A deadly pandemic from early last century. An English nobleman. A lead-lined coffin. And now, a race to exhume him, and maybe prevent the next pandemic. It’s all here in this story in the Telegraph:
The body of an English aristocrat who died almost 90 years ago is to be exhumed in the hope that it could help the fight against bird flu and other potential pandemics.
Sir Mark Sykes, 6th baronet and owner of Sledmere House in Yorkshire, was killed by the Spanish flu virus in 1919, aged 39. He had been working on the Versailles Peace Conference and was with his wife in a Paris hotel when he died.
Sir Mark was buried in St Mark’s graveyard, at Sledmere, in a lead-lined coffin because the disease was so virulent. It killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide.
Now scientists, who have been looking for a sample of the virus, hope the preservative qualities of the metal coffin may mean samples of his DNA can still be taken. They believe analysis of Sir Mark’s genetic material could uncover new information about the H1N1 virus which killed him, and help to develop drugs to fight modern forms of the disease such as bird flu (H5N1).
We think there’s something poignant about this English diplomat with the promising future, who died young, but in some way is still helping to save the world. It reminds us of Rupert Brooke’s poem, The Soldier , written a few years before Sykes’ death:
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.