Leeds nostalgia: Burials held up ‘by war and flu’

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Dateline: November 1918

On this day in November 1918, there was a report in the Yorkshire Evening Post about the long delays in the burial of the dead. This was put down chiefly to two problems: war handicaps and the influenza outbreak, which was spreading across the world.

One case from York Road, Leeds, highlighted the problem after relatives were forced to wait nine days before burial could take place.

The article went on: “In the opinion of a Leeds undertaker, many delays have been due to the fact that in the outer districts, and in small towns and villages, the work of the undertaker is carried out by men who combine it with other occupations and are principally employed as joiners, millwrights and cabinetmakers, and even furniture brokers.”

It went on: “In normal times, such undertakers were in the habit of accommodating each other by lending men and tools in busy seasons, but when the rush affected almost everybody, and staffs were depleted to the minimum by Army recruiting, this has not been possible.”

It said there were undertakers in the city whom had carried out as many as 60 funerals in two days, adding that with some three or four orders were coming in at once.

It concluded they were “utterly unable to cope with demand.”

According to figures, the usual number of funerals in Leeds at that time was said to be in the region of 150 per week but because of the influenza epidemic, the figure was considerably higher - indeed, it was said to have more than doubled - with no signs of abatement.

Undertakers were hard pushed to keep up with demand. It was, therefore, quite common at that time for funerals to be delayed for up to six or seven days.