Robert Erskine Childers was born in London on 25th June 1870. His father was a professor of language at the London University and his mother was Anna Barton of Glendalough House, Annamoe Co. Wicklow where Erskine spent much of his youth. He was educated at one of the best known English public schools, Haileybury, and then went on to Cambridge University. At the age of 22 he passed into the first division of the British Civil Service and worked in the House of Commons. When the Boer War began, he volunteered for service. In 1922 he revealed that his experience had "changed the whole current of my life and made me a Liberal and a Nationalist". He had seen a weak nation oppressed and conquered. He was wounded and after ten months he returned home.
When his ship docked at Southampton, there waiting for him was a Mr. Reginald Smith. While away at war his sisters had circulated extracts from his diaries to family friends and some had reached Mr. Smith an editor of a London publishing Company. There on the spot Childers promised to put the diaries together into book form. In the Autumn of 1900 the book came out with the title of "In the Ranks of the C.I.V." . The abbreviation stands for 'City Imperial Volunteers', the name given to all the civilian detachments serving in South Africa. One critic said he was surprised that an 'ordinary soldier' could write so well. By Christmas it was into its third printing.
Childers second book was called "The HAC in South Africa" and was published in 1903. This came about at the request of the Colonel of the HAC who was very impressed with Childers book of war experiences and asked him to write the official account of the HAC's part in the war.
ln 1903 Childers next work was published. It was called "The Riddle of the sands". It quickly became a bestseller. It is a classic spy story.It begins with Carruthers, a young Foreign Office official, being invited by an old college friend called Davies join him on his yacht the Dulcibella for some duck shooting in the Baltic. Together the two men discover and foil a German plan to invade England and also unmask a British traitor. Childers had great difficulty in writing this book more than his other books. It took two years to write and he at several times had wished that he had never started. He had thought about writing it several years before he began working on it.
In 1907 he worked on volume five of the Times' History of the War in South Africa. Here he gave an account of his first-hand experiences of guerilla warfare. His account of the war led to his next two publications, "War and the Arme Blanche" in 1910 and "The German Influence on British Cavalry" in 1911. These two books were critical of British army training methods. Arme Blanche is the cavalry sabre and is best translated as cold steel. Childers felt that the sabre as a military weapon was obselete and should be replaced. He wrote about his experiences when the cavalry were confronted by the enemy armed with modern rifles. He presented his case at some length and with great skill. The tone of the book was intolerent and annoyed most cavalry officers, the people with whom who had hoped to influence.
Back in Ireland, Home Rule was top of the agenda. Childers set about writing what turned out to be his most important work of non fiction. It was called "The Framework of Home Rule". The first part comprised of a comparison of Irish history with the histories of the United States and of the self-governing British dominions of Australia, South Africa and Canada. The second part was mostly economic. He advocated Dominion Status for Ireland.
In 1920 he published in pamphlet form "Military Rule in Ireland". It was the result of eight articles requested by the editor of the Daily News in London. It received much discussion as it let the average English reader know what was really going on in Ireland.
If there is one criticism of Childers' work is that his work is compartmental. He wrote about his interests at sea and at war. His tragic death by firing squad during the Irish Civil War on 17 November 1922 can only be described as one of the most tragic and inexcusable acts of the war.
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