Robert Erskine Childers
Overview
 
Robert Erskine Childers DSC
Distinguished Service Cross (United Kingdom)
The Distinguished Service Cross is the third level military decoration awarded to officers, and other ranks, of the British Armed Forces, Royal Fleet Auxiliary and British Merchant Navy and formerly also to officers of other Commonwealth countries.The DSC, which may be awarded posthumously, is...

 (25 June 1870 – 24 November 1922), universally known as Erskine Childers, (icon) was the author of the influential novel Riddle of the Sands and an Irish nationalist who smuggled guns to Ireland in his sailing yacht Asgard
Asgard (yacht)
The Asgard is a yacht, formerly owned by the English-born Irish nationalist, and writer Robert Erskine Childers and his wife Molly Childers. It was bought for £1,000 in 1904 from one of Norway's most famous boat designers, Colin Archer...

. He was executed by the authorities of the nascent Irish Free State
Irish Free State
The Irish Free State was the state established as a Dominion on 6 December 1922 under the Anglo-Irish Treaty, signed by the British government and Irish representatives exactly twelve months beforehand...

 during the Irish Civil War
Irish Civil War
The Irish Civil War was a conflict that accompanied the establishment of the Irish Free State as an entity independent from the United Kingdom within the British Empire....

. He was the son of British Orientalist
Orientalism
Orientalism is a term used for the imitation or depiction of aspects of Eastern cultures in the West by writers, designers and artists, as well as having other meanings...

 scholar Robert Caesar Childers
Robert Caesar Childers
Robert Caesar Childers was a British Orientalist scholar, compiler of the first Pāli-English dictionary. Childers was the husband of Anna Barton of Ireland...

; the cousin of Hugh Childers
Hugh Childers
Hugh Culling Eardley Childers was a British and Australian Liberal statesman of the nineteenth century. He is perhaps best known for his reform efforts at the Admiralty and the War Office...

 and Robert Barton
Robert Barton
Robert Childers Barton was an Irish lawyer, soldier, statesman and farmer who participated in the negotiations leading up to the signature of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. His father was Charles William Barton and his mother was Agnes Childers. His wife was Rachel Warren of Boston, daughter of Fiske...

; and the father of the fourth President of Ireland
President of Ireland
The President of Ireland is the head of state of Ireland. The President is usually directly elected by the people for seven years, and can be elected for a maximum of two terms. The presidency is largely a ceremonial office, but the President does exercise certain limited powers with absolute...

, Erskine Hamilton Childers
Erskine Hamilton Childers
Erskine Hamilton Childers served as the fourth President of Ireland from 1973 until his death in 1974. He was a Teachta Dála from 1938 until 1973...

.
Childers was born in Mayfair
Mayfair
Mayfair is an area of central London, within the City of Westminster.-History:Mayfair is named after the annual fortnight-long May Fair that took place on the site that is Shepherd Market today...

, London, the second son to Robert Caesar Childers, a translator and oriental scholar
Oriental studies
Oriental studies is the academic field of study that embraces Near Eastern and Far Eastern societies and cultures, languages, peoples, history and archaeology; in recent years the subject has often been turned into the newer terms of Asian studies and Middle Eastern studies...

 from an ecclesiastical
Anglican ministry
The Anglican ministry is both the leadership and agency of Christian service in the Anglican Communion. "Ministry" commonly refers to the office of ordained clergy: the threefold order of bishops, priests and deacons. More accurately, Anglican ministry includes many laypeople who devote themselves...

 family, and Anna Mary Henrietta, née Barton, from an Anglo-Irish
Anglo-Irish
Anglo-Irish was a term used primarily in the 19th and early 20th centuries to identify a privileged social class in Ireland, whose members were the descendants and successors of the Protestant Ascendancy, mostly belonging to the Church of Ireland, which was the established church of Ireland until...

 landowning family of Glendalough House, Annamoe
Annamoe
Annamoe is small picturesque village in County Wicklow, Ireland about from Dublin located on the Avonmore river. It is on the R755 between Roundwood and Laragh on the road to Glendalough....

, County Wicklow
County Wicklow
County Wicklow is a county in Ireland. It is part of the Mid-East Region and is also located in the province of Leinster. It is named after the town of Wicklow, which derives from the Old Norse name Víkingalág or Wykynlo. Wicklow County Council is the local authority for the county...

 with interests in France such as the winery that bears their name
Château Langoa-Barton
Château Langoa-Barton is a winery in the Saint-Julien appellation of the Bordeaux region of France. Château Langoa-Barton is also the name of the red wine produced by this property...

.
Encyclopedia
Robert Erskine Childers DSC
Distinguished Service Cross (United Kingdom)
The Distinguished Service Cross is the third level military decoration awarded to officers, and other ranks, of the British Armed Forces, Royal Fleet Auxiliary and British Merchant Navy and formerly also to officers of other Commonwealth countries.The DSC, which may be awarded posthumously, is...

 (25 June 1870 – 24 November 1922), universally known as Erskine Childers, (icon) was the author of the influential novel Riddle of the Sands and an Irish nationalist who smuggled guns to Ireland in his sailing yacht Asgard
Asgard (yacht)
The Asgard is a yacht, formerly owned by the English-born Irish nationalist, and writer Robert Erskine Childers and his wife Molly Childers. It was bought for £1,000 in 1904 from one of Norway's most famous boat designers, Colin Archer...

. He was executed by the authorities of the nascent Irish Free State
Irish Free State
The Irish Free State was the state established as a Dominion on 6 December 1922 under the Anglo-Irish Treaty, signed by the British government and Irish representatives exactly twelve months beforehand...

 during the Irish Civil War
Irish Civil War
The Irish Civil War was a conflict that accompanied the establishment of the Irish Free State as an entity independent from the United Kingdom within the British Empire....

. He was the son of British Orientalist
Orientalism
Orientalism is a term used for the imitation or depiction of aspects of Eastern cultures in the West by writers, designers and artists, as well as having other meanings...

 scholar Robert Caesar Childers
Robert Caesar Childers
Robert Caesar Childers was a British Orientalist scholar, compiler of the first Pāli-English dictionary. Childers was the husband of Anna Barton of Ireland...

; the cousin of Hugh Childers
Hugh Childers
Hugh Culling Eardley Childers was a British and Australian Liberal statesman of the nineteenth century. He is perhaps best known for his reform efforts at the Admiralty and the War Office...

 and Robert Barton
Robert Barton
Robert Childers Barton was an Irish lawyer, soldier, statesman and farmer who participated in the negotiations leading up to the signature of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. His father was Charles William Barton and his mother was Agnes Childers. His wife was Rachel Warren of Boston, daughter of Fiske...

; and the father of the fourth President of Ireland
President of Ireland
The President of Ireland is the head of state of Ireland. The President is usually directly elected by the people for seven years, and can be elected for a maximum of two terms. The presidency is largely a ceremonial office, but the President does exercise certain limited powers with absolute...

, Erskine Hamilton Childers
Erskine Hamilton Childers
Erskine Hamilton Childers served as the fourth President of Ireland from 1973 until his death in 1974. He was a Teachta Dála from 1938 until 1973...

.

Early life

Childers was born in Mayfair
Mayfair
Mayfair is an area of central London, within the City of Westminster.-History:Mayfair is named after the annual fortnight-long May Fair that took place on the site that is Shepherd Market today...

, London, the second son to Robert Caesar Childers, a translator and oriental scholar
Oriental studies
Oriental studies is the academic field of study that embraces Near Eastern and Far Eastern societies and cultures, languages, peoples, history and archaeology; in recent years the subject has often been turned into the newer terms of Asian studies and Middle Eastern studies...

 from an ecclesiastical
Anglican ministry
The Anglican ministry is both the leadership and agency of Christian service in the Anglican Communion. "Ministry" commonly refers to the office of ordained clergy: the threefold order of bishops, priests and deacons. More accurately, Anglican ministry includes many laypeople who devote themselves...

 family, and Anna Mary Henrietta, née Barton, from an Anglo-Irish
Anglo-Irish
Anglo-Irish was a term used primarily in the 19th and early 20th centuries to identify a privileged social class in Ireland, whose members were the descendants and successors of the Protestant Ascendancy, mostly belonging to the Church of Ireland, which was the established church of Ireland until...

 landowning family of Glendalough House, Annamoe
Annamoe
Annamoe is small picturesque village in County Wicklow, Ireland about from Dublin located on the Avonmore river. It is on the R755 between Roundwood and Laragh on the road to Glendalough....

, County Wicklow
County Wicklow
County Wicklow is a county in Ireland. It is part of the Mid-East Region and is also located in the province of Leinster. It is named after the town of Wicklow, which derives from the Old Norse name Víkingalág or Wykynlo. Wicklow County Council is the local authority for the county...

 with interests in France such as the winery that bears their name
Château Langoa-Barton
Château Langoa-Barton is a winery in the Saint-Julien appellation of the Bordeaux region of France. Château Langoa-Barton is also the name of the red wine produced by this property...

. When Erskine was six his father died from tuberculosis
Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis, MTB, or TB is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body...

 and, although seemingly healthy, Anna was confined to an isolation hospital, where she was to die six years later. The children, by this time numbering five, were sent to the Bartons at Glendalough. They were treated kindly there and Erskine came to identify himself closely with the country of Ireland, albeit at that stage from the comfortable viewpoint of the "Protestant Ascendancy
Protestant Ascendancy
The Protestant Ascendancy, usually known in Ireland simply as the Ascendancy, is a phrase used when referring to the political, economic, and social domination of Ireland by a minority of great landowners, Protestant clergy, and professionals, all members of the Established Church during the 17th...

".

At the recommendation of his grandfather, Canon
Canon (priest)
A canon is a priest or minister who is a member of certain bodies of the Christian clergy subject to an ecclesiastical rule ....

 Charles Childers, he was sent to Haileybury College. There he won an exhibition
Exhibition (scholarship)
-United Kingdom and Ireland:At the universities of Dublin, Oxford and Cambridge, and at Westminster School, Eton College and Winchester College, and various other UK educational establishments, an exhibition is a financial award or grant to an individual student, normally on grounds of merit. The...

 to Trinity College, Cambridge
Trinity College, Cambridge
Trinity College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge. Trinity has more members than any other college in Cambridge or Oxford, with around 700 undergraduates, 430 graduates, and over 170 Fellows...

, studying the classical tripos
Classical Tripos
The Classical Tripos is the taught course in classics at the University of Cambridge, equivalent to Literae Humaniores at Oxford. It is traditionally a three year degree, but for those who have not studied Latin and Greek at school a four year course has been introduced...

 and then law. He distinguished himself as the editor of Cambridge Review, a university magazine. Notwithstanding his unattractive voice and poor debating skills, he became president of the Trinity College Debating Society (the "Magpie and Stump" society). Although Erskine was an admirer of his cousin Hugh Childers
Hugh Childers
Hugh Culling Eardley Childers was a British and Australian Liberal statesman of the nineteenth century. He is perhaps best known for his reform efforts at the Admiralty and the War Office...

, a member of the Cabinet in favour of Irish home rule, he spoke vehemently against the policy in college debates. A sciatic injury sustained while hill walking in the summer before he went up, and which was to dog him for the rest of his life, had left him slightly lame and he was unable to pursue his intention of earning a rugby blue, but he became a proficient rower.

Having gained his degree in law, and with the vague intention of one day following cousin Hugh into parliament as an MP, Childers sat the competitive entry examination to become a parliamentary clerk. He was successful and early in 1895 he became a junior committee clerk, with the responsibility of preparing formal and legally sound bills
Bill (proposed law)
A bill is a proposed law under consideration by a legislature. A bill does not become law until it is passed by the legislature and, in most cases, approved by the executive. Once a bill has been enacted into law, it is called an act or a statute....

 from the proposals of the government of the day.

Sailing

With many sporting ventures now closed to him because of his persisting sciatic injury, Childers was encouraged by Walter Runciman
Walter Runciman, 1st Viscount Runciman of Doxford
Walter Runciman, 1st Viscount Runciman of Doxford PC was a prominent Liberal, later National Liberal politician in the United Kingdom from the 1900s until the 1930s.-Background:...

, a friend from schooldays, to take up sailing. After picking up the fundamentals of seamanship as a deckhand on Runciman's yacht, in 1893 he bought his own vessel, the "scrubby little yacht" Sheila, which he learned to sail alone on the Thames estuary
Thames Estuary
The Thames Mouth is the estuary in which the River Thames meets the waters of the North Sea.It is not easy to define the limits of the estuary, although physically the head of Sea Reach, near Canvey Island on the Essex shore is probably the western boundary...

. Bigger and better boats followed: by 1895 he was taking the half-deck Marguerite across the Channel
English Channel
The English Channel , often referred to simply as the Channel, is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France, and joins the North Sea to the Atlantic. It is about long and varies in width from at its widest to in the Strait of Dover...

 and in 1897 there was a long cruise to the Frisian Islands
Frisian Islands
The Frisian Islands, also known as the Wadden Islands or Wadden Sea Islands, form an archipelago at the eastern edge of the North Sea in northwestern Europe, stretching from the north-west of the Netherlands through Germany to the west of Denmark...

, Norderney
Norderney
Norderney is one of the seven populated East Frisian Islands off the North Sea coast of Germany. It is also a municipality in the district of Aurich in Lower Saxony....

 and the Baltic
Baltic Sea
The Baltic Sea is a brackish mediterranean sea located in Northern Europe, from 53°N to 66°N latitude and from 20°E to 26°E longitude. It is bounded by the Scandinavian Peninsula, the mainland of Europe, and the Danish islands. It drains into the Kattegat by way of the Øresund, the Great Belt and...

 with his brother Henry in the thirty-foot cutter Vixen: a voyage he repeated in the following spring. These were the adventures he was to fictionalise in 1903 as The Riddle of the Sands
The Riddle of the Sands
The Riddle of the Sands: A Record of Secret Service is a 1903 novel by Erskine Childers. It is an early example of the espionage novel, with a strong underlying theme of militarism...

, his most famous book. In 1903 Childers, now accompanied by his new wife Molly, was again cruising in the Frisian Islands, in Sunbeam, a boat he shared with William le Fanu and other friends from his university days. However his father-in-law, Dr Hamilton Osgood, had arranged for a fine 28-ton yacht, Asgard
Asgard (yacht)
The Asgard is a yacht, formerly owned by the English-born Irish nationalist, and writer Robert Erskine Childers and his wife Molly Childers. It was bought for £1,000 in 1904 from one of Norway's most famous boat designers, Colin Archer...

, to be built for the couple as a wedding gift and Sunbeam was only a temporary measure while Asgard was being fitted out
Fitting-out
Fitting-out, or "outfitting”, is the process in modern shipbuilding that follows the float-out of a vessel and precedes sea trials. It is the period when all the remaining construction of the ship is completed and readied for delivery to her owners...

.

"Asgard" was Childers's last, and most famous, yacht: in June 1914 he used it to smuggle a cargo of 900 elderly but serviceable Mauser Model 1871
Mauser Model 1871
The Mauser Model 1871 adopted as the Gewehr 71 or Infanterie-Gewehr 71 was the first of millions of rifles manufactured to the designs of Paul Mauser and Wilhelm Mauser of the Mauser company.During 1870-71 trials with many different rifles took place, with the "M1869 Bavarian Werder" being the...

 rifles and 29,000 rounds of black powder
Gunpowder
Gunpowder, also known since in the late 19th century as black powder, was the first chemical explosive and the only one known until the mid 1800s. It is a mixture of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate - with the sulfur and charcoal acting as fuels, while the saltpeter works as an oxidizer...

 cartridge
Cartridge (firearms)
A cartridge, also called a round, packages the bullet, gunpowder and primer into a single metallic case precisely made to fit the firing chamber of a firearm. The primer is a small charge of impact-sensitive chemical that may be located at the center of the case head or at its rim . Electrically...

 ammunition to the Irish Volunteers
Irish Volunteers
The Irish Volunteers was a military organisation established in 1913 by Irish nationalists. It was ostensibly formed in response to the formation of the Ulster Volunteers in 1912, and its declared primary aim was "to secure and maintain the rights and liberties common to the whole people of Ireland"...

 movement at the fishing village of Howth
Howth
Howth is an area in Fingal County near Dublin city in Ireland. Originally just a small fishing village, Howth with its surrounding rural district is now a busy suburb of Dublin, with a mix of dense residential development and wild hillside, all on the peninsula of Howth Head. The only...

, Co Dublin (later known as the "Howth gun-running
Howth gun-running
The Howth gun running took place in Ireland on 26 July 1914. It was a key step in providing arms to the Irish Volunteers, and played a role in the run-up to the Easter Rising of 1916.- The gun-running plan :...

"). It was acquired by the Irish government as a sail training vessel in 1961, stored on dry land in the yard of Kilmainham Gaol
Kilmainham Gaol
Kilmainham Gaol is a former prison, located in Kilmainham in Dublin, which is now a museum. It has been run since the mid-1980s by the Office of Public Works , an Irish Government agency...

 in 1979, and finally becoming a static exhibit at The National Museum of Ireland
Collins Barracks (Dublin)
Collins Barracks is a former military barracks in the Arbour Hill area of Dublin, Ireland. The buildings are now the National Museum of Ireland, Decorative Arts and History...

 in 1997.

Boer War

As with most men of his social background and education, Childers was a steadfast believer in the British Empire
British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

. Indeed for an old boy of Haileybury
Haileybury and Imperial Service College
Haileybury and Imperial Service College, , is a prestigious British independent school founded in 1862. The school is located at Hertford Heath, near Hertford, from central London, on of parkland occupied until 1858 by the East India College...

, a school founded to train young men for colonial service in India, this outlook was almost inevitable, although he had given the matter some critical consideration. In 1898, then, as negotiations over the voting rights of British settlers in the Boer
Boer
Boer is the Dutch and Afrikaans word for farmer, which came to denote the descendants of the Dutch-speaking settlers of the eastern Cape frontier in Southern Africa during the 18th century, as well as those who left the Cape Colony during the 19th century to settle in the Orange Free State,...

 territories of Transvaal
South African Republic
The South African Republic , often informally known as the Transvaal Republic, was an independent Boer-ruled country in Southern Africa during the second half of the 19th century. Not to be confused with the present-day Republic of South Africa, it occupied the area later known as the South African...

 and Orange Free State
Orange Free State
The Orange Free State was an independent Boer republic in southern Africa during the second half of the 19th century, and later a British colony and a province of the Union of South Africa. It is the historical precursor to the present-day Free State province...

 failed and the Boer War
Second Boer War
The Second Boer War was fought from 11 October 1899 until 31 May 1902 between the British Empire and the Afrikaans-speaking Dutch settlers of two independent Boer republics, the South African Republic and the Orange Free State...

 broke out, he needed little encouragement when in December Basil Williams, a colleague at Westminster and already a member of the volunteer
Military reserve force
A military reserve force is a military organization composed of citizens of a country who combine a military role or career with a civilian career. They are not normally kept under arms and their main role is to be available to fight when a nation mobilizes for total war or to defend against invasion...

 Honourable Artillery Company
Honourable Artillery Company
The Honourable Artillery Company was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1537 by King Henry VIII. Today it is a Registered Charity whose purpose is to attend to the “better defence of the realm"...

, suggested that they should enlist together. It was, therefore, as an artilleryman that Childers joined the City Imperial Volunteers, something of an ad-hoc force comprising soldiers from different territorial regiments, but funded by City
City of London
The City of London is a small area within Greater London, England. It is the historic core of London around which the modern conurbation grew and has held city status since time immemorial. The City’s boundaries have remained almost unchanged since the Middle Ages, and it is now only a tiny part of...

 institutions and provided with the most modern equipment. He was classed as a "driver", caring for a pair of horses and riding them in the gun train
Horse artillery
Horse artillery was a type of light, fast-moving and fast-firing artillery which provided highly mobile fire support to European and American armies from the 17th to the early 20th century...

. The unit set off for South Africa on 2 February 1900 and here Childers's sailing experience was useful: most of the new volunteers, and their officers, were seasick and it largely fell to him to care for the troop's thirty horses.
After the three-week voyage it was something of a disappointment that the HAC detachment was, initially, not used. It was not until 26 June, while escorting a supply train of slow ox-wagons, that Childers first experienced enemy fire, in three days of skirmishing in defence of the column. However it was a smartly executed defence of a beleaguered infantry regiment on 3 July that established their worth and more significant engagements followed. On 24 August Childers was evacuated from the front line, not as the result of a wound but from a type of trench foot
Trench foot
Trench foot is a medical condition caused by prolonged exposure of the feet to damp, unsanitary, and cold conditions. It is one of many immersion foot syndromes...

, to hospital in Pretoria. The seven-day journey happened to be in the company of wounded infantrymen from Cork
County Cork
County Cork is a county in Ireland. It is located in the South-West Region and is also part of the province of Munster. It is named after the city of Cork . Cork County Council is the local authority for the county...

, Ireland, and Childers noted approvingly how cheerfully loyal to Britain the men were, how resistant to any incitement in support of Irish home rule and how they had been let down only by the incompetence of their officers. This is a striking contrast to the attitude he was to note towards the end of the First World War
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 when conscription
Conscription
Conscription is the compulsory enlistment of people in some sort of national service, most often military service. Conscription dates back to antiquity and continues in some countries to the present day under various names...

 in Ireland was under consideration: "...young men hopelessly estranged from Britain and...anxious to die in Ireland for Irish liberty." After a chance meeting with his brother Henry, also suffering from a foot injury, he rejoined his unit, only for it to be despatched to England on 7 October 1900.

First World War

Childers's attitude to Britain's establishment
The Establishment
The Establishment is a term used to refer to a visible dominant group or elite that holds power or authority in a nation. The term suggests a closed social group which selects its own members...

 and politics was somewhat equivocal at the start of the First World War. He had resigned his membership of the Liberal Party
Liberal Party (UK)
The Liberal Party was one of the two major political parties of the United Kingdom during the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was a third party of negligible importance throughout the latter half of the 20th Century, before merging with the Social Democratic Party in 1988 to form the present day...

, and with it his hopes of winning a parliamentary seat
Member of Parliament
A Member of Parliament is a representative of the voters to a :parliament. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, the term applies specifically to members of the lower house, as upper houses often have a different title, such as senate, and thus also have different titles for its members,...

, over concessions to Unionists
Unionism in Ireland
Unionism in Ireland is an ideology that favours the continuation of some form of political union between the islands of Ireland and Great Britain...

 and a further postponement of Irish self-rule; he had written works critical of British policy in Ireland and in its South African possessions; above all, in July 1914, he had smuggled a shipment of arms
Howth gun-running
The Howth gun running took place in Ireland on 26 July 1914. It was a key step in providing arms to the Irish Volunteers, and played a role in the run-up to the Easter Rising of 1916.- The gun-running plan :...

 bought in Germany to supply nationalists in Ireland. This knowledge was not in wide circulation, but neither was it a great secret, and the official telegram calling Childers to naval service was sent to the Dublin headquarters of the Irish Volunteers
Irish Volunteers
The Irish Volunteers was a military organisation established in 1913 by Irish nationalists. It was ostensibly formed in response to the formation of the Ulster Volunteers in 1912, and its declared primary aim was "to secure and maintain the rights and liberties common to the whole people of Ireland"...

, the group to which he had made the delivery. Although in 1914 it could be argued that, in the case of war, the Irish Volunteers might fight on the side of Britain as a means of securing bargaining power in home rule negotiations, these weapons were used against British soldiers, diverted from fighting the enemy, in The Easter Rising of 1916. Then again, Childers believed that smaller nations such as Belgium and Serbia would benefit from Britain's defeat of Germany and, as a prospectively independent nation, Ireland too would gain.

If Childers's support for Britain in the fight against Germany may have been in some doubt, when in mid-August 1914 he did once again volunteer, the grant of a reserve commission in the intelligence arm of the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 was entirely to be expected: Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

, the First Lord of the Admiralty, although hostile to spending money on armaments at the time The Riddle of the Sands was published, later gave the book the credit for persuading public opinion to fund vital measures against the German naval threat, and he was instrumental in securing Childers's recall. His first task was a neat reversal of his plot for The Riddle of the Sands: to draw up a plan for the invasion of Germany by way of the Frisian Islands. Only a few days later he found himself allocated to HMS Engadine
HMS Engadine (1911)
HMS Engadine was a seaplane tender which served in the First World War. She was built as a Folkestone-Boulogne ferry by William Denny and Brothers, launched on 23 September 1911 and named after the Engadine valley in Switzerland...

, a seaplane support vessel, as an instructor in coastal navigation to newly trained pilots. He managed to extend his duties to include flying as a navigator and observer, including a sortie navigating over a familiar coastline in the Cuxhaven Raid
Cuxhaven Raid
The Cuxhaven Raid was a British ship-based air-raid on the German naval forces at Cuxhaven mounted on Christmas Day, 1914.Aircraft of the Royal Naval Air Service were carried to within striking distance by seaplane tenders of the Royal Navy, supported by both surface ships and submarines...

, an inconclusive bombing attack on the Cuxhaven airship base on Christmas Day 1914, for which he was mentioned in despatches. In 1915 he was transferred in a similar role to HMS Ben-my-Chree
HMS Ben-my-Chree
HMS Ben-my-Chree was a packet steamer and a Royal Navy seaplane carrier of the First World War. She had originally been built as a fast passenger ferry for the Isle of Man Steam Packet — the third to bear her name — in 1907 by Vickers for the England–Isle of Man route...

, in which he served in the Gallipoli Campaign and the eastern Mediterranean, earning himself a Distinguished Service Cross. He was sent back to London in April 1916 to receive his decoration from the king and for service in the Admiralty
Admiralty
The Admiralty was formerly the authority in the Kingdom of England, and later in the United Kingdom, responsible for the command of the Royal Navy...

. This period in his life is relatively undocumented and his Irish detractors were to allege that he was once again engaged in intelligence work. In reality he was engaged in the mundane task of allocating seaplanes to their intended ships. It took Childers until autumn of that year to extricate himself and train for service with a new coastal motor-boat
Coastal Motor Boat
During the First World War, following a suggestion from three junior officers of the Harwich destroyer force that small motor boats carrying a torpedo might be capable of travelling over the protective minefields and attacking ships of the German Navy at anchor in their bases, the Admiralty gave...

 squadron operating in the English Channel
English Channel
The English Channel , often referred to simply as the Channel, is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France, and joins the North Sea to the Atlantic. It is about long and varies in width from at its widest to in the Strait of Dover...

.

Irish convention

A respite from Childers's military career was offered on 27 July 1917, when Sir Horace Plunkett asked that he be assigned to the secretariat of Prime Minister Lloyd George
David Lloyd George
David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor OM, PC was a British Liberal politician and statesman...

's Home Rule Convention
Irish Convention
The Irish Convention was an assembly which sat in Dublin, Ireland from July 1917 until March 1918 to address the Irish Question and other constitutional problems relating to an early enactment of self-government for Ireland, to debate its wider future, discuss and come to an understanding on...

 initiative in Dublin Castle
Dublin Castle
Dublin Castle off Dame Street, Dublin, Ireland, was until 1922 the fortified seat of British rule in Ireland, and is now a major Irish government complex. Most of it dates from the 18th century, though a castle has stood on the site since the days of King John, the first Lord of Ireland...

. The enterprise failed and, on his return to London in April 1918, Childers found that, as a naval flyer, he had been transferred into the newly created Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

. No job was found for him until Hugh Trenchard formed his Independent Bomber Command and he was attached as a group intelligence officer to prepare navigational briefings for attacks on Berlin. The raids were forestalled by the Armistice
Armistice with Germany (Compiègne)
The armistice between the Allies and Germany was an agreement that ended the fighting in the First World War. It was signed in a railway carriage in Compiègne Forest on 11 November 1918 and marked a victory for the Allies and a complete defeat for Germany, although not technically a surrender...

 and Childers's last assignment was to provide an intelligence assessment of the effects of bombing raids in Belgium.

Marriage

In autumn 1903 Childers travelled to the United States as part of a reciprocal visit between the Honourable Artillery Company of London and the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts
Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts
The Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts is the oldest chartered military organization in North America and the third oldest chartered military organization in the world...

 of Boston. At the end of the official visit he elected to remain and explore New England
New England
New England is a region in the northeastern corner of the United States consisting of the six states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut...

 on a hired motor cycle. One day by chance the machine broke down outside the Beacon Hill
Beacon Hill, Boston, Massachusetts
Beacon Hill is a historic neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, that along with the neighboring Back Bay is home to about 26,000 people. It is a neighborhood of Federal-style rowhouses and is known for its narrow, gas-lit streets and brick sidewalks...

 home of Dr Hamilton Osgood, a prominent physician in the city. Childers diffidently knocked to borrow a spanner but, as a visitor with the celebrated HAC, he was invited in for dinner and introduced to Dr Osgood's younger daughter, Mary Alden ("Molly") Osgood. The liberal English author and the well read republican
Republicanism
Republicanism is the ideology of governing a nation as a republic, where the head of state is appointed by means other than heredity, often elections. The exact meaning of republicanism varies depending on the cultural and historical context...

 heiress found each other congenial company. The hospitable Dr Osgood organised the rest of Childers's stay, with much time shared with Molly, and the pair were married at Boston's Trinity Church on 5 January 1904.

Childers returned to London with his new wife and resumed his position in the House of Commons. His reputation as an influential author gave the couple access to the political establishment, which Molly relished, but at the same time she set to work to rid Childers of his already faltering imperialism
Imperialism
Imperialism, as defined by Dictionary of Human Geography, is "the creation and/or maintenance of an unequal economic, cultural, and territorial relationships, usually between states and often in the form of an empire, based on domination and subordination." The imperialism of the last 500 years,...

. In her turn Molly developed a strong admiration for Britain, its institutions and, as she then saw it, its willingness to go to war in the interests of smaller nations against the great. Over the next seven years they lived comfortably in their rented flat
Apartment
An apartment or flat is a self-contained housing unit that occupies only part of a building...

 in Chelsea
Chelsea, London
Chelsea is an area of West London, England, bounded to the south by the River Thames, where its frontage runs from Chelsea Bridge along the Chelsea Embankment, Cheyne Walk, Lots Road and Chelsea Harbour. Its eastern boundary was once defined by the River Westbourne, which is now in a pipe above...

, supported by Childers's salary—he had received promotion to the position of parliamentary Clerk of Petitions in 1903—his continuing writings and, not least, generous benefactions from Dr Osgood. Molly, despite a severe weakness in the legs following a childhood injury, took enthusiastically to sailing, first in the Seagull and later on many voyages in her father's gift, the Asgard. Throughout their marriage Childers wrote frequently to his wife and his letters show that the couple lived in great contentment during this time. Three sons were born: Erskine
Erskine Hamilton Childers
Erskine Hamilton Childers served as the fourth President of Ireland from 1973 until his death in 1974. He was a Teachta Dála from 1938 until 1973...

 in December 1905, Henry, who died before his first birthday, in February 1907, and Robert Alden in December 1910.

Writing

Childers's first published work seems to have been some light detective stories he contributed to the Cambridge Review while he was editor. His first book was In the Ranks of the C. I. V., an account of his experiences in the Boer War, but he wrote it without any thought of publication: while serving with the Honourable Artillery Company in southern Africa he composed many long, descriptive letters about his experiences to his two sisters, Dulcibella and Constance. They, together with Elizabeth Thompson, daughter of George Smith
George Murray Smith
George Murray Smith was the son of George Smith who with Alexander Elder started the Victorian publishing firm of Smith, Elder & Co.. His brainchild, The Cornhill Magazine, was the premier fiction-carrying magazine of the 19th century.The firm was extremely successful. G. M...

 of the publishing house Smith, Elder
Smith, Elder & Co.
Smith, Elder & Co. was a firm of British publishers who were most noted for the works they published in the 19th century.The firm was founded by George Smith and Alexander Elder and successfully continued by George Murray Smith .They are notable for producing the first edition of the Dictionary...

 and a friend of the family, edited the letters into book form. The print proofs
Galley proof
In printing and publishing, proofs are the preliminary versions of publications meant for review by authors, editors, and proofreaders, often with extra wide margins. Galley proofs may be uncut and unbound, or in some cases electronic...

 were waiting for Childers to approve on his return from the war in October 1900 and Smith, Elder published the work in November. It was well-timed to catch the public's interest in the war, which continued until May 1902, and it sold in substantial numbers.

Childers's colleague Basil Williams was preparing a more formal book, The HAC in South Africa, which was intended to be the official history of the regiment's part in the campaign. When Williams was recalled to Johannesburg
Johannesburg
Johannesburg also known as Jozi, Jo'burg or Egoli, is the largest city in South Africa, by population. Johannesburg is the provincial capital of Gauteng, the wealthiest province in South Africa, having the largest economy of any metropolitan region in Sub-Saharan Africa...

, now as a civilian on the peace commission, the HAC approached Childers to finish the work. Collaborating with Williams by letter, Childers completed the book for publication in 1903.

In January 1901 Childers started work on his novel, The Riddle of the Sands
The Riddle of the Sands
The Riddle of the Sands: A Record of Secret Service is a 1903 novel by Erskine Childers. It is an early example of the espionage novel, with a strong underlying theme of militarism...

, but initially progress was slow: it was not until winter of that year that he was able to tell Williams, in one of his regular letters, of the outline of the plot. At the end of the following year, after a hard summer of writing, the manuscript went to Reginald Smith at Smith Elder, but in February 1903, just as Childers was hoping to return to The HAC in South Africa, Smith sent back the novel, with instructions for extensive changes. With the help of his sisters, who cross-checked the new manuscript pages against the existing material, Childers produced the final version in time for publication in May 1903. Based on his own sailing trips with his brother Henry along the German coast, it predicted war with Germany and called for British preparedness. There has been much speculation about which of Childers's friends was the model for "Carruthers" in the novel and it seems that he is based not on Henry Childers but on yachting enthusiast Walter Runciman
Walter Runciman, 1st Viscount Runciman of Doxford
Walter Runciman, 1st Viscount Runciman of Doxford PC was a prominent Liberal, later National Liberal politician in the United Kingdom from the 1900s until the 1930s.-Background:...

; "Davies", of course, is Childers himself. Because of The Riddle, Childers was invited to join the Savile Club
Savile Club
The Savile Club was founded in 1868 for the purpose of conversation and good company. Though located somewhat out of the way from the main centre of London's gentlemen's clubs, closer to the residences of Mayfair than the clubs of Pall Mall and St James's Street, it still contained some prominent...

, then a literary epicentre in London. Widely popular, the book has never gone out of print and in 2003, a handful of centenary editions was published. The Observer
The Observer
The Observer is a British newspaper, published on Sundays. In the same place on the political spectrum as its daily sister paper The Guardian, which acquired it in 1993, it takes a liberal or social democratic line on most issues. It is the world's oldest Sunday newspaper.-Origins:The first issue,...

 has listed the book on its list of "The 100 Greatest Novels of All Time". It has been called the first spy novel (a claim challenged by advocates of Rudyard Kipling
Rudyard Kipling
Joseph Rudyard Kipling was an English poet, short-story writer, and novelist chiefly remembered for his celebration of British imperialism, tales and poems of British soldiers in India, and his tales for children. Kipling received the 1907 Nobel Prize for Literature...

's Kim
Kim (novel)
Kim is a picaresque novel by Rudyard Kipling. It was first published serially in McClure's Magazine from December 1900 to October 1901 as well as in Cassell's Magazine from January to November 1901, and first published in book form by Macmillan & Co. Ltd in October 1901...

, published two years earlier), and enjoyed immense popularity in the years before World War I. It was an extremely influential book: Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

 later credited it as a major reason that the Admiralty
Admiralty
The Admiralty was formerly the authority in the Kingdom of England, and later in the United Kingdom, responsible for the command of the Royal Navy...

 decided to establish naval bases at Invergordon
Invergordon
Invergordon is a town and port in Easter Ross, in Ross and Cromarty, Highland, Scotland.-History:The town is well known for the Invergordon Mutiny of 1931. More recently it was also known for the repair of oil rigs which used to be lined up in the Cromarty Firth on which the town is situated...

, Rosyth
Rosyth Dockyard
Rosyth Dockyard is a large naval dockyard on the Firth of Forth at Rosyth, Fife, Scotland, owned by Babcock Marine, which primarily undertakes refitting of Royal Navy surface vessels.-History:...

 on the Firth of Forth
Firth of Forth
The Firth of Forth is the estuary or firth of Scotland's River Forth, where it flows into the North Sea, between Fife to the north, and West Lothian, the City of Edinburgh and East Lothian to the south...

 and Scapa Flow
Scapa Flow
right|thumb|Scapa Flow viewed from its eastern endScapa Flow is a body of water in the Orkney Islands, Scotland, United Kingdom, sheltered by the islands of Mainland, Graemsay, Burray, South Ronaldsay and Hoy. It is about...

 in Orkney. It was also a notable influence on John Buchan.

The editor of the magisterial The Times
The Times
The Times is a British daily national newspaper, first published in London in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register . The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary since 1981 of News International...

' History of the War in South Africa was a neighbour, Leo Amery. He had already persuaded Basil Williams to write volume four of the work and, using this to recommend his project, he enlisted Childers to prepare volume five. Although a profitable commission, it was a time-consuming one and it took much of Childers's free time until publication in 1907. It drew attention to British errors, both political and military, in that war and made unfavourable contrast with the tactics of the Boer
Boer
Boer is the Dutch and Afrikaans word for farmer, which came to denote the descendants of the Dutch-speaking settlers of the eastern Cape frontier in Southern Africa during the 18th century, as well as those who left the Cape Colony during the 19th century to settle in the Orange Free State,...

 guerrillas
Guerrilla warfare
Guerrilla warfare is a form of irregular warfare and refers to conflicts in which a small group of combatants including, but not limited to, armed civilians use military tactics, such as ambushes, sabotage, raids, the element of surprise, and extraordinary mobility to harass a larger and...

. Again motivated by his expectation of forthcoming war with Germany, he wrote two books on cavalry warfare
Cavalry tactics
For much of history , humans have used some form of cavalry for war. Cavalry tactics have evolved over time...

 based on his experiences: War and the Arme Blanche (1910) and the German Influence on British Cavalry (1911). Both books were strongly critical of outmoded British Army tactics; the arme blanche, the use of the sabre
Sabre
The sabre or saber is a kind of backsword that usually has a curved, single-edged blade and a rather large hand guard, covering the knuckles of the hand as well as the thumb and forefinger...

 in cavalry actions, was a practice dropped as ineffective during the Boer War but reintroduced at the insistence of traditionalists immediately afterwards. Although the first book carried a foreword from the influential and respected General Frederick Roberts
Frederick Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts
Field Marshal Frederick Sleigh Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts, Bt, VC, KG, KP, GCB, OM, GCSI, GCIE, KStJ, PC was a distinguished Indian born British soldier who regarded himself as Anglo-Irish and one of the most successful British commanders of the 19th century.-Early life:Born at Cawnpore, India, on...

, it was the very obvious truth in the appraisals that made it impossible for the Army to accept them without appearing to be at fault. The second work was an "intolerant" rejoinder to criticisms of War and the Arme Blanche from Prussian general Friedrich von Bernhardi
Friedrich von Bernhardi
Friedrich Adolf Julius von Bernhardi was a Prussian general and military historian. He was one of the best-selling authors prior to World War I. A militarist, he is perhaps best known for his bellicose book Deutschland und der Nächste Krieg , printed in 1911...

, writing in an unlikely alliance with British General French
John French, 1st Earl of Ypres
Field Marshal John Denton Pinkstone French, 1st Earl of Ypres, KP, GCB, OM, GCVO, KCMG, ADC, PC , known as The Viscount French between 1916 and 1922, was a British and Anglo-Irish officer...

.

It was as a prospective Liberal Party
Liberal Party (UK)
The Liberal Party was one of the two major political parties of the United Kingdom during the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was a third party of negligible importance throughout the latter half of the 20th Century, before merging with the Social Democratic Party in 1988 to form the present day...

 candidate for Parliament
Parliament of the United Kingdom
The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the supreme legislative body in the United Kingdom, British Crown dependencies and British overseas territories, located in London...

 that Childers wrote his last major book: The Framework for Home Rule (1911). Although, for Childers, it represented a major change from the opinions he had previously held, Irish home rule was at the time a mainstream policy that had received indisputable endorsement in the General Election
United Kingdom general election, 1906
-Seats summary:-See also:*MPs elected in the United Kingdom general election, 1906*The Parliamentary Franchise in the United Kingdom 1885-1918-External links:***-References:*F. W. S. Craig, British Electoral Facts: 1832-1987**...

 of 1906 and was the official line of his party. However, the policy was then shelved until the close-run result of the 1910 election, after which the Liberals needed Irish support to maintain a majority. His principal argument was an economic one: that an Irish parliament (there would be no Westminster MPs) would be responsible for making fiscal policy, to the benefit of the country, and would hold "dominion
Dominion
A dominion, often Dominion, refers to one of a group of autonomous polities that were nominally under British sovereignty, constituting the British Empire and British Commonwealth, beginning in the latter part of the 19th century. They have included Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland,...

" status, in the same detached way in which the Dominion of Canada managed its affairs. His arguments were based in part on the findings of the "Childers Commission" of the 1890s that had been chaired by his cousin, Hugh Childers
Hugh Childers
Hugh Culling Eardley Childers was a British and Australian Liberal statesman of the nineteenth century. He is perhaps best known for his reform efforts at the Admiralty and the War Office...

. Erskine Childers had consulted the Unionists
Unionism in Ireland
Unionism in Ireland is an ideology that favours the continuation of some form of political union between the islands of Ireland and Great Britain...

 of Ulster
Ulster
Ulster is one of the four provinces of Ireland, located in the north of the island. In ancient Ireland, it was one of the fifths ruled by a "king of over-kings" . Following the Norman invasion of Ireland, the ancient kingdoms were shired into a number of counties for administrative and judicial...

 in preparing Framework and, somewhat naively, wrote that their reluctance to accept the policy would easily be overcome. Passing the Third Home Rule Act was a slow process; it was shelved for the duration of the First World War and never implemented.

Conversion

There was no single incident which was responsible for Childers's conversion from loyal supporter of the British Empire to extreme Irish nationalist: a nationalist so intemperate that his opposition to compromise is sometimes blamed for bringing about the Irish Civil War
Irish Civil War
The Irish Civil War was a conflict that accompanied the establishment of the Irish Free State as an entity independent from the United Kingdom within the British Empire....

. Rather, there was a gradual awareness, later turning into a fanatical obsession, that the island of Ireland should have its own government. An early disillusionment with Britain's empire policy was his realisation that, given more patient and skilful negotiation, the Boer War
Second Boer War
The Second Boer War was fought from 11 October 1899 until 31 May 1902 between the British Empire and the Afrikaans-speaking Dutch settlers of two independent Boer republics, the South African Republic and the Orange Free State...

 could have been avoided. His friend and biographer Basil Williams noticed his growing doubts about Britain's actions in southern Africa while they were on campaign together: "Both of us, who came out as hide-bound Tories, began to tend towards more liberal ideas, partly from the ... democratic company we were keeping, but chiefly, I think, from our discussions on politics and life generally." Molly Childers, brought up in a family that proudly traced its roots to the Mayflower
Mayflower
The Mayflower was the ship that transported the English Separatists, better known as the Pilgrims, from a site near the Mayflower Steps in Plymouth, England, to Plymouth, Massachusetts, , in 1620...

voyage escaping oppression in England, also influenced her husband's outlook on the right of Britain to rule in other lands. The ground was well prepared, then, when in the summer of 1908 he and his cousin Robert Barton
Robert Barton
Robert Childers Barton was an Irish lawyer, soldier, statesman and farmer who participated in the negotiations leading up to the signature of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. His father was Charles William Barton and his mother was Agnes Childers. His wife was Rachel Warren of Boston, daughter of Fiske...

 took a holiday motor tour inspecting agricultural co-operatives in the south and west of Ireland. "I have come back," he wrote to Basil Williams, "finally and immutably a convert to Home Rule...though we both grew up steeped in the most irreconcilable sort of Unionism."

In the autumn of 1910 Childers resigned his post as Clerk of Petitions to leave himself free to join the Liberal Party
Liberal Party (UK)
The Liberal Party was one of the two major political parties of the United Kingdom during the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was a third party of negligible importance throughout the latter half of the 20th Century, before merging with the Social Democratic Party in 1988 to form the present day...

, with its declared commitment to home rule, and in May 1912 he secured for himself the candidature in one of the parliamentary seats in the naval town of Devonport. As the well-known writer of The Riddle of the Sands, with its implied support for an expanded Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

, Childers could hardly fail to win the vote whenever the next election was called. However his party, although relying upon Home Rule MPs
Irish Parliamentary Party
The Irish Parliamentary Party was formed in 1882 by Charles Stewart Parnell, the leader of the Nationalist Party, replacing the Home Rule League, as official parliamentary party for Irish nationalist Members of Parliament elected to the House of Commons at...

 for its Commons majority, dropped its intention to implement self-government in Ireland in response to threats from the Belfast Unionists
Unionism in Ireland
Unionism in Ireland is an ideology that favours the continuation of some form of political union between the islands of Ireland and Great Britain...

 of a civil war. Childers abandoned his candidacy and left the party.

The threats of revolt were real; disaffection among army officers who might be required to act against any rebellion was revealed by the Curragh incident
Curragh Incident
The Curragh Incident of 20 March 1914, also known as the Curragh Mutiny, occurred in the Curragh, County Kildare, Ireland. The Curragh Camp was then the main base for the British Army in Ireland, which at the time formed part of the United Kingdom....

 in March, and the large-scale covert Larne gun-running was made in April 1914. The organisers of the Unionists' gun running were influential men and in the interests of political expediency they were not prosecuted. Not only did they avoid prosecution, but their action succeeded in deferring the Liberals' Home Rule Act 1914
Home Rule Act 1914
The Government of Ireland Act 1914 , also known as the Third Home Rule Bill, was an Act passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom intended to provide self-government for Ireland within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.The Act was the first law ever passed by the Parliament of...

 until after the outbreak of war, when it was shelved for the duration. Childers's response was to organise a symbolic arms purchase on behalf of the Irish Volunteers
Irish Volunteers
The Irish Volunteers was a military organisation established in 1913 by Irish nationalists. It was ostensibly formed in response to the formation of the Ulster Volunteers in 1912, and its declared primary aim was "to secure and maintain the rights and liberties common to the whole people of Ireland"...

, known as the "Howth gun-running
Howth gun-running
The Howth gun running took place in Ireland on 26 July 1914. It was a key step in providing arms to the Irish Volunteers, and played a role in the run-up to the Easter Rising of 1916.- The gun-running plan :...

". In May 1914 a committee of idealistic Anglo-Irish "cultural nationalists" was set up to raise the necessary funds, with Alice Stopford Green
Alice Stopford Green
Alice Stopford Green was an Irish historian and nationalist.She was born Alice Sophia Amelia Stopford in Kells, County Meath. Her father Edward Adderley Stopford was Rector of Kells and Archdeacon of Meath. Her paternal grandfather was the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Meath...

 as treasurer and Molly Childers as secretary. Roger Casement
Roger Casement
Roger David Casement —Sir Roger Casement CMG between 1911 and shortly before his execution for treason, when he was stripped of his British honours—was an Irish patriot, poet, revolutionary, and nationalist....

 was appointed as the link with the Volunteers' leadership and Darrell Figgis
Darrell Figgis
Darrell Edmund Figgis was an Irish writer, Sinn Féin activist and independent parliamentarian in the Irish Free State. The little that has been written about him has attempted to highlight how thoroughly his memory and works have been excised from Irish popular culture.-Early life:Darrell Figgis...

, who was able to offer introductions to various arms dealers, was co-opted at Casement's suggestion. At the end of May, Childers and Figgis travelled to the Hamburg arms firm of Moritz Magnus der Jüngere and bought a consignment of 1,500 Mauser Model 1871
Mauser Model 1871
The Mauser Model 1871 adopted as the Gewehr 71 or Infanterie-Gewehr 71 was the first of millions of rifles manufactured to the designs of Paul Mauser and Wilhelm Mauser of the Mauser company.During 1870-71 trials with many different rifles took place, with the "M1869 Bavarian Werder" being the...

 rifles and 49,000 rounds of ammunition, for delivery at sea. On 12 July 1914 off the mouth of the River Scheldt
Scheldt
The Scheldt is a 350 km long river in northern France, western Belgium and the southwestern part of the Netherlands...

 the arms were transferred from a German tugboat to Childers's yacht Asgard and the Kelpie of Conor O'Brien
Conor O'Brien
Edward Conor Marshall O'Brien was an intellectual, Irish aristocrat, republican, nationalist, pioneer in modern maritime theory, owner and captain of one of the first boats to sail under the tri-colour of the Irish Free State, during his circumnavigation in the Saoirse. Reputedly this was the...

. Childers sailed into Howth shortly after noon on 26 July and the weapons were handed over, in a far from secret operation, to uniformed columns of Irish Volunteers. The movements of Kelpie had become known to the authorities and so, off the coast of Wales, O'Brien transferred his cargo to Sir Thomas Myles
Thomas Myles
Sir Thomas Myles, CB was a prominent Irish Home Ruler and surgeon, involved in the importation of arms for the Irish Volunteers in 1914....

 in the Chotah. These were landed at Kilcoole
Kilcoole
Kilcoole is a village in County Wicklow, Ireland. It is three kilometres south of Greystones, 14 kilometres north of Wicklow, and about 25 kilometres south of Dublin. It was used as the set for the Irish television series Glenroe, which ran through the 1980s and 1990s...

, south of Dublin, under cover of darkness on 1 August.

Although Childers may have intended his act as no more than a symbolic gesture, it had all too tangible consequences: the Volunteers were too numerous to allow any official intervention to succeed, but police nonetheless attempted to intercept the weapons as they were being marched towards Dublin. A small detachment from The King's Own Scottish Borderers was called to assist the police, but the Volunteers had dispersed, with most of the weapons. However the troops found themselves at the centre of a hostile demonstration and opened fire on the crowd: three died. Because the imminent declaration of war against Germany, just nine days away, was occupying all of Childers's attention, this ill-targeted official reaction did not, at the time, strengthen his nationalist resolve still further. The same could not be said of Molly, who although having previously viewed her husband's association with Casement (whom she assessed as having "a streak of madness" within him) with suspicion, was now persuaded of Britain's "injustice and cruelty".

Unbeknown to Childers, the Irish Volunteers organiser at Howth, Bulmer Hobson
Bulmer Hobson
John Bulmer Hobson was a leading member of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Republican Brotherhood before the Easter Rising in 1916...

, was a founding member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood
Irish Republican Brotherhood
The Irish Republican Brotherhood was a secret oath-bound fraternal organisation dedicated to the establishment of an "independent democratic republic" in Ireland during the second half of the 19th century and the start of the 20th century...

, and at Easter 1916 the Brotherhood used the "Howth Mausers" to mount the historic Easter Rising
Easter Rising
The Easter Rising was an insurrection staged in Ireland during Easter Week, 1916. The Rising was mounted by Irish republicans with the aims of ending British rule in Ireland and establishing the Irish Republic at a time when the British Empire was heavily engaged in the First World War...

. Hobson himself did not support the rising and Casement, who had arranged to supply the rebels with a further shipload of arms from the German army, was under arrest with his consignment scuttled. The uprising was crushed in heavy fighting and was followed by a strict imposition of martial law
Martial law
Martial law is the imposition of military rule by military authorities over designated regions on an emergency basis— only temporary—when the civilian government or civilian authorities fail to function effectively , when there are extensive riots and protests, or when the disobedience of the law...

. Childers, on temporary leave in London, was shocked by the harsh and summary punishments (including the execution of sixteen of the leaders of the rising) authorised by General John Maxwell
John Maxwell (British Army officer)
General Sir John Grenfell Maxwell GCB, KCMG, CVO, DSO, PC was a British Army officer and colonial governor. He served in the Mahdist War in the Sudan, the Boer War, and in the First World War, but he is best known for his role in the suppression of the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland and subsequent...

, but as a serving officer he could do little.

Home Rule

The violent suppression of the Easter Rising had dismayed Childers and a Westminster bill
Bill (proposed law)
A bill is a proposed law under consideration by a legislature. A bill does not become law until it is passed by the legislature and, in most cases, approved by the executive. Once a bill has been enacted into law, it is called an act or a statute....

 to extend military conscription to Ireland, leading to the Conscription Crisis of 1918, angered him further: he described the proposal as "insane and criminal". In March 1919, after a severe attack of influenza
Influenza
Influenza, commonly referred to as the flu, is an infectious disease caused by RNA viruses of the family Orthomyxoviridae , that affects birds and mammals...

, his doctors ordered rest in the country. Glendalough was the obvious choice and he joined his cousin Robert Barton
Robert Barton
Robert Childers Barton was an Irish lawyer, soldier, statesman and farmer who participated in the negotiations leading up to the signature of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. His father was Charles William Barton and his mother was Agnes Childers. His wife was Rachel Warren of Boston, daughter of Fiske...

 there. Barton, however, had thrown in his lot with Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin is a left wing, Irish republican political party in Ireland. The name is Irish for "ourselves" or "we ourselves", although it is frequently mistranslated as "ourselves alone". Originating in the Sinn Féin organisation founded in 1905 by Arthur Griffith, it took its current form in 1970...

 and he introduced Childers to the underground military leader Michael Collins
Michael Collins (Irish leader)
Michael "Mick" Collins was an Irish revolutionary leader, Minister for Finance and Teachta Dála for Cork South in the First Dáil of 1919, Director of Intelligence for the IRA, and member of the Irish delegation during the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations. Subsequently, he was both Chairman of the...

, who in turn introduced him to Éamon de Valera
Éamon de Valera
Éamon de Valera was one of the dominant political figures in twentieth century Ireland, serving as head of government of the Irish Free State and head of government and head of state of Ireland...

, the President of Sinn Féin. Influenced by these figures, and other uncompromising nationalists who regularly stayed at Glendalough, he finally came to believe that his moderate "dominion" proposal would not serve. At the end of his convalescence Childers returned to Molly at the Chelsea flat, but a month later he received an invitation to meet the Sinn Féin leadership in Dublin. Anticipating an offer of a major rôle, Childers hurried to Dublin but, apart from Collins, he found the Nationalist leadership wary, or even hostile. Arthur Griffith
Arthur Griffith
Arthur Griffith was the founder and third leader of Sinn Féin. He served as President of Dáil Éireann from January to August 1922, and was head of the Irish delegation at the negotiations in London that produced the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921.-Early life:...

, in particular, looked on him as at best a renegade and traitor to Britain, or at worst as a British spy. The task they gave him was to join the unofficial Irish delegation to the Paris Peace Conference
Paris Peace Conference, 1919
The Paris Peace Conference was the meeting of the Allied victors following the end of World War I to set the peace terms for the defeated Central Powers following the armistices of 1918. It took place in Paris in 1919 and involved diplomats from more than 32 countries and nationalities...

. This unpromising undertaking, as Childers saw it, was intended to advance the cause of Irish self rule by reminding the various official representatives of the ideals of freedom over which Britain had gone to war. In this they were totally unsuccessful, and Childers returned once again to London. Anxious to be at the centre of events he rented a house in Dublin, but Molly was reluctant to join him: mindful of her sons' education, and believing that she and her husband could best serve the cause by influencing opinion in London, only with resignation did she eventually give up their London home of fifteen years to settle in Dublin, at the end of 1919.

In 1919 Childers was made Director of Publicity
Propaganda
Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position so as to benefit oneself or one's group....

 for the First Irish Parliament
Dáil Éireann
Dáil Éireann is the lower house, but principal chamber, of the Oireachtas , which also includes the President of Ireland and Seanad Éireann . It is directly elected at least once in every five years under the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote...

. In 1920 Childers published Military Rule in Ireland, a strong attack on British policy. In 1921 he was elected (unopposed) to the Second Dáil
Second Dáil
The Second Dáil was Dáil Éireann as it convened from 16 August 1921 until 8 June 1922. From 1919–1922 Dáil Éireann was the revolutionary parliament of the self-proclaimed Irish Republic. The Second Dáil consisted of members elected in 1921...

 as Sinn Féin member for Wicklow
Wicklow (Dáil Éireann constituency)
Wicklow is a parliamentary constituency represented in Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Irish parliament or Oireachtas. The constituency elects 5 deputies...

 and published the pamphlet Is Ireland a Danger to England?, which attacked the British prime minister, David Lloyd George
David Lloyd George
David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor OM, PC was a British Liberal politician and statesman...

. He became editor of the Irish Bulletin
Irish Bulletin
The Irish Bulletin was the official gazette of the government of the Irish Republic. It was produced by the Department of Propaganda during the Irish War of Independence. and its offices were originally located at No. 6 Harcourt Street, Dublin. The paper's first editor was Desmond FitzGerald,...

 after the arrest of Desmond FitzGerald
Desmond FitzGerald (politician)
Desmond FitzGerald was an Irish revolutionary, poet, publicist and Cumann na nGaedheal politician.-Early life:...

.

Civil War and death

Childers was secretary-general of the Irish delegation that negotiated the Anglo-Irish Treaty
Anglo-Irish Treaty
The Anglo-Irish Treaty , officially called the Articles of Agreement for a Treaty Between Great Britain and Ireland, was a treaty between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and representatives of the secessionist Irish Republic that concluded the Irish War of...

 with the British government. He stayed at the delegation headquarters in Hans Place
Hans Place
Hans Place, London, England, is a residential garden square situated immediately south of Harrods in Chelsea. It is named after Sir Hans Sloane, 1st Baronet, PRS , who was a physician and collector, notable for bequeathing his collection to the British nation which became the foundation of the...

 throughout the period of the negotiations, 11 October – 6 December 1921. Childers became vehemently opposed to the final draft of the agreement, particularly the clauses that required Irish leaders to take an Oath of Allegiance
Oath of Allegiance (Ireland)
The Irish Oath of Allegiance was a controversial provision in the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which Irish TDs and Senators were required to take, in order to take their seats in Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann .-Text of the Oath:The Oath was included in Article 17 of the Irish Free State's 1922...

 to the British king
British monarchy
The monarchy of the United Kingdom is the constitutional monarchy of the United Kingdom and its overseas territories. The present monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, has reigned since 6 February 1952. She and her immediate family undertake various official, ceremonial and representational duties...

. The Treaty was approved by a Dáil vote of 64–57 in January 1922. In the course of the debates some felt that Childers had been insulted by Arthur Griffith
Arthur Griffith
Arthur Griffith was the founder and third leader of Sinn Féin. He served as President of Dáil Éireann from January to August 1922, and was head of the Irish delegation at the negotiations in London that produced the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921.-Early life:...

, and the matter was in turn debated in June. The treaty continued to divide Sinn Féin and the IRA
Irish Republican Army
The Irish Republican Army was an Irish republican revolutionary military organisation. It was descended from the Irish Volunteers, an organisation established on 25 November 1913 that staged the Easter Rising in April 1916...

, and Ireland descended into civil war
Irish Civil War
The Irish Civil War was a conflict that accompanied the establishment of the Irish Free State as an entity independent from the United Kingdom within the British Empire....

 on 28 June 1922.

Said to be the inspiration behind the propaganda of the republican movement, Childers was hunted by National Army soldiers
Irish Army
The Irish Army, officially named simply the Army is the main branch of the Defence Forces of Ireland. Approximately 8,500 men and women serve in the Irish Army, divided into three infantry Brigades...

 and had to travel secretly. The death in an ambush of Michael Collins
Michael Collins (Irish leader)
Michael "Mick" Collins was an Irish revolutionary leader, Minister for Finance and Teachta Dála for Cork South in the First Dáil of 1919, Director of Intelligence for the IRA, and member of the Irish delegation during the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations. Subsequently, he was both Chairman of the...

 intensified the desire of Free State authorities to exact retribution, and in September 1922 the Irish Dáil introduced the Emergency Powers legislation, establishing martial law powers and new capital offences for the carrying of firearms without licence.
The author Frank O'Connor
Frank O'Connor
Frank O’Connor was an Irish author of over 150 works, best known for his short stories and memoirs.-Early life:...

 was involved with Childers during the later part of the Civil war and gave a colourful picture of Childers's activities. Seemingly he was ostracised from the anti-treaty forces and referred to as "That bloody Englishman" due to his foreign birth. As the hunt for Childers became more urgent after the death of Collins the high command of the anti-treaty forces distanced themselves from Childers on the grounds that he was too infamous to be of any practical use, despite his considerable military experience, and at one stage he was put to work addressing letters in the staff office in Macroom, Cork.

In November, Childers was arrested by Free State forces at his home in Glendalough
Glendalough
Glendalough or Glendaloch is a glacial valley in County Wicklow, Ireland. It is renowned for its Early Medieval monastic settlement founded in the 6th century by St Kevin, a hermit priest, and partly destroyed in 1398 by English troops....

, County Wicklow
County Wicklow
County Wicklow is a county in Ireland. It is part of the Mid-East Region and is also located in the province of Leinster. It is named after the town of Wicklow, which derives from the Old Norse name Víkingalág or Wykynlo. Wicklow County Council is the local authority for the county...

, while travelling to meet De Valera. He was tried by a military court on the charge of possessing a Spanish-made "Destroyer" .32 calibre semi-automatic pistol on his person in violation of the Emergency Powers Resolution. The pistol had been a gift from Michael Collins while the two men had been on the same side, indeed, were friends, before Collins became head of the pro-treaty Provisional Government
Provisional Government of Southern Ireland
The provisional Government of Southern Ireland was the provisional government for the administration of Southern Ireland between 16 January 1922 and 6 December 1922. The government was effectively a transitional administration for the period between the ratifying of the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the...

. Childers was convicted by the military court and sentenced to death. While his appeal against the sentence was still pending, Childers was executed by firing squad at the Beggar's Bush Barracks
Beggars Bush (Dublin)
Beggars Bush is the name of a former barracks on Haddington Road in Dublin, Ireland, as well the surrounding area and a nearby pub.The barracks dates from 1827 and is bordered to the east by Shelbourne Road, which used to be the western bank of the River Dodder.-History:The British Army used the...

 in Dublin. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery
Glasnevin Cemetery
Glasnevin Cemetery , officially known as Prospect Cemetery, is the largest non-denominational cemetery in Ireland with an estimated 1.5 million burials...

.

Before his execution, in a spirit of reconciliation, Childers obtained a promise from his then 16-year-old son, the future President Erskine Hamilton Childers
Erskine Hamilton Childers
Erskine Hamilton Childers served as the fourth President of Ireland from 1973 until his death in 1974. He was a Teachta Dála from 1938 until 1973...

, to seek out and shake the hand of every man who had signed his father's death warrant. Childers himself shook hands with each member of the firing squad that was about to execute him. His last words, spoken to them, were (characteristically) in the nature of a joke: "Take a step or two forward, lads. It will be easier that way."

Winston Churchill, who had actively pressured Michael Collins
Michael Collins (Irish leader)
Michael "Mick" Collins was an Irish revolutionary leader, Minister for Finance and Teachta Dála for Cork South in the First Dáil of 1919, Director of Intelligence for the IRA, and member of the Irish delegation during the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations. Subsequently, he was both Chairman of the...

 and the Free State government to make the treaty work by crushing the rebellion, expressed the widely held view of Childers at the time: "No man has done more harm or done more genuine malice or endeavoured to bring a greater curse upon the common people of Ireland than this strange being, actuated by a deadly and malignant hatred for the land of his birth." Some Irish (principally those against the treaty) claimed Childers's execution was politically motivated revenge, an expedient method of halting the continuing flow of anti-British political texts for which Childers was widely credited.

It was the express wish of Mary Childers, upon her death in 1964, that any writings based upon the extensive and meticulous collection of papers and documents from her husband's in depth involvement with the Irish struggles of the 1920s, be locked away from anyone's eyes until 50 years after his death. Thus, in 1972 Erskine Hamilton Childers
Erskine Hamilton Childers
Erskine Hamilton Childers served as the fourth President of Ireland from 1973 until his death in 1974. He was a Teachta Dála from 1938 until 1973...

 started the process of finding an official biographer. In 1974, Andrew Boyle
Andrew Boyle
Andrew Philip More Boyle was a Scottish journalist and biographer. His biography of Brendan Bracken won the 1974 Whitbread Awards and his book The Climate of Treason exposed Anthony Blunt as the "Fourth Man" in the Cambridge Five Soviet spy ring.He was born in the Scottish city of Dundee and was...

 (previous biographer of Brendan Bracken, Lord Reith
John Reith, 1st Baron Reith
John Charles Walsham Reith, 1st Baron Reith, KT, GCVO, GBE, CB, TD, PC was a Scottish broadcasting executive who established the tradition of independent public service broadcasting in the United Kingdom...

 amongst others) was given the task of exploring the vast Childers archive, and his "official" biography of Robert Erskine Childers was finally published in 1977.

Dramatisations

In 1991 Childers was featured in Jonathan Lewis's TV documentary for Thames Television called The Treaty
The Treaty
The Treaty is a 1991 Irish historical television film directed by Jonathan Lewis.The film is about the Anglo-Irish Treaty that Michael Collins bargained for with the British government in 1921. It is almost all factually accurate, and it shows how negotiations actually worked...

. Bosco Hogan
Bosco Hogan
Bosco Hogan is an Irish actor of stage, screen and television.He is best known as Dr. Michael Ryan on Ballykissangel. He appeared in a minor role as convicted felon George Saden in John Boorman's film Zardoz , but his first major film role was as Stephen Dedalus in the 1977 Joseph Strick film...

 played Childers, alongside Brendan Gleeson
Brendan Gleeson
Brendan Gleeson is an Irish actor. His best-known films include Braveheart, Gangs of New York, In Bruges, 28 Days Later, the Harry Potter films, The Guard and the role of Michael Collins in The Treaty...

 as Michael Collins
Michael Collins (Irish leader)
Michael "Mick" Collins was an Irish revolutionary leader, Minister for Finance and Teachta Dála for Cork South in the First Dáil of 1919, Director of Intelligence for the IRA, and member of the Irish delegation during the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations. Subsequently, he was both Chairman of the...

.

In 1998, BBC Radio 3
BBC Radio 3
BBC Radio 3 is a national radio station operated by the BBC within the United Kingdom. Its output centres on classical music and opera, but jazz, world music, drama, culture and the arts also feature. The station is the world’s most significant commissioner of new music, and its New Generation...

 broadcast in the Drama on 3 slot a play by Leigh Jackson called A Flag Unfurled, based on the life, times and writings of Childers. It featured Michael Maloney
Michael Maloney
Michael Maloney is an English actor.Born in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, Maloney's first television appearance was as Peter Barkworth's teenage son in the 1979 drama series, Telford's Change....

 as Childers, Deborah Norton
Deborah Norton
Deborah Norton is an English actress best known for her appearances in Yes, Prime Minister and A Bit of Fry and Laurie.- Personal life :...

 as his wife Mary (Molly), Natascha McElhone
Natascha McElhone
Natascha McElhone is an English actress of stage, screen and television, best known for her roles in Ronin, The Truman Show and Solaris. McElhone also plays a leading role in the Showtime series Californication....

 as his sister Dulcie, Laura Hughes as his sister Constance, Barry McGovern
Barry McGovern
Barry McGovern is an Irish stage, film and television actor. He was educated at Castleknock College, Dublin.-Background:McGovern is a former member of the RTÉ Players and the Abbey Theatre Company. He has worked in theatre, film, radio and television, as well as written music for many shows, and...

 as Arthur Griffith
Arthur Griffith
Arthur Griffith was the founder and third leader of Sinn Féin. He served as President of Dáil Éireann from January to August 1922, and was head of the Irish delegation at the negotiations in London that produced the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921.-Early life:...

 and Sean Rocks as Michael Collins
Michael Collins (Irish leader)
Michael "Mick" Collins was an Irish revolutionary leader, Minister for Finance and Teachta Dála for Cork South in the First Dáil of 1919, Director of Intelligence for the IRA, and member of the Irish delegation during the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations. Subsequently, he was both Chairman of the...

. It was produced in Belfast by Roland Jaquarello
Roland Jaquarello
Roland Jaquarello, born December 14, 1945, is a British theatre director and radio producer/director. He started his career in Dublin Theatre Festival after graduating from Trinity College, Dublin in 1968...

.

In late 2011, the Irish TV network TG4
TG4
TG4 is a public service broadcaster for Irish language speakers. The channel has been on-air since 31 October 1996 in the Republic of Ireland and since April 2005 in Northern Ireland....

 will create a segment depicting the execution of Robert Erskine Childers in 1922.

External links

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