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The Man with the Donkey
The Man with the Donkey 

Western Mail, Thursday 9 November 1933, page 2

"The Man with the Donkey."

Perhaps it is fitting that the man who created the most imperishable legend of battle-scarred Anzac, whose story of devotion to duty and self sacrifice will inspire mankind down the centuries, should have been a humble private soldier to whom no decoration was ever awarded.

Now a demand has arisen in Melbourne that this man should be commemorated for his noble deeds. To enable expression to be given to the demand, the proprietors of the "Argus" are offering a prize of 10/10/ for the most fitting design for a monument to the memory of Private John Simpson. That was the name under which he enlisted in the 3rd Field Ambulance at Blackboy Hill in 1914, but his real name was John Simpson Kirkpatrick.

The majority of the men of Anzac knew him only as "the Man with the Donkey." In the circumstances, it is important to draw attention to the- fact, vouched for by men in this State who served on Anzac with Kirkpatrick that the photograph published in the "Argus'' and taken from the original m the Australian War Museum, is not the Man himself; neither is the one hanging in the Soldiers' Institute, Perth, a copy of which was published in Perth recently." He is another who took over the donkey for one day after Kirkpatrick's death and was photographed with it.

The orthodox system of stretcher-bearing did not commend itself to Kirkpatrick, and soon after the landing at Anzac on April 25, 1915, he commandeered a stray donkey and "carried on" individually.

He became one of the most familiar eights on Anzac, toiling up and down-the ridges and gullies, and passing unhurriedly several times a day places which were covered by Turkish snipers and machine- guns-death-traps which experience taught most men to pass at the double. In the early days he would leave his donkey just behind the firing-line, then crawl out himself to some exposed position where an Australian or New Zealand soldier was lying in agony. If there was no other way of getting him back the gallant Kirkpatrick would lift the wounded man in his arms, and braving all the risks of exposure, carry his man to cover. There he would give the necessary first-aid, lift his patient on to the back of his long eared ally, and transport him to the hospital on the beach. There could be no hurrying on this, journey. With the casualty's arm around his neck, his own arm around the wounded man's waist, slowly and carefully the rugged, bullet-swept tracks would be traversed. "The Man with the Donkey" carried hundreds of his stricken comrades from death to life in this manner and his competent, casual nonchalance in the performance of his self-imposed task was one of the most inspiring sights of those early Gallipoli days.

Relieved of all official supervision-perhaps the only soldier on Gallipoli who did his own job in his own way - Kirkpatrick had a charmed life until May 19. Then, coming down Shrapnel Gully with a casualty on the donkey's back during the height of Kemal Pasha's attack, he was killed instantly by a Turkish bullet which found his heart. The donkey continued on its way and delivered its burden safely.

The gamest man who ever wore an Aussie tunic, as one who knew Kirkpatrick then described him, was buried on Hell Spit by his mates of "C" Section, 3rd Field Ambulance that came evening. When word passed around the firing-line that "The Man with the Donkey" was dead, men's voices were temporarily stilled. It was as though the impossible had happened, for Kirkpatrick had become, during his short period of active service, one of the established institutions of Anzac, John Simpson Kirkpatrick was born in 1892 at South Shields, England, where a monument to his memory now stands. He was a stoker in a ship which called -at Fremantle in August, 1914, and left the vessel without permission, to enlist at Blackboy Hill. That is the reason why his correct name does not appear on his attestation paper. A lover of animals, he caught an opossum at Blackboy, which he kept in his hat in the tent. It was the joke of the camp, when, as frequently happened, someone hid his pet, to hear Kirkpatrick calling, "Where's my - 'possum?" On the march, even visiting Perth, his little furry friend found a refuge inside Kirkpatrick's shirt, next to the skin.

He was smuggled aboard the Medic in the same way, and the joke of the ship was, "Where's my - 'possum?" in a stentorian voice that everyone came to know and like. In Cairo the opossum was an object of great interest, for Kirkpatrick was a wag and made the most of his unusual pet. It thrived in all its strange surroundings, but disappeared towards the end of the period at Mena Camp, much to the grief of its master. His next pet was the donkey.

The donkey's presence on Gallipoli needs some explanation. "Abdul" was one of two donkeys purchased by the members of the 16th Battalion machine gun section at Lemnos. Those optimists thought they would need assistance in carrying their guns to Constantinople, and they paid 2/15/ for the long-eared transport. At Anzac they dropped them overboard, and saw them swim ashore, forgetting all about them until they saw one of them in partnership with Kirkpatrick, whose love of animals had instantly attracted him to the forlorn little mouse-coloured beast, no bigger than a Newfoundland dog, wandering around the beach. At first he had difficulty in feeding him, for the donkey was on the strength of no unit. Foraging foodstuff for him after the day's work was done got Kirkpatrick into several scrapes with irate Army Service Corps officers, but, as the erring one remarked, "What s a man to do? I can't; feed the poor cow on air!" When his master was killed, another man took over Kirkpatrick's job, but one day aimlessly about Anzac, browsing on the slopes and in the valleys, utterly indifferent to shell fire and bullets. Later he was taken in hand by the 21st Mountain Battery of Sikhs, and his subsequent movements are unknown.

But "Abdul's" place in Anzac history is assured. As the sure-footed little ally of "The Man," carrying a limp load of shattered humanity out of all proportion to his size, wending his way placidly along the gullies of Gallipoli, he will always be associated with the lowly digger who sacrificed himself for his fellows.

The horrors of the Crimea gave us the merciful inspiration of "The Lady of the Lamp." No less inspiring is the Anzac example of “The Man with the Donkey."

Those in the story:

John Simpson Kirkpatrick = 202 Private John SIMPSON, a 22 year old Ship's fireman from 14 Bertram Street, South Shields, Durham, England enlisted in the AIF on 25 August 1914 and was allotted to the 3rd Field Ambulance, “C” Section and embarked at Fremantle, Western Australia, on HMAT A7 Medic on 2 November 1914. During the Great War he was Killed in Action, 19 May 1915.