Red dawn timeline 10 27.., p.6

Red Dawn (Timeline 10/27/62 Book 4), страница 6


Red Dawn (Timeline 10/27/62 Book 4)

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  Peace had broken out but it did not feel like peace.

  Returning aboard around dusk Captain David Penberthy was cheerfully preoccupied as he greeted his new Executive Officer. Over pink gins before dinner the two men fell straight back into the friendly, mutually respectful relationship cemented forever in those dreadful storms off Cape Finisterre when they had fought to save Talavera.

  “The dockyard’s done us proud, Peter,” David Penberthy conceded. “But there’s only so much they can do for us. Basically, the kit we need to restore the old girl to her former fettle simply doesn’t exist. Apart that is, from in one place. Malta.”

  Peter Christopher had held his breath.

  “Right now in Sliema Creek the salvage people are recovering everything that might conceivably be re-usable from the wreck of the Agincourt. Which is why, when the carriers sail we’ll be following them to Valletta!”

  HMS Victorious and HMS Ocean were to be the flagships of two battle groups, each with half-a-dozen screening destroyers and frigates and a fleet train of oilers, ammunition and stores ships. The Cunard liner Sylvannia would also accompany the fleet to Malta and remain in theatre as a troop transport and at need, a hospital ship after an initial spell moored in the Grand Harbour as an accommodation ship. The Sylvania was carrying eight hundred troops and several hundred skilled workers and their families, the latter to be relocated on the Maltese Archipelago.

  David Penberthy wasted no time bringing his Executive Officer up to speed on the conference he had attended that afternoon.

  “Once we’d all discovered most of us were off to Malta in the next few days, to be perfectly honest,” the Captain of HMS Talavera confessed, “the interesting part of the briefing was the lowdown on what else is going on in the World.”

  “Oh, how so, sir?”

  “It seems the old country is now being run by a blond bombshell who goes by the name of Margaret Thatcher,” David Penberthy sipped his gin. “Never heard of the bloody woman, myself. Apparently, she was the Member of Parliament for Finchley before the war. Obviously, she isn’t any more because that part of Greater London doesn’t exist these days. Anyway, no sooner had the Prime Minister been murdered in Washington by that mad woman...”

  “Edna Zabriski,” Peter Christopher said helpfully.

  “Quite. No sooner had the gun smoke in the Oval Office cleared than the Tories packed the aforementioned bomb bombshell off to see the Queen and her Majesty, in her wisdom, let her form a new government. We no longer serve the United Kingdom Interim Emergency Administration, as of the first day of this year of our Lord nineteen sixty-four we serve the Unity Administration of the United Kingdom. Oh, when she’s not around they call our new leader the ‘Angry Widow’.”

  Peter Christopher chuckled, throwing his Commanding Officer a quizzical look.

  “Because she says she’s got ‘a right to be angry about what’s happened’!”

  “She’s got a point, sir.”

  “Oh, absolutely. More important to us, the new Government has adopted what the top brass are calling the ‘Christopher Doctrine’.”

  “The what?”

  “While he was masterminding Operation Manna and confounding our cousins in the lost colonies,” David Penberthy grinned broadly, “your father, he whom we must all obey, and all that, the C-in-C of all forces in the Med, prepared a paper for the First Sea Lord on the subject of how the Home Country and the Commonwealth ought to proceed in the changed circumstances of the post-October War World. Broadly speaking, he was advocating closer ties with any former colony that would entertain the same, and an unapologetically aggressive forward defence policy in all areas of vital national interest and above all, the maintaining of the sanctity of what we used to call, in the good old days, the trade routes of the Empire. Basically, what we have we hold and we befriend who we may. Back in Blighty the blond bombshell it seems, has fully embraced the ‘Christopher Doctrine’. Before she went off to Washington to put the Yanks right on one or two things she was travelling up and down the country preaching hope, and promising a return to a land flowing with wine and honey if everybody rolled up their sleeves. Among her numerous ‘policy initiatives’ is a large scale Government sponsored emigration scheme to send families out to sunnier climes. The civilian contingent coming out to Malta on the Sylvania is the first beneficiary of the scheme.”

  “Margaret Thatcher?” Peter Christopher mused aloud. “I think she was at Balmoral Castle with my father when those bastards tried to murder the Royal Family.” Try as he might the name Margaret Thatcher meant nothing to him. Blond bombshell? No, that could not be right. Even in this thoroughly messed up, topsy turvey post-cataclysm universe the Queen of England would never, in a million years invite a ‘blond bombshell’ to form a Government!

  Chapter 7

  Friday 17th January 1964

  Birkhall, Balmoral Estate, Scotland

  “I hesitate to show you this, Margaret,” Iain Macleod apologised, struggling to keep a straight face. Their car was driving through stands of tall conifers on a cold, misty Deeside morning. Every now and then they glimpsed fields, and grey hills through gaps in the forest. Ahead and behind the Prime Ministerial convoy Ferret armoured cars and trucks filled with heavily armed men of the Coldstream Guards rumbled through the idyllic Scottish landscape.

  Margaret Thatcher glanced at the front page of the Daily Mail.

  ‘Boadicea Rides Again!” She murmured in disgust.

  In this particular incarnation a cartoon character clearly and unambiguously representing her was standing in a chariot. She held the reins in one hand while with her free arm she was wielding a large handbag, smiting the nation’s foes. The bodies of the smitten were flying in all directions.

  “I wish you’d have a word with some of these editors, Iain!” She complained.

  The bespectacled man sitting in the front passenger seat of the aging Bentley twisted around and attempted to meet her eye.

  “While the editors are on our side I’d be inclined to, er, take it on the chin, Prime Minister.”

  Margaret Thatcher viewed the forty-three year old newly appointed Home Secretary with measured exasperation. Roy Harris Jenkins might be the son of a Welsh coal miner but of all of James Callaghan’s Labour Party nominations for high office in the Unity Administration, he was undoubtedly the most urbane and perspicacious. He might look like a country bank manager or solicitor but he had a mind which instantly grasped complexity and was not, like so many of the men who aspired to be members of her Administration, reluctant to confront the real dilemmas facing the nation. However, she could already appreciate why Roy Jenkins was not universally admired or liked within his own Party. There was something earnest and academic about him that did not fit well with the necessities of political life. His thoughtfulness and introspection could too easily be interpreted for indecision, or for not knowing his own mind. His was a temperament perhaps better suited to academia.

  He had been invited to join the UKIEA last spring; ill-health and a subsequent brush with the cholera epidemic which had swept through the English Midlands last summer had kept him on the sidelines until now. The sitting Member of Parliament for Birmingham Stechford, he had been one of the few politicians with the guts to debate, face to face, with Enoch Powell the immediate post-war constitutional settlement and the legal underpinnings of UKIEA and latterly, the new Unity Administration. This had already recommended Roy Jenkins to her newly formed inner circle of advisors; and when Jim Callaghan, the leader of his Party and the Deputy Prime Minister, had put his name forward for the Home Office, a department within the gift of her coalition partners, the Angry Widow had readily acceded.

  The major posts in the Unity Administration had been split between the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Parties approximately in proportion to their respective shares of the popular vote at the last General Election in 1959, or would have been had the leader of the Liberal Party – which had received just under six percent of the vote –
accepted the offer of the post of Secretary of State for Scotland.

  “I don’t care to be portrayed as some latter day warrior queen, Mr Jenkins,” Margaret Thatcher retorted mildly.

  “Well, so long as Mr Macleod is obsessed with creating a cult of personality around you, Prime Minister,” the Home Secretary said, threatening to smile before he turned his head away, “I suspect the denizens of Manchester’s Fleet Street will continue in this vein.”

  Edward Heath’s regime had facilitated the re-incarnation of the major daily newspapers in Manchester; the faltering first steps in a half-hearted ‘normalisation of everyday life’ campaign. The campaign to restore a vibrant national press had been beginning to bear fruits by the time the first Operation Manna convoys reached home waters but shortages of newsprint and ongoing problems with the nation’s surviving transportation infrastructure had hamstrung everybody’s best intentions. One of Iain Macleod’s priorities was the full restoration not only of a free press but a nationwide restoration of radio and television services. This latter was going to require the removal of the existing Director General of the British Broadcasting Corporation; a worthy, liberal-minded man - whose good intentions were invariably vocally and loquaciously expressed - who frankly, clearly lacked the ability to organise a beer tasting session in a brewery.

  For reasons of security the Queen greeted her visitors inside the reception hall of Birkhall, the early eighteenth house built by the Farquharson family and acquired by Prince Albert in 1849 as part of the Balmoral estate, ostensibly for the use of his eldest son, Edward, Prince of Wales.

  The first time she had been introduced to Queen Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas Queen, and Defender of the Faith, Margaret Thatcher had been a little surprised by how small she was; she had since learned that Her Monarch’s apparent lack of physical stature was more than compensated for by her steely resolve and her unquenchable sense of duty.

  Neither the post-cataclysm United Kingdom Interim Emergency Administration, nor its more inclusive successor the Unity Administration of the United Kingdom, could have been brought into being or made to function in any meaningful way without bending the unwritten British constitution in hitherto untested ways; or without the kind permission of the Queen. The UKIEA had been presented to her as a fait accompli; the UAUK – which Margaret Thatcher viewed as an abomination of an acronym but there was nothing she could do about it at the moment – had come into being with explicit Royal Ascent. Her Majesty had, however, suggested two modifications to existing practices. One, given that in the current circumstances no Prime Minister could claim an incontrovertible democratic mandate, that audiences with herself should be between the Prime Minister and senior representatives of both the main parties to the UAUK. Two, in the event that there was a failure to reach a clear consensus on a major matter of policy no decision should be taken without the parties first consulting her. The Prime Minister and the rest of the UAUK served at ‘Her Majesty’s pleasure’ and Her Majesty, in her capacity as the one remaining inalienable symbol of national identity and unity, while aloof from the rough and tumble of party politics, had no intention of being a purely symbolic hands off Head of State in a time of ongoing crisis unimagined by, and unimaginable to, the generations of constitutional lawyers who had slowly, surely over the centuries constructed the fabric of the British constitution.

  “You’ll be looking forward to discovering what mischief the twins have been up to when you get back to Cheltenham?” The Queen put to her Prime Minister as soon as she had ushered her guests into the cluttered neo-Edwardian drawing room of the old house.

  “Yes, you Majesty,” the Angry Widow agreed. She had only met her Monarch face to face half-a-dozen times but already she felt a real emotional bond with and for the other woman. It helped immeasurably that they were of an age – she was thirty-eight and the Queen only a few months younger – and that they had been brought together by unthinkable disasters. “I gather Prince Philip’s recovery continues apace?”

  “Oh, indeed,” her host said, forcing a brave smile. “His doctors tell me it will be at least another fortnight before we can bring him home. I’m having one of the ground floor rooms – the billiard room – somewhat knocked about to accommodate him. He won’t be walking again for some weeks and months, I fear.”

  After the attack on Balmoral the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh had almost died on the operating table. Later, doctors had warned they might need to amputate his right leg above the knee. Now at last the patient was on the long road to recovery. Prince Andrew, the Queen’s three year old youngest son had been killed in the attack on Balmoral less than two months ago; but the Monarch’s grief was her own, private affair.

  “Charles and Anne visit their father every few days,” the Queen continued, brightening a little as she spoke the names of her surviving children, “I think that cheers him up as much as anything. Oh, and Sir Julian’s missives from the Mediterranean never fail to perk him up somewhat, too.” The small woman with the direct, unfussy gaze met her Prime Minister’s eye. “As I am sure Sir Julian’s dispatches cheer us all in these testing times.”

  Margaret Thatcher momentarily lowered her eyes.

  “Yes, indeed, Ma’am.”

  The Queen and her three guests seated themselves. The politicians waited for a sign to formally begin the audience.

  “I have read with interest the papers you kindly forwarded to me last evening,” the small, calm woman who was probably the only reason the nation had not completely fractured in the last year prefaced. “I concur entirely with your views Prime Minister, and look forward the welcoming the new United States Ambassador. I will be happy to entertain Ambassador Brenckmann, his wife and Secretary of State Fulbright when they arrive in the United Kingdom. Like you, I think the prompt re-establishment of ‘business as usual’ with our American allies is an essential first step to restoring some kind of coherent World order. After I have spoken with Ambassador Brenckmann and Mr Fulbright perhaps we should compare notes?”

  This last remark was said with a ghost of a smile playing on the Queen’s lips. She had privately confided to her new Prime Minister that she had no intention of ‘dragging the monarchy back to the age of Victoria and Albert’ when Prime Ministers danced around Royal Prerogatives, never quite convinced they were not completely wasting their time. Her role in the governance of her Realm had been temporarily modified of necessity; but there would be no question of her ever dabbling in politics.

  The Queen fixed her latest Home Secretary in her sights.

  “I hear your speech at the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow was well received last night, Mr Jenkins?”

  “Thank you, Ma’am.” Strangely, the son of a Welsh coal miner was much more relaxed in his sovereign’s presence that either of his colleagues, both of whom were more accustomed to the setting that he found himself in on that cold January morning. “It was an interesting experience being the ‘warm-up’ act for my Right Honourable colleague.”

  “You went down very well,” Margaret Thatcher interjected. While she was enormously bolstered by the near rapturous reception she received every time she spoke in public it was also a little unnerving. She was not doing anything special and as yet, she had achieved nothing concrete in her short premiership except succeeding in splitting her own Party down the middle. She felt a fraud; everywhere she went she was being feted to the rafters and she did not begin to understand why.

  “It is good of you to say so, Prime Minister.”

  The Queen switched her attention back to Margaret Thatcher.

  “Am I right in thinking the Dreadnought incident is still an issue of contention with the Americans?”

  “Yes, Ma’am. The vessel is in Gibraltar at this time. The Flag Officer Submarines is satisfied with Commander Collingwood’s After Action Report and the outcomes of the interviews carried out in Gibraltar with the submarine’s senior office
rs. The First Sea Lord has indicated to me that he sees no need for a formal Board of Inquiry. The United States House of Representatives plans, of course, to appoint a ‘Commission’ to investigate the loss of the USS Scorpion. I have made it clear to President Kennedy that there are no circumstances under which I will allow Commander Collingwood, or any of his officers to testify to the this – most likely quasi political-judicial - ‘Commission’ on United States soil.”

  The Queen nodded her satisfaction.

  She changed the subject.

  “I believe a preliminary digest of the reports of the survey teams sent into the areas which suffered the greatest damage in the war is now available?”

  “Yes, Ma’am,” Roy Jenkins confirmed. “I have prepared several papers for your perusal in this respect but if I may, I will jump straight to the, er, ‘headlines’.”

  “By all means, Home Secretary.”

  Roy Jenkins collected his thoughts for a moment, brushing a hand over his balding pate and adjusting his horn-rimmed glasses. He had brought notes with him, more as a prop than an aide-memoire. He was a man well used to ordering his ideas and meticulously planning their concise, unambiguous expression.

  “Radioactive contamination remains at potentially dangerously high levels only in the immediate vicinity of the sites of ground blast strikes. Two of these sites are in East Anglia, the others are in the approximate areas where the towns of Chatham and Gravesend used to be. Elsewhere, it was possible for survey teams to complete provisional expeditions across and within the most badly damaged areas. There were several incidents where survey team members were accosted by people living in or bordering the survey areas. Most of these incidents involved people mistaking team members for ‘bandits’ on ‘sorties’ out of damaged areas stealing food or attempting to enlarge their ‘territories’. Shots were fired on only two occasions but nobody was injured. However, it has been a generally successful exercise and the results are not by any means uniformly discouraging. It is our conclusion that although our initial casualty estimates were broadly correct, it is clear that a significant number of people initially survived in out-lying bombed areas, and have subsequently moved back into the partially devastated areas.”

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