Who Knew…

3rd May 2018

In October 1961 Hull was hit by an epidemic of Polio. The city pulled together in ways that few people appear to be aware. Various voluntary organisations provided volunteers to help with logistically support to those dispensing the oral vaccine to 300, 000 people in the town over 1 week. Hull was the first city to fully vaccinate their population using this system of inoculation.

Amongst the organisations providing volunteers was the Hull branch of the League of Jewish Women. My mother, Sylvia Hirschfeld, was the Chairperson at the time and must have helped to recruit volunteers from within the ranks of the organisations. However, she never spoke about this to her family and having talked to others whose mothers were involved, this was the norm. Perhaps this was in part due to the war time spirit when the community pull together in time of adversity.

Moving onto April 2018, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are funding the “One Last Push” Campaign; a pledge to eradicate Polio across the world. Three countries still have Polio cases and this initiative will hopefully help in the eradication. As part of this work they have visited cities to promote their aims and to get people to sign their pledge. Hull was chosen because of the epidemic in October 1961 and the work of the volunteers.

To commemorate this and to spread the message during World Immunisation Week, the Foundation marked the first day of their campaign (April 23rd) with the making of an art installation using boxes of sugar-cubes to half fill two Kingston Communication’s Cream Phone boxes, On top of which sat a piece of sculpture made from the cubes.

Three members of the congregation, with a connection to the Hull League of Jewish Women in 1981, attended to help with the art installation, namely Audrey Sugarman who was a member’s of the Hull League in 1961, Penny Marks whose mother was a member and Peter Hirschfeld, whose mother was Chair of the group. We formed part of a line of City of Culture Volunteers to pass the boxes of sugar cubes to the person filling the phone box. It took considerably longer to complete before the art installation could be placed on top.

Audrey and Peter also gave interviews to Look North, ITN News and Radio Humberside, as well as all of us having our picture taken as a group for the National League of Jewish Women’s organisation. This has since been used together with an article about what happened on the day, in the Jewish Chronicle.

Overall a very enjoyable and worthwhile experience, which helped celebrate the work of the voluntary groups during the original epidemic in 1961.

Watch ITN News film about the One Last Push campaign, featuring LJW members Peter and Audrey: