One of the early victims of the virulent influenza which eventually killed more people than four years of bitter fighting during the war may have been Solomon Lane.
Private Lane never had an opportunity to strike a blow for King and Country during the Great War. Three weeks after arriving in England from Australia he was dead – the official cause capillary bronchitis following influenza.
The son of James and Elizabeth Lane, Solomon was a namesake of his pioneering grandfather, Solomon Lane, widely believed to be one of the first two white men to set foot in the Wonga Wallan Valley, as that part of Upper Coomera was then known.
Solomon Lane and his wife Eliza had been illiterate farm workers living in Somerset, England, in 1856, when they heard of the unimaginable opportunities available to settlers in the then colony of New South Wales. After successfully applying to emigrate to Australia, they had arrived in Moreton Bay in February, 1857 with nothing but the determination to work hard, achieving what would have been impossible in England – ownership of their own farmland.
Solomon eventually selected 187 acres alongside the creek at Wonga Wallen, where he built the family home, a four bedroom slab hut of cedar and white ash, and the couple raised 11 children.
Both these pioneering grandparents had passed away in the years before Solomon, then working as a musterer at Longreach, enlisted on June 5, 1916, aged 21.
With his brother Alf, Solomon left Brisbane with the 4th reinforcements of the 41st Battalion on the Boonah on October 21. They landed at Plymouth on January 10, 1917 for training in England before embarking for the Western Front.
Solomon was with the 11th Training Battalion at Wiltshire when he became ill on February 2.
Suffering influenza, and then severe capillary bronchitis, Solomon was admitted to Fargo Military Hospital.
He died on February 11 and was buried five days later at Durrington Cemetery, Wiltshire. His final resting place was a long way from his home in Canungra but only 90 kilometres from Haselbury, Somerset, where his grandparents, Solomon and Eliza, had dreamed of a new life in a distant land.
A subsequent claim for a pension by Solomon’s sister, Gladys Lane, at Canungra, was rejected on the grounds that she had not been dependent on her brother during the 12 months before he enlisted.
In July, 1921, Army records wrote to Solomon’s father at Benobble Post Office, requesting information for “the erection of a permanent headstone on the last resting place of your son”.
“The information is urgently needed to enable the work in connexion with the Durrington Cemetery to be completed,” Mr Lane was informed.
“At present it is suspended on account of a lack of the above particulars. The non-receipt of your reply within the next 21 days will, it is regretted, have to be accepted as indicating that you do not desire any further action taken.”
Solomon’s headstone was completed, recording that he “died of sickness”. More than 20 years after his death, Solomon Lane was commemorated on the new Canungra memorial as having died on active service.
More than 50 million people are believed to have died during the influenza pandemic which swept the world after the war, compared with an estimated 17 million service personnel and civilians killed during the conflict.