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August 23, 2006

The Battle of Southend


One of the most important events which never happened took place on Day 7 following the Martian landing at Horsell Common, Woking.* The engagement of HMS Thunder Child with elements of the Martian invasion force in the English Channel off the Essex coast represents one of few human victories in the War of the Worlds. Thunder Child was an ironclad torpedo ram, presumably a later sister ship to HMS Polyphemus (pictured above). Nothing is known about her Captain or valiant crew.

Thunder Child's early career is unknown; she earned her fame in the last minutes of her existence, a battle known as the Sacrifice of Thunder Child. In this battle, the Thunder Child stands between Martian machines and steamers full of London refugees and for its efforts, it is sunk after ramming a wading Martian tripod, the wreckage of the ship then colliding with another tripod, destroying it, and with it, mankind's last line of defence against the Martian invaders. However, its efforts allow the refugees to make it to safety.

In H.G. Wells' alternate ending to the novel, the Martians prove to be disease-resistant** and rule the Earth for generations, using humans as livestock. Wells offers a pessimistic appraisal, one of his characters arguing the bulk of the middle-classes would soon accommodate themselves to their fate. Chapter Seven, "The Man On Putney Hill" is worth re-reading in its entirety. Yes, Wells' narrator decides the man is a dreamer, and some of the man's assessment is cold blooded, but when faced with the domestication or extermination of the human species his thinking is not unreasonable. This dreamer certainly does not deserve his treatment at the hands of Steven Spielberg; from working-class spirit-of-resistance to a mad dog fit only to be put down by an heroic Tom Cruise. Thus does Spielberg inadvertantly sum up the spirit of a debauched and degenerate twilight of civilization.

It need not end with a wimper. Some might say Thunder Child's sacrifice was in vain. The Continent could only provide temporary shelter from Martian forces and subsequent encounters with the Royal Navy end in disaster as the Martian Heat-Ray proved a devastating stand off weapon. Such thinking is profoundly mistaken. These last five years I have come to the conclusion that for people lacking a fighting elan there can be no explaining a simple truth: You can always try to take one with you.

"There won't be any more blessed concerts for a million years or so; there won't be any Royal Academy of Arts, and no nice little feeds at restaurants. If it's amusement you're after, I reckon the game is up. If you've got any drawing-room manners or a dislike to eating peas with a knife or dropping aitches, you'd better chuck 'em away. They ain't no further use."

Ramming speed.

*In June of some year early in the twentieth-century.
**Die you Martian bastards!

The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one Update: Jeff Wayne's The War of the Worlds still scares three kinds of living Hell out of me. This fan promo video features introductory prog-rock amazingness for Flea-readers who have yet to hear the musical. These interior illustrations from various printed editions of the story are quite wonderful. I wants the Edward Gorey edition especially.

But still they come Update: The people of Woking are clearly mad.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at August 23, 2006 09:24 AM


Have you been able to observe whether your spats are smoking - because it would appear that you are on fire. What an excellent piece.

Posted by: Alan McLeod [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 23, 2006 12:15 PM

Yes, you're right Alan. May I say that this post is sauteed in gin-soaked popinjay sauce? I so say.

re: Chapter 7
Imagine, no creepy "I'll take care of you little girl if anything happens to your Daddy" talk; no blindfolding of said little girl before the behind-closed-doors fight. Where's the drama?!

Posted by: The_Campblog [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 23, 2006 01:55 PM

Wiki notes that Christopher's The Tripods "attempts to write in full this alternate ending". I have the Tripods books, but not War of the Worlds (I admit that I've not read it) ~ me thinks I have to acquire the latter and read them all, and soon!

"John Christopher's trilogy The Tripods attempts to write in full this alternate ending. Many of the details are different — Christopher's invaders come from another solar system rather than Mars, and they do not use humans as food, but intend to eliminate humanity; still, Wells's basic scheme — a successful alien invasion, the conquerors striding over the Earth for many generations in huge tripedal machines, and a daring small band of humans hiding in caves and tunnels eventually defeating them against all odds — is faithfully followed by Christopher."


Posted by: The_Campblog [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 23, 2006 02:33 PM

I have been very impressed with the Wikipedia summaries across the board. And the whole thing does emphasize what an achievement the Tripods books are. I need to remember to get them the next time I am visiting the parental units; I have not read my copies since I was twelve or thirteen.

Meantime, I have just ordered "Trillions" by Nicholas Fisk from the library. It sounds like good fun along similar lines.

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 23, 2006 05:26 PM

I wonder if Churchill was merely extra-prescient in his Flea-ism?...

In May 1940, at the point when he finally was rallying Cabinet to fight on, he laid it bare, saying "If this island story of ours is to end, let it end only when each of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground."

He later told his daughter-in-law to take a German down with her if they invaded; she responded that she couldn't even fire a gun. "You can go into the kitchen and get a carving knife!"

"Men and kings must be judged in the testing moments of their lives. Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because, as has been said, it is the quality which guarantees all others." -- Winston Churchill

Posted by: The_Campblog [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 23, 2006 07:28 PM

There was also "Jeff Wayne's The War of the Worlds: The Videogame". Not entirely horrible. It's the only real time strategy game I can think of that had Martian walkers.

Posted by: dorkafork [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 23, 2006 11:47 PM