The Campile Bombing

The day after my fathers ninth birthday, 26th August 1940, he witnessed something that profoundly marked his life.  Up on the hills around the village he caught sight of his first ever German air plane which was followed closely by the dropping of bombs on the small rural village of Campile directly across from the Cheekpoint in which three people died. He carried that day for the rest of his life.
The war years in Ireland, which some called trivially in my mind, “the emergency”, was a time of rationing, hunger and a certain mount of fear in Ireland, at least initially.  The threat of invasion was real from either warring side, and in villages like Cheekpoint, sailors risked their lives to keep meager supply lines open at extreme risk to themselves.
On that day, Monday 26th August, he climbed up out of the village with his pal down the road, Jim Doherty.  They were going to set snares in the hope of extra food at home.  It was a bright clear morning with patchy cloud and a warm sun.  The hill fields, which were between the village and the Minaun afforded a brilliant view of not just the meeting of the rivers, but of the harbour and the land stretching away to the Irish sea via the neighbouring county of Wexford.
Heinkel HE 111
accessed from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heinkel_He_111
Whilst ducking in and out of the furze shrouded ditches where runs of rabbit were more obvious, their youthful ears heard an unfamiliar sound. Glancing around they spied the dark green plane (it would later be confirmed as a Heinkell HE 111), and as they watched it came up the Wexford side of the river towards Nook and then along the shoreline to Dunbrody and the main Waterford – Rosslare railway line.  It then continued towards Sliabh Coillte and turned in an arc towards the Barrow Bridge. Descending as it went, it proceeded to follow the railway line.  It was only a few hundred feet as it came in over the small railway station and rural village at Campile, and then out of the bottom of the plane dropped three bombs, in quick succession.
Their mouths fell open with the vision of what they saw and as they instinctively ran for the village, I’m sure their minds were filled with panic and dread.  My fathers grandmother and Jim’s mother were both from the Wexford side, and even at a young age the connections would have been obvious to them.  They heard the sound of the bombs rather than saw them.  It was later he heard that the plane had turned around and made a second run.
Arriving home, my father found the house empty, but proceeding to the quay, he found the area ablaze.  Already boats had left for Campile pill and Great Island and others were getting ready. He tried to tell what he had seen, but all the adults were fully aware, and their thoughts now were with their neighbours and in some cases family and there was more than one person in tears.

It was late that night before the grim news was brought to the village.  A direct hit on the farming co-operative  Three young women were dead and parts of the village on fire and in rubble. The death toll was considered miraculously low, a fair had been on earlier and most of the staff of the co-operative had gone home for lunch. Army, guards and volunteers alike had spent the evening clearing the rubble, ensuring that everyone was accounted for.
view of the damage accessed from
http://scoilmhuirecampile.com/index.php/a-h-local-history/
The funerals were massive and the event was widely reported, and people travelled from as far away as Belfast to view the scene.  At the inquiry afterwards, various opinions were expressed as to why it had occurred and indeed some eyewitnesses claimed that the plane had come over the Minaun and had turned at the Barrow Bridge.  As my Father explained it, it was all a matter of perspective.
As for the reason, the most prevalent account you will hear today is that allied soldiers had been captured on the continent and butter from the co-op was identified in their supplies, and thus it became a legitimate target.  However the inquest found that the co-operative and the supplies that travelled on the railway line was the actual target. (a lesser known event that day was that a sister plane had bombed a viaduct further along the railway line)
Of course some people hold the view that it was all a big mistake.  I recall attending a wedding in the Tower Hotel many years back, when a chap in our company put forward the opinion that the airmen thought they were over England or Wales.  My father was less than civil about the matter.  He pointed out that the day was so fine they could have been in no doubt where they were, he also explained that they followed the coast and the train tracks like reading a map.  But to cap it off he said, and to this the assembled crowd had no more to say, if the Luftwaffe thought they were in Wales, why did they descend to a few hundred feet to drop their bombs?  They would have dropped them from a height where they would have a fighting chance of surviving a ground barrage. The only reason they came so low he pointed out, was they knew their was nothing to shoot at them from the ground, and they were bombing a defenceless and harmless neutral.
Although the principal of the piece challenged my Fathers account he shut up fairly lively when he realsied that my father was actually present.  Drinks were bought to smooth over the matter and the conversation was quickly moved on.  My dad was dead before a remembrance garden was erected to the event, and an excellent book was produced by the Horeswood Historical Society in 2010.
I’ll return to WWII next week and an courageous rescue by the crew of the Irish Willow and a link to Waterford and Dunmore East

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Mining Waterford Harbour

Two weeks ago we looked at the mine incident that closed the Barrow Bridge in 1946.  It was a floating mine, the origins of which was not identified, but it had been in the water for some time.  It might conceivably have dated to WWI.  At the time the mouth of the Harbour was regularly mined from German submarines hoping to interrupt allied supplies.  The allies were also deploying mines, most of the access points to the Northern and Southern entry points to the English coast were blanketed by mines in a futile attempt to thwart the u boat menace.
The German mines at the time were a contact mine which were deployed initially from ships but from June 1915 were planted from U Boats.  The mines were anchored by cable to the seabed and with enough draft to stay below the waterline.  They were pear shared, 3ft in diamater and filled with 350lb of TNT.  The top of the mine had 5+ horns, with a glass tube inside, which when a ship depressed, it broke and released a chemical to detonate.

US Sub Chaser SC-272 moored in the harbour circa 1918
Minaun in the distance
with thanks to Paul O’Farrell who passed on the image to me

The first Irish casualty of the mines was the SS Manchester Commerce which was sunk off Donegal 26th Oct 1914.  It was December before the admiralty realised it was the victim of a minefield and it would be July 1915 before they were satisfied that the estimated 200+ mines had been cleared.  Gives some sense of the difficulties posed.

Local readers are probably well aware of the story of Kapitanleutnant Kurt Tebbenjohanns and UC-44 which was sunk off Dunmore in 1917.  The U-boat was replanting a minefield between the Hook and Dunmore East, when it struck a mine.   Some might say ironic, but as it happens it was anything but, a story I will return to next week
accessed from http://www.digitalhistoryproject.com/2012/06/
submarine-mines-in-world-war-i-byleland.html

Tebbenjohannes and his colleagues were regular visitors to Waterford Harbour, trying to interrupt the flow of resources to allies. Deployed at night from a submerged sub, the task of clearing mines fell to converted trawlers and their crew with a token naval presence aboard.  Two boats would work together drawing a metal rope between them in an effort to locate the sunken bombs.  The risks were high and any mistake would see the loss of the boat, and most probably the crew.  For example in the weeks previous to the arrival of Tebbenjohannes, one boat was lost, but the crew of the minesweeper was rescued by fishermen from Dunmore.
According to Wikipedeia the total number during the whole of WWI was 235,000 sea mines and clearing them after the war took 82 ships five months, working around the clock.  Somehow I doubt they found them all.
Mines were also a feature of WWII but this time Ireland was a neutral and the harbour area was not directly targeted.  However, readers might be interested to know that it was the Irish who mined Waterford harbour at this stage!  There was a minefield operated between Passage East and Ballyhack from 1941. The mines were deployed by the Irish government forces in the channel, and were operated by control from the shore (Ballyhack) also known as command detonated mines.  If any threat was seen, the mines were to be detonated by the shore watch.  I have no further information on it, but would love to hear any other accounts.  (MacGinty: P.61) Personally I’d imagine the minefield was directed more towards protecting Ireland from a German sea borne attack.  The Irish government had been informed by an Admiral Fitzgerald of the Royal Navy to expect same via the harbour at an early stage of the war. (MacGinty: P.32)
During WWII mines became more sophisticated.  The German side were the first to develop magnetic mines that detonated as a ship passed close to them. Mines were also deployed from airplanes, which meant the seas around Ireland became a target after the fall of France.  Mines became a constant hazard, and ships and fishing boats and indeed walkers along the coastline were asked during the emergency to maintain a constant vigil.  There’s a fine photo of the Great Western in camouflaged colours in the harbour.  For anyone thinking that seems a little far fetched, especially as a neutral country, they would do well to remember that mistakes are commonplace in war and every time the ship went to sea, the seafarers would be justified in thinking it might be their last trip.  This must have been heightened as most of those aboard would have known personally family bereaved by such war casualties as the Conningbeg and the Formby.  I’ve mentioned before the perils faced by the Hanlon family from Coolbunnia.  150 sailors died in WWII on Irish registered ships. It’s estimated that up to 4,000 more died on allied ships.(MacGinty: P.58)
SS Great Western in her war time colours
Accessed from Waterford History Group
posted by Tommy Deegan originally

Mines were reported regularly from ships, shoreline walkers and the look out posts, operated by the Marine and Coastwatching Service from Sept 1939,  that lined the coastline.  The interception and dealing with the menace of mines on the seas became a job for the newly formed Irish Marine service (now Navy). (MacGinty: p.26)

Ironically it was the navy’s approach which caused many of the difficulties as experienced by the newly developed inshore fishing fleet in the post war years.  The methodology employed was to approach floating mines and detonate them by shooting one of the protruding “horns”  A distance of 80 yards clearance was required.  However it was realised that when the mine casing was holed, the mine filled with water and sank.  The naval personnel naturally assumed that the salt water would corrode the detonators and explosives, however that would not be the case.  Up to 183 mines were destroyed by the navy during the war.  (Macginty: pp63-5)
Any cursory search in the Irish newspapers will highlight the scale of instances since WWII of mines being brought up in nets.  Had the naval personnel realised the longevity of the metal mine and or perceived how post war fishing practices would develop and the scale of bottom trawling they may have reconsidered their disposal strategy.  Dozens of these articles relate to Dunmore East and vessels out of Dunmore and I was present in the 1980’s for one such adventure.
The details are sketchy I’m afraid, as I could find no record in the newpspers.  However I remember a particularly nasty SE wind and a trawler coming in off Dunmore, but refused entry.  The trawler was being towed if I recall correctly.  The mine was trapped in the nets and part of the nets had fouled the screw.  Holding off Dunmore, a team of army bomb disposal experts arrived in Dunmore that day.  I vividly recall their energy and enthusiasm as they jumped out of a dark green jeep with large kit bags and boarded the Betty Breen to go out to the trawler.  However, they were back after an hour, green in the face and much less energetic.  The trawler was sent over under the Hook and the decison was taken to await a team from the Navy to deal with the issue.
You might think that such problems no longer exist.  However the most recent article I could find for Dunmore was the Irish Independent of March 2005 and the most recent nationally was August 2007 in the same paper, this time a mine trapped in nets off Co Cork.  Be careful out there, you never know what secrets the sea might give up, particularly on a stormy day.
Thanks to Tomás Sullivan for loaning me his copy of The Irish Navy
MacGinty. T.  The Irish Navy.  1995.  The Kerryman. Tralee
Drew some information on the mines from:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naval_mine#Contact_mines

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
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A century of Barrow Bridge incidents

The Barrow Bridge was officially opened in 1906 to connect Waterford’s train station, and thus the SW of Ireland, to the newly developed port at Rosslare.  I’ve written before about the initial planning and concern about crossing the River Barrow which separates counties Kilkenny and Wexford, across from Cheekpoint. The principal objection was from the Port of New Ross.  The concerns were addressed by inserting a swivelled opening span to allow ships access to the River Barrow and thus New Ross. The outside channel was used for ships entering the Barrow, the opposite, on the Kilkenny side, for egress.  A manned control tower operated the opening and closing function. Down the years there have been many incidents recorded at the bridge, what follows is a sample.
The Barrow Viaduct Jan 2016
Interestingly, the first incident I could find occured before the bridge was even operational. During construction two sailing vessels struck it on the one day, indeed almost at the same time. The ships were the Conniston and the Ethel under the guidance of pilots Whelan (apparently one armed) and Kearnes, leaving New Ross on an ebb tide. The Harbour Board received a complaint about the matter from the builders, but thankfully not much damage to the bridge had occurred. The master of the Schooner Ethel also wrote alleging damage to his ship. The board interviewed the pilot on the matter who explained that at the White Horse reach (just above the Bridge) he had recommended to the master that the ship should be warped through the opening. He claimed the master of the Ethel refused stating that the wind was sufficient and he could control the passage through. Drawing close to the opening, the wind dropped and the master ordered the anchor dropped, this was done, but as she swung to the anchor she struck the bridge. No details were given as to the incident with the other vessel.

A few months later in 1905 pilot Whelan was again in trouble when a steamer under his control struck one of the cylinder piles and dislodged a concrete coping.  Despite the evidence of the harbour master, Captain Farady, who was also aboard, that the accident was completely outside the control of his pilot, Whelan received a caution.

The next incident came almost an exact year from the official opening of the bridge. From the Cork Examiner of 26/7/1907 we learn that “Yesterday the barque Venus, of Hellsingborg, Norway, bound for New Ross, with a cargo of timber, whilst in the tow of the barque Heron, collided with the Barrow Bridge, or Railway Viaduct. The Venus had her whole foremast knocked clean out, and the crew had a narrow escape, the bridge being apparently uninjured.”
opening span of bridge

While Dublin was in revolt during Easter 1916, the bridge was one of the pieces of infrastructure considered vital to the interests of the crown forces.  Admiral Bayly, commander of the British naval services sea protection detail based at Cobh sent motor launches to secure the bridge and ensure uninterrupted rail travel. (Nolan: p141).

Another curious incident is related in the Munster Express dated 9th June 1923.  The opening span was stuck in an opened position for some days following a loss of a “Shaft” or pin, which was central to the operation of the swivel action.  The shaft was finally retrieved by dragging the river bed.  No explanation is supplied as to why it happened, or indeed why a replacement could not be found.
In the 1930’s the issue was trespass. Several men were brought to court owing to what was claimed to be a “tremendous amount of trespass”  The defendants were listed as Thomas Dempsey, Campile; Patrick Carew, Ferrybank; Patrick Cashin, Drumdowney; John Black and Richard Atkins of Glasshouse and two Cheekpoint men; Denis Hennerby and Michael Heffernan.  Solicitor from the railway stated that the men were putting their own lives at risk by travelling the line either by foot of bicycle.  The case against Mikey Heffernan was struck out, and Aitkins was adjourned.  The others faced a fine of 6d and costs amounting to 7/-.  (Source: Munster Express 3/12/1937)
At the outbreak of WWII and for several months after the bridge continued to see daily use.  Both Irish and those with Irish relatives and cousins and some refugees, fled the looming war.  Many travellers could only finding standing room on the decks of the ferry boats and seating was a luxury on the train too.  (McShane: p11)  As the war wore on and shortages deepened, rail traffic was suspended due to a lack of coal, only to be reinstated after the war
My mother like so many others left for England in the 1950’s.  To her the bridge brought mixed emotions, sadness on leaving, fires burning in the village, the last farewell to the emigrants that would keep families fed.  Of course it was also of gladness when she would get to return across it for the following Christmas and it would give her the first view of home.
There were several bridge strikes down the years from ships passing through, generally to enter the Barrow.  According to my father, the only surprise about hitting the bridge was that there were not more.  I remember hearing one as a child, where the stern of the ship was swept onto the central fender as it passed through, with minor damage to the ship and none to the bridge.  The sound reverberated around the village.
On another occasion, the 7th April 1986, the inbound Panamanian registered ship MV Balsa struck and did considerable damage to the opening.   She was of 6000 tonnes and was empty at the time (she was chartered to collect a cargo of malt) which probably contributed to the accident.  The central span was damaged and the bridge was immediately closed to rail and shipping until an inspection was carried out.
The bridge strike that caused the most severe damage occurred on March 7th 1991. The MV Amy a Dutch registered coaster was again entering port when she collided against the opening span of the bridge and knocked it out of line.  The timber fenders and central wharf was also damaged.  In fact the damage was so severe that the line and shipping channels were immediately closed.
However, legal writs started to fly as 14 vessels were stranded in the port between the Port of New Ross and the ship owners and shipping companies.  Within days an agreement was reached to allow egress and entry via the undamaged side of the opening, but the railway line remained closed.  Three months later the railway was again in use, saving motorists the 40 mile road trip, and rail passengers a bus transfer from Campile.  The repair was reputed to have cost £3-5 Million, and was carried out by a Cobh salvage company, who operated from Cheekpoint and were as renowned for their long hours of labour as their huge capacity for porter.
By far the most curious incident to close the line occurred on Friday 22nd March 1946.  A drifting mine – used during the second world war- was spotted floating close to the bridge by two Cheekpoint men Heffernan and O’Connor (Paddy and John respectively as far as I can recall, John being the father of the Munster Express journalist of the same name).  They reported the sighting to the Garda station in Passage East and a unit from the Curragh was dispatched under Comdt. Fynes to deal with the threat.  Locally it was always said that the boys had thrown a lasso around the mine and towed it away from the bridge as a train approached, saving countless lives as a result.
A more sober account can be found in that weeks Kilkenny People.  The mine grounded between Snow Hill Quay and Drumdowney Point (known locally as the Point of the wood) as the tide went out and once settled on the mud, a rope was tied around it, to prevent it floating away. Although the Boat train departed from Waterford that evening, it was decided to close off the line to rail and shipping on the Saturday.
The bomb disposal unit had to wait for the tide to go out before they approached the mine on the Saturday.  It was described as 5′ 4″x 3’4″ and was encrusted with rust and barnacles.  It was thought to have been a floating mine, deployed with an anchor and chain that had broken away.  The opinion of the army was that it had been deployed on the sea bed several years before,  There was no information provided about it’s origin.  The unit managed to make safe the mine by 4pm that evening, meaning the 5pm train could depart with safety.
CIE had to face a high court injunction in 1991 to carry out the repairs on the bridge to allow trains to run once more,  At the time there was speculation that they would prefer to remove the opening and make the railway line redundant.  With falling passenger numbers and the rise in private motor use the days of the line were numbered.   The closure of the Sugar Beet factories was the final straw.  The final train crossed the Barrow Bridge in September 2010.
Many thanks to James Doherty for his help with this piece and in particular loaning me the following books which I referenced in the piece;
McShane. M.  Neutral Shores.  Ireland and the battle of the Atlantic.  2012.  Mercier press.  Cork
Nolan et al.  Secret Victory.  Ireland and the War at Sea 1914-18.  2009.  Mercier press.  Cork

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