Tuesday 20 November 2018

The day Hitler's bombs brought death to a quiet Wexford village

Breda Heffernan

IT was a deadly warning from Hitler to the de Valera government to stick to its policy of neutrality or else face the consequences.

On August 26 1940 the tiny village of Campile in Co Wexford was bombed by the German Luftwaffe, killing three local women and giving Ireland -- until then largely insulated from the terror of World War Two -- its first experience of the conflict.

Sisters Mary Ellen (30) and Kitty Kent (26) and restaurant worker Kathleen Hurley (27) all perished after the Heinkel bomber dropped four bombs over the Shelburne Co-op and Creamery, demolishing it in a matter of seconds.

Various theories abounded as to why the peaceful village was targeted, including that the German pilots were lost and had mistaken the south-east coast of Wexford for Wales.

It was also suggested that butter boxes emblazoned with the Shelburne Co-op name were discovered by the Nazis a few months earlier following the evacuation of Dunkirk and that the bombing was in retaliation for supplying foodstuffs to the Allied armies.

However, Campile historian John Flynn, who has written a new book to mark the 70th anniversary of the disaster, argues that the bombing was a message from Hitler to Taoiseach Eamon de Valera warning him to keep his promise on Ireland's neutrality.

After consulting military reports, Mr Flynn said it was clear that Campile was a "definite target" that fateful day.

"One theory that has always been battered about is that the co-op was supplying butter to the Allies armies when we were supposed to be neutral.

"There were claims that, a few weeks earlier after the evacuation of Dunkirk, the Nazis found boxes from the creamery. But we know now that's not true as the military inquiries showed the co-op was not supplying the army," he said.

Mr Flynn said instead the co-op was supplying foodstuffs to civilians on mainland Britain and this is why it was targeted.

"The co-op had installed machinery only a few years earlier from a German firm, so the Germans knew what the co-op was capable of doing.

"The bombing was really a warning shot to the Irish government: 'If you say you're neutral, don't supply goods to wartime Britain'."

Witnesses recall seeing two German aircraft flying in over Carnsore Point before turning west and following the Waterford/Rosslare railway line to Campile.

One diverted to Ambrosetown while the other headed to Campile where, shortly before 2pm, it dropped four bombs on the village.

Around 85 people were working in the co-op at the time and fortunately most had left the restaurant following lunch.

However, restaurant manager Mary Ellen Kent and assistant Kathleen Hurley, and drapery worker Kitty Kent, were not so lucky. They were found buried under the rubble of the destroyed building.

Mr Flynn said the terror of that day stayed with the people of Campile for the rest of the war and they lived with a "terrible fear" every time a plane flew overhead.

Some 10 survivors of the co-op bombing, along with the German ambassador to Ireland, Brusso von Alvensleben, and Minister of State Sean Connick, will attend the opening of a new monument and memorial garden at the site on the 70th anniversary of the disaster later this month. Mr Flynn's book, 'Campile Bombing, August 26, 1940', will be published shortly.

Irish Independent

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