What if world war one had played out differently?
Michael Reynolds, a fourteen year old boy with a new found ability to traverse the timelines and visit alternative histories. After stumbling onto a timeline very different from our own, a world of narrowboats, horse drawn carts and a population who still wear clothing last seen at the turn of the twentieth century, Mike takes his friend Greg to the local library there to find out why...
* * *
The reference section was a small reading room at the back. Fortunately it was empty. They began by looking at the shelves.
“How do you expect to find anything here? There’s no computer to search for topics or anything.”
“Obvious, duuuuh, look.” Mike walked over to cabinet with lots of little drawers. One side was labelled author and the other subject. He went to the “HL-HZ” drawer, found history, flicked through for history/modern, found the shelf number and headed over to the one indicated. “You’ve seriously never used a card index?”
“Never needed to. This one looks good.” Greg grabbed a thick leatherbound volume. “The modern history of Britain, 1850 to 1990. An analysis.”
They sat at the table and Mike skimmed the first few chapters. “Not too sure on our own history but nothing unusual yet, what about you?”
“Don’t ask me mate, if it wasn’t made after 1999, I’m not interested!”
“Ah, this bit’s different! I’ll just pick out the highlights. “In 1912 the Austro-Hungarian empire became more and more militaristic, invading several smaller provinces on their borders. It wasn’t long before Germany, led by Kaiser Wilhelm, cousin of King George was drawn into the conflicts. Meetings held in private between George and Wilhelm in November of that year ended in a violent confrontation with Wilhelm returning to his ship with a bloody nose and a black eye. Later that week they declared war on Britain and immediately began moving troops to the French border. Blahblah Britain began recruiting, blahblah first conflict of the war between Britain and Germany was January 1913, blahblah… Ah… Peaceful football match on Christmas day 1914 ended in a bloodbath when an officer attempted to stop the game and opened fire on the Germans. Ouch! That’s one of the defining moments of world war one! Skim skim, etcetera etcetera, March 1917. Peace talks between Archduke Ferdinand”
“Hang on. Didn’t he get himself assasinated in 1914?”
“Not here he didn’t, obviously. He wouldn’t be available for peace talks otherwise. Peace talks between Archduke Ferdinand and the British government ended when the talks were bombed, killing several key members including Lord Kitchener.”
“Hang on…” He leafed back a little… “Ah, secretary of state for war… You’ve seen the your country needs you poster… Think everyone has. Him.”
“Ah. Right. Got you.”
”Anyway… Ferdinand escaped unscathed. People believed him to be responsible. After that things went downhill.” Mike flipped through a few more pages. “British workforce at critically low levels. Conscripting all the older men into the war and all the women into doing the men’s work resulted in a massive under-employment. Trains fell out of use as all the engineers capable of repairing them were in the trenches. The tracks fell out of use for the same reason, a lot ripped up because the iron was needed for the war effort. Canals returned to the fore as the sole means of long distance transport with only two railway lines maintained, the one between London, Crewe, Manchester and Glasgow and the one from London to Newquay in Cornwall. Yaddayaddayadda, end of the war. Peace forcefully declared in March 1951 as all nations involved realised they had no-one left to do the fighting. Even Canada and the USA were massively underpopulated by then. China, Japan, Australia, India… Seems the Spanish flu thing didn’t happen here, but the war outdid it for deaths.”
“OK. You convinced me, it is interesting. What was the total in the end?”
“They kept a tally until 1930 when the count was in total for all sides, about two hundred million dead, twice that permanently maimed. They gave up counting, then. Looks like the world ground to a halt for a good twenty years after the war. It was 1970 before international trade started again. Everyone was too concerned with feeding their own people. Radio exists, but few people can afford one. The BBC’s tiny, only two radio channels dedicated to anything but government communications. Even most of the mills closed when all the machines broke so it took them years to get those back into production… We are back in 1900 as far as the tech level’s concerned, they might even lack vaccinations and antibiotics here.”
Mike put the book back on the shelf.
“For now, might come back with a notebook though.”