World War Two Will Not Take Place

BOOK: World War Two Will Not Take Place
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THE SIXTH MAN and other stories
Bill James
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This first world edition published 2011
in Great Britain and the USA by
9–15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
Copyright © 2011 by Bill James.
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
James, Bill, 1929-
World War Two will not take place.
1. World War, 1939-1945–Diplomatic history–Fiction.
2. Secret service–Great Britain–Fiction. 3. Undercover
operations–Germany–Berlin–Fiction. 4. Berlin
(Germany)–History–1918-1945–Fiction. 5. Great
Britain–History–George VI, 1936-1952–Fiction.
6. Alternative histories (Fiction)
I. Title
ISBN-13: 978-1-7801-0012-8   (ePub)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8003-1   (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-330-4   (trade paper)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.



















For a good deal of factual guidance on this period I am indebted to
Munich, The 1938 Appeasement Crisis
, by David Faber (Simon and Schuster), and
The Climate Of Treason
, by Andrew Boyle, though what I've made of this guidance is, of course, my own responsibility. As the title would indicate, this book adjusts some history.
La Guerre de Troie n'aura pas lieu
(The Trojan war won't happen)
– Jean Giraudoux
ount flew to Berlin-Templehof in the afternoon, passported as Stanley Charles Naughton, businessman. Section kept a service apartment under the S.C. Naughton name off Hindenburgdamm in Steglitz, a sedate, tree-lined suburb to the south-west of the capital. Mount had used it several times in the last couple of years and considered the address still reasonably anonymous. The apartment itself was on the second floor in a very modern, New Objectivity –
Neue Sachlichkeit
– style block, built in the late 1920s or early 1930s, Mount would guess, though much of the district's imposing grey stone and red-brick property went back to mid nineteenth century. It was a suitable kind of prosperous, developing area for the
of a British company's visiting executive. But no matter how right it might be, Section wouldn't lease this kind of accommodation for more than three years. An unusual pattern of usage – or more a
-pattern – might get it noticed. There'd be a change soon.
Mount knew what his mission was, of course. Stephen Bilson had briefed him earlier today in that painstaking style of his. But Mount had wondered (1) whether the objective was achievable; and (2) whether, even if it were, it would make much difference to the general international condition of power and politics.
Mount often wondered if his journeys and various activities for the Section had much point. But, as Stephen Bilson told him not long ago, ‘In this kind of work little is absolutely plain, Marcus.' The suggestion here was that, looking back later on, Mount might hindsight-understand how seemingly useless operations fitted into a master plan. And Mount would admit SB's hint usually turned out true – or as true as anyone could expect in this kind of work, where so little was absolutely plain, or absolutely true, or absolutely anything. Bilson had served in France throughout the war and was at the Somme. He may have often wondered how – or if – some slaughterous spell of combat contributed to a general strategy. During such bloody fighting he'd picked up two medals, even if, at those moments, he hadn't properly understood this or that battle's objective.
Just the same, Mount continued to think his present mission especially dud and doubted it would ever be proved otherwise. Bilson's decision to send him to Berlin had been too rushed, too impulsive. These were untypical words to use about SB, who habitually displayed absolute calm in all weathers, and whose thinking was methodical, sane, clear; except, obviously, at those times – fairly frequent – when it had to get professionally serpentine and, or, fog-producing, in the nation's interest.
There'd been an episode at another airfield yesterday: Heston, not far from London. Mount and Bilson had gone there together. Would it be exaggerating to describe SB's reaction to events at Heston as near panic? Mount didn't want to call it that. He needed something to believe in and, often, SB and his level-headedness and medals had been it. However, standing with Stephen Bilson then, on the rim of the crowd at Heston, Marcus Mount had thought he detected a quite swift, painful change of reactions in his chief: a move from satisfaction bordering on relish, towards anxiety bordering on despair. Mount had tried to work out what caused this, and when. Bilson had seemed fine, and more than fine, while they waited for the Lockheed to appear out of the clouds and make its descent. This seemingly bland mood persisted right up until the plane completed its landing and the Prime Minister appeared at the top of the steps, waving his peace piece of paper. But, surely, that's what SB had schemed for. Why should it distress him now, offend him now?
Chamberlain had done the job that Stephen, in his devious, oblique, commanding style, must have managed him into doing, or helped manage him into doing, at any rate. Shouldn't Bilson feel and display delight? Some details of the PM's performance
, on the face of it showy and vulgar – did Chamberlain need to beam so manically, flourish the document so frenetically? – but that, surely, could not cancel the central, core worth of what he'd achieved in Munich. Politics would always be vulgar, and war politics especially. Chamberlain had the kind of face that found excitement or enthusiasm difficult to register. There seemed to be something permanently cowed and nervy to him, even when he talked as if he had nothing to be cowed and nervy about. At Heston, in fact, he had a kind of triumph to report, didn't he? Did he?
When the next morning – this morning – Mount had spoken in the Section to Olly Fallows and Nick Baillie, about the Heston events, he'd said: ‘Of course, I might be wrong about a swing of attitude in SB. He's not easy to read.'
‘Harder than
The Waste Land
,' Fallows said.
‘He's sending me to Berlin at once – “Sub rosa, entirely sub rosa.” But the whole thing at Heston should have been a celebration,' Mount said. ‘He'd actually created the scene.'
‘Well, yes, in a sense,' Baillie said.
‘I'm sure Chamberlain wouldn't have gone and acted compliant, except for him,' Mount said. ‘And wouldn't have come back with promises for the adoring crowd and the relieved country, but for him.'
‘They're known to have private conclaves, yes,' Baillie said. ‘Stephen hates war.'
‘He was good at it,' Fallows said.
‘He wouldn't want more,' Mount said.
‘But he'd also realize that war might be inevitable, and a delay would give us more time to stock up on the arms and barrage balloons and gas masks and blanco,' Baillie said.
‘That's presumably why he wanted to be there for the PM's return at Heston,' Fallows said. ‘He'd like to see the completion of his work at first hand. He took you with him, Marcus, to learn in a very vivid way what his purpose was, and what the Section's purpose should be – and perhaps to pass on that message to the rest of us young underlings. Did he say, “Marcus! Come along, sonny boy, and witness the sterling results of our work?”'
‘Normally, he'd hate to join any public display for fear he'd get identified,' Baillie said. ‘But he must have thought the PM's mission exceptionally, uniquely, successful – demanding his formal presence at the welcome home. He's persuaded Neville to stop a war.'
‘Or, at least, postpone a war,' Mount said.
Perhaps Fallows and Baillie had it right. Possibly Bilson
wanted to educate Mount via the drama of Heston. And nobody could say it wasn't dramatic. The happy tension could be felt, in fact, long before Bilson and Mount actually reached Heston yesterday in the car. The narrow approach roads to the airport were jammed with vehicles and people on foot determined to make a joyful reception for Chamberlain. And when Bilson and Mount did reach the airfield they found a huge gathering of excited folk had assembled. Mount felt a kind of carnival spirit. Among the crowd he saw what he judged from their formal clothes to be a party of Eton schoolboys. Good God, there would be more than a hundred! They'd obviously been given leave to witness these triumphant moments. News of the Prime Minister's success in his talks with the Führer had, of course, reached Britain a good while ahead of his plane.
Like everyone else there, the boys continually stared up into the grey skies, looking for the airliner with the Prime Minister aboard. Such a turnout! And perhaps Chamberlain deserved it. Yes, perhaps, Mount decided. In a little while, he'd heard the aircraft's engine, and then, after a couple more minutes, he spotted the plane descending majestically towards Heston. The Super-Lockheed 14 landed, taxied and came to a stop. Airport staff placed steps in position. The door opened, and Neville Chamberlain appeared and waved happily to the people. Instantly, a cheer of response erupted. The Etonians, in a group and obviously organized, yelled his name, with the accent heavily on the first syllable:
ille. He came down the steps and turned to where microphones had been placed on the tarmac. He waved a piece of paper. ‘This morning I had another talk with the German Chancellor, Herr Hitler, and here is a paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine. It asserts the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with each other again.' He waved the paper once more. The crowd gave a huge, prolonged cheer.
It was not long after this that Mount thought he noticed the abrupt and huge change in Bilson's mood. Mount wondered whether SB objected to that noisy claque of Eton schoolboys. But Bilson himself had, of course, come from one of the top public – meaning private – schools or he'd never have been invited into his present job. He'd know – just as Mount knew from his own school days – that the kids of well-heeled families could be especially excitable and loud. Bilson's attitude on social class might be complex, though. Apparently, he'd insisted on joining up as an ordinary soldier in 1914. The commission didn't come till well into the war – late 1916.
BOOK: World War Two Will Not Take Place
11.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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