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Today in Alternate History
Day in Alternate History Blog
Tales of the Superpower Empire: Episode 01
"LEST WE FORGET"
What? Speak up, son. Mi hearing’s not war it was. What? Oh? Aye, why not? Does
you a power of good at my age, at any age, hah. Ah…that’s berra. Can barely
taste th’ chlorine and chuff they put in t’watter these days. That’s a rum
old lot: mi old dad used to say they used it to gas t’Jerries in t’first
one. An’ now they stick it in our watter. You can’t mek it up.
What? Aye, our Andrew. Come here, what’s tha rantin’ and ravin’ abaht?
There’s no need to go raising thi voice like that when there’s kids in t’house.
Tha’s been at t’devil’s brew again, eh? Well, nowt wrong with a bit of
what tha fancies. But there’s no call for – what was that? WHAT?
You – wash yer mouth out, sonny! I won’t have that kind of language in t’house.
And I won’t – have – anyone – have a go at t’Chinese, either. What?
Oh, that gobsmacked yer, did it? Sure yer old uncle would back yer up, eh? All
oldtimers are bloody what does tha call it, racist, eh? Tha’s been at t’idiot’s
lantern too much. As far as t’Beeb are concerned, onyone alive afore t’Yanks
landed on t’bloody moon is a chuffin’ caveman, eh? No, you’ll never get
ony of that from I. Not after what happened, in t’last war.
Oh, don’t give me that. If tha truly wants to understand, then tha’ll listen
to tha elders like it says in t’Scriptures, fer a change. What? Speak up, our
Sheila. Ah – no, I don’t normally talk abaht it, like. Nor would thee, if
tha’d been there. But tha has to understand. Listen, then, an’ I’ll tell
thi all why I’ll never let anyone diss t’Chinese under mi roof.
It were end of forty-one, in t’middle of t’last war. And reight about then,
things looked pretty grim for t’free world, as they say. ’Itler an’ his
cronies ’ad ovverrun all o’ Europe and it looked lahk they were gonna take
Moscow an’ all. And after Moscow it an’t such a long way to t’Yakutian
border, and then ’e really would have all that – what was it those Nazzies
called it? Livingroom? Heh, they’d have saved everyone a load of trouble if
they’d just gone ter that Anji place, eh? All furnishings on half price this
weekend as well, they tell mi. Not that that had been invented yet, tha knows.
Shut up, our Andrew. You’ll have yer chance to speak at t’end.
And, any road, there were precious little us could do abaht it. Oh, they may
have played up Dunkirk, a load then and a load more now, but in t’end it were
still a retreat. I joined up during t’Battle o’ Britain, when it looked like
t’Nazzies were gonna come ovver t’Channel at any moment. They say it were
impossible, now. Easy wi’ ’indsight, eh? At t’time, it seemed all too
possible, tha knows. I were almost relieved when they sent me out east instead,
’bout a month afore Pearl Harbour.
Some bloke told mi once that it were because t’Japs ’ad grabbed French
Indochina, as was, an’ o’ course pantywaist Pétain in’ Vicky would bend
over backwards for onything ’Itler wanted, so there were no resistance. An’
suddenly t’Japs were all ovver t’papers. Mi old dad couldn’t believe it,
tha knows: ’is brother had fought alongside t’little buggers in t’Pacific
in t’first lot. ’E used to say that they’d shoot t’white men on their
own side unless they wore women’s togs though. That should have been suspect
in t’first place, in my oh-pinion. On t’other hand he always were a drinker,
my old uncle. Aye, our Andrew, I think ’is been reincarnated in you, as they
say in t’Hindoostan. Pity, but maybe tha’ll be promoted to cow next time
But I’m gettin’ sidetracked. Any road, ovver t’seas went our regiment,
King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry tha knows, KOYLIs. Aye, and we were more
than a bit coily ourselves, as we used to say. I never said it were a good
joke. But we were all lads from t’pit, all worked dahn there wi’ blasting
and dust and rockfalls burying mates and chuff, and whatever war were gonna be
like, surely couldn’t be worse than that. We were wrong, o’course. I should
have listened to my dad, ’e were twice t’pitman I were, but ’e maintained
that there were nowt worse than day three at t’Somme. Tha wants to listen to tha
elders, our Andrew, an’ maybe tha’ll avoid bein’ shot at by t’Japs. Hah!
If t’Yanks and t’Chinese even trust ’em wi’ one gun between t’lot of
’em these days…
We all assumed we were bein’ sent to Australia, but I didn’t see Dahn Under
for a lot longer, an’ when I did, I wa’n’t in a position to appreciate it
that knows. Any road, t’troopship – and it were a horrible old converted
cruise liner, t’Princess Charlotte, with all t’comforts ripped aht an’
a bunch of new and exciting discomforts fitted – t’troopship came through t’canal
at Suez, rounded India and we first stopped at Sumatra, in t’Dutch East
Indies, as was.
It were crossed wires, turned aht, and we were soon sent on to Singapore – but
we ’ad a couple of days leave while we were there. Might as well not have
bothered. That place were a jungle hellhole and half of t’natives seemed to be
Jap sympathisers. Maybe because t’Japs were allied with t’Jerries and they’d
ovverrun Holland back in Europe, I dunno. I daresay t’natives would have
changed their tune if they’d ever actually seen what Jap occupation were like.
But they didn’t, did they? Lucky for them, and for us, too. I’d have hated
to try and fight t’Japs in that lot. Malaya were quite bad enough, and at
least they were more or less loyal to t’Empire.
Any road, we got to Singapore. Fantastic little place, tha knows. Oh, ah know it’s
covered in sky bloody scrapers now, capital of new Malaya. Yes, our Andrew, and
full of t’Chinese. We were damned lucky it were full of t’Chinese. Otherwise
Emperor Kang meight not have been so eager to help us defend t’place. What?
Oh, tha knows what I mean. We all called ’im Emperor Kang then, and why not?
Well, I tells a lie – at t’start we just called ’im Kang. But by t’end
of that lot, most of us had decided t’man deserved a little respect.
But Singapore then were a funny old place, fine old British hotels and houses
alongside Chinese architecture, that’s afore you saw t’stuff everywhere of
course. No Anji onywhere then, eh? As I were saying. And there were Indians
there as well: not come from India with t’Empire, but there long afore then. I
were quite surprised at that. O’ course, it were afore there were all them
pictures and progs on t’idiot’s lantern from t’East abaht their voyages of
discovery. As far as we were concerned back then it were just Columbus, Magellan
and what’s his name, John Cabinet, tha knows what I mean. Mi mind’s still on
bloody Anji, hah. But there were no pictures about Jeng Hee and his lot back
We were only there for a week or so before t’whole caboodle went up. Tha knows
tha history, or tha should, despite t’Tories messing abaht with t’schools an’
all those bloody Yank pictures that give them credit for everything back
to chuffing Trafalgar. Aye, well, not even Nelson could have done much about
what happened to Pearl Harbour. I met a Yank soldier just after t’war who were
there at t’time. You know how they exaggerate, but he said t’sky were filled
with Jap planes, Zeroes as they used to call ’em, though I know they ’ad
another name. Nippy little things, pardon my pun, could outrun onything in t’world
and outturn onything except a Spit. T’Yanks had no chance with their bloody
big hulking things, even if they could take more of a pounding. They certainly
needed to, ’cause they allus did. I only saw Yank planes in action
against t’Japs once, and it wa’n’t pretty…but any road.
T’Japs put most of t’Yank fleet on t’seabed and then they went for us.
Seemed madness at t’time, heh, probably was. They were already at war with
China, and I doubt they could have ever won that even if they hadn’t got
themselves another umpteen enemies in forty-one. Even if it had still been a
shambles, like it was in my dad’s time afore t’first lot, afore Emperor
Kang, t’first one, came along – even then, I bet t’Japs would never have
won it. There are just too many of them. What? Aye, well, our Andrew, it
seemed like a blessing to us, and you’ll never convince me otherwise. Half of
you wouldn’t be ’ere without t’Chinese, ’cause nor would I.
So aye. T’Japs attacked us and t’Yanks. Not Yakutia as half of t’cleverclogses
in t’regiment were convinced. Outflank t’Chinese and link up with t’Nazzies
in Russia, they said. Well, that’s all fine and good, but Yakutia didn’t
have oil, or at least we didn’t know it had at t’time. And t’Dutch East
Indies, with no Holland left to fight for ’em, had tons of oil and rubber and
stuff. They tell me that’s what it all came down to, afterwards. Like I told
thee, t’Japs were fighting a losing war in China, and their what do you call
it, war machine, was running on empty. So they wanted t’Dutch East Indies for
themselves. And thank Christ they never got them, or t’war meight have dragged
on longer than it did. And we’d have had to fight them there too, and as I
said, it would have been murder.
Any road, t’Japs attacked Malaya straight after Pearl Harbour. And it were a
shambles – us, I mean, not them. Even after all t’improvements they made ’cause
of using them in China for t’last few years, Jap tanks were crap. But ours
were bloody nonexistent. High Command decided it were impossible to use
tanks in t’jungles of Malaya. Me, I reckon we must have inherited t’same
High Command that told t’Frenchies that it were impossible for t’Jerries to
send tanks through t’Ardennes. About as true either way, not very. Made you
want to either weep with frustration or, better, shoot someone: my cousin Jim
told me afterwards that our tanks in North Africa couldn’t allus stand up to t’Jerry
cans, as they called ’em, hah. But our tanks would have made mincemeat of t’Japs’
efforts. And we had none.
Our regiment, fortunately for us, were deployed near t’rear. As it turned out,
most of Malaya fell very rapidly like, and a lot of our troops were taken
prisoner. And you don’t want to know how t’Japs treated prisoners. White or
Chinese, it were all t’same to them: foreign devils. I had a mate in one of t’other
regiments, fine cricketer even if he were from wrong side of t’Pennines: he
got captured and he were t’only one in his company who survived those camps.
’E managed to hold on by getting in with a group of Chinese t’Japs had taken
prisoner, and some of ’em lasted until t’end. They were lucky they weren’t
shot on sight – I heard that happened a lot, especially to t’Chinese. Almost
worse than t’Nazzies in some ways: they just did it to Jews and that, but t’Japs
did it to onyone who wasn’t a Jap.
But there were one thing that meant it wa’n’t a complete disaster back at
base. I reckon General Percival were about to have a breakdown at one point.
Poor bloke: it were his first command and it were nearly a disaster. T’parts
that ’e were in charge of were a disaster. But no-one ever
splits hairs like that, fortunate for him.
No, it ’appened at t’very start of t’invasion, on tenth of December,
though we didn’t find out for another few days – I didn’t, I mean, I
reckon Percy found out straight away, o’course – t’Japs sent planes from
land, I think, against our ships which were out trying to sink their convoys.
Bloody load of Jap planes there was – I had another mate on t’ Prince of
Wales and I saw t’ciné film afterwards as well. And we all knew what t’Jap
torpedo bombers could do after Pearl Harbour. Our backs up were against t’wall.
Admiral Philips were in command, and ’e wa’n’t bad, but ’e didn’t have
much to shoot back with. There were supposed to be an aeroplane carrier there, Indomitable,
but she ran aground or something on t’way to Singapore and didn’t get there
until after this fight. I tell thi, we could have been sunk there, literally,
hah. And what would that have said to t’world? What’s Britannia if she don’t
rule t’waves? I shudder to think.
But it didn’t happen like that, thank Christ. No; because t’Chinese, yes, t’bloody
Chinese that ye’re always moaning abaht for taking our jobs, our Andrew, they
bloody well took t’jobs of our pilots stuck back with t’Indomitable.
They were launched from land as well. Motley assortment – I saw some of ’em
later with my own eyes. Most of ’em were copies of French planes, a few years
old. In a fair fight I don’t know if they’d have beat t’Japs, but they had
no intentions of fighting fair, eh. They came down out o’ sun onto t’Jap
force as it were closing on our ships – and o’ course t’Japs didn’t have
radar, I found out later – and threw ’em all into confusion. That were worth
more than those they actually took out. Whole formation thrown into disarray.
Oh, a few Jap bombers managed to chuck torpedoes at our ships. Repulse
had serious engine damage, I recall. But nowt were sunk, and in t’end, t’Japs
retreated. Tom Philips, he brought t’fleet back to Singapore for repairs, and
in t’end, that made it.
No, t’Japs took t’rest of Malaya in a month or so, and without tanks there
were nowt we could do to stop ’em. And Singapore itself were all aimed at
stopping an attack from south, from t’sea. Didn’t have many defences for
stopping an invasion over land from Malaya, from t’north. But that was when
things started to change, tha knows. T’damaged fleet were back in port, and
with them they brought their big guns o’course. Repulse, what with her
engines, stayed there for months, and Prince of Wales were there for a
while as well. Aye, we might not have had much on t’island itself, but t’battleship
guns certainly helped tear up t’Jap infantry, and not much they could do abaht
it, either. We had plenty of our own planes in Singapore defending it and t’ships
against air attack, and t’Jap fleet were mostly off fightin’ t’Yanks in a
bunch of Godforsaken Pacific islands, or tryin’ to take t’East Indies after
all. Tryin’ bein’ t’operative word, as they say!
An’ then when it come to final battle at Singapore, well, by then t’Chinese
expeditionary force, as they called it, had arrived, an’ Indomitable
had come at last too. Just as well, ’cause t’Chinese brought more planes
than we ’ad airfields, and they had no carriers of their own then, or none
near us at any rate. But they brought a load of troops under General Yao Fu-Jang.
Funny bloke, he were – saw him in action a few times later on – had fought t’Japs
before o’course. We used to call him Yeah Who-Rang, ’cause Percival was on t’phone
to him every day with his latest plan for defending the isle. I think we may
even have used a few of ’em.
T’Yanks sent some ships as well, destroyers, an’ they helped, but honest to
God I don’t think we could have lasted without t’Chinese. Wa’n’t just t’troops,
either – it were t’supplies. Singapore were a regular fortress but that’s
no good if we were cut off. We could have run out of ammunition and fuel easily
enough, tha knows. But thanks to t’Chinese, we held on, we beat off air
attacks every day – we had London regiments there who said it were almost
worse than t’Blitz had been t’year before. But t’Japs couldn’t break us,
though they besieged us. We had our battleships and t’Yank destroyers to shell
them, we had a regular supply of aircraft, some airfields and a carrier. They
couldn’t break us, not without bringin’ in a fleet, and what with t’Yanks
massing ovver Hawaii way, they couldn’t afford to.
An’ then it all changed, ’cause t’Chinese managed to get through another
convoy, only as well as supplies and troops, this un carried tanks. I allus said
that Emperor Kang and his generals had their heads screwed on reight. Oh, they
were old American ones, built under license, they told me. Cousin Jim had fought
with ’em in North Africa, where they called ’em Lees, and t’Chinese saw no
reason to change it. I asked – afterwards – and it turns out Li were t’name
of one of their generals as well. Funny old world, my dad used to say.
Reight funny looking things they were, wi’ a gun at t’front and a turret on
top. These days all tanks look t’same to me, when I see who’s been invaded
this week on t’Beeb. But our Jim said good things abaht ’em and t’Chinese
knew how to fight ’em and all. They’d been good enough against some of t’Jerry
tanks in t’desert and so they were more than enough to fight those dinky Jap
jobs in t’jungle. And when I think about how we were retreating from ’em
before ’cause of High Command – makes you sick.
So at t’beginning of February, when t’Yanks were driving t’Japs back west
of Hawaii and t’Jap landings in t’East Indies were being repulsed by t’Aussies,
then we made our move. Chinese tanks at t’fore, us foreign devil infantry in
support, aye, our Andrew, t’irony weren’t lost on me, either. I think it
were then that we first started to take ’em seriously, love ’em or hate ’em.
I don’t want to talk about what came next. Be glad that tha’s never had to
go to war in tha lifetime. It’s a dirty business, and any of t’old glory
they sing about is few and far between. I were lucky in that I had a decent
officer, Lieutenant Carmichael his name was – Ulsterman o’course but no
worse for it. Some of t’officers we had…but never mind that. Any road, t’Jap
position in Malaya collapsed, they told us later. Didn’t seem like that at t’time,
not to muggins fighting it. T’Japs never surrendered, you know. Don’t
believe them Yank pictures. Mister Carmichael, he had an education, but he were
no worse for it mind, and he once told me that he remembered something one of t’old
kings had said – William – William t’Third, that’s it. "T’way to
never see tha country come to ruin is to die in t’last ditch". Well old
Carmichael said that t’Japs fought as though every inch o’ ground were t’last
ditch of their home islands. He were reight and all.
But they couldn’t stand up to those Chinese tanks, and that broke ’em. Oh, a
bunch of ’em ended up in jungle and tried to ambush our convoys – what was
it old Carmichael called it, gorilla warfare? – but they never did much
damage. What? What’s that, our Sheila? Aye, they did didn’t they? Found one
of them hiding out in t’jungle there just a year ago, didn’t know t’war
were ovver. I’m not surprised: most of ’em wouldn’t have known t’war
were ovver if their bloody Emperor had raised a damned white flag in front of
’em, or that’s t’way it seemed.
And in t’end that’s what did for ’em, o’course: never managed to land
enough men in t’East Indies to make a difference, never got that oil and
rubber, an’ their war machine as they used to call it, it just ground to a
halt. But that were months, years away then. At t’time it didn’t seem like
we were doing any more than holding on. Aye, they used to say that t’best
defence is a good offence, tha knows.
An’ that’s where it come to it. I were in t’jungle near a place called
Cota Baroo. Aye, I’m not surprised you an’t heard of it, I daresay it’s
got a Chinese name now. Any road, that were where t’Japs had first landed,
apparently, and they were fightin’ tooth and nail to keep hold of it. Not that
you could tell t’difference, ’cause as I say they’d fight tooth and nail
for owt. Sometimes I wonder what they’d have been like on t’front lines in t’first
lot, where mi old dad were, at t’Somme and hellholes like that – they’d
have outlasted onyone.
So I were there wi’ mi Lee-Enfield and mi company and that were abaht it. They
told me afterwards that t’Aussies and t’Yanks – and more Chinese o’course
– were landing in Singapore and moving up behind us. Didn’t seem that way at
t’time. Seemed more like we were t’last fighters for t’Allies in t’world,
and if we messed up t’Japs would have t’whole world. Fighting in t’jungle
gets to you that way. It even got to t’Chinese, and I daresay it got to t’Japs.
That were another thing. When we were there we found out that all that stuff
about ’em bein’ implacable and having no emotions like were a load of
cobblers. They didn’t like to show it, and nowt wrong wi’ that. But we didn’t
have much choice out there. It would drive onyone mad.
Well, when it came to it, it were house-to-house fighting in Cota Baroo, and
there’s nowt worse, especially when t’Japs would torch onything they couldn’t
hold on to. Scorched earth, t’papers called it. Sounds a lot more pleasant
than it was when you were there. Flamethrowers and bloody chemicals…
Don’t get me started or I won’t stop. All tha has to know is that there were
this one house, grand place, not t’governor’s residence but obviously home
to someone important. And by accident or by design it were well set up to be
defended, and t’Japs had turned it into a reight strongpoint, a bugger. T’Chinese
wouldn’t bring their tanks into t’city to tackle it. They said tanks were
easy prey to troops holed up in houses with anti-tank weapons. Turned out they
were reight, o’course, as t’Jerries found out later that year – it were
forty-two by then – in Stalingrad as it was then. T’Chinese ’ad found it
out much earlier, when they were fightin’ t’Japs a few years back in Kaifeng.
It might have been much hairier for those fightin’ t’Nazzies in Europe –
like your dad, our Andrew – if t’Nazzies hadn’t had their heads up their
backsides and refused to learn from onyone who weren’t white. Don’t ask me
how they could be allies with t’Japs, who seemed to hate whites themselves.
Old Carmichael said war makes strange bedfellows, he were vulgar that way. Well
you couldn’t get much stranger than that.
But we were tryin’ to kick one of ’em at least out of bed. And so we
attacked that house. Not straight on of course, like they might have done in my
dad’s day. We might as well have just lain our heads on t’axeman’s block.
But even though we came from t’side and we had old Dick Attersley and Sam
Utterthwaite, who’s dead now, layin’ down coverin’ fire…it still got
hairy, I’m tellin’ thi. There were too many Japs, they seemed to have gunmen
at every window. We lost a couple of good men, more than a couple, more than I
care to think about. An’ old Carmichael were tryin’ to rally t’rest of us
when he took a bullet straight through t’shoulder. Were lucky to survive
really. Wouldn’t have done, without – well. I’m just coming to that.
Thing was, t’Japs were never satisfied with just holding on. If tha ever gave
’em t’slightest opening, they’d be out and after thi. And they had an
opening this time all reight, with our lieutenant down and half our men dead. So
they came out, after us, and what were I to do? I were standing ovver t’body
of old Carmichael, and ’e were still breathing. Were I supposed to just
abandon him? I don’t think I could have got behind cover in time even if I
And I thank Christ that I never had to make that decision. Because a bunch of
Chinese troops with a machine gun showed up just in time, raked t’Japs just as
they were comin’ out, and so they killed abaht half of t’Japs that had been
in t’house. As for me – I knew it were t’only chance we’d get, so I went
in among t’Chinese and, while I heard t’Japs from other side of t’house
coming around to face us all, leaving old Dick and Sam, I chucked mi last
grenade through t’empty window. And that were last that we ever heard of those
Turned out that one of t’Chinese knew a bit of English and I’d got a bit of
Chinese from those weeks in Singapore, so we managed all right. Turned out that
their officer had also been shot down, a little while before, and they’d been
taking him back to t’field hospital when they ran into us. So we all went back
together, with Carmichael and their man. Both lived, as far as I know. And while
we were back at t’field hospital, afore we were sent out again, I talked with
that Chinese who knew English some more, and I found out that he were an NCO or
whatever they call them just like I was, and had taken over when his officer
were killed. His name were Ying Lufeng – what? Oh yes, our Sheila, I’m sure
you remember now. ’Cause I’ve been writing to him on and off for t’past
thirty years, ever since t’war ended. We both survived it, tha sees. After
Cota Baroo that were t’end of t’Japs in that part of t’world, and then
what was left of both our regiments were sent to Indochina to clear t’Japs out
of there, and that were a much easier job, ’cause t’Chinese were moving into
it from t’north as well. I still remember old de Gaulle complaining abaht that
Any road, there were some scrapes, but we both survived, and been keeping in
touch ever since. He says it’s to improve his English, as though he’s been
anything less than word perfect for t’past fifteen years and more. I reckon I
have more need to improve mi Chinese, ’cause China’s everywhere these days.
What? Oh aye, our Andrew. But tha’s got no reight to complain. Without t’Chinese
I wouldn’t be here. Tha can’t even claimed they didn’t earn it, like some
fowk say about t’Yanks, that they came in late. T’Chinese were fighting t’Japs
long before we were, so don’t give me that.
So that’s it. And now, our Sheila, if I could trouble thee for a cuppa tea?
Thanks love. T’Chinese invented that as well, tha knows.
To Episode 2