A release of a new Danish film ‘The Shadow in My Eye’ which tells the story of the accidental bombing of a school in Copenhagen during the Second World War, which saw a a Dundalk-born nun killed.
Renamed ‘The Bombardment’ to avoid confusion with another recent film with a similar title, it is being shown on Netflix in March 2022.
“It is a story that resonates with my family because my my mother's aunt Winnie was one of those killed in an accidental bombing of a school in Copenhagen,” writes Anthony O’Hagan.
“After surviving for almost a century the little figurine of a boy on a toboggan is looking a little worse for wear since it tumbled to the ground a few years ago, but it still has a place in our sitting room cabinet.
Complete with its cargo of a chocolate egg it was given to my mother's sister Brigid for Easter around the year 1920. Her elder sister Esther was given her egg in a similar type of canister in the shape of a hen.
As the first two born they were the only ones of the eight children of John and Maggie Waller ever to receive a present from their father's sister. It is very likely that neither they nor any of the others ever saw their Aunt Winnie at any time in their lives.
Winifred Waller was one of five of the eight children of George Waller from Cavan and Honora Waller (O'Cleary) from Tipperary who were born in England before the family returned to Ireland to settle in Dundalk. Winifred or Winefride who was born on the 28th of April 1887 was one of two members of the family to join a religious order.
While May became Sister Marie in the Bon Sauveur at Carriglea near Dungarvan, Winnie took her final vows on the 9th of December 1912 as Sister Marie Fulgentia in the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Chamberry which was a French religious order, spending 35 years in Fredericksberg, Copenhagen . An Irish nun teaching English in a French school in Denmark.
While much of Winnie's life in religion has been lost in the mists of time,the manner of her death has a niche in Danish history. A number of monuments have been erected to the memory of a wartime heroic/tragic episode officially codenamed Operation Carthage and remembered vividly by many as the bombing of the French School.
This is part of the official RAF account of what occurred on that day ..
""By the end of 1944 the Danish resistance movement in Copenhagen was in danger of being wiped out by the Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo). Many of their leaders were arrested and a lot of material was filed in the Gestapo archives in the Shell house which was located in Copenhagen. Leading members of the resistance-movement requested an attack by air on the Shell House via the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in London.
Eventually on 21 March 1945, 20 de Havilland Mosquito fighter-bombers from 2nd TAF escorted by 28 Mustang Mk. III fighters from 11 Group took off from RAF Fersfield in Norfolk, England. 18 of the Mosquito bombers were F.B. Mk. VIs and 2 were Mosquito B. Mk. IVs from the Photo Production Unit (PRU). The Mosquito force attacked in 3 waves: 1st wave with 7 Mosquitoes (one PRU); the 2nd wave with 6 Mosquitoes; and finally the 3rd wave with 7 Mosquitoes (one PRU). The primary objective for the Mustangs was to engage, distract, suppress and if possible destroy anti-aircraft “Flak” batteries concentrated in central Copenhagen.
The first wave approached their target from the South West but as they passed Enghave Station, which is near the famous Carlsberg brewery, Mosquito SZ 977, with Pilot W/Cdr. Peter A Kleboe and Navigator F/O K Hall, struck a 30 metre lamp post or pylon; the wingtip of the Mosquito then hit the roof of No 106 Sonder Boulevard. The two 500lb bombs carried by the aircraft ripped off and exploded, killing twelve civilians. Flying at roof-top level over a densely populated area it was inevitable that there would be casualties if a plane crashed or were shot down, but the Fates that day were in an especially cruel mood and worse was to follow.
The stricken Mosquito “T for Tommy” crashed seconds later in a garage near the Jeanne d`Arc French Catholic school on Frederiksbergs Allé. The front part with the cockpit with the two crew members landed on Dr. Priemesvej; they were badly burned and later died of their injuries. Pilot W/C Peter A. Kleboe and Navigator F/O Reginald J.W. Hall were laid to rest in Bispebjerg Cemetery on 28 March 1945.""
In the confusion and fear of the battle ,with sense of direction not as distinct as it would have been flying at a higher altitude, one or two of the pilots in the second wave mistook the smoke and flames of the downed Mosquito as being from the target of the raid and dropped their deadly pay load on a large building close by.
All of the planes in the third wave, flying closely behind in a macabre game of Follow the Leader did likewise and within minutes the Insitut Jeanne D'Arc was consigned to oblivion.
Of the 529 people who were in the school that day 86 children and a number of adults lost their lives. Ten nuns, three lady lady teachers, a private pupil and at least six others who rushed to help.Counting military casualties on both sides and other civilian casualties the death toll was significantly higher, causing many even to this day to question whether the mission could be regarded as a success or a failure.
Some said that Sister Marie Fulgentia died a heroine, going back into the building to rescue some of the children, but as there are conflicting accounts of what exactly happened to her it seems more than possible that those who witnessed my mother's aunt in her final moments never lived to tell the tale.
The sisters were buried in Copenhagen's Asssistens Cemetery with the white cross from the gable end of l'Institut Jeanne D'Arc placed on their grave.The school was never rebuilt .
Some years ago when a brother of mine went looking for the little monument that was erected to remember the victims his first port of call was to a tourist office who were unable to locate the monument . Armed with a few photographs and a little book given to a cousin by some of the surviving nuns some years before, my brother very quickly found the area while talking to a few passersby.
One elderly woman looked at him with a hint of tears in her expression and said , "Every time I look up at that sky, in my mind's eye I can still see the Allied planes that brought so much hope and yet so much destruction to Denmark . I pray that nothing like that will ever happen to anyone ever again."
What was seen by a young person in a tourist office as being just part of ancient history was seen as something still very real by someone who had lived through it .
Brigid, who had contracted TB ,died in 1946. Her Father John (Joe) was killed near his own house while cycling home from work in 1947. He was killed near the same place where my granny Maggie was killed crossing the road on her way to early morning mass in 1970.
Esther who was born on Good Friday 1915 ,the year before her father was interned in Frongoch internment camp for his part in the Easter Rising of 1916, passed away peacefully on the 7th of November 2002.