Monday 24 June 2019

Erskine Childers, DSC (1870 – 1922) – British writer, soldier, RNAS/RAF

Best remembered for his novel “The Riddle of the Sands” (1903), Robert Erskine Childers was born on 25th June 1870 in Mayfair in London, UK.   His parents were Robert Caesar Childers, an Oriental scholar and civil servant, and his wife, Anna Mary Henrietta Childers, nee Barton, who was Irish from Wicklow.  Erskine’s cousin, Hugh Childers, was a member of the British government who advocated home rule for Ireland.

Educated at Haileybury College, Hertfordshire, which was founded to train boys for Colonial service in India, Erskine went on to study classics and law at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he also played rubgy and rowed.    Erskine was slightly injured while hill walking and from then on he walked with a limp and this led to him taking up sailing.

When the Second Boer War broke out, Erskine joined the City of London Imperial Volunteers, an Artillery Regiment, which was funded by institutions of the City of London.  Erskine’s unit sailed for South Africa in February 1900.  That August, suffering from Trench Foot, he was sent to hospital in Pretoria, during which time he came into contact with some wounded infantry soldiers from Ireland and was impressed by their loyalty to Britain. 

During an exchange visit of the Honourable Artillery Company of London to the Ancient and Honourable Artillery Company of Massachusetts in Boston in America, Erskine hired a motorbike to explore.  While there, he broke down and by chance met Mary Aiden Osgood, known as “Molly”, daughter of Dr. Hamilton Osgood, a Boston doctor.  Erskine and Molly were married on 5th January 1904 in Trinity Church, Boston.  On their return to London, the couple lived in Chelsea.

In July 1914, Erskine helped to smuggle guns from Germany to Irish Nationalists.

In August 1914, Erskine volunteered for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and was granted a temporary commission as a Second Lieutenant.  He was posted to “HMS Engadine”, a seaplane carrier, and flew as a navigator and observer.   Erskine took part in a raid on Cuxhaven airship base on Christmas Day 1914 and was Mentioned in Despatches.

In 1915, he was posted to  “HMS Ben-my-Chree”, which was converted into a seaplane carrier, and served during the Gallipoli Campaign and in the Mediterranean.   For bravery during these Campaigns, Erskine was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

Erskine returned to Britain in April 1916 and worked at the Admiralty, allocating seaplanes to ships.  He then began training for a new coastal motor boat squadron for service in the English Channel.   In July 1917, he was assigned to the Secretariat of Lloyd George’s Home Rule Convention, based in Dublin.

Appointed as Director of Publicity for the first Irish Parliament in 1919, Erskine wrote and published “Military Rule in Ireland” attacking the British government’s Irish policy.   He stood as a Sinn Fein candidate in the June 1922 general election in Ireland.   He was arrested in November 1922 and court martialled on a charge of posssessing a semi automatic pistol in violation of the Emergency Powers Resolution.  Erskine was tried, found guilty and executed by firing squad on 24th November 1922.  He was buried Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, Ireland.

Sources:  “In the Ranks of the C.I.V.” (Smith, Elder, London 1900) and various Internet sources.

Saturday 22 June 2019

Book Review: “The French Army in the Great War – Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives” by David Bilton, (Pen & Sword, Barnsley, 2019)

Whilst most of us are aware of the involvement of the French Army on the Western Front during the First World War, in the UK we tend to forget they were also deployed in other theatres of the conflict, such as the Balkans and Gallipoli.   In his latest book, David Bilton sets the record straight.

The book begins with a comprehensive explanation of the background to the French Army, leading up to the events of August 1914, with mention of the troops from French colonies, and a year by year account of the French Army’s WW1 involvement.  Although I had heard of the Zouave Regiments, I had not heard of the Spahis.

The main body of the book is given over to the most amazing photographs from official archives, beginning, on page 25 with photographs of reservists – every Frenchman was required to do military service, after which he was transferred to the Territorial Army, or Reservists. 

Each photograph is accompanied by a detailed explanation and there is much to learn.   The final photograph in the book, on page 221, is very poignant, captioned simply “the wooden cross”.

Although I had seen several of the photographs in this book, most of them were new to me and I found them fascinating – for instance on page 190 “Fort de la Macedoine” – an Allied fortress in the Balkans.

Another fascinating book from Pen & Sword publishers, Barnsley – I urge you to read it.

“The French Army in the Great War – Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives” by David Bilton, (Pen & Sword, Barnsley, 2019).  For further information, please see the Pen & Sword website

Lucy London, June 2019

Erich Maria Remarque (1898 – 1970) – German writer

Author of "All Quiet on the Western Front"

Eric in uniform c. 1917
Erich was born Erich Paul Remark on 22nd June 1898 in Osnabràch, Germany. He was the only son of Peter Franz Remark, a bookbinder, and his wife, Anna Maria.  Erich began writing in his teens and attended the University of Münster, where he studied to become a teacher.

Called up to military service in the German Army during WW1, Erich was posted to the Western Front in June 1917 and was wounded in the leg, arm and neck by Shrapnel. He was hospitalised in Germany for the remainder of the war.

After the war, Erich worked for a time as a primary school teacher, as well as having a variety of other jobs, including being a librarian, journalist and editor. His first novel was published in 1920 and around that time he changed his name to Erich Maria Remarque.

In 1925, Erich married the actress/dancer Jutta Ilse Ingeborg Ellen Zambona, who was of Italian-Danish origin. In 1927, drawing on his war experiences, Erich wrote his most famous work “All Quiet on the Western Front”, a novel about the First World War, which was published in 1929 and later made into a film.

Jutta and Erich were divorced in 1930 but continued to live together. They fled to Switzerland in 1933 when Erich’s literature was condemned and burnt by the Nazis and re-married to prevent Jutta being sent back to Germany. In Erich’s absence his younger sister, Elfriede, was arrested, tried and executed by the Nazis.

Erich and Jutta went to live in America and became naturalised citizens in 1947. The couple were divorced again in 1957 and Erich married the American actress Paulette Goddard in 1958. They returned to live in Switzerland where Erich died on 25th September 1970. When Paulette died in 1990, she bequeathed US$ 20 million to New York University for the creation of an Institute for European Studies in memory of Erich. Erich was buried in Ronco Cemetery, Ronco, Ticino, Switzerland and Paulette was buried alongside him.