Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick

Service Number 202
Birth Date 06 July 1892
Birth Place United Kingdom: England, Tyne and Wear, South Shields
Death Date 19 May 1915
Death Place Ottoman Empire: Turkey, Dardanelles, Shrapnel Gully
Final Rank Private
Units
Commonwealth of Australia Gazette 27 January 1916 on page 157 at position 22
London Gazette 5 November 1915 on page 11003 at position 24
Physical description

John Simpson Kirkpatrick, a stretcher bearer whose brief life ended early in the Gallipoli campaign, is better known today as 'the man with the donkey'. One of the AIF's most well-known figures, Simpson was, like many of his comrades, an Englishman. Born on 6 July 1892 at Shields in County Durham, he joined the merchant marine at the age of 17 and began a life of wandering that eventually led him to Australia. Simpson tried his hand at all manner of jobs. He carried a swag, worked as a cane cutter, a ship's hand and a coalminer, experiencing life in many parts of Australia. However distant from his mother and sister, Simpson made sure that they received a generous percentage of whatever pay he was able to earn. On 25 August 1914, shortly after the First World War began, he enlisted in the AIF and began training at Blackboy Hill camp near Perth. His motivation for enlisting, it appears, had more to do with the prospect of returning to England than with any particular desire to be a soldier. Like many who shared his reason for joining, Simpson was disappointed when the first Australian soldiers bound for the war were disembarked for training in Egypt. Having been posted to the 3rd Field Ambulance, he was among those who landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. Though a stretcher bearer, Simpson decided his task could be better accomplished using a donkey to carry his wounded charges. Just three weeks after the landing, Simpson was killed by a Turkish bullet during one of his morning journeys up Monash Valley to retrieve wounded men. Widely believed to have already achieved a measure of fame during his brief time at the front, it now appears more likely that the Simpson legend only grew after his death. Peter Cochrane, in his 1992 book Simpson and the donkey, outlines the way in which Simpson's story was used for a range of propaganda and political purposes, particularly as manpower crises threatened to undermine the AIF's fighting ability during the war. Cochrane, having demonstrated the extent to which embellishment and sometimes outright falsehoods have served to obscure the real Simpson, described a man who was as flawed as any other, but whose bravery is not disputed. He remains, nevertheless, one of the most famous of the men who served at Anzac. His fame is all the more interesting for the fact that, unlike other celebrated figures from the campaign, such as Jacka, Simpson was a non-combatant. In the intervening decades there have been calls for Simpson to be awarded a retrospective Victoria Cross and, although he won no medals at Gallipoli, Simpson is commemorated in paintings and with a prominent bronze sculpture at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
John Simpson Kirkpatrick was born in Shields in Country Durham and joined the merchant marine at the age of 17. This led him to Australia, where, after jumping ship, he took a series of jobs ranging from cane cutting to coal mining. He enlisted in the AIF weeks after the outbreak of the Great War under the name of John Simpson.Simpson was posted to the 3rd Field Ambulance as a stretcher-bearer and, to his great disappointment, was sent to Egypt for training instead of back to the United Kingdom. From there the Bearer Division of the 3rd Field Ambulance landed at Anzac Cove at 4.30 am in the pre-dawn darkness of 25 April 1915. They landed under heavy shrapnel and rifle fire, but Simpson avoided being one of the casualties.For several days after the landing the Australians found great difficulty in establishing a system to retrieve wounded men from the gullies and poorly-defined tracks above Anzac. The fighting units were muddled together and there was no specific information as to where the 3rd Field Ambulance could find men in need of assistance.From 26 April Simpson took a donkey up Monash Valley to carry slightly wounded cases back down to the beach, a job he continued to do daily. This was an arduous journey that could take as long as three hours for each round trip. He kept up this self-appointed task for three and a half weeks until, on 19 May 1915, he was shot by a sniperas bullet and died aged 22.John Simpson Kirkpatrickas actions on Gallipoli earned admiration from the men who knew of him then, and from the Australian nation ever after. He and his donkey, sometimes known as Murphy, at other times Duffy, are perhaps the most well-known pair of Australians from the First World War. Simpsonas three-week career on Gallipoli has come to represent much of what happened to the Australians at Anzac.His story has been used for propaganda and political purposes, and has entered the canon of the Anzac spirit. But before he was a legend, John Simpson Kirkpatrick was one of the many men at Gallipoli doing their best in a muddled, dangerous situation. He was sadly missed by his mother and sister in South Shields, who were ever after proud of their boy.His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my right, along with around 60,000 others from the First World War, and his photograph is displayed today beside the Pool of Reflection.This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, and all of those Australians who have given their lives in service of our nation.

Rolls

  • First World War Nominal Roll

    Conflict
    First World War, 1914-1918
  • Roll of Honour

    Rank
    Private
    Fate
    Killed in action
    Date of Fate
    19 May 1915
    Service
    Australian Army
    Unit
    3rd Australian Field Ambulance
    Conflict
    First World War, 1914-1918
  • First World War Embarkation Roll

    Rank
    Private
    Place of Embarkation
    Fremantle
    Embarkation Ship
    HMAT Medic A7
    Date of Embarkation
    31 October 1914
    Conflict
    First World War, 1914-1918

Honours & Awards

  • Honours and Awards:

    Award/Honour
    Mention in despatches
    Classification
    British/Australian gallantry awards
    Unit
    3rd Australian Field Ambulance
    Conflict
    First World War, 1914-1918
    Rank
    Private
    London Gazette
    5 November 1915 on page 11003 at position 24
    Commonwealth Gazette
    27 January 1916 on page 157 at position 22
  • Honours and Awards (Recommendation):

    Unit
    3rd Australian Field Ambulance
    Conflict
    First World War, 1914-1918
    Rank
    Private
  • Honours and Awards (Recommendation):

    Unit
    3rd Australian Field Ambulance
    Conflict
    First World War, 1914-1918
    Rank
    Private

Timeline

Date of birth 1892-07-06 South Shields, England.
Date and unit at enlistment (ORs) 1909 Joined the Merchant Marine in England.
Other 1914-05 Arrived in Australia.
Date and unit at enlistment (ORs) 1914-08-25 Enlisted in the 3rd Australian Field Ambulance, Australian Army Medical Corps under the name John Simpson.
Date of embarkation 1914-11-02
Other 1915-04-25 Landed at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli as a stretcher bearer with the 3rd Australian Field Ambulance.
Date of death 1915-05-19 Killed in action by machine gun fire at Shrapnel Gully, Gallipoli, it was his 25th day of active service. With the use of donkeys he found in the camp, Kirkpatrick was able to retrieve many wounded soldiers before he was killed. Kirkpatrick was buried on the beach at Hell Spit.
Date of honour or award 1915-11-05 Posthumous Mention in Despatches.

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