Rail links to the battlefields of France and Belgium in WWI carried casualties to Etaples' sixteen military
hospitals. Its Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery is now the largest in France. 100,000 troops were there at any
one time and a million soldiers passed through it.
In the winter of 1916 influenza caused many deaths at Etaples and experts have recently concluded that Etaples was the most
likely source of the ‘Spanish Flu’ pandemic of 1918-19 which killed up to 100 million people (by comparison about 15
million died in WWI). Soldiers bought live fowl at local French markets, the army had piggeries to supply fresh food,
strains of the deadly ‘influenza A virus’ in birds invaded humans via pigs and the crowded conditions did the rest. The flu
resurfaced in the winter of 1918 when large concentrations of troops were congregating to return home.
Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth describes her work in a field camp hospital at Etaples in 1918.