By 1901, the family were living at 11 Church St, Woolwich and consisted of Henry (aged 50, now a coffee house keeper), Jane (49), Albert (23), Alice (21), Ethel (19), Bessie (16), Annie (15), Herbert (13), Gertrude (11) and Mabel (9).

Gertrude Wilkins aged 19

Gertrude was still living at 11 Church St in 1911. The census gives her age as 21 and her occupation as a rubber casing machine hand working for Siemens Brothers Electrical Works. Also at the address were her father Henry (62, a dining room keeper), mother Jane (59), sister Mabel (19) and niece Florence Wilkins (7). The return was completed by Gertrude, so I have a sample of her handwriting.

Gertrude married William Taylor on 26 May 1912 at the Holy Trinity Church, New Charlton, which is close to 7 West Street, where William lived. They were both aged 22. He was a labourer at the Royal Arsenal. The marriage was witnessed by Gertrude’s brothers Herbert and Albert. I have pictures of the wedding.

William and Gertrude lived at 22A George St, Woolwich then at 503 Abbey Road, Abbey Wood and later at 51 Charles St, Woolwich. They had three children, Eric William who was born in 1913, Vera Gertrude born in 1916 and Ronald Albert born in 1918.

Gertrude Taylor nee Wilkins

Gertrude died of influenza at the Miller Hospital in Greenwich on 19 February 1919 aged 29. The influenza pandemic of 1918-19 killed about 50 million people (more than the 25 million who died in World War I), the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history. More people died of influenza in a single year than in four years of the Black Death (Bubonic Plague) from 1347 to 1351. Known as "Spanish Flu" the influenza of 1918-19 was a global disaster. In these two years, a fifth of the world's population was infected. The flu was most deadly for people ages 20 to 40. This pattern of mortality was unusual for influenza, which is usually a killer of the elderly and young children. The influenza virus had a mortality rate at 2.5% compared to previous influenza epidemics, which were less than 0.1%. People were struck with illness and died rapid deaths. One anecdote from 1918 was of four women playing bridge together one evening. Overnight, three of the women died from influenza. Others told stories of people on their way to work suddenly developing the flu and dying within hours. The first cases of the influenza epidemic in Britain appeared in Glasgow in May 1918. It soon spread to other towns and cities and during the next few months the virus killed 228,000 people in Britain.

The following report appeared in a local newspaper :

“The funeral took place at Plumstead Cemetery on Wednesday of Mrs W Taylor, the loving wife of Mr W Taylor, of 51 Charles Street, Woolwich (late of Abbey Wood). The last sad rites were conducted by the Rev. Faulkner Baily. The floral tributes were very beautiful and were sent by her sorrowing husband and children, Mrs H Wilkins1 (mother), Mr and Mrs W Jenkins2 (brother-in-law and sister), Mr and Mrs A Wilkins3 (brother and sister-in-law), Mrs Suter4 (sister), Mr and Mrs W Taylor5 (brother-in-law and sister), Mr and Mrs H Wilkins6 (brother and sister-in-law), Mr and Mrs L Barry7 (brother-in-law and sister), Mr and Mrs G Taylor8, Mr and Mrs Himbury9, Mr and Mrs E Taylor10, Mr and Mrs A Smith11, Mr and Mrs C Taylor12, Mr and Mrs W King13, Mr and Mrs S Taylor14, Florrie (niece), Aunt Mary and family, Daisy and Albert15, Mr and Mrs H Dimon16, Mr and Mrs Cook, Mrs Wain, Edie and Gertie, and old neighbours of Abbey Wood. Mr Taylor wishes to thank all those who sent wreaths and letters of sympathy in his sad bereavement.”

Gertrude was buried on 25 February 1919 in grave 289, Plot M. I have located it within Plumstead cemetery, which is still in use and well maintained. There is no headstone or stonework on the grave, which is grassed over.

1. Jane Wilkins nee Cornwell (1851 - 1934)
2. Walter Hugh and Elizabeth Jane Jenkins nee Wilkins (b1876)
3. Albert Henry (b1877) and Beatrice Louisa Wilkins (Aunt Beat)
4. Mrs Suter was born Ethel Wilkins in 1881. Her husband William Henry Suter died in 1914. Her son Herbert William Suter died of influenza on February 12th 1919 aged 12, a week before Gertrude. They are both buried in a plot near her. Ethel became William Taylor’s second wife in 1920.
5. William and Cecilia Mary (Bessie) Taylor nee Wilkins (b1884)
6. Herbert George (b1888) and Mary Allan Wilkins nee Kennedy
7. Lawrence and Mabel Barry nee Wilkins (b1891)
8. George Taylor (b1877, William’s brother) and Kate Elizabeth nee Lambert
9. Edwin Alfred and Harriet Jane Himbury nee Taylor (b1881, William’s sister)
10. Ernest Edward (b1879, William’s brother) and Annie Edith Taylor nee Bradley
11. Alfred Charles and Margaret Ellen Smith nee Taylor (b1887, William’s sister)
12. Charles (b1885, William’s brother) and Ellen Maria Taylor nee Holder
13. James William and May King nee Taylor (b1894, William’s sister)
14. Samuel Taylor (b1892, William’s brother) and his wife
15. Daisy and Albert Finnis (Daisy was a sister of Beatrice Louisa Wilkins nee Tothill)
16. Harold Vincent and Maud Emily Dimon, friends of the Wilkins family

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