Ireland remained officially neutral during World War II. However, on 26 August 1940, the German Luftwaffe bombed Campile in broad daylight.
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.
Mary Ellen and Kitty were the daughters of Michael and Ellen Kent from Terrerath. Mary Ellen worked as the manageress in the restaurant, while Kitty worked in the drapery. In a cruel twist of fate Kitty had been delayed in going to her dinner that fateful day and would otherwise not have been in the restaurant when the bombs were dropped. Kathleen Hurley, the daughter of William and Catherine Hurley, also worked in the restaurant and had just returned that morning after two weeks’ of summer holidays.
Four German bombs were dropped on the creamery and restaurant sections of Shelburne Co-op on that day. The railway was also targeted by the bombers. The attack has never been fully explained, although there are numerous theories as to why the bombing occurred.
One was 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.
it was also alleged that the Co-op sold boots to the British Army and these were found by the Germans. Another theory is the RAF were able to put the German bombers, which were targeted by a radar beam, off course and that they were totally reliant on crew judgement in the case of the bombing of Campile.
The 20-minute ordeal terrorised the peaceful village and left behind a trail of devastation, with huge gates ripped off their hinges, slates torn off roofs, railway siding was twisted and sleepers were pulled up.
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the bombing, a plaque was erected on the co-op walls in memory of the three women that died during the attack.
One thing that always puzzled me is why did de Valera formally offer his condolences to the German Minister in Dublin on the death of Adolf Hitler in 1945 ?
Under Hitler’s leadership several dozens of Irish citizens were killed, for Campile wasn’t the only town that was bombed. I know under the guise of the neutrality diplomatic protocol, he may have felt compelled to do so.
But neutrality means 2 things “the state of not supporting or helping either side in a conflict, disagreement, etc.; impartiality.” and “absence of decided views, expression, or strong feeling.”
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