“The boob must have thought he was in Pembroke instead of the south of Éire,” so wrote US Ambassador to Ireland David Gray following the bombing of Campile on August 26th, 1940.
The bombing, which killed sisters Mary Ellen Kent and Catherine of Terrerath and Garryduff native Kathleen Hurley, features in historian T Ryle Dwyer’s latest book, ‘Behind the Green Curtain’.
Subheaded ‘Ireland’s Phony Neutrality During World War II’, Dwyer expertly recalls what this country was like and how it was governered during what Irish officialdom labelled ‘The Emergency’.
Dwyer, not for the first time, has produced a fascinating tome and his latest work ought to feature in every school library in the country.
It should particularly illuminate anyone preparing for the Leaving Certificate next June who is interested in our so-called neutrality between 1939 and 1945.
Three German bombs hit the County Wexford village that Monday afternoon between 1.50 and 2.10pm, reducing much of the Shelburne co-op building to rubble, while a fourth landed and exploded in a nearby field.
Just minutes before the bombs fell, 40 workers at the co-op creamery had finished their dinners in the canteen, which, within minutes, was to become Campile’s ‘ground zero’.
Sadly, Mary Ellen (30), Catherine (26) and Kathleen (27), were in that very location when World War II graphically visited the south east.
Earlier that day, a 10-year-old boy playing football at his Rosslare home looked skyward, drawn by the distant rumble of airplane engines, not knowing the fate that awaited the three Campile women.
Sixty years later, Father Nicky Power, the boy who saw German bombers entering Irish airspace that terrible day, officiated at the 60th anniversary commemoration of the Campile bombings.
On September 21st, 1940 (in a statement taken in Castleisland, County Kerry for a reason I couldn’t establish), a young Campile girl named Josephine McCrohan recalled the events of August 26th.
“I was in my home when I heard the sound of an aeroplane. I went out to the yard. I was accompanied by my sister Frances (13 years). We stood on a box and watched the plane pass over. I think it approaced from the SW. It was, in my opinion, not going at a fast speed.”
She continued: “I then saw it dive; it was in the air somewhere above the Co-op when it dived. As it was diving I saw three objects descend from it. They appeared to me to be like balls of clay. When I saw the objects falling from the plane, I said to Frances, ‘They are dropping bombs.’”
The bombs fell, propelling shards of debris throughout the village and forcing roof tiles off houses. Josephine and Frances, re-emerging from a gome they feared would cave in on them, encountered a chaotic scene.
“As we ran away, we met some of the Co-op staff – they were lying on the roadside – they called for us to lie down, which we did. While there we heard an explosion in the vicinity of the Co-op buildings…
“I got several cuts on the face, arms and shoulders, as well as an eye injury. I was attended by Dr Hickey, Duncannon on 26th August, 1940.”
In an oral testimony to the BBC, Wexford man George Murphy recalled both the theories behind the bombings and the mood in Campile during the funerals.
“The local reason for this bombing was that the Co-op was supplying butter and other such foodstuffs to England through Belfast, whilst the German reason was that the planes became (separated) from the main group and were jettisoning their bombs over an uninhabited area. This was precision bombing…
“I remember the German Ambassador from Dublin attending the funerals of the dead full dress suited with tall silk black hat and red sash emblazoned with the swastika.
“His escort of military and civil police saved him from serious assault or even death such was the anger of the Wexford people. Yes indeed, Hitler brought death to Wexford.”
While the Campile bombing is just one of a deluge of incidents and events which Dwyer recalls, he has done a great service to those who lived and died during this turbulent period.
It’s also a timely reminder about Ireland’s take on what it means to be neutral, no bad thing to highlight ahead of Friday’s referendum. 
‘Behind the Green Curtain: Ireland’s Phony Neutrality During World War II’ is published by Gill & MacMillan and is priced €24.99