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PostPosted: Mon Mar 13, 2017 1:34 am 
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Never Had it So Good Part 12

Bailey had been quite right – the boys were awake and raring to go and were already talking eagerly about the marvelous parade that awaited as they flew down the stairs.

“Do you think there’ll be a Chieftain, Peter?”

“No, they still haven’t got any in the Territorial Army, according to my book. But they could have a Super Centurion.”

“Super!” Richard’s anticipation literally carried him outside, barely giving him time to touch the ground. Two seconds later, he reached back around the door to grab his shoes, having neglected them in his enthusiasm for modern military equipment.

Sam and Simon exchanged a brief gaze of amusement before heading out to join the boys, who bounced around in anticipation. As they rounded out the front gate, they were joined by the equally excitable Cavendish lads from next door and their somewhat world-weary father.

“Morning Simon and Sam. I see your lads are taking this in the same quiet and reverent manner as my creatures.”

“We were all young once, James, even if it was a long time ago. I seem to remember a young fellow being over the moons at the prospect of riding on a Mark IV back in the day.”

“I have no idea who you are talking about whatsoever.” Cavendish replied with a completely straight face. “Victoria coming down with the girls later on?”

“Indeed. Wrangling them into dresses takes a little bit more time than the boys, apparently.”

They walked on down the road, bidding a cheerful good morning to an old man in a natty trilby busy who was clipping his hedge. It was now a bright and crisp morning and the sun delicately broke through the canopy of the trees in a delightful patchwork of light and shade. To one side, a long avenue lined with jacaranda trees lead to a far-off large three storey house and on the other stood a small park replete with brightly coloured children’s play equipment and a large wooden table and chairs inside the hollow of an ancient and gnarled oak. An extremely realistic face was carved into the tree and, for half a heartbeat, Sam could have sworn that he saw the oak’s eyes following him.

“This should be a rather good parade this year, Sam.” began Bailey as they strolled onwards, the village square now in sight. “Usually it is just the local TA and Home Guard, but this year, due to the exercises, one of the regular Ox and Bucks companies is in the area.” He gave a meaningful glance to indicate that their presence was not entirely coincidental. “You see, James, Sam here is something of a student of defence policy and equipment.”

“This should suit you to a tee, then, old boy. Our local brigade has always been one of the first to get fitted out with new kit, which fascinates the boys no end.”

“Shame to see that change, really.” Bailey remarked as he continued to look straight ahead. James Cavendish furrowed his brows slightly, digesting the remark.

“Yes, it would be a shame.”

The village square was quite packed for this time of morning, with more people than Sam had ever previously seen in it during his few days in Ashford thus far. They were arrayed on both sides of the road, a few bearing deck chairs and shooting sticks and others standing patiently, following the stolid example of two blue-uniformed police constables who kept a steady eye on proceedings with hands clasped firmly behind their backs. Bright bunting and dozens of Union Jacks fluttered from every corner of every building and a carnival atmosphere filled the air. Sam saw a few old ladies pausing before a young oak tree that was planted inside a neat circle of gold coloured stones. It looked no more than ten years old, but was obviously given no small measure of respect. Bailey saw his perplexed expression and stepped forth to explain.

“That’s the Coronation Tree, planted on the morning of Her Majesty’s coronation in ’53. They say it is from an acorn of the Royal Oak itself, which was planted by King Arthur. As long as the trees grow, then England will never fall. It may just be a story, but it is a good one.”

“It has grown quite a bit in only eight years.”

“Certainly. One of many monuments, memorials and events which marked that glorious day. It marked the dawn of the new Elizabethan era and what a great one it has been so far.”

They settled down in a comfortable position on a wooden trestle bench near The Lion and Unicorn and soon enough heard the approaching sound of a military band. Winding around the side of the square came a procession lead by a slow driving Land Rover and two steadily marching standard bearers, carrying the Union flag and the Queen's Colours of the 4th Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, flanked by a pair of colour sergeants with fixed bayonets. Following was the battalion band, clad in scarlet uniforms and ardently playing an upbeat march that Sam seemed to recognize, but couldn’t quite put his finger on. They were met by rousing cheers from the men, women and children of Ashford, who waved their small flags with enthusiastic gusto.

Next came the local Home Guard, a whole platoon of young men marching smartly in familiar olive green battledress and Brodie helmets, but seemingly very well equipped, with what appeared to be a mixture of SLRs and Bren Guns carried by most. They were given a most hearty reception by the local crowd, many of whom were related to the volunteer soldiers parading past them. Trailing them were a pair of greatly enlarged Universal Carriers towing 6pdr anti-tank guns. The slight incongruity in equipment that buzzed in the back of Sam’s head was swiftly forgotten when the following unit began to trot past.

It was cavalry, but not as he knew it.

Twenty hard faced men rode slowly forward on huge war horses that loomed almost 24 hands high. Each trooper wore a suit of elaborate and formidable full plate armour set with gold and silver engravings, brilliant red tunics, golden epaulettes, short blue cloaks and splendid plumed helmets. They carried long lances that crackled with blue sparks of electricity, shields covered with their regimental coat of arms, huge greatswords in scabbards at their side, a brace of large machine pistols on their belts and automatic rifles with under-barrel grenade launchers tucked into pockets in the saddles. The horses were clad in plate barding and some form of shining chainmail that covered their forelegs. Every horse and rider seemed to shine with a faintly unnatural radiance that made it difficult for Sam to focus on them. Simon looked on, beaming with obvious pride.

“You wouldn’t want them charging down at you at forty miles an hour, would you?”

“No, I don’t think I would.” Dozens of questions rocketed about inside his mind, but the cavalry division was already passing them by.

The cavalry was followed by the main body of infantry, a full company of the 4th Battalion. Unlike the Home Guard, they wore full dress uniform replete with highly polished buttons and immaculate buff facings. Long, extremely sharp bayonets glittered at the end of their battle rifles as they marched through the village square in precise order, showing no emotion despite their rapturous reception. Once again, Sam noted the uniformly tall height of the soldiers and, for some reason, the slightly pointed ears of at least two of them. From behind them came the rumble of engines and the creak of tank tracks, sending the boys into paroxysms of gleeful excitement. The regulars were next.

Around the corner came four FV432 armoured personnel carriers that looked larger and more heavily armoured than the pictures he was accustomed to seeing. Each carried a heavy autocannon in a large turret flanked by what seemed to be launching tubes for anti-tank guided missiles. The smiling commanders stood at their lethal-looking heavy machine guns and waved at the crowds as they went by. Coming after them was a pair of hulking tanks, which Sam surmised were the Super Centurions. They were painted in an ingenious disruptive camouflage pattern of forest greens and browns, but the most immediately apparent features were their large guns and the additional armour that had been added around the turret and front of the tank. A coaxial autocannon and several machine guns completed the fearsome armament and coloured penants fluttered from the radio aerials as they clanked past. The small procession of armoured vehicles was completed by an Abbott self propelled howitzer and another pair of FV432s. The last section of the parade seemed somewhat anticlimactic after them, consisting of two platoons of the regular infantry and their regimental Corps of Drums.

All in all, it had been a rather different experience and presented considerable food for thought and further discussion. When no further units followed the last ranks of the marchers, he gathered that the parade was over. As he turned to head off, Bailey’s hand fell lightly on his shoulder.

“Not quite yet, Sam. There’s one final element to come.”

Out of the skies to the west came the sound of jet engines, followed by the sight of four small delta winged fighters flying alongside a huge Vulcan high overhead. Many looked up to seem the go over, but there weren’t the same cheers and waving of hats that had occurred on Saturday morning, apart from those young boys who hadn’t yet swarmed after the tanks. The fighters looked extremely familiar with their large wing and twin engines, but that double tail really shouldn’t have been there…

“Fairey Delta IIIs?”

“Delta IIs, actually. One of our best. More of a long range all-rounder than her older sister, but if it gets anywhere near the sales that the Delta did in the ‘50s, then Fairey will be very rich indeed. Even the Japs are interested. Anyway, I doubt that little flyover was entirely for our benefit, before you go getting any ideas; Bomber Command doesn’t stop its airborne patrols just because it is a holiday, after all.”

They walked over to the Victoria Tea Room, whose outside tables were already full. Utilising all his charms, Simon managed to wangle a nice little place in the far corner and ordered a pot of tea.

“That will be enough to keep the boys going for days, and no doubt the girls as well. A bit more presence of the heavy mob than usual, but that is to be expected in this day and age.”

“The cavalry was a bit of a shock. Armoured men on horseback seems a bit old fashioned in an age of space travel and nuclear missiles.”

“Old fashioned isn’t always useless, Sam. Now, I’ll grant you that horse may not be of a lot of use if you wanted to knock out Moscow, but for home security, rear area defence and colonial policing, they fill a nice little niche. They were quite useful in Normandy. Ah, thank you, John.” One of the elderly waiters carefully placed their tea and complimentary biscuits on the fresh white tablecloth and smiled obligingly at Bailey’s gratitude.

“Cavalry? In Overlord?”

“Of course. Scouts and reconnaissance, mainly, although there were a few charges once we broke the Jerries and got them on the run. Even with modern magical armour, they took some nasty casualties, though. Poor men. Poor horses. Still, a great victory and a day to be proud of.”

“There you go with that sense of martial national pride again.” winked Sam.

“Naturally, dear boy. If one cannot be proud of our achievements on a day like this, then when can we? The August bank holiday?”

“No, I was just being a bit facetious; it takes a bit to get your head around the ordinary past, let alone the extraordinary. That, and we are generally proud of different things back home.”

“Such as?”

“The NHS. The welfare state. A fair and inclusive society.”

“I see. Can’t say that health and welfare would rank that highly in the general pantheon of British achievements here, at least not above the Empire, history, the monarchy, the armed forces, our power and what we’ve discovered and done as a people. Don’t get me wrong, Sam – they’re important things, but they’re not the subject of panegyrics or light operas. We rule the waves and sail among the stars, after all.”

“From what I read, it seems as if the Americans and Russians might have something to say about both of those.”

“They always do. Perhaps if we’d had the type of experience that some of the European states had in the world wars, we might think differently. They certainly took a while to get their confidence back and some never have.”

“It is still surprising. I’d think that with rationing and austerity after the war into the 50s, people would have wanted a better life at home before more insubstantial glories.”

“Good thing that didn’t happen here then. Rationing would have finished in…’46 or ’47, as I recall. I was out in Singapore for a little while, so missed out on the cold weather. Austerity? There was a bit under the Lib/Labs during the postwar recession, but that broke quite nicely by the time Churchill got back in. Within a few short years, everything was booming, including the birth rate; highest in a hundred years, it was.” Simon dipped his biscuit into his tea and nibbled thoughtfully.

A pair of men in air force blue walked into the tearoom, laughing together in what seemed to be American accents until Sam spotted the large ‘Canada’ identification flashes they wore. “Do you get many Canadians around here?”

Bailey nodded. “Quite a lot. The Royal Canadian Air Force have a squadron up at Halton and there is an infantry battalion of the Canadian Corps at Aylesbury. Most of them are down here in the south, apart from the RCN European Squadron up with the Grand Fleet, so it does get a bit crowded. And those are just the ones in their own forces. Finding space will be an interesting challenge, what with current developments and old friends likely to be coming back.”

At that point, a pair of jeeps drove into the village square and parked neatly outside The Golden Dragon. Four men in green uniforms and peaked caps jumped out, laughing and clapping each other on the shoulder. As they walked inside the pub, Sam and Simon caught sight of the Stars and Stripes on their shoulders. Bailey almost spat out his tea in surprise.

“Well, that was quick.”


Last edited by Simon Darkshade on Mon Mar 13, 2017 3:21 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 13, 2017 2:56 am 
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Simon,

Wonderful as always, thank you! I'm a bit pressed for time so please excuse the nitpickery here. The Colours are called the Queen's (or Sovereign's) and Regimental Colours and are borne by Colour Bearers, usually 2nd Lieutenants, who are ALWAYS escorted by two Colour Sergeants with fixed bayonets, arms shouldered when marching and at the high port when halted.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 13, 2017 3:17 am 
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Thanks Craig. I was trying to reflect a little of Sam's lack of a true military history background in that section by employing incongruous terminology from his perspective, but I'll clean it up a bit so that is clearer.

Glad you liked it and hopefully there will be more soon; I've been in a decent bit of writing form of late.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 13, 2017 4:25 am 
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Simon Darkshade wrote:
Thanks Craig. I was trying to reflect a little of Sam's lack of a true military history background in that section by employing incongruous terminology from his perspective, but I'll clean it up a bit so that is clearer.

Glad you liked it and hopefully there will be more soon; I've been in a decent bit of writing form of late.


You certainly have been. The muse is strong in this one!

I don't always get the chance to say it but I really do enjoy your tales, and Dark Earth is just so... appealing!

One other question, did the tanks not have their bayonets fixed for the parade? Everyone else did...

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 13, 2017 4:41 am 
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You are extremely welcome and it is very heartening that others can find some enjoyment in it as much as I can.

Tanks did not have fixed bayonets due to the fact that there were considerable numbers of civilians and children around. Iit wouldn't make for the best recruiting advertisement if an over-enthusiastic lad skewered himself on a Centurion.

I'll add a few more notes later on tonight, before taking a break for a few hours to sleep and work before returning to space in 1964 for the next effort.

I've mentioned an updated orbat a few times and only have the RAF Regiment and RAF squadron locations to go. That will reflect some of the deployments announced in the last few posts, although the Army and RAF won't complete their movement to positions in Germany until the latter part of the year. Along with that will come American and Soviet orbats for 1961, albeit not quite in the same depth of detail just yet.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 13, 2017 5:19 am 
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24 hands! Christ on a bike! :shock:
Largest I've ever ridden was about 18.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 13, 2017 5:29 am 
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They are substantially taller than any historically recorded horses on Earth (by about 3-4 hands) and these particular specimens are not the largest in Britain as of 1961. There is a subtle link to something else going on here.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 13, 2017 6:03 am 
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Simon Darkshade wrote:
They are substantially taller than any historically recorded horses on Earth (by about 3-4 hands) and these particular specimens are not the largest in Britain as of 1961. There is a subtle link to something else going on here.


Barsoomian bloodlines?

For the tanks, just have the guns at max elevation. The muzzles would be about fifteen foot high then, so no one would get skewered. That's pretty much how tanks drive in a parade anyway, muzzle- up.

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Last edited by Craiglxviii on Mon Mar 13, 2017 6:10 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 13, 2017 6:08 am 
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Not in the case of these horses, although that gives me the kernel of an interesting idea. The larger size of some of the trees, plants, animals and people are larger comes down to something in the water and the air, as well as some strange consequences of the larger planet.

The Americans showing up could be coincidental, but regardless of the reason, has set alarm bells ringing in a lot of places.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 13, 2017 6:17 am 
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Simon Darkshade wrote:
Not in the case of these horses, although that gives me the kernel of an interesting idea. The larger size of some of the trees, plants, animals and people are larger comes down to something in the water and the air, as well as some strange consequences of the larger planet.

The Americans showing up could be coincidental, but regardless of the reason, has set alarm bells ringing in a lot of places.


One of the Peter F. Hamilton books had warhorses of Barsoomian stock, they were fearsome indeed. Not the Barsoom of our Mars but still...

So what's "in the water" then?

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 13, 2017 6:30 am 
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Without giving too much away, it is something akin to a cross between Tolkien's Entdraughts and magically altered growth hormone that has been around for quite a few thousand years. A combination of Atlantean meddling, elven fiddling with nature and a strange bolide impact.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 13, 2017 7:09 am 
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Simon Darkshade wrote:
Without giving too much away, it is something akin to a cross between Tolkien's Entdraughts and magically altered growth hormone that has been around for quite a few thousand years. A combination of Atlantean meddling, elven fiddling with nature and a strange bolide impact.


Entdraughts, I ask you. HARROOM! Tommyrot.

Ahem.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 13, 2017 7:40 am 
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Nasty cough you have there. Bararoom!

To expand on one earlier point, the Soviets have nominally acquiesced to Atlantic Alliance/NATO* troops in Germany and Austria-Hungary for perhaps half a dozen reasons. Two of these are free naval movement through the Straits from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean in peacetime and to break apart France from the Americans and British over the anvil of Germany. As more details come out, it will reveal a division based limitation, which the West will handle in some innovative ways.

Meanwhile, Germany and Austria-Hungary are quietly relieved that they don't have to go through with full scale military build ups on their own.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 13, 2017 8:15 am 
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Craiglxviii wrote:
For the tanks, just have the guns at max elevation. The muzzles would be about fifteen foot high then, so no one would get skewered. That's pretty much how tanks drive in a parade anyway, muzzle- up.

Assuming that the only friendly onlookers who you do not wish to skewer are of what we would consider a normal size. On Dark Earth, I am not certain that's a safe assumption.

Simon Darkshade wrote:
As more details come out, it will reveal a division based limitation, which the West will handle in some innovative ways.

Well, if the treaty only stipulates numbers of divisions, without actually saying anything about the size of each division, one might see British and US major generals with authority over a surprisingly high number of men and equipment for their rank.

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Craiglxviii wrote:
So what's "in the water" then?


Something that forces the body to use a lot of energy, judging by the amount of food being scoffed . . .

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Andy L wrote:
Craiglxviii wrote:
So what's "in the water" then?


Something that forces the body to use a lot of energy, judging by the amount of food being scoffed . . .


Why, do you only eat micro- meals then? :D

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Simon Darkshade wrote:
They are substantially taller than any historically recorded horses on Earth (by about 3-4 hands) and these particular specimens are not the largest in Britain as of 1961. There is a subtle link to something else going on here.


I'm just thinking how much food horses that size would go through even when they were not working. The amount of fodder included for Overlord must have been impressive.

I'm guessing equine vets are probably richer than they are in reality and also probably blacksmiths/farriers too. :D

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 13, 2017 9:33 pm 
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Some excellent discussion that merits an omnibus reply:

- Bernard: The amount of fodder was huge, necessitating a dedicated supply chain by LSHs (Landing Ships Horse). This term was a slight misdirection from their real supply role. Total cavalry/mounted units were the equivalent of two cavalry divisions, one for the US 1st Army and one for the British 2nd Army, organised in 16-18 regiments. Horse trades are still important, but mechanisation of agriculture makes them a much smaller niche than in the 19th century.

- Andy and Craig: The amount of food consumed is slightly related to the environment, having an impact on basal metabolic rates. They do eat more than a modern person would, at least on a visual level. Total daily calorific intake would be ~4000-4500, but there aren't the modern rates of obesity.

This is down to wholesome, natural foods, a lack of additives, much less added sugar then even the historical British level of 1961, an active Ministry of Food education programme and a lot more walking and rigorous physical activity; walking 10-12 miles in a day or the equivalent is extremely common.

Having muscle burns more energy than fat, so there is a slight advantage to begin with of ~10-15% and the environmental factors add another 10% to that.

Food history is a bit of a personal interest, so I do try to map out the consequences of the characters' diets as part of planning.

pengolodh: Quite right on the gun elevation. Whilst there are no 15ft humans, there could be other circumstances. In any case, tanks don't carry bayonets in a parade for the same reasons they don't have a live round up the spout.

On troops in Germany, there isn't a specific treaty, but more of a tacit agreement. That leads to larger divisions, as you rightly suggest, as well as a lot of independent brigades and support units. The general force level that it will move towards in peacetime is 6 British, 6 American, 6 Benelux and 6 French divisions, in addition to the German and Austro- Hungarian armies; the US total includes prepositions equipment for a further 3 round-out divisions.

I'll add the overall plan when not confined to tapping things out with one finger; Sam may inadvertently give some ideas to Bailey for names, such as NATO and REFORGER.


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On the general structure of Western Allied plans and thinking:

- The Soviet threat extends from the North Cape to the Balkans and it is not possible for any one power (USA, Britain, France or Germany) to cover this threat.
- The general proposed division of forces is into 3 main regions: Allied Forces North (Scandinavia and the Baltic), Allied Forces Central Europe (Germany, Ruritania and Austria-Hungary) and Allied Forces South (the Balkan Pact states of Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Greece).
- AFCENT would be split up into three geographic army groups: NORTHAG (consisting of the 1st and 2nd German Armies, the British Army of the Rhine and the Benelux Army), CENTAG (3rd and 4th German Armies, Seventh US Army and the 1st Austro-Hungarian Army) and SOUTHAG (2nd AH, 1st French Army/ French Army of the Danube and the Italian 2nd Army)
- Each of the army groups would be supported by two Allied Tactical Air Forces of 800-1000 aircraft each.
- NORTHAG covers Northern Germany from the Baltic to Dresden; CENTAG covers Central Germany and Bohemia from Dresden to Brno; and SOUTHAG Bohemia, Slovakia and Hungary. This is a far longer and more difficult proposition than Germany alone.
- Immediate theatre reserves would include the 2nd French Army and two German corps; American, British, Canadian and French rapid deployment/mobile forces of corps strength would reinforce any of the three theatres.
- Denmark/the Baltic Approaches are a specific sub command of Allied Forces North.
- Scandinavia is a different theatre with Sweden and Finland in from the start; the latter would be very hard to defend, leading to the very faint possibility of some sort of armed neutrality agreement, but that is complicated by the Swedish A-bomb.
- Italy isn't a frontline state, but their military is regarded with a fair bit more respect due to different experiences in the world wars.
- The Canadian Corps would deploy with the BAOR along with RCAFE. The Free Polish Army may also end up forward deployed, but that would be a very controversial political question.
- France can't commit its whole strength due to deployments in Algeria and South Vietnam

- With general tacit limits on the Big Three (USA, Britain and France; UK of Belgium and Netherlands would also come under this) a lot of use will be made of predeployed equipment, attached infantry battalions and brigades, replacement battalions, extra artillery, armour and support troops. Each 'army' of 6 divisions would be designed to double on mobilisation with the aerial deployment of home based forces.


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Never Had it So Good Part 13

Recovering his customary cool, Simon rose up out of his seat with his head cocked and an expression of peculiar purpose on his face. “If you’ll excuse me for a moment, Sam, I’ve just got to attend to a welcoming committee.”

With that, he walked into the tearoom and began an intense whispered conversation with an elderly man sitting at the counter. The old fellow finally nodded, strode over to the Canadians and spoke to them in a hurried tone, punctuated with urgent gestures and the surreptious flashing of some sort of identification papers. The two RCAF airmen gulped their tea, stood up and made their way purposefully to The Golden Dragon. Within a few minutes, they emerged with the Americans, laughing loudly and engaging in what seemed to be boisterous boasting as they hopped into the keeps and drove off at what was an alarmingly high speed for the sedate streets of Ashford.

Bailey sat down with a pleasant smile. “That should take care of them. Old Noll over there is one of our chaps and the Canucks didn’t need much persuasion to entice our new chums back to their base for a little drinking competition; any time you get an American and a Canadian in a room together, a contest of some sort is inevitable and it usually involves drinking.”

“Why did you get rid of them?”

“You of course, Sam. It wouldn’t do to have them accidentally dig up some detail about you; the entire matter of their presence seems a bit too convenient and I don’t believe in coincidences. Lucky that we have the Canadians around, as always.” He spoke with obvious affection in his voice.

“You seem to like them a lot.”

“Naturally, my dear boy, naturally! They are the oldest and the closest of all the Dominions, not to mention the largest. There have been RCAF types in this neck of the woods for over twenty years, they are utterly smashing chaps and their Arrows are extremely handy for the air defence of Great Britain to boot.”

“The Arrow didn’t quite make it where I’m from. Too expensive and it came in at the wrong time, just as the threat of ballistic missiles became the main one.”

“That sounds like a jolly rum combination, alright. The Russians have only fielded intercontinental rockets in the past year or so, which is changing the defence picture for everyone, not just the North Americans. Canada has been able to afford both fighters and missiles, though - they’re our second largest industrial powerhouse and most major defence projects have been funded by Britain and the Empire together. There are many bows against the Bolsheviks, but they all fire Arrows.”

“Are there a lot of Commonwealth forces in Britain, then?

“Quite a few. Blood is thicker than water, after all. Apart from RCAFE and all the other Dominion air squadrons, there is the Canadian Corps and the Anzac Division down south, the West Indians in Bristol and the West Country, the Saracs in Yorkshire and a whole Commonwealth naval squadron up at Scapa.”

“Reorganizing all that to fall under any Allied command would be just a little difficult.”

“You hit the proverbial nail on the proverbial head there, Sam. It will be interesting to see how they try to juggle all these little arrangements; I can’t see Fighter or Bomber Command coming under American or any foreign command, nor the Grand Fleet for that matter. On the Canadian side alone, they’ve got their forces for the Pacific and South America which wouldn’t fall under the auspices of the Atlantic Pact. Plenty to chew on. Still, the whole business is a net win for all of us, if it comes through. It fixes the balance of power on the Continent, ties the French in and makes Scandinavia a bit of an easier job to handle. Good heavens, it could even resolve the big question of Germany and the Bomb!” Simon stroked his moustache thoughtfully as he stared off at the wall, moving units, ships and planes around an invisible map only he could see.

“You mentioned that they had a few personnel in the British military as well. Peter’s book talked about entire Army divisions recruited from all over the Empire.”

“More than a few, Sam. I’d say at least one in ten of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are from the Empire, if not more so. Then there are Commonwealth forces you mentioned. One of the best things to come out of Korea and Malaya, they are. A crack air portable division based here in England, drawn from all over the British Isles and the Dominions. They’re really the Sunday punch of the Imperial Strategic Reserve and come cheap to boot. Working together really is the essence of it, old boy. It worked marvelously in the war and the British Empire Air Training Plan still does the job to this day. And we’ll probably need the manpower for the new fleet if Barton gets in.”

“Barton? New fleet?” This was something entirely new for Sam.

“Forgive me, Sam; I do sometimes forget that you are coming in partway through our island story. Stanley Barton is the leader of the Labour Party and a fairly good shot at coming out as our next Prime Minister in three years or so, whenever the next general election comes. It would be a coalition, of course, but he has been quite the strong performer in Parliament and is respected across the nation.”

“Sounds like a bit of an interesting bloke. Whatever happened to Hugh Gaitskell?”

“Died in ’56, right before the war kicked off. I’m not the greatest authority on Labour politics, but it came down to Nye Bevan, Morrison, some old fellow whose name slips my mind and Barton. He broke them all in that leadership contest, then smashed the hard left right out of the party. He’s a hard man, grim, stern and tough, but a real leader of men. I met him briefly, during the war; his was the first British company to make it to the Reichstag after the Poles and they would have followed him anywhere.”

“I can imagine the country would be in for a bit of a change after so many years of the Tories.”

“That may be, Sam, that may well be. It will be difficult for Labour or the Liberals to knock off the government in a time of low unemployment and high growth, but Barton has played his cards so far very cleverly. As well as traditional Empire Socialism, he has attacked the Conservatives on foreign policy and defence, calling for a build up of the Royal Navy and Army, with much of the heavy industrial work for it to be done in the North, Scotland, Wales and the Midlands. ‘Britain – Mightier Yet’. It’s quite the catchy idea.”

“It doesn’t quite sound like the Labour I’m familiar with, but there is a certain amount of Keynesian sense to a re-armament programme.” Empire Socialism? That was a new one.

“Ah! You’ve heard of Keynes! Quite the different thinker, he is. I went to a talk by him in London last year.”

Sam blinked in surprise. Another little change. “This Barton fellow can’t seriously think that the UK on its own can catch up to the United States.”

“Perhaps not, but we can stay in front of the Russians. And it isn’t just us alone, but the whole Empire in it together. He talks about dozens of new destroyers and escorts, doubling submarine production and building a whole new class of light carriers; how much of that would actually get done is a different matter. We may be small on our own, Sam, but together, we are much, much more. We are together.” Bailey once again became fixated on the wall, nodded once to himself and smiled.

As he did so, the door of the tearoom swung open once more and what came through it took Sam’s breath away. His first impression was of a soft, glowing light, like sunlight suddenly bursting through the clouds on an overcast day. There was a faint scent like a forest glade, one that immediately reminded Sam of the copse where he had awoken on Friday. Striding gracefully into the room came a tall man, light of foot and lithe, his flowing long hair of shining gold, his visage fair and young and fearless and full of life and his sparkling blue eyes bright and keen. Yet that youth seemed tempered with the passage of countless summers and that keenness marked by an implicit sadness at the changing of the world. There was something very different about this man, from the very way he walked to the almond shape and curious depth of his eyes. As he approached the counter, a fascinated Sam saw a peculiar pointed ear that told him that this was no man.

He was an elf.

“Good morning, Mrs. Jones. Lapsang souchong and one of your delectable little apple tarts, if I may.” He spoke in a light and musical voice, with a kindly smile on his face.

“But of course, Master Saethrian. A pleasure it is to see you back in town after so long.”

“You are too kind. Very few things could keep me from the woods here, for they have been my friends for many a long year.”

With tea and food in hand, he made his way directly over to where Bailey and Sam were seated and pulled up a chair next to them.

“Wotcha, Simon. How goes it in the shadowy affairs of men?”

“Quite swimmingly, thank you, old crocus. Still up to no good in the woods?”

“You make it seem so very tawdry. Who’s your chum?”

Saethrian, this is Sam Johnson, a young friend of mine from Australia. Sam, this is Saethrian Tamlin Amrodel, our local Treewarden and an old comrade of mine from way back. He rode a dragon in France and Germany and then did an interesting tour with the Royal Ninjas.”

“I’ll always remember that time with that rat fellow. A pleasure to meet you, Sam.” He smiled as he thrust out his delicate yet strong hand. When Sam grasped it, an electric shock and a warm sensation ran down his arm, causing him to jerk back in surprise. He clasped his numb hand to his chest, wringing it to try and get some feeling back.

“Oh! My apologies, Sam. Hmmm…Australia, is it? Strange. I could have sworn that accent was more North London than antipodean, but I haven’t been out that way since that tiff with Boney.”

Bailey chuckled as he knocked on the table with amusement. “Trust an elf to flaunt about in such a bally mystical manner. As you have no doubt deduced, Sam, my elven friend here has a certain yen for carrying on with minor aura dweomers like something out of a children’s book. Ever the prankster.”

Saethrian sighed and then seemed to shrink slightly, losing that strange radiance and presence he had projected since entering the room, becoming altogether more normal.

“There, that’s a bit more suitable to our circumstances. Now, Saethrian, I trust that your forest rambling hasn’t left you too stumped to come to tea again soon.”

“Of course, Bailey, once my duties allow. The old trees speak of some strange winds and stranger sights, so I must set off for Avalon to seek the counsel of the Wise. But soon, my friend, soon. I trust Mr. Johnson is having an interesting time in his mother country?”

Sam paused for thought and then finally spoke. “Interesting is one word for it. Very different. Surprising. Shocking. Heart warming. Confusing.”

The elf laughed heartily at his adjectival litany. “Poor fellow! In all my five hundred and twenty-seven years, I haven’t come across someone in quite the same predicament.”

“Five hundred and twenty-seven!” gasped Sam. “That means…you’ve lived through so much – the War of the Roses, the Tudors, Shakespeare, the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution...so much.”

“Well, now you mention it, you’re broadly correct. The affairs of men didn’t bother me much in the summer of my youth, at least not until I ran away to go to sea with that funny Italian fellow. Shakespeare was a nice fellow, not at all like his picture, though; I remember one jolly wheeze we came up with over a few pints of sack one night about hiding some nonsense ciphers in his plays.”

“Our dear Sam has a fair bit to take in and more questions than he knows how to ask, Saethrian.”

“Why not try the Librarium in that case?”

“What’s a Librarium?” Sam asked, interested as ever in any answers as to this world and his place in it.

“Quite a nifty little room at the village museum; we’re very lucky to have it. Think of it as part magic lantern, part cinema show, part microfiche and part fairground ride, all with shiny brass buttons and a nice comfy seat. A jolly good way of seeing a fair few places and things; nothing on the ones down at the British Museum, to be sure, but a big feather in the cap of Ashford nonetheless. Ours has over twelve hundred reels last time I read into it.” Simon eyed off the elf’s apple tart as he waxed rhapsodical.

“Where is the museum?”

“Just across the other side of the square, back behind the village hall and the church. It is supposed to be closed until after lunch, but tell old Coriander that I sent you; it should be relatively clear at this time of day what with the parade and the tanks distracting the children.”

Sam nodded his thanks to Bailey and Saethrian, who were already beginning an animated conversation on gardening; he had no wish to get involved in such a thorny topic. Wending his way out of the tearoom and the village square, he was struck by how it literally hummed with activity. Children ran about, laughing and shrieking whilst thoroughly absorbed in the games, watched on by genially smiling clusters of men and women and more than a few uniformed soldiers. The pubs, the village hall and the Women’s Institute saw a steady stream of customers bustling in and out and several colourful stalls had been set up offering further refreshments, informative pamphlets and small curios. A pair of armoured personnel carriers parked in opposite corners were being subjected to fascinated examination as their crews showed off their small arms and machine guns.

Down a small cobbled lane that ran beside the church wall was a neat whitewashed building with a thatched roof. A carefully hand-painted sign indicated that this was indeed the Ashford Museum. Shuffling around inside was a gruff old man in a brown suit who grumbled to himself as he dusted shelves of huge books and weird paraphenalia. Behind him, Sam could see a battered suit of armour, several aged oil paintings, some strange agricultural machinery inside a glass case, a glowing golden stone on a plinth and a collection of earthenware pottery. He must have bumped the doorframe or scuffed his shoe on the footpath, as the old fellow turned around to face him, revealing a quite ferocious array of bristling white whiskers and wild, deep blue eyes behind his thick spectacles.

“Can I help you, young man?” he spoke in a deep voice.

“Good morning, Mr. Coriander, is it?”

“One and the same, sirrah. What can I do for you? We’re not actually open until later.”

“Simon Bailey sent me. I was wondering if I could take a look at your Librarium?”

“Bailey, eh? I see. Well, don’t stand there blocking my light all day, man, come on in. Follow me through to the viewing chamber.” Coriander did not even bother to see if Sam had heeded him as he hurried through the crowded front room of the museum, taking care to balance a delicately painted Chinese porcelain vase that was teetering on the edge of one shelf as he went. Sam followed quickly, barely having time to catch sight of a curious painting showing a large, white-haired and bearded warrior wielding a double-headed battleaxe and standing atop the walls of an incredibly huge fortress. It seemed familiar, but he couldn’t quite tell which legend it depicted.

Opening a ironbound door, Coriander revealed a small room dominated by a bizarre spherical contraption that bore a strong resemblance to the illegitimate child of Rod Taylor’s time machine and the Vostok 1 spacecraft. It was all highly engraved shining brass teased with strands of silvery wire and tubing and a single large hatch was open to display a plush red leather interior. Large screens were mounted on every wall and the roof as well and two control sticks stuck up on either side of the chair.

“Well, hop right in and I’ll seal you up. Follow the instructions as they come up – it’s child’s play really.”

Sam clambered into the Librarium and tried to make himself comfortable, which wasn’t too hard as he sank down into the deeply cushioned warm depths of the chair. The door clanged shut and there was a whirring of gears as it slowly sputtered into life and seemed to lurch upwards with a frightening intensity. Where there were once black screens, there was now a display of open blue skies, the church spire and tall tree tops – for all intents and purposes, Sam now seemed to be hovering up above the museum in midair!

“Welcome to the Model 59 Armstrong-Whitworth Supermantic Centrifugal Librarium! Guaranteed to give you hours of the finest simulated travel and information that technographic arcanery can supply! To begin your amazing journey of knowledge, press the ‘Selection’ widget on your right knobkerrie!” A disembodied voice enthusiastically instructed him in a gloriously plummy accent. He did as it suggested and now a glowing typewriter rose up from the floor to sit before him.

“Enter your inquiry and press the ‘Initiate’ widget on your left knobkerrie.”

He had given some thought to his potential choices on the way over – he had seen much of the military so far today and had had a good exposure to the charmingly bucolic rhythms of rural life. The television and newspapers had played their part, but were slightly too propagandistic for his tastes. Now, inspired by some of tantalizing references Bailey had made since his arrival, he wanted to see the real face of the nation. With exacting care, he typed in BRITISH INDUSTRY and pressed the appropriate widget.

There was an incredible lurch as he rocketed high up into the air and sped northward at a tremendous pace. As he seemed to fly through the air, although he was fairly certain that in some way he was still firmly ensconced in the backroom of a quaint village museum, his senses were rippling with a new and heightened perception. His first destination was Birmingham and Coventry, where he saw vast industrial complexes, sprawling factories, hulking power stations puffing out black smoke and masses of workers pouring out onto the streets at the end of a shift. He flew through the roofs of aircraft and car manufacturing plants and hovered over long mechanised assembly lines humming with the activity of workers and steam-powered robots.

Now onwards he went, flitting about over and through the realm. In Sheffield, Leeds and Yorkshire, he saw mighty steel mills, expansive tank plants and vast chemical refineries that dwarfed anything he had thought possible and marveled at a proudly labeled 100,000t superheavy forging press. In Manchester, Liverpool and Lancashire, dozens upon dozens of textile mills clawed up at the blue-grey sky, seeming neither dark nor satanic. In the shipyards of Glasgow, Belfast and Newcastle, multitudes of vessels of war and peace and great oil rigs grew up under swarming armies of welders, including a pair of gigantic battleships having some of their main guns installed by titanic cranes that soared hundreds of feet into the air. He flew high above the country until the trains crisscrossing the network of railways below, conveniently marked out with glowing blue lines, were like so many rushing insects. He dove under the earth and saw the deep coal mines that stretched thousands of feet down into the subterranean darkness and the endless loads of black gold hewn out by men and dwarves.

Just as the Librarium was about to curve around to the east from its position over Bristol and the most impressive Severn Barrage, he ended the journey with another push of the button. There was much to take in from what he had seen, much indeed, but there was also an unnerving disquiet that made him shy away from the prospect of seeing his home city, or what passed for its equivalent in this dimension. The time for that would come, he decided.

London could wait.


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