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
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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