Why no statue ? (10)

Last time, I revealed that, up to and including the Second Boer War…….

“in every war fought by British forces they lost more men to typhoid than to the enemy”.

That was easily true of the Crimean War where 4,602 were killed in battle and 17,580 by typhoid. It was certainly true too of the Second Boer War and it would have been true of World War One, but for Almroth Wright.

Once he had seen the efficacy of his vaccine, Almroth gradually convinced the people in charge of the British armed forces of two measures which they absolutely had to take. Firstly, all military personnel would have to be injected, whatever they personally thought about it. Secondly, from 1910 onwards, around 10,000,000 vaccine doses had to be made immediately available for the troops.

As a consequence, when World War One began, the British Army was the only one with 100% vaccination of its troops against typhoid. In the Boer War in South Africa, there were 105 cases of typhoid per 1,000 troops and the death rate was 14.6 per 1,000 troops. In World War One though, there were 2.35 cases of typhoid per 1,000 troops and the death rate was 0.139 per 1,000 troops.

The result was that the British Empire suffered an appalling total of 1,118,264 casualties but the vast majority of them were on the battlefield. If the war had taken place without Almroth’s vaccine then the number of men and women to die would have been 2,236,529, and that would have been the figure if typhoid deaths were only one man more than those killed in action (which was extremely unlikely).

Let’s imagine that World War One had been played by Boer War rules. In South Africa, 5,774 men died in combat, or of the wounds they received in combat and 14, 210 died of disease. That is a ratio of just about 2½ to one, disease and combat. I’m not sure that I can believe my own Maths, but that would give you a grand total of 3,354,792 dead by the end of World War One, if typhoid had killed soldiers at its usual rate.

Is that not enough to warrant a statue? A total of 2,236,528 lives saved if the calculations are done by Boer War rules.

Even after Almroth Wright’s work, typhoid did still break out here and there in Great Britain. Without really searching very hard, I found that there were outbreaks in Maidstone in Kent (1897), Southampton and Winchester (1902) and Lincoln, England (1905). There was one very famous outbreak in New York (1906), but the disease kept up its unhealthy average in Dublin (1908), Retford in Nottinghamshire (1912), Tideswell in Derbyshire (1915), Croydon (1937), Chatham (1938), Dundee (1938) and Aberdeen (1964). Presumably, the arrival of lorry loads of Almroth’s vaccine prevented these outbreaks from becoming really serious (with the exception of Typhoid Mary, of course, in New York in 1906). Here she is, nearest bed:

During his lifetime, Almroth received at least 28 medals, prizes and honorary degrees. There is no statue of him, though. He was nominated 14 times for the Nobel prize from 1906 till 1925 but he didn’t receive one. All he has is a ward named after him at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington in London…….




Filed under Africa, History, military, Science

25 responses to “Why no statue ? (10)

  1. Pingback: Why no statue ? (10) – Our Treehouse

  2. John, fascinating article.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it, Allen. It’s such a pity that a statue of Almroth Wright has proved to be impossible up until now, especially when London has a number of empty plinths and no statues to put on them,.

      • Isn’t it interesting that we, i.e. the “world”, don’t honor those who have worked to save lives? Sure, there are Noble prizes, but in reality, they garner little long-term attention among the general public.

    • Thank you, Derrick. I just feel that Almroth Wright has been treated very shabbily. After the First World War, there could quite well have been a revolution if casualty figures of 3,354,792 dead had been announced.

  3. GP

    Sometimes we just don’t do justice to the true heroes. Sad.

    • Yes, it is. I do wonder if the fact that Almroth Wright has both Irish and Swedish roots still prevents his being honoured with a statue.

      • GP

        Wow, you think that might be the case?

      • Yes, to a certain extent. It took a half-Swede to get the better of a disease that the British had been incapable of beating for the last century or so, and the relationship between the British upper classes and the Irish has always been problematic. The British have been exceptionally cruel to the Irish over the years, particularly the 19th century, and the Irish haven’t forgotten it.

      • GP

        Yes, I do know that part of British history, but I think it’s kind of shallow to not be grateful for the cure to such a disease.

      • It certainly is, and we have good reason to feel ashamed about our ungrateful attitude.

  4. John, the number of typhoid deaths in the Crimean War is quite startling. Though there may be no statue of him, I was pleased to note that Almroth Wright’s work did not go unrewarded.

    • That’s fair comment with the 28 medals, prizes and honorary degrees that he received. It’s only a personal ,preference, but I would prefer something more public than that, even if it was not a statue but something else…..perhaps a tree planted in a prominent place would be something to think about.

  5. John, this is a brilliant post. My immediate personal reaction is that I wish that I could share it with my dad who liked stories of combat and heroism but (I am fairly certain) never considered the impact and suffering caused by disease.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed my post. I think that it’s a pity that we seldom seem to celebrate certain categories of people with statues. They include some huge categories such as women in general, or men who served society with their inventions, Even brave or heroic war heroes seldom get their very own personal statue.
      On the other hand, we have plenty of statues of kings and other high-ups in society, rich men who gave away money to the poor and footballers such as Brian Clough. Perhaps we need to have some kind of strategy put in place.

  6. Chris Waller

    The mortality figures you quote for the Crimean War are absolutely staggering. Typhoid deaths are almost four times higher than combat deaths. I had no idea that they were that bad. It says a great deal about the attitude of the military establishment to the welfare of their soldiers.

    • It does indeed! I’m fairly sure that this was a matter of class divisions. The upper classes who inherited the right to run the armed forces could not have cared less about how the ordinary soldiers were getting on, so long as the champagne was at the correct temperature. Exactly the same situation still existed in WW1 when the generals in the chateaux ten miles back from the front lived a life that was completely unrecognisable to the men in the trenches.
      It would certainly be my contention that Almroth Wright saved this country a Bolshevik revolution, especially if the casualty figures had ever climbed beyond three million, as they certainly would have done if typhoid had not been conquered.

  7. To have achieved so much and be recognised for it, surely that deserves a statue. I’m sure there are many who have had statues created who achieved much less then him. What an imbalance!

    • Absolutely. Almroth Wright deserves a statue, and a very big one at that. And you are right too about the statues to people who have achieved very little. Surely one of those could be quietly taken down one night, and resited in a council car park or outside a sports centre.

  8. Another riveting article, John. There are so many unsung heroes in this world, both past and present yet they continue to go unrecognized. Why? Not connected to the right people? Not enough money? Who knows. Ordinary men and women go about their daily lives all around the world who are IMO unsung heroes. Almroth is the exception, however, and it is truly baffling why he did not receive more deserving attention.

  9. Unsung heroes. Thank you for remembering them,

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