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Childers, Erskine

Entry updated 12 February 2024. Tagged: Author.

(1870-1922) UK advocate of Irish nationalism, military theoretician and author, who lived both in the UK and Ireland. His Future War novel, The Riddle of the Sands: A Record of Secret Service Recently Achieved (1903), describes an exploratory sea journey into the Frisian Islands along the German coast, where its adventurous protagonists uncover secret plans for a German Invasion of the UK using shallow-draft vessels; Childers's convincing presentation of this scheme was important in the refocusing of British war apprehensions from France to Germany. Its protagonists, who are freelance and superbly endowed with guerrilla skills, were clear models for similar patriots in tales by John Buchan, Geoffrey Household and others. The novel itself spawned many imitations, none meeting the power of the original, and was made into a lacklustre film in 1979. Childers's warnings to the UK Government were continued later in two nonfiction works which exposed the folly of reliance on cavalry as an effective force against machine guns.

A further text, The Framework of Home Rule (1911), marked Childers's conversion to the republican anti-imperialist feelings that led to his complex involvement in the war for Irish independence. In late 1922, he was executed for treason (a crime of which he was clearly guiltless, though by carrying a revolver he was technically committing a capital offence) by the fledgling Irish Free State. His fourth son became president of Ireland in 1973. [JE/JC]

Robert Erskine Childers

born London: 25 June 1870

died Dublin, Ireland: 24 November 1922

works (selected)



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