Biography

Also Known as: John Simpson
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
Service number: 202 - First World War, 1914-1918
Unit: 3rd Australian Field Ambulance

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.

Rolls and Awards

Roll of Honour

  • Rank: Private
  • Date of Death: 19 May 1915
  • Unit: 3rd Australian Field Ambulance

First World War Embarkation Roll

  • Rank: Private
  • Date of embarkation: 02 November 1914
  • Place of embarkation: Fremantle

Honours and Awards (Recommendation)

  • Unit: 3rd Australian Field Ambulance
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918

Honours and Awards (Recommendation)

  • Unit: 3rd Australian Field Ambulance
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918

Honours and Awards : Mention in despatches

  • Unit: 3rd Australian Field Ambulance
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918

Photograph

012504

THREE AMERICAN OFFICERS PAY A VISIT TO SIMPSON'S MONUMENT. 202 PRIVATE JOHN SIMPSON KIRKPATRICK (HE ENLISTED AS JOHN SIMPSON) SERVED ON GALLIPOLI IN THE FIRST WORLD WAR AND BY MEANS OF HIS DONKEY BROUGHT TO THE DRESSING STATION A LARGE NUMBER OF WOUNDED MEN MONTH AFTER MONTH FACING EVERY RISK FROM...

012504

012505

THREE AMERICAN OFFICERS PAY A VISIT TO SIMPSON'S MONUMENT. 202 PRIVATE JOHN SIMPSON KIRKPATRICK (HE ENLISTED AS JOHN SIMPSON) SERVED ON GALLIPOLI IN THE FIRST WORLD WAR AND BY MEANS OF HIS DONKEY BROUGHT TO THE DRESSING STATION A LARGE NUMBER OF WOUNDED MEN MONTH AFTER MONTH FACING EVERY RISK FROM...

012505

044115

THE DIRECTOR OF THE AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL, MR NOEL FLANAGAN (RIGHT FRONT), SHOWING A VIP VISITOR THE STATUE OF SIMPSON AND HIS DONKEY. 202 PRIVATE JOHN SIMPSON KIRKPATRICK ENLISTED AS JOHN SIMPSON AND SERVED IN THE 3RD AUSTRALIAN FIELD AMBULANCE AT ANZAC.

044115

A02826

Studio portrait of Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, Ships Fireman, born at Tyne Dock, South Shields, Durham in England on 6 July 1892. He enlisted as 202 Private John Simpson in the 3rd Australian Field Ambulance on 25 August 1914 and was killed in action at Gallipoli on 19 May 1915. Kirkpatrick...

A02826

A02827

Informal photograph of some of the original members of the 3rd Australian Field Ambulance at mess outside their tents at Blackboy Hill Camp in Western Australia. From left to right: 204 Private (Pte) Albert John Currie; 169A Lance Corporal (L Cpl) Andrew Rhind Davidson; 174A Pte William Lindsay;...

A02827

A03116

Private A J Currie (left) and 202 Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick (who enlisted as John Simpson), 'The Man with the Donkey'. Both of the 3rd Field Ambulance, in Blackboy Camp in Western Australia. The skeleton was used for instructional purposes and is wearing a slouch hat.

A03116

A03116A

Informal portrait of 202 Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick (who enlisted as John Simpson), 'The Man with the Donkey', of the 3rd Field Ambulance, in Blackboy Camp in Western Australia. This photograph is cropped from A03116.

A03116A

A03354

Informal portrait of 189 Private John Pratley and 182 Private Leonard Darcy of the 3rd Australian Field Ambulance at Blackboy Hill Camp in WA. The two men were in the same unit in training camp with Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, 'The man with the donkey'.

A03354

H13958

THIS WAS SUPPOSEDLY A PORTRAIT OF 202 PRIVATE JOHN SIMPSON KIRKPATRICK (HE ENLISTED AS JOHN SIMPSON), 3RD FIELD AMBULANCE, AIF. MEN WHO SERVED WITH PRIVATE KIRKPATRICK IN THE 3RD FIELD AMBULANCE HAVE DECLARED THAT THIS IS NOT A PHOTOGRAPH OF HIM. FOR AUTHENTIC PHOTOGRAPHS OF PRIVATE KIRKPARTRICK...

H13958

J06392

202 Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, 3rd Field Ambulance Brigade (enlisted as Simpson), assisting an unidentified British soldier, wounded in the leg, being carried by a donkey. Pte Simpson was later killed by Turkish machine gun fire assisting the wounded, near a location known as Bloody Angle on...

J06392

P01446.001

Probably BUNBURY, WA. C. 1912-02. JOHN SIMPSON KIRKPATRICK (RIGHT) STANDS ON THE WHARF WITH TWO MATES. KIRKPATRICK WHO ENLISTED AS 202 PRIVATE JOHN SIMPSON, 3RD FIELD AMBULANCE,WAS KILLED IN ACTION AT GALLIPOLI ON 19 MAY 1915. AFTER HIS DEATH SIMPSON GAINED ENDURING FAME AS "THE MAN WITH THE...

P01446.001

P01446.002

LANCASHIRE, ENGLAND. 1909-07. VOLUNTEER GUNNERS IN THE DURHAM TERRITORIAL HOWITZER BATTERY TRAINING AT KNOTT END CAMP, NEAR FLEETWOOD. STANDING (PARTLY OBSCURED) BEHIND THE WHEEL OF THE LIMBER (WITHOUT THE PROTECTIVE CLOTHING OF THOSE BESIDE HIM) IS 202 JOHN SIMPSON KIRKPATRICK (HE ENLISTED AS JOHN...

P01446.002

P01550.002

Portrait of John Simpson Kirkpatrick, taken as a young boy. He was born in England, before moving to Australia, and later enlisting in the AIF on 25 August 1914, serving as 202 Private John Simpson with the 3rd Field Ambulance. He embarked from Fremantle on 2 November 1914 aboard HMAT Medic. He...

P01550.002

P02913.008.001

Informal portrait of an Australian soldier with two donkeys. The soldier has been identified by the album caption as "Simpson and his donkeys" (presumably 202 Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, 3rd Field Ambulance); however, this identification is uncertain.

P02913.008.001

P09300.001

202 Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick (who enlisted as John Simpson), of the 3rd Field Ambulance, he was known as 'The Man with the Donkey'. He is seen here working in Shrapnel Gully at Anzac Cove, with a wounded soldier on his donkey.

P09300.001

A03114

202 Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick (who enlisted as John Simpson), of the 3rd Field Ambulance, he was known as 'The Man with the Donkey'. He is seen here working in Shrapnel Gully at Anzac Cove, with a wounded soldier on his donkey.

A03114

Art

Maquette for 'Simpson and his donkey 1915'

In 1987 sculptor Peter Corlett won a competition to design a memorial to commemorate the courage and sacrifice of Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, a 3rd Field Ambulance stretcher-bearer who became the most prominent symbol of Australian courage and tenacity on Gallipoli. Corlett's winning design...

ART40983

Exhibition - non-combatants - Australlian Forces: They also served

Poster for the exhibition 'They also Served' at St Mark's Memorial Library, Canberra from 22 April - 6 May 1978. The poster features a black graphic image of Simpson and his donkey carrying a wounded Australian soldier in the centre. A red triangle of colour radiates from the bottom of this graphic...

ARTV06257

Private Record

Kirkpatrick, John Simpson (Private, b:1892 - d:1915)

A series of letters exchanged between 202 Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, his mother Sarah Kirkpatrick and sister Annie Kirkpatrick, spanning the years 1909 to 1915. Subjects include his life before the war and his enlistment and service with the 3 Field Ambulance at Gallipoli. Later... Maker: Kirkpatrick, John Simpson

3DRL/3424 (With records)

Adams, Arthur James (Private, b.1888 - d.1916)

Collection relating to the First World War service of 78 Private Arthur James Adams, 13 Field Ambulance, Gallipoli and France, 1915-1916. Collection consists of a handwritten diary covering the period 1 January 1915 until Adams' wounding at Pozieres, 8 August 1916 (he died of wounds 9 August... Maker: Adams, Arthur James

1DRL/0004 (With records)

Hobbes, Florence Narrelle Jessie (Sister, b.1878 - d.1918)

Collection relating to the First World War service of Sister Florence Narrelle Jessie Hobbes, Queen Alexander's Imperial Military Nursing Service. Collection consists of letters and a Commemorative Scroll. The letters include descriptions of the wounded, hospital conditions, numbers of... Maker: Hobbes, Florence Narrelle Jessie

2DRL/0162 (With records)

Hetherington, John Wesley (WO, b.1888 - d.?)

Collection relating to the service of 1003 Warrant Officer John Wesley Hetherington, 2 Battalion, AIF, At sea, Egypt, Gallipoli, Lemnos, Western Front, England, 1914-1919. Collection consists of 70 letters written by Hetherington to his family, and two Certificates of Discharge. The letters cover... Maker: Hetherington, John Wesley

PR03795 (With records)

Benson, Rev Sir Irving (Author)

Research notes, original letters, draft manuscript material, newscuttings and souvenirs related to the writing of Benson's "The Man with the Donkey" published in 1965. Contains various original letters written by John Simpson Kirkpatrick to his family from Australia, Egypt and Gallipoli. Maker: Benson, Irving

PR83/069

Carey-Evans, Thomas John (Captain, b.1884 - d.1947)

Collection relating to the First World War service of Captain Thomas John Carey-Evans (British). Captain Carey-Evans served as a surgeon with the Indian Army at Gallipoli, in Egypt, and in Mesopotamia. Collection consists of a typed Curriculum Vitae for Captain Carey-Evans detailing his medical... Maker: Carey-Evans, Thomas John

PR04121

Jackson, Harry Melville (Sergeant, b.1893 - d.1916)

Collection relating to the service of 1766 Sergeant Harry Melville Jackson, 13 Battalion, Australia, Egypt, Gallipoli, France, 1915-1916. Collection consists of letters sent by Harry Jackson to his mother in Sydney, two diaries kept by Sergeant Harry Jackson, which together cover the period from... Maker: Jackson, Harry Melville

1DRL/0379

Gillison, Andrew (Chaplain, b.1868 - d.1915)

Collection relating to the service of Chaplain Andrew Gillison, AIF, Australia, at sea, Egypt, Gallipoli, 1914-1915. Collection consists of a carbon copy of an original diary kept by Chaplain Gillison from 1 November 1914 until approximately August 1915 (the time of his death), and a photostat... Maker: Gillison, Andrew

3DRL/6277

Conigrave, Harry Stanley (Private, b. - d.1968)

Collection relating to the service of 117 Private Harry Stanley Conigrave, 3 Light Horse Regiment, AIF, Egypt, Gallipoli, 1915. Collection consists of (1) a copy of the Australian Light Horse squad book, [2nd edition], compiled by Capt. R. Holman, DSO, which was used as a notebook and diary by... Maker: Conigrave, Harry Stanley

PR04498

Heraldry

RSPCA Purple Cross and certificate of award to Simpson's donkey 'Murphy'

Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Purple Cross and framed certificate of award. Antique silver medal bears a purple enamel cross on the obverse with the embossed words, 'PURPLE CROSS AWARD'. Reverse shows 'RSPCA' and paw print logo, and is engraved 'Simpson's Donkey "Murphy" '.

REL25365

1914-15 Star : Private John Simpson, 3 Field Ambulance, AIF

1914-15 Star. Impressed reverse with recipient's details.

RELAWM16344.001

British War Medal 1914-20 : Private John Simpson, 3 Field Ambulance, AIF

British War Medal 1914-20. Impressed around edge with recipient's details.

RELAWM16344.002

Victory Medal with MID : Private John Simpson, 3 Field Ambulance, AIF

Victory Medal with Mentioned in Despatches oakleaf. Medal impressed around edge with recipient's details.

RELAWM16344.003

Identity Disc : Private John Simpson, 3 Field Ambulance, AIF

Circular aluminium identity disc incorporating a integral suspension tag, through which is laced a flat-profile leather thong for wear around the neck The thong ends are knotted. The disc is impressed with the owner's details as follows: '202 J SIMPSON C 3 F AMB C E'.

RELAWM16344.005

Next of Kin Plaque : Private John Simpson, 3 Field Ambulance, AIF

Bronze Next of Kin plaque with an image of Britannia and a lion together with the words 'HE DIED FOR FREEDOM AND HONOUR'. The name of the dead soldier 'JOHN SIMPSON' is recorded in raised letters within a raised rectangle.

RELAWM16344.006

Anzac Medallion : John Simpson

Circular bronze medallion surmounted by the Queen's crown. Obverse shows Simpson and his donkey assisting a wounded man, a laurel wreath, the date '1915' and the word 'ANZAC'. Reverse shows a map of Australia and New Zealand with the Southern Cross superimposed over it, fern fronds and the engraved...

RELAWM16790.001

Donkey's hoof from Gallipoli : Trooper T V Roberts, Auckland Mounted Rifles, New Zealand Expeditionary Force

Small donkey's front hoof shod with a solid iron plate, typical of horse and donkey shoes used in the Middle East. The shoe is attached with two pairs of nails on either side of the toe. Three of the nails are the same, with large rectangular heads measuring 14 mm x 10 mm; the fourth nail head is...

REL/00422

Medical armband said to have been worn by Simpson's donkey : Colonel A Sutton, 3 Field Ambulance, AIF

White twill cotton armband with a central red Geneva cross. The band is roughly hemmed on the reverse and tapers to 15 mm wide at each end with its widest part at 75 mm. The signature of 'Alfred Sutton' is written in black ink on the front of the band. On the reverse of the band is an oval blue ink...

REL/21665

Digitised Collection

Letters from John Simpson Kirkpatrick to his Mother, 1909

Letters relating to the First World War service of 202 Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, 3rd Field Ambulance. The letters were written aboard the SS Hughington and sent by John Simpson to his mother, Sarah Kirkpatrick, between 14 October and 16 December 1909. File contains: Letter from John...

RCDIG0000375

Letters from John Simpson Kirkpatrick to his Family, 1910

Letters relating to the First World War service of 202 Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, 3rd Field Ambulance. The letters were written by John Simpson to his mother, Sarah Kirkpatrick and his sister, Annie Kirkpatrick between 16 April to 27 November 1910. One letter was written on board SS Yeddo,...

RCDIG0000376

Letters from John Simpson Kirkpatrick to his Mother, 1911

Letters relating to the First World War service of 202 Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, 3rd Field Ambulance. The letters were written by John Simpson to his mother Sarah Kirkpatrick between 16 January and 7 December 1911. Eleven of the letters were written on board SS Kooringa, the remaining...

RCDIG0000377

Letters from John Simpson Kirkpatrick to his Mother, 1912

Letters relating to the First World War service of 202 Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, 3rd Field Ambulance. The letters were written by John Simpson to his mother, Sarah Kirkpatrick, between 7 January and 12 December 1912. All of the letters were written on board SS Kooringa from various ports...

RCDIG0000378

Letters from John Simpson Kirkpatrick to his Mother, 1913

Letters relating to the First World War service of 202 Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, 3rd Field Ambulance. The letters were written by John Simpson to his mother, Sarah Kirkpatrick, between 11 January and 31 December 1913. Four of the letters were written on board SS Kooringa, two were written...

RCDIG0000379

Letters between John Simpson Kirkpatrick and his Mother, 1914

Letters relating to the First World War service of 202 Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, 3rd Field Ambulance. The letters were exchanged between John Simpson and his mother, Sarah Kirkpatrick, between 1 March and 25 December 1914. Four of the letters were written on board the SS Yankalilla, two...

RCDIG0000380

Letters between John Simpson Kirkpatrick and his Family, 1915

Letters relating to the First World War service of 202 Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, 3rd Field Ambulance. The letters were exchanged between John Simpson and his sister, Annie Kirkpatrick, between 3 January and 15 June 1915. Six of the letters were written from an unknown location and the...

RCDIG0000381

Letters from John Simpson Kirkpatrick to his Family

Letters relating to the First World War service of 202 Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, 3rd Field Ambulance. The undated letters were written by John Simpson to his mother, Sarah Kirkpatrick and his sister, Annie Kirkpatrick. Four of the letters were written at an unknown location by Simpson and...

RCDIG0000382

Condolence letters for John Simpson Kirkpatrick, 1915

Letters relating to the First World War service of 202 Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, 3rd Field Ambulance. The letters of condolence were written to Mrs Sarah Kirkpatrick and Miss Annie Kirkpatrick between 2 September and 28 November 1915. Two of the letters were written by Captain H. Kenneth...

RCDIG0000383

Certificates and letters for John Simpson Kirkpatrick, 1915-1921

Certificates and letters relating to the First World War service of 202 Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, 3rd Field Ambulance. The certificates and letters were issued by the British and Australian Governments regarding John Simpson's service. File contains: King's Scroll recording John Simpson's...

RCDIG0000384

Letters from the New Zealand High Commission and The Gallipoli Legion, 1947-1948

Letters relating to the First World War service of 202 Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, 3rd Field Ambulance. The letters were written by the New Zealand High Commission to Mrs Annie Pearson [nee Kirkpatrick] on 9 September 1947 and 16 September 1948. The letters concern portraits of her brother,...

RCDIG0000385

Printed material relating to John Simpson Kirkpatrick, 1915-1916

Printed material relating to the First World War service of 202 Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, 3rd Field Ambulance. The printed material was complied by Mrs Annie Pearson between 22 July 1915 and 25 April 1916. File contains: Poem titled 'ANZAC Murphy' by Captain Towers, 26 September...

RCDIG0000386

Envelopes relating to John Simpson Kirkpatrick, 1909-1915

Envelopes relating to the First World War service of 202 Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, 3rd Field Ambulance. The empty envelopes housed the correspondence exchanged between 202 Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, his mother, Mrs Sarah Kirkpatrick, and his sister, Miss Annie Kirkpatrick between 28...

RCDIG0000387

Postcards from John Simpson Kirkpatrick and his Family, 1909-1915

Postcards relating to the First World War service of 202 Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, 3rd Field Ambulance. This series of post cards was exchanged by John Simpson and his family between 3 November 1909 and 5 June 1915. Also included is an annotated photograph and an unused post card. File...

RCDIG0000388

Lettercards from John Simpson Kirkpatrick to his Family, 1912-1915

Lettercards relating to the First World War service of 202 Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, 3rd Field Ambulance. The lettercards were sent by John Simpson to his sister, Miss Annie Kirkpatrick, and his mother, Mrs Sarah Kirkpatrick, between 9 August 1912 and 14 of February 1915. Two of the...

RCDIG0000389

Diary for Arthur James Adams, 1915-1916

Diary relating to the First World War service of 78 Private Arthur James Adams, 13th Field Ambulance. The diary was written at Gallipoli between 1 January 1915 to 8 August 1916 and contains detailed entries describing the weather conditions, routine tasks of the Field Ambulance unit and the...

RCDIG0000195

Letters from John Wesley Hetherington to his Family, 1914-1915

Letters relating to the service of 1003 Warrant Officer John Wesley Hetherington, 2nd Battalion. The letters were written by Warrant Officer Hetherington to his family between 21 October 1914 and 6 December 1915. They describe his service at Gallipoli, convalescence on Malta and subsequent return...

RCDIG0000259

Miscellaneous records relating to First World War service of George Booley

Miscellaneous records relating to First World War service of 111 Lance Corporal George Booley, 5th Infantry Battalion. File contains: Miniature calendar, 1917; Plastic heart with message 'Good luck'; Printed envelope addressed to Pte G L Hicks; Photograph of soldier on horse; Annotated postcard...

RCDIG0000152

War letters of General Monash: Volume 1, 24 December 1914 - 4 March 1917

File relating to the First World War service of Major General John Monash, 3rd Australian Division. This file consists of one bound volume of letters transcribed in 1934 with the contents ranging in dates from 24 December 1914 to 4 March 1917. These letters cover Monash's departure from Australia...

RCDIG0000569

Diary of John Henry Llewellyn Turnbull, 1915

Diary relating to the First World War service of 1433 Private John Henry Llewellyn Turnbull, 8th Battalion. This is the first of six detailed diaries transcribed by Turnbull after the war, and documents his embarkation and subsequent service at Gallipoli with the 8th Battalion. This diary was...

RCDIG0001106

Film

The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (202) Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, 3rd Field Ambulance Australian Army Medical Corps, First World War

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial every day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story...

PAFU/824.01

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.