Twenty-two-year-old, English-born John Simpson Kirkpatrick was a most unlikely figure to become a national hero. Having deserted from the merchant navy, he tramped around Australia before enlisting in the AIF as Private Simpson. He expected this would give him a chance to get back to England. Instead he found himself at the landing at Anzac on 25 April, coming ashore in one of the Devanha’s lifeboats towed by HMS Ribble. He was killed less than four weeks later.
Simpson was recklessly independent. Given the job of recovering wounded, he did this using a small donkey. He was often under fire, and his bravery was widely spoken about on Gallipoli.
The image of “the man with the donkey”, rescuing wounded comrades, at the eventual cost of his own life, was quickly adopted in Australia. Today, while Simpson himself remains to most an enigmatic figure, the nature of his sacrifice has become a vital ingredient of the story of Anzac.