Sutton Veny, St John's Church and the Spanish Flu
Updated: Apr 26, 2020
As I write this, today is ANZAC day 2020, where Australia and New Zealand commemorate their men and women from the Armed Forces who paid the ultimate price. But there is a little piece of Wiltshire which is forever linked to the ANZACs, as over 140 of them are buried in Sutton Veny.
The Church of St John in the village has a Commonwealth War Grave, a final resting place for 169 fallen. If you walk among the headstones you will notice how many of them are Australian and even includes several nurses. One thing that disturbed me was that many of the fallen died after the end of the First World War. I was haunted by thoughts that these brave men had survived the horror of war and
made it back safely to Wiltshire with thoughts of finally getting back home. Only to be taken from us by the Spanish flu pandemic that swept through the world between 1918 and 1920. As the virus swept through the valleys of Wiltshire, it took young men and nurses who were living around Sutton Veny.
There were several military camps in the area, where soldiers lived in tents and wooden huts on fields such as these. The views across the hills are beautiful, but viruses are unforgiving and indiscriminate and bring devastation to human communities as they infect. We know this more than ever today as we live through our own pandemic of Covid-19 which has already taken over 20,000 people in the UK before their time.
In December 1916 Sutton Veny was the home of No. 1 Australian Command, which stayed here until after the war. The whole area round Sutton Veny and Codford became Australian for a while, and the links are maintained to this day. The Church houses an ANZAC chapel and a service is held every year in normal times to commemorate the fallen who are buried here.
In January 1919, No. 1 Australian General Hospital moved to Sutton Veny and stayed here until the end of the year. During that time over 100 Australian men and women died of influenza and are now at rest in the churchyard. This cruel disease killed around 250,000 people in Britain. But the service men and women who fell here are gone, but not forgotten.
I have included 2 headstones below, of Sister Tyson and Corporal Sowton. If you clink on the images you will be taken to external websites which tell their personal stories.