The Year Was 1918

World War I PosterThe year was 1918 and around the world, “Spanish Influenza” was killing people in the prime of their lives. It’s estimated that 1/5 of the world’s population was infected and it killed between 20 and 40 million people–more than World War I, which was at that point nearing an end.

On 3 March, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk took Russia (which was under Bolshevik rule) out of World War I. The treaty turned control of the Ukraine, Finland, the Baltic provinces, and Poland to the Central Powers–the German Empire, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Not only was this treaty devastating for Russia–which lost 300,000 square miles of territory, more than 50 million people, and vast amounts of natural resources—but removing Russia from the fighting also allowed the Germans to reposition their troops on the Western Front fighting the Allied troops of France, Britain, Italy, and the United States.

After fierce fighting in battles at Aisne, Cantigny, Vimy Ridge, Marne, and Amiens, among others, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, the guns were silenced after the signing of an armistice in a railway car in the forest of Compiegne. 

In Cincinnati, Ohio, and surrounding areas along the Ohio River, an ice gorge caused severe flooding as the river rose to sixty-one feet. The Lima Daily News (Lima, Ohio) of 1 February 1918 reported that,

Never has a flood come to the sections accustomed to floods with such dramatic swiftness….Families that had no thought of disaster were homeless Friday….Every school in the flood zone is to be open tonight to receive the homeless.

The 3 February 1918 issue of that same newspaper reported on the damage:

At Aurora, a railroad bridge, twisted from its foundation, is resting on the ice. It is a heavy bridge and yet it is held by the ice as if it were resting on a reinforced concrete foundation.

In the meantime the suffering of families driven from homes increases; coal yards are flooded; a few feet more of water would prevent shipment of coal into Cincinnati on the Chesapeake and Ohio railroad tracks; shipment of general freight is crippled and thus industry is menaced; interurbans [electric railways] are out of business; high water has shut down a number of factories and thousands of men are out of work….

Of 15 steamers in the Cincinnati harbor when the ice let go earlier in the week, eight have been sunk. The number of coal barges that have gone under runs into the hundreds.

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11 thoughts on “The Year Was 1918

  1. Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India and South Africa also had troops fighting on the Western Front……..long before 1918.

  2. I just wanted to thank you for the “The Year Was” articles in the weekly e-mail. I love them! The information included really helps me see the big picture and get to know who my ancestors really were. I teach my children at home, and I look forward to using these articles to enrich our history studies.
    I look forward to seeing many more in the future!

  3. Re that portion of the article noting that Russia was effectively out of WWI with the signing of the March 3 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The AEF didn’t land in the vicinity of Archangel until June or so in 1918, and fighting continued long after the November 11 Armistace in Europe. The AEF didn’t leave Russia until June or thereabouts in 1919. My dad, a surgeon, commanded the base hospital in Archangel during most of that time. So while I don’t know the significance of the treaty you cite, I do know that the war in Russia – as far as the U.S. is concerned – was far from over until mid-1919. Dr. Henry

  4. My parents, Eliot Brodie and Mallie Trolinger were married on May 20, 1918, in Lead, South Dakota. They went from there to Missouri so my dad could meet Mallie’s parents. From there my dad went to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to join the army.

  5. My grandpa and some of his family took pictures of that flood which I have some of them. They are between Tiffin and Fremont which the Sandusky connects and runs through.
    I talked to survivors of that flood and it was something. It happened during the night when the waters came up. People had built their houses along the river and were caught up. A lady told me of a woman in the second story of her house waving at everyone as her house floated on the flood waters going north in the rush of the flood. She told of people yelling for help as their houses were swept away with them in it. The town still has the marks of the flood waters on them.

  6. My husband’s grandmother died during the 1918 flu epidemic. Her name was Pearyle Lethea Schuttler Enyart. She left 2 children behind, Deah and Melvin Enyart. It appears that she Pearl lost her mother when she was very young, Anna B Rader Schuttler and Deah Enyart, my husband’s mother also died young from breast cancer, at the age of 50. This track record for the family has been very devasting to all connected to these women.

  7. My father was born in October of 1918, in Chicago, IL. He tells the story that after he was born, his father could not come into the hospital, because of the flue restrictions. His mother held him up to the window of her hospital room, so that his father and older brother could see him. It was many days before he and his mother were released from the hospital, due to concerns that, as a newborn infant, he would be more susceptible to catching the flu strains. Thankfully, he and his mother remained healthy, as did his father and brother.

  8. 1918 was the year influenze attacked hundreds of thousands of people in this country. Many peoople died as did my own Grandfather, George Montgomery Pritchett, who succumbed to the disease Oct 18, 1918, exactly one month after he had signed up for the Draft in World War I.

  9. About 1918 you said, “…removing Russia from the fighting also allowed the Germans to reposition their troops on the Western Front fighting the Allied troops of France, Britain, Italy, and the United States…”

    The Canadian Expeditionary Force lost 60,661 dead during the war, representing 9.28% of the 619,636 who enlisted (Wikipedia). Part of Vimy Ridge is still Canadian soil and some of my relatives lost their lives there.

  10. I ALWAYS SAVE THESE THE YEAR WAS…TO INCLUDE IN A FAMILY HISTORY FOR THOSE IMPORTANT YEARS – I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR THIS ONE. MY GRANDFATHER LOST HIS SON AND FIRST WIFE IN THE 1918 INFLUENZA EPIDEMIC WHILE HE WAS IN THE ARMY WAITING TO BE SHIPPED OVERSEAS IN 1918. IF ANYONE KNOWS WHERE I COULD LOOK TO FIND THE DEATH CERTIFICATES IN GEORGIA FROM THIS YEAR I WOULD BE VERY GRATEFUL FOR THAT INFORMATION. THANK YOU FOR THE INFORMATION.

  11. The Treaty of Brest-Litvosk of 1918 enabled Finland to gain its independence from Russia [who had conquered Finland in the War of Finland in 1808-09]. Germany agreed to train a Jager corps of 2,000 Finnish men who then decided the outcome of the Civil War of Finland. After seeing their resources sent to Russia and its men conscripted into the Russian army, this Treaty was well received by the Finnish people. At last the Finns were not being ruled by a foreign power.

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