So, I realize it has literally been ages since I've posted anything on this blog. A mix of travel and work (lots of work), and other mundane "life" things kept me from writing much, and when I did write it was a lot of odds and ends and nothing complete enough to post here.
FINALLY, this past Christmas break I finally had some downtime to start this little project, a first-person perspective set thirty years after the events of the previous 7 posts. Set in 1944, we see the Maxwell family of London embark on a vacation to Strassburg to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Christmas Miracle. This is the first in what I hope to be at least a 3-5 post series showing a little snapshot of what the world has developed into in a world where World War 1 ended at Christmas, 1914, instead of dragging on for four more bloody years.
I also am looking at another project to get me back into writing and posting on here regularly. But more on that later. For now, enjoy the first installment of "Maxwell's View"
Maxwell's View, Part 1
Jack Maxwell took one last glance at the hallway mirror. The tie was straight, his shirt and jacket looked presentable. HIs short brown hair was slicked back. He sighed a tad as he saw the grey hairs creeping in around his temples. Forty-seven this year, he could hardly believe it. Sometimes Jack felt as though it was just yesterday that he was that bright-eyed and eager young recruit on a boat crossing the Channel to France. How the world had changed since 1914.
He glanced at his wristwatch. Nearly 8:00 in the morning. As he turned to call out for his wife, Samantha, she appeared coming down the stairs, flanked by their nine-year-old son, Tom. She wore a fashionable blue dress, with her blonde hair done up in a side bun, the latest fashion from Paris. Despite the doomsday sayers, the socialist revolution had not snuffed out the French capital’s central place in the world of fashion. Her blue eyes sparkled a little as they met his. He was once again struck, as he often was, that he must have been the luckiest man on earth.
“Hello there sweetheart. Everything ready to go?” She asked, as Tom went passed them both and into the parlor, where his older sister Tabitha and brother Byron sat waiting. Thirteen-year-old Tabitha sat reading the latest copy of London Girl Magazine, reading about the latest fashions, movie stars, and the most recent gossip about crown princess Elizabeth. Tabitha’s dark blonde hair was in a long, stylish braid, similar to what the crown princess herself sported. Where Samantha’s hairstyle came from Paris, Tabitha’s had been made popular by the Kaiser’s daughters and imitated by much of the lady royals in the British court. Byron sat in one of the arm chairs in the quaint little parlor, the spitting-image of his father. The sixteen-year-old was reading the new and best-selling novel by J. R. R. Tolkien, Andor’s Quest. Telling the story of a young wizard’s quest to master his newfound powers at the same time as he had to try and fight evil and restore balance to the world, the book had become immensely popular since it’s publication a few months ago, and Byron and all his friends had really taken to it. It wasn’t Jack’s cup of tea, but he preferred this interest to the comic books coming from America.
Pointing to the suitcases stacked by the door, Jack answered his wife, “We are all set. The cab should be here any minute to take us to the train station.”
At the mention of their impending departure, Tom perked up and shouted “We’re flying on an airship! I can’t wait!” Jack chuckled. His youngest son was fascinated with the graceful giant of the skies. He had a mobile of famous German and British zeppelins in his room. He’d been so excited when Jack had told the family he’d set up a trip to Strassburg for Christmas this year aboard the R132 Strassburg Limited.
Jack and Samantha both chuckled at their son’s outburst. Just then, a horn beeped outside, announcing the arrival of their taxi. “Byron, come help me with the luggage!” Jack called out to his son. Before picking up any bags himself, Jack grabbed his fedora hat of the rack on the wall, and looked at his wife for approval. She smiled and went to straighten it out. She then kissed him before she herded Tom and Tabitha out the door. Byron had already grabbed some of the bags. Jack grabbed the rest and followed his family out of their townhouse. On the street, the black cab sat waiting. The driver got out and opened the boot and starting helping Byron with the bags. Jack took his handful of bags to the curb then went back up and locked the house. On the front door hung a big evergreen wreath with red ribbon wrapped about. Most of the other houses on the street were similarly decorated for the upcoming holiday. No snow, however. The weather had been cool and wet, but no snow was expected until New Years Day, and by then the Maxwells would be back in Great Britain.
With the house locked up and the bags secured in the boot of the cab, Jack piled in with the rest of his family and they were off to Victoria Station. The railway hub was bustling with Londoners going to and fro. Like the Maxwells, many were starting their holiday journeys, as it was a mere two days before Christmas Day. The station was decked out in garland and ribbon and even twinkled with fairy lights. Jack had read that in America that more and more people were decorating their own private homes with those lights. As of yet, the trend hadn’t crossed the Atlantic, but as with so many things, it was probably only a matter of time.
A porter helped the Maxwell’s with their luggage, and in no time they were waiting on the platform for their train. A newsboy came by shouting the day’s headlines. “EXTRA! ISLP Considers General Strike!“ “German Junkers Crack Down!” and “30th Anniversary of the Christmas Miracle!” Jack paid a boy for a copy of the Times to read on the train. Moments later their train came into the station to carry them to the newly completed King George V Airport outside London. The new state-of-the-art facility replaced the hodgepodge of smaller airports that had serviced the airplanes and airships that flew in and out of the British capital. The train ride took about 45 minutes, and the train arrived directly at the airport (one of the first airports in Europe to boast direct train service). More porters came and took their luggage away to be loaded up on the airship. The Maxwells walked into the main terminal and checked in at the British Airways counter. They were directed out from the central terminal out to the primary airship departure hangar. At this point, Tom is about to burst from excitement. He finally broke from his mother’s hand and ran to the window. “I can see the airships! I can see them they’re so big!” Jack smiled at his son’s enthusiasm.
When they actually entered the massive departure hangar, Tom wasn’t alone in his awe at the huge sky ships. All of the Maxwells were impressed by these huge machines. Uniformed British Airways officials directed them to the lowered stairs that had been lowered from the bottom of the ship. Several other passengers were already queued up and waiting to board. Jack and his family got in line. He noticed from the corner of his eye that their luggage was being loaded onto the ship via a lift platform further to the back to the ship. They wouldn’t need it until they got to Strassburg, as the flight was only 8 or so hours. It could actually be made in less time, but the Strassburg Limited took the scenic route over Paris. And unlike the larger trans-oceanic vessels that flew from Europe to America and elsewhere, this ship didn’t have private cabins. It was designed for same day travel and so was set up more like a train cabin, with individually assigned seats, with lounge and dining spaces as well. Jack handed the tickets to the agent at the bottom of the stairs, and then he and his family ascended into the ship. This entire trip had been organized by the War of 1914 Memorial Foundation, which provided a way for veterans to attend the annual celebrations in Strassburg each year, and the foundation always provided good seats on transportation and nice accommodations in the “City of Peace.” This trip proved to be no exception. The seats were set up like a train berth, two comfortably upholstered benches facing each other with a table in the middle, with a wonderful window to look out at the world below. The passenger areas of the ship were all done in the popular Art Nouveau style, with flowing and fanciful lines and patterns seeming to dance about the rooms. Once they were settled, Tom begged his father to take him exploring. Jack agreed, and the two got up, and Byron decided to join. Samantha and Tabitha had started talking about the latest news, styles, and gossip that his daughter had read about in The London Girl and agreed to stay with their seats.
Tom walked slightly ahead, eager to see each part of the ship he could before take off. Jack planned to find out if he could get his son access to see the non-passenger sections before they landed if possible. Byron kept pace with his father, and started asking him about the articles in the Times.
“Do you really think Socialist Labor will call for a general strike?”
“It’s possible. They’ve called for an emergency meeting of the European-wide Party Congress to discuss the matter in one week, the first friday after Christmas.”
“How bad could things get if that happens?” Byron had an inquisitive mind, and for all that he loved to read his fantasy novels, he payed more and more attention to world events.
“Could get very bad. We’ve never had a Federation-wide general strike before. The last large general strike happened in the mid-twenties during the Tory Twilight, when it looked like a bulk of the Landsbury reforms might get dismantled. France joined that strike along with Denmark and Ireland, but the ISLP didn't come about ’til 1930.”
“Why are the Junkers fighting back so much?”
“The same reasons the Tories did here. Germany is basically following the same path we did, they’re just further behind because of how much slower they’ve been to adapt to change and how much further behind they were at the start after 1914. The Junkers don’t want to lose their place in society, the power they’ve held for so long.”
“So they’d plunge the whole of Europe into chaos rather than share power with the workers?”
“It could be worse than that.”
“How could it be worse than the whole European economy at a stand-still?”
“War.” That one word answer struck Byron hard. It was unfathomable to someone his age. There had been no real conflict in Europe since 1914. A few minor clashes, mostly internal revolts as the ideas of socialism spread from France, but nothing on the scale of the Last Great European War.
“War? Over a general strike? Surely that’s not on the table Father. Why would Frederick IV make war over this? Wasn’t he the great man of peace after 1914?”
“His hands will be tied if the Junker-controlled Reichstag want war. And if Prime Minister Landsbury and First Consul Perrot publicly support the general strike, they will want war.”
“I hope you’re wrong.”
“So do I son. War is ugly, and it’s something I hope you don’t have to see for yourself to find out.”
At this point, Tom came back to join them. they'd walked through the passenger seating areas, the interior shops, the library and now were at the grand dining salon. The two level room was breath taking. It was the full width of the ship, and flanked on either side by floor to ceiling windows that allowed for some amazing views of the world below. Like the rest of the ship’s interior, the room was ornately decorated in the popular Art Nouveau style. At one end of the room was a large clock being held by the statue of a goddess, and at the other a beautiful mural showing a graceful airship floating above Strassburg at Christmas time. As Jack and his sons milled about the dining room, an announcement came over a nearby loudspeaker: “Attention passengers, please take your seats, we will be taking off shortly.”
With that, Jack escorted his two sons back to their seats. Shortly thereafter, a chime rang out, and ship began to move forward, out of the hangar and into the openness of the tarmac. Tom was glued to the window, but the whole family watched eagerly as the Strassburg Limited glided out of the hangar. The chimes sounded again, and a voice crackled from the overhead speaker: “Up ship!”
And with that, the silver giant began its ascension into the sky. Tom practically squealed with glee. Jack noticed that both Byron and Tabitha both looked excited as well, though they tried to hid that fact and show themselves to be more mature than their youngest sibling. Soon the airport began to shrink away, looking like little more than a tiny diorama, like something you’d see at the science and industry museum. In no time, the ship was headed south east towards the continent. As the Maxwell’s gazed out their window at the passing landscape below, another announcement came over the speakers, “Ladies and Gentlemen, we have now reached our primary cruising altitude, and you are free to move about the cabin. It is now 10:20 a.m. We have clear skies ahead, and we should arrive in Strassburg just after 6 p.m. British Airways and the crew of the Strassburg Limited hope that you have a pleasant flight.”
While Tom stayed glued to window, the rest of the family quickly settled in to the flight. Samantha pulled out the latest romance novel she was reading. Byron pulled out his Tolkien novel, and Tabitha got her magazine back out. Jack quickly re-immersed himself back in the Times he’d bought at the train station. The main pages were of course totally focused on the growing possibility of a general strike and what some were already calling this generation’s Sarajevo Crisis, though Jack silently prayed they were wrong. Having read those articles, his attention turned to the international section. American President Horace Thurman was bellowing support for the German Junkers in the face of what he called “continued socialist aggression.” Thurman had just won a comfortable reelection to a second term in November, and for better or for worse Europe would have to deal with the hard-line anti-Socialist Democrat for at least four more years. Thurman alarmed Jack, as he alarmed many good British and European socialists. He’d taken the presidency in 1940 as a bit of a shock. America had become increasingly isolationist in the 1920s and 30s, following increasing European integration and international involvement. He’d been able to draw away enough support from the Republican party to prevent the insurgent Progressive-Socialist party from taking the White House, and in the past four years had cracked down hard on PSP activity and labor rights that had been granted during previous administrations, claiming to be “cleansing America of Euro-socalist ideology.” Thurman seemed to stand for the opposite of everything that the nations of the European Congress had been working for the past thirty years. What was worse, Thurman had started a massive build up of the American armed forces and seemed to be abandoning isolationist tendencies of the previous decades.
America wasn’t the only place with less than happy news. Russia was growing more and more unstable, something that Jack and his colleagues at the Interior ministry weren’t to surprised by. After the War of 1914, Czar Nicholas II had managed to stave off crisis by issuing a series of reforms between 1916-1929, when Russia became a fully constitutional monarchy with a true power-sharing structure between the Czar and the Duma. But there was still a great gulf between the rich and poor, and Russia still lagged pitifully behind Western Europe in industrialization. And ever since Nicholas II’s death in 1936, there had been growing unrest. The International Socialist Labor Party was but one voice in the cacophony of left-wing parties demanding reform, and far from the most radical. And Czar Nicholas III’s health was poor. If the Czar died it was unlikely that his young son Michael would be able to save the monarchy. Some feared revolution, though Jack personally didn’t know if that wouldn’t be a good thing. It had worked in France, after all.
Elsewhere in the world, Japan was continuing to consolidate it’s empire in East Asia, at the expense of China and the European powers. Jack suspected that if the Germany situation didn’t explode within the next six months that the next Imperial Congress would be directly addressing the situation when it gathered for it’s next pentennial meeting in Toronto this summer. Australia was continually screaming about increasing Japanese aggression and encroachment, and Hong Kong was also worried. For that matter, if the trend continued India may start feeling the pinch. Most expected Japan to slow it’s territorial appetite now that China had essentially capitulated, along with former European colonial holdings that had briefly gained their independence in the 1920s. The watchword for the Pacific was appeasement. Jack personally wondered if that was the wisest choice, but knew that Britain, and indeed the Empire as a whole, to say nothing of the European Congress, would not willingly get involved in a drawn out conflict with Japan.
Jack looked up from the paper and sighed quietly to himself, as he looked at his children, especially Byron. His eldest son was nearly the same age he had been when he went off to fight in France. It seemed like a lifetime ago. The world was so different then. And until recently, Jack had believed that the world his children would grow up to enjoy would be the one of peace that he and his comrades had fought to achieve thirty years ago. Now, it seemed as if the idea of making the 20th Century the “Century of Peace” that George Landsbury spoke of after the signing of the Strassburg Treaty in 1915 might have just been a pipe-dream after all. For the sake of his children, he hoped not.
Having had enough of world events for one day, Jack folded his paper and decided to lean his head back and take a nap before lunch.
To be continued...