Spanish flu survivor, 108, among latest victims of coronavirus

Matthew Weaver and Nazia Parveen
·4-min read

A 108-year-old woman who survived the 1918 Spanish flu is thought to have become the oldest victim of coronavirus in the UK.

Hilda Churchill died in a Salford care home on Saturday, hours after testing positive for Covid-19 and just eight days before her 109th birthday.

She is the oldest victim of the virus to be named in the UK. She was born in 1911, the year before the Titanic sank and three years before the start of the first world war. It was also seven years before the Spanish flu pandemic, which infected 500 million worldwide, and killed her sister.

The coronavirus pandemic had prompted Churchill to reminisce about the Spanish flu, according to her grandson, Anthony Churchill. He said: “When I visited her last, we talked about coronavirus and mentioned we might not see her for a while. She said it was very similar to the Spanish flu but in her day there were no planes and somehow it still managed to spread everywhere.”

She and most of her family in their home in Crewe became infected with the Spanish flu, including her father, who collapsed in the street, she recalled. They all survived apart from her 12-month-old baby sister, Beryl May. “She remembered standing at her bedroom window and seeing this little coffin carrying her baby sister being put into a carriage and being taken away,” her grandson said.

He said: “She remembers everyone getting it and her mother trying to look after them and her father collapsing in a street and having to be carried home. She was saying how amazing it is that something you can’t see can be so devastating.

“It was never something she talked about being frightened of, though, and she was scared of this new virus. She survived so much and this was just another thing. She was a person who just got on with things – never asked for sympathy or said she was hard done by.”

He said his grandmother, a seamstress who moved to Salford during the Great Depression to find work, had generally been in good health until recently and moved into the care home 10 months ago. “She had a fall and her legs just packed up. She never understood how she got so old. I think it was the hard work that kept her going. That and good genes. She had been with me all of my life - she was just the best and we are totally heartbroken.”

She had four children, 11 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren.

Other recent coronavirus victims to be named include Adil El Tayar, 63, the first working NHS surgeon to die from the disease. He died on Wednesday at West Middlesex university hospital in London, his family said. He had been volunteering in A&E departments in the Midlands to help the NHS cope with the virus.

“He wanted to be deployed where he would be most useful in the crisis,” said his cousin, the British-Sudanese journalist Zeinab Badawi.

Colleagues have paid tribute to Amged El-Hawrani, a consultant who died at Leicester Royal Infirmary on Saturday evening after testing positive for Covid-19.

Gavin Boyle, the chief executive of University Hospitals of Derby and Burton (UHDB), where El-Hawrani also worked, described him as “an extremely hardworking consultant and ear, nose and throat (ENT) trainer who was well liked at the trust and particularly at Queen’s Hospital Burton where he worked”.

A total of 1,228 patients have died after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK, it was announced, up from 1,019 the day before.

It has also emerged that a 33-year-old hospital pharmacist, Pooja Sharma, died from the virus on Thursday, a day after it claimed the life of her father, Sudhir Sharma, 61, a Heathrow immigration officer. Pooja Sharma worked at Eastbourne district general hospital in East Sussex.

Lara Stacey Young, a nurse in the area, paid tribute to her on Facebook. She wrote: “So many people will be devastated, she was such a lovely soul.”

Amarjit Aujla, a friend from childhood, said she was devastated by the news. She wrote: “Her laughter was contagious and her random calls made my day. From when we were in primary school until we last spoke two weeks ago, you gave me nothing but love, support and a tummy ache with all the laughter.”

Pooja Sharma, 33, a hospital pharmacist in Eastbourne, died from coronavirus last Thursday.
Pooja Sharma, 33, a hospital pharmacist in Eastbourne, died from coronavirus last Thursday. Photograph: Facebook

It is unclear whether she saw her father before contracting the virus. Colleagues of Pooja’s father said he had health problems and had not been on duty at Heathrow since early January. Nick Jariwalla, the director of Border Force Heathrow, said: “Sudhir was a very well-respected, kind and experienced officer. He will be greatly missed by everyone.”