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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 16, Number 6, May/June 2004

Teachers make the ultimate sacrifice in 1918

by Betty O’Keefe

Aplaque commemorating the gallantry of three young Vancouver teachers is again hanging in the hall at Lord Nelson School.

When schools were ordered closed in the fall of 1918 during the height of the Spanish flu epidemic in Vancouver, some school teachers volunteered to serve as nursing aids because of the severe shortage of medical staff as thousands fell ill and isolation hospitals overflowed.

Three who volunteered and who, sadly, gave their lives helping the sick and dying were Ruth B. Luno, Pearl Alberta Green, and Alice Ross Rines. The plaque states that they were "Teachers, Lord Nelson School, who gave their lives for others."

While researching a book about the flu epidemic, which claimed some 4,400 lives in B.C., authors Betty O’Keefe and Ian Macdonald saw an old newspaper clipping stating that the Vancouver School Board had decided to erect the plaque. They inquired of the school if the plaque was still displayed but found that after many renovations over 80 years it had disappeared.

Staff member Anna Hayes remembered, however, that there was a brass plate in the basement. It was rediscovered and cleaned up. Principal Nicole Boucher and librarian Janet Lirenman were delighted to learn the reason for the memorial. Vancouver School Board had erected it in December 1918 but did not include specific wording about the pandemic flu.

A picture of the plaque and the teachers is included in the new book, Dr. Fred and the Spanish Lady, published by Heritage House and available in Vancouver book stores late in May. It tells the story of the tremendous suffering during the flu epidemic, the sacrifices of many volunteers, and the key role of Dr. Fred Underhill, Vancouver’s first full-time medical health officer, who was appointed 100 years ago in 1904 and marshalled the forces to fight the disease.

Betty O’Keefe has co-authored the book, Dr. Fred and the Spanish Lady: Fighting the killer flu.