Influenza pandemic: the Juniors are in charge

As World War 1 ended and the soldiers returned home to New Zealand, they unwittingly brought back an influenza that ravaged the country. The following quote from the Bank of New Zealand Chairman’s Report of proceedings at the Half-Yearly General Meeting, 6th December 1918 highlights the seriousness of the epidemic.

Unhappily, a large number of deaths have taken place, and business has been more or less disorganised throughout the length and breadth of the Dominion.'

In Dargarville the running of the Bank and two agencies at Aratapu and Te Kopuru was left solely in charge of the two youngest staff members, a boy of 16, Charles Brace and another Junior, Vernon Hansen. The rest of the staff being taken ill with influenza. Brace later became the Assistant General Manager of the Dargarville Branch and in retirement wrote about his time at the Bank:

'..we two youngsters had a great responsibility thrust upon us, and there was of course no possibility of obtaining any assistance from elsewhere as the whole dominion was more or less badly affected by the epidemic'

'There was no thought whatsoever in Hansen's or my mind that we should close down, or that we were not perfectly competent to carry on a whole Bank! So we did.'

As well as taking on the responsibility of cash, ledger keeping, correspondence, accounting and visiting the two agencies weekly, the youngsters also felt they needed to 'practice' with the Bank revolvers:

'We solved that by going down to the pontoon by the river (in the middle of town) and having a few cracks at some seagulls (we didn't hit any!). On completion of our practice, with revolvers obscured in our pockets, we had just come up from the pontoon, when we met fartherly Mr F. F. Day. J. P., who had come along the wharf to see if the Germans had arrived! We passed him very quickly and innocently.'

 

 

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Dargaville 02

Dargarville bank interior - c1921

henry john king staff card influenza

Staff Card of Henry John King

Dargaville premises built in 1913. Photo taken in 1921

Dargaville premises - 1921