Irish nationalist Robert Erskine Childers*, author of Riddle of the Sands, arms smuggler, father of the fourth president of Ireland Erskine Childers is executed by Free State government for carrying an unlawful weapon. Childers supported the Anti-Treaty forces in the vicious Irish civil war which bedeviled the country 1921-1923. Ironically, the weapon in question was allegedly a gift from one time friend and colleague Michael Collins. In his book The Riddle of Erskine Childers, Andrew Boyle states that Childers’ final words to his executioners, before he was to be shot were “Take a step or two forward, lads. It will be easier that way.”
Childers was born in London 1870.
Although Childers vehemently disagreed with the signing of the Treaty by Michael Collins, he was still able to say positive things about “The Big Fella” during the vitriolic Treaty debate in December 1921. ”I think everybody will agree that we have listened to a most able and eloquent speech. I most heartily agree to it, though I am in profound disagreement with the conclusions of the speaker. He has said many things which I admire and respect, he has said others that I profoundly regret. All of us agree, I think, that we have listened to a manly, eloquent, and worthy speech from the Minister for Finance.”
Winston Churchill, who had actively pressured Michael Collins and the Free State government to crush the rebellion by armed force, expressed the British 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.” In Ireland, however, many saw Childers’s execution as politically-motivated revenge, an expedient method of halting the continuing flow of anti-British political texts for which Childers was widely acknowledged.