Friday, 24 June 2016

The Ludlow Conference

The Bishop leaned anxiously over his large study table, strewn with maps and reports, and gestured his colleagues to join him. "Gentlemen" he said, "we have decisions to make."

The Present Situation Map (No.11). Ludlow, the capital of the Ecclesiastical Enclave, is top centre,
to the North of the County of Herefordshire and South of the Shropshire Free State.
"Now, you know the position after the victory at Brimfield. The Wooferton rod junction between the A49, travelling north/south, and the A456, travelling east/west, is now safely in our hands. So is the rail junction between the Shrewsbury and Hereford line and the Tenbury and Bewdley line. Three parishes have come over to our cause, marked here in Anglican blue. As a result, our communications with the Landowner's Protection League in Mortimer Country, west of the Wooferton Junction, are totally secure along the B4362."

"Most convenient for the Swain and his motor, one might think" murmured Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart, Chief of the Ecclesiastical Intelligence Service. "Safer drive to Wigmore."

"Indeed." The Bishop paused, then his forefinger stabbed downward. "There remains just this one Parish held by the Blackshorts, situated between ourselves and the area of the Worcestershire Loyalists..."

"Historically, of course, the site of the the Battle of Little Hereford", noted the Rev. Duff-Postin, newly returned from his initial negotiations with the Socialists.

"Quite. Conveniently marked with an "X" just south east of the "X" marking the Battle of Brimfield. And if you look, Duff, to the south of the Blackshort's last northern parish and the site of the Battle of Little Hereford, there are three parishes in No Overall Control, marked in white. The last of those parishes borders on Leominster itself." 

"And so...." Postin tapped the stem of his pipe on the northern Blackshort parish. "If the Blackshorts are still in there, that's not a parish at all, but a pocket. A potential deathtrap. The Little Hereford Pocket."

"Precisely" said the Bishop. "The temptation is to halt our thrust south along the A49, and pivot south - east, taking the parishes currently in No Overall Control and cutting off the Blackshorts completely in the Little Hereford Pocket. Surrounded and starved of supplies, Spode would have no option but to surrender - and we would equally be at the very edge of Leominster itself."

"If Spode's actually there, of course." murmured Lethbridge-Stewart. "He's got a lot on his mind at the moment, what with the publication of that appalling biography. And if the Worcestershire Loyalists will play ball. They've been very quiet since the Battle of Little Hereford. And if the those three parishes actually do switch over, after the suggested surrender of the Blackshorts in the Pocket itself. They're an independent minded bunch in those parts."

"Well, whether Spode is in the Pocket or not is a matter for the EIS. And whether or not the Worcestershire Loyalists will play ball is a matter for the 'Talleyrand of the Three Counties', Duff." The Bishop smiled. "You've been getting some good press of late, you know. I hope you can deliver a deal with the Socialists and the return of Mustard's manuscript."

"Red Robbo is a tough nut to crack, sir. I can't tell you how often I've sung the Internationale with him these last few weeks - in a spirit of diplomatic comradeship, of course. But nothing yet. The Worcestershire Loyalists will be a picnic in comparison. Why, even our technical delegation to the socialists, Lindemann and Van der Graaf, trying to find out how the socialist rockets flew so true at the Battle of Whitney on Wye, have met with nothing but stalling. Lengthy lectures on historical inevitability and the true parabola of Marxist thought. All rot, says Lindemann. The problem is that we've got to make Robbo an offer, something of substance. He's not going to give up the manuscript without real gain."

"Or pain". Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart's mouth turned down disapprovingly. The Ludlow spymaster was notoriously anti - socialist. "Or pain, Postin. I think you'll find the EIS have the tools for that job."

"Now, now" the Bishop's finger wagged squeamishly. "There's no need for that, Lethbridge-Stewart. As it happens, I have been thinking along the same lines as Duff. And there's something I want you to see. The situation map earlier in the Civil War, before even the Valley Campaign and our own involvement."

Situation Map 5. Before the Valley Campaign and the involvement of Sir Gilbert Hill
and the Ludlow Expeditionary Force
"See the site of the Battle of Little Hereford, marked with the red X in Spode's northernmost parish? 
And to the south, see the three parishes now in No Overall Control? Duff, what do you see?"

"A great red splodge, sir. Two of those three parishes were formerly run by the Socialists themselves. The two northern ones."

"Precisely. And still a very substantial socialist presence even now, I'll bet. An independent minded bunch, I think we agreed. Ripe for insurrection, don't you think?"

"And such an insurrection would cut off the Little Hereford pocket..." breathed Postin, studying the map carefully. "The surrender of Spode. A secure base for the Socialists, with their backs to the Worcestershire Loyalists and their right flank joined up with our own post Brimfield parishes. The possibility of a truly independent Socialist republic for them...and the prospect of a joint march on Leominster for us all. Devlishly clever, sir, it really is." Postin looked up and gulped. "I mean, er....godly clever, of course, sir. Godly clever."

The Bishop ignored Duff-Postin's uncharacterstic slip. "Of course, if Spode's got any sense, he'll be withdrawing south from the Little Hereford pocket even now. Falling back into Leominster itself and leaving the Royalists to do the fighting along the A49."

"A man who wears Cynthia de Braose's underwear..." growled Lethbridge-Stewart, a notorious anti-facist, "...doesn't have much sense."

"Reputed to, sir. Reputed to." The Bishop murmured primly. "Mind you, boasting about it to a Fleet Street hack does seem rather silly. Perhaps he truly was suffering from shell-shock after Brimfield." 

"Well, it's an offer, sir." Duff - Postin straightened up. "It gives me something of substance to offer Red Robbo in return for the manuscript. A strategic plan. Material assistance. Assurances of goodwill and safe passage for any troops he can bring to the field, and the EIS assisting the internal insurrection. If Spode leaves it too late to withdraw, we'll be on his heels and the socialist insurrection will catch him as he retreats through those very parishes."

"What does the Swain think ?" asked Lethbridge-Stewart. He knew how much the Bishop's former ward meant to him.

"I'm afraid he's for driving south along the A49 as before" frowned the Bishop. "He has his private reasons for urgency, I can tell you. But I'm afraid I can't tell you why. A personal matter. He argues that continuing the drive directly south will shorten the war. Let the Little Hereford pocket wither on the vine. On past Berrington and straight along the A49 to Leominster, he argues."

Lethbridge-Steward nodded. There was little that his EIS missed, and the Swain's true origins were not one of them. But, like the Swain, he could wait his moment.

"Not that he's thinking a great deal, of course" confessed the Bishop, "at least of anything other than Miss Nemone. He is, as usual, writing her a great deal of ardent poetry; in between raising a Combined Public Schools Battalion to relieve the pressure on the LEF. A "Chums Battalion", I've heard him say. And pursuing one or two of his business contacts in foreign parts for even more volunteers."

"Excellent, sir." Duff-Postin rubbed his hands. "So off to the Loyalists I go, and back again to the socialists. But they'll want to know about the others in the field - Joubert, Straitt-Jackett, and especially Arrowsmith and his Behemoths."

"We tracked Joubert retreating southward from Brimfield." said Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart. "He's bivouacked along the A49 between ourselves and Leominster - I could ask Wing Commander Dauntless to send over a reconnaissance flight if you want. As for Arrowsmith and Straitt-Jacket, well, they've got their hands full in the South - West of the County. Have another look at that map...

The present Situation Map (No.11).  The Anglican C-in-C, based at Ross, is edging ever
nearer to Hereford itself. Sir Gilbert's Golden Valley Invincibles
 have an obvious strategic opportunity

"After the Chief's triumph at the Battle of Aconbury, both the Royalists and BUF are digging trenches on the south side of Hereford itself, according to our agents. One direct thrust north from the Chief's newly enlarged area of control centred on Ross, and Hereford itself could fall, they know that. And after his success at Whitney - on - Wye against our esteemed ally, Comrade Robbo, Arrowsmith's turned back east towards Hereford, seeking to protect the railway links and to be on standby to rush towards the City itself. You can see the opportunity for Sir Gilbert..."

Lethbridge-Steward pointed at the large white cluster of No Overall Control parishes to the north of Sir Gilbert's territory. "....and no doubt they can, too. They'll know that if Sir Gilbert can take that lot, he'll be close to controlling both of the eastern railway lines into Hereford. With that, the Royalists and the BUF would be reduced to bringing in war material only via the Ledbury line - along which the Landowner's Protection League have a significant say - or by the long route via Leominster."

"Leominster again" noted Duff-Postin. "I can emphasise it's strategic importance to Red Robbo. Far more important than the recovery of a sunken canal boat, I'll warrant. But what of Lord Grover?"

"In Hereford itself." growled Lethbridge-Stewart, a notorious anti-"Royalist". "Last seen heading up the steps of the Shire Hall to comfort the disconsolate Lord de Braose. Apparently strategic planning in their War Room is paralysed at the moment, what with de Braose in hiding - everyone's simply been detailed to dig trenches."

"Mmm..." Duff-Postin chewed his lip. "Well, what does Anglican High Command say about all this? D'you think they'll approve, Bishop?"

"I haven't yet consulted." The Bishop rolled up the Strategic Plans. "Wanted to run it past both of you, first. I'll consult with my brother Lichfield, and put it to General Jermingham and Brigadier Langnecke just as soon as I can. I'll let you both know. They might have quite different plans. But at least explore the possibility with Red Robbo, would you, Duff? Can't hurt to try, as long as you don't commit us without the approval of the Anglican High Command."

The Revd. Duff-Postin and Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart bowed out of the Bishop's study, the conference over. A tap on Duff-Postin's shoulder, and "Big X" was already smiling at him. "Those negotiations with the socialists, Duff. I think the EIS have something that might help, oil the wheels of diplomacy, if you will; something I didn't care to mention in front of the Bishop. Care to step into my office?"

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