CHAPTER THIRTY SIX
Edward Montford was alone. His Chancellor had slunk from the room a few minutes after they received news of the A1 attack. The man had looked completely broken. Edward couldn't really blame him. Being the person in charge on the night when England was tipped into bancrupcy by the money markets of the world wasn't an easy cross to bear.
As a slow dawn lit up his office window, Montford analysed his own emotions. There was certainly no panic. No fear either. Was this the resignation of a condemned man? Maybe. Angus Campbell had hit the nail on the head about the whole Holbrooke Securities nightmare. It would indeed be quite impossible to keep a near half billion pound secret. Not when Samantha Keating had told everyone exactly where to look.
Would there be any point fighting the inevitable? Not much. A lost cause was a lost cause when all was said and done. How bad could prison really be? It wasn't like his life was a barrel of laughs at the moment. From time to time, he had day dreamed about chucking the whole thing in and buggering off to see out his days in Antigua. It was a nice enough thought in theory, but in practice it would be torture. He wasn't a man to sit on a beach and think poetic thoughts whilst watching the setting sun. It would drive him slowly mad. At least there would be some novelty value in serving out a sentence. The chance of a few more battles to fight and win.
But this was all in the future. The present would have to come first. He pulled a piece of paper from his desk drawer and started to make a few notes. It was an old habit. A way to arrange his thoughts.
Was he about to quit and claim some kind of mental breakdown?
Was he going to try and find a way to hop the country and run away?
Fuck that even harder. Not that it was any kind of possibility.
So. Things were actually clear enough. He was going to stand and fight it out. Fine. He really wouldn't want it any other way.
So who were the enemies he would need to take the fight to? There certainly was no shortage. The Scots, the French, the UN Permanent Security Council. Qatar. The money markets. Her Majesty's Opposition. An unknown number of his own backbenchers. The Judiciary.
Which of these fights did he stand a chance of winning?
The Scots, Qatar, Her Majesty's Opposition, his backbenchers. All the other enemies were too strong to take on.
So. More clarity.
Four enemies to bring down before the inevitable curtain came down on him. Could it be done? Did he have it in him to wage war on four fronts and emerge triumphant? Maybe. It was worth a go. After all, what other choices did he have?
And in a way, the impossible position he found himself facing wasn't so very different from the position of England. Over the course of a few short weeks his country had become an international pariah. There were no allies and all too many enemies. His was leading a nation of fifty five million cornered rats.
He enjoyed the picture. There was still power to be wielded. He smiled to himself as the attack on the convoy suddenly didn't seem such a catastrophe after all. In a way, it changed almost nothing. His military forces were still overwhelmingly stronger than Angus Campbell's sorry excuse for an army. For fuck's sake, the bloody fool had even had the front to boast about his force almost reaching 2000.
Was England weakened from a military point of view by the savaging of the pound? No. Well, not in the short term. They had plenty of ammunition. They had more than enough to see off Angus Campbell's sorry excuse of an army, fort or no fort.
Could the disaster on the A1 be spun? Of course it could. Any event could be spun. If he could spin things in the right way, he could fan the flames of anger. Anger in the ranks of his army. Anger on the streets. And there was vast power to be found in anger.
The smile cracked a little wider.
Opposition? Backbenchers? They were the easiest of the enemies arrayed against him. They were too timid and scared to offer any real threat. They would bleat of course. Bleat like the sheep they were. But in their hearts they would thank their lucky stars it was not their job to step up and lead.
In the end they would be pitifully delighted for every buck to stop at the feet of the Prime Minister. All any of them would really care about was how they could later say none of it had been their fault.
He swallowed five pills and started to make calls.
He decided to meet with General Moore over a secure video link. He could do without suffering the judging eyes of Northwood.
“Good morning Prime Minister.”
“And good morning to you too, General. I think we best start with an update on the attack.”
Moore ran through an up to date casualty and damage list.
“How badly does this affect our planning?”
“Before I answer, I think I should ask a question of you Prime Minister.”
Montford bridled, but kept his cool. “Then ask.”
“Before we can establish a military plan, we need to know the political plan. We both know how the population reacts to casualties in the modern era. This isn't 1916 when 20,000 deaths on a single day of the Somme were absorbed by the population. Last night we took the most casualties in a single day since the end of the Second World War. How are you going to react politically to this? Will you get cold feet and back off? Seek some kind of negotiated settlement? Or will you continue to pursue outright victory?”
“Now, I understand your question, General Moore. And you are right to ask it. It deserves a frank answer. We embarked on this war because our country was on the brink of social, economic and political collapse. Over the last 24 hours our situation has become many, many times worse. We are basically bankrupt and we have no allies we can rely on. Negotiation is pointless. My mind is very clear. We have only one viable option, which is to continue until we achieve victory, regardless of cost. It is our one and only chance to secure any kind of acceptable future. The Scots may have managed to take move their cash reserves beyond our reach, but they cannot remove their other resources. The water. The power. Once we re-absorb Scotland into the Union, our prospects will be hugely improved. Obviously we will face many difficult years, but our chances of making a recovery will be many times better. The Cabinet meets at eight o'clock and I am addressing the House at noon. My message to both will be same as the message I am giving to you. We must continue until we win. There is no other choice.”
“Do you expect support?”
“Good. Thank you for your candour, Prime Minister. And in the light of your answer I think I have some better news for you.”
“Bloody hell, it seems a long time since anyone said that to me. Go on.”
“We think the Scots have inadvertently shown us more of their hand than they should have done. Let's have a look at the big picture for a moment. Both sides face enormous challenges. You have just listed the problems we face. However we must remember the problems Angus Campbell faces are many times greater. His capital city and all the tools of government are under our control. This fantasy of governing from Fort George will soon start to wear thin. It will not take long for everything to start to break down, and once this happens the majority of the Scottish people will start to crave stability. Food on the shelves. A job to go to. The basics of life. Agreed?”
“It won't take very long for the whole Fort George thing to start to look like a bit of a joke. If we had more time ourselves, then I would recommend we should simply sit in Edinburgh and wait for things to settle down. However I fully understand we don't have the luxury of time either.”
“We certainly don't. We need to secure victory as quickly as we can before everything starts to fall apart down here.”
“Quite. So in an odd way both sides need the very same thing. A quick victory. And of course here is where the Scots really are on the back foot. Operation Barn Owl took away 80% of their military capacity. Their chances of any kind of decisive victory are vanishingly small. In fact, I think we have just learned their assessment is exactly the same as ours.”
“The military handbook suggests there is only one way a vastly inferior force can prevail against a much larger force, assuming the experience and professionalism of both sides is similar.”
Now the pennies were dropping. “Hide behind high walls and win a siege?”
“Yes Prime Minister. Exactly that.”
“So tell me. Why do you think they inadvertently showed us their hand last night?”
“It was the target they selected. Our forces were moving in five convoys. If they had wanted to achieve maximum casualties, they would have hit one of the infantry convoys. They chose not to. If they had wanted to make it almost impossible for us to successfully attack Fort George, they would have destroyed our artillery. They didn't. Instead they destroyed our battle tanks. We believe this choice was made after very careful consideration. Without the tanks, the fight will be much closer. We will still be clear favourites, but they will have a much greater chance. In a nutshell, we believe they chose to inflict exactly the right amount of damage. Enough to make their chances a great deal better. Not enough to cause us to give up on taking Fort George and settling for an occupation of two thirds of the country.”
Montford absorbed in silence for a moment. “So you don't think they will attack us again? As we make our way north?”
“Not as hard as they hit us last night. They will want us to put the bulk of our troops exactly where they want us to put them. Far to the north. Many miles from safe territory. They are doing everything they can to make us fight on the ground of their choosing.”
“But you still think we will win?”
“We do. It will be brutal and of course there will no longer be the same kind of certainty. But, yes. We remain confident of victory.”
“We can have Fort George under heavy artillery fire in ten days’ time, Prime Minister.”
“And what if they manage to hit us hard again on the journey north?”
“Then we will have to re-consider our options.”
“Yes. I see. Cross the bridge when we come to it. I am impressed by the clarity of your thought General Moore. And I agree with it. Let me take the morning to get things nailed down politically. In the meantime, continue the advance to Edinburgh. You can assume we will be sticking with our original plan.”
“Thank you Prime Minister.”
“Just one more thing General. Have you named the operation yet?”
“No sir. Not yet.”
“Then maybe you might allow me to make a suggestion. I think it would be rather appropriate if it was to be 'Operation Cumberland'”
This brought a rare chuckle from the straight laced General.
“Ah, the good old Duke of Cumberland, the great victor at Culloden. I believe he goes by the name of 'Butcher Cumberland' up in Scotland. Well, why not? I am sure your proposal will be received with enthusiasm Prime Minister.”
And for the first time the General felt a grudging admiration for his boss.
The Cabinet proved to be easy meat. If they were cornered rats, Edward Montford was a Pitbull Terrier threatening to snap their spines.
Throughout the morning, the Government broke protocols which had been in place since the American Army beat back the Tet Offensive in 1968. Graphic footage of the aftermath of the A1 attack was released to the media. For a while the TV channels didn't show the worst of the pictures. Men horribly burned. Men missing arms and legs and eyes. Corpses ripped up and mangled. Frantic medics fighting to save young lives. But once it became clear everything was up for the world to see on the internet, the broadcasters shed their squeamishness.
It was the unedited horror of war.
A well versed selection of Ministers took to the studios with grave, determined faces. They spoke of a vicious, cowardly attack. They spoke of terrorist tactics. They talked of inhuman brutality.
They fanned the flames.
By late morning the army of the EFP was back on the streets and baying for Scottish blood.
By the time the Prime Minister got to his feet to address Parliament, the mood of the nation was unmistakeably warlike.
He stood in silence for a very long minute. Stock still apart from a slowly moving head. He scoured the benches opposite with ferocious eyes. And then he half turned and did the same to the benches behind him. A breath held tension filled the chamber.
At last he spoke in a quiet voice which easily reached every corner of the chamber.
“Today is a dark day for our country. It is the darkest day we have had to face in seventy years. Each and every one of us will be measured by the way we face this almost overwhelming challenge. Well. I suggest we have big shoes to fill. When our armies were lifted from the beaches of Dunkirk, this House faced a similarly overwhelming challenge. When the Luftwaffe threatened to win control of the skies above us, this House faced an overwhelming challenge. Then, as now, we had no friends to come to our rescue. We were on our own. And now we are on our own once again. Some of you might feel unable to bear what happened last night. Some of you might want to retreat from the field of battle and seek peace at any cost. Some of you might be ready to yield to the terrible fear in your hearts......”
Another raking, sweeping stare.
“Maybe. I hope not. Last night England suffered three attacks. Hundreds of our young soldiers were killed and horribly injured on the A1. Our currency was attacked with Qatari money. And I, your Prime Minister, was also attacked. So what shall we do? Shall we curl up in a ball and hide? Is that what we did when Hitler drove our army into the sea? Is that what we did when the planes of the Luftwaffe outnumbered our planes by four to one?......”
Long pause. Even longer this time. Agonisingly long.
“I think you all know the answer. We stood tall in the summer of 1940 and we will stand tall again now. England doesn't take kindly to being pushed around. We never have and we never will. What happened last night will not deflect this Government from the course we have chosen. We will fight this war and we will win this war. And our victory will be overwhelming. If anyone wants to oppose this, well now is your chance to do so. If anyone wishes a vote of no confidence in this Government, then I suggest you better get on with it. Your chance is right here, right now. If you have the guts to stand up, then stand up. And if a vote of no confidence goes against this Government, then of course it will be for others to give the order for our magnificent soldiers to retreat with their tails between their legs. So it is now or never. This is our Dunkirk moment. Are we going to be true to a thousand years of our history or are we going to run away after the first taste of battle? The choice is yours. I suggest you make it.”
The benches behind him exploded into cheers. The benches in front cheered as well, just not so loudly. Nobody was about to demand any kind of vote of no confidence. And nobody was about to ask any questions about Holbrooke Securities either.
Instead they all basked in their Churchill moment. Edward Montford was sorely tempted to smile. But he didn't. He stared ahead, hoping his eyes would reach all the way north to Angus Campbell.
By five o'clock that afternoon the Royal Engineers finally cleared the A1 sufficiently for the fourth and fifth convoys to resume their journey north. The first two convoys had made it to Edinburgh early in the morning.
At the same time as hundreds of trucks coughed into life, the ferry 'Mont St Michel' slid away from its moorings in Roscoff. The waters of the English Channel were millpond flat and vividly blue. The green hills of Brittany were bathed in the golden light of the late afternoon. On the upper decks passengers sought out a cooling breeze and took in the view. Far below in the lower vehicle decks, thirty six trucks belonging to Fisher Transport (Glasgow) Ltd were parked up with their handbrakes on. Their drivers were mainly to be found up in the cafeteria where they carefully avoided any talk of their strange cargo.
This was the strangest job any of them had ever been involved in. Management had told them they had been hand-picked for their trustworthiness and reliability. They had been told their customer required absolute commercial confidentiality. Fair enough, it happened. However none of them could work out why thirty six loads of cardboard boxes could be such a big secret. Not that any of them cared much. The bonus they were being paid was healthy enough to seal lips and put a lid on any undue curiosity.
They had been told not to make the trip through Ireland as a long convoy. Instead they had taken care to stay well clear of their fellow trucks. The warehouse in Brest had seemed thoroughly nondescript. Only when they pulled inside did the reason for all the secrecy become suddenly clear.
Their return cargo was unlike any cargo they had hauled before. The cargo comprised 813 French Foreign Legionnaires of 2 REP and 803 Scots Guardsmen. Old man Fisher stood in one of the loading bays and asked his drivers to step up for their country. For Scotland. If any man was uncomfortable with what he was being asked to do, then he was more than welcome to stand down, take a flight to Dublin and a hire car back to Scotland.
It was an option not a single driver chose to take. Instead they watched as each of the trucks became the temporary home for forty five soldiers. Had any trucker been tempted to think of breaking the secret, one look at the Legionnaires would have been more than enough to make them change his mind.
It was a journey none of the passengers would ever forget. A long overnight sea crossing to Cork. A full day's drive to Larne and another ferry, this time to Stranraer. A last leg up the Ayrshire coast to the Fisher Transport depot where they jumped down from what had become a very smelly environment indeed.
The journey of the thirty six Fisher Transport trucks hadn't caught anyone's attention. At a time when so many crazy things were happening, nobody was much in the mood to get over excited by a mildly unusual break in the routine of one of Scotland's larger haulage companies.
Over the course of the next two days the Legionnaires and Guardsmen left the depot in a mixture of cars, vans and people carriers. They took a variety of routes up the west coast, once again attracting no undue attention. They covered the final miles to their destination under the cover of darkness using night vision glasses.
By the time the English Army rolled out of Edinburgh, the Legionnaires and Scots Guards had joined up with 1564 soldiers who had slipped out of Fort George, also in the back of delivery trucks.
Their rendezvous point was one of the many new towns which were under construction in the Highlands. Forteith was scheduled for completion in 2032 and would provide homes and work for a projected population of 15,000. About half of the new houses had got to the point where they had walls and a roof. They provided plenty of cover for a force of over three thousand to hide their presence from the satellites above. Vehicles were carefully camouflaged and all the weaponry, food and other equipment they required had already been delivered.
The half built town of Forteith was forty miles west of a shallow valley where the A9 followed the path of a small river before climbing up over a gentle ridge.
Ten hours after Edward Montford sat down to the cheers of the Chamber of the House of Commons, Sally the escort was waiting in the usual Mayfair Hotel without really expecting her Thursday night regular to show up.
Her pessimism proved to be misplaced. Her Major General arrived a little after eleven and he was like a hyper active child. As he gulped his way through a tumbler of gin and tonic he regaled Agent Lapin with the thrilling story of his day. Those bloody Scots were trying to be too clever for their own good. But it hadn't worked. They thought they had the wool over the eyes of everyone at Northwood. Ha! Not a bloody chance. No bloody way. We know their game.
“I'm so sorry, Terry. I don't think I understand.”
“Of course not. Sorry. Just a bit hyped up. Here's the thing. If they had taken out our artillery, then we wouldn't have been able to go to Fort George because we couldn't take them out without artillery. By taking out our tanks they have merely weakened us. They want us to come, you see! Want to choose the bloody ground. Damned fools think they have a chance of winning. Ha! We'll bloody see about that, I'll tell you. Anyway. I'm for another snifter. Why don't you get your kit off, old thing.... “
Eight hours later Henri Jardin rolled his eyes. These English. Old thing! Typical.
“Bonjour, Marc. It's Henri.”
“Agent Lapin, yes?”
“Indeed. The old fool spilled everything.”
“Have they taken the bait?”
“Oh yes. Like a hungry trout.”
“Excellent. Thanks Henri.”
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