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Simpson and His Donkey

Updated on April 24, 2012

Birth of a Nation

The World War One battle of Gallipoli was a defining moment in Australia's fledgling history. Australian war correspondent C.E.W. Bean described the landing of Australian soldiers at Anzac Cove on April 25th 1915 as the 'Birth of a Nation'.Many heroes and legends were born at Gallipoli during the campaign but none more heartfelt to Australians as John Simpson Kirkpatrick, better know as Simpson and his Donkey. He may not have been awarded a Victoria Cross or any other bravery award but his actions in four weeks at Gallipoli earned himself the status of an Australian legend and icon, that is still revered to this day. This is the story of how Simpson became an unlikely hero of the Australian people.


Early Life

 Simpson was born in England in 1892,  his bravery was first recognised at a young age of thirteen when he saved two drowning children in the River Tyne.  He was one of eight children and was often seen playing with all kinds of animals.  In 1910 he joined the merchant navy as a stoker and sailed for Newcastle, Australia.  A very loyal family man he sent a large proportion of his wage back home to his mother.  He was not however loyal to his employer, as he deserted the ship as soon as it docked.  For the next few year he roamed Australia taking on a number of jobs such a farming, cane cutting and coal mining.  He soon found his way to Fremantle and this is where he enlisted in the army just three weeks after the break out of World War One.

Military Life

Simpson did not have dreams of glory when he enlisted in the army. His motivating factor for signing up was a free ticket back to England, but after the ship stopped in Egypt, Simpsons plans were going very wrong. As Simpson was a physically strong man he was sent into the Field Ambulance Corp as a stretcher bearer. Simpson was one of the first waves of men to land at Anzac Cove and out of 1500 men only 755 remained at the days end. Stretcher bearers were supposed to act in pairs but Simpson spied a donkey in the scrub and started ferrying injured men down from the frontlines of battle to safety using the donkey. Simpson would sometimes start a five o'clock in the morning and work for up to eighteen hours carting the wounded back down to the beach. Day in day out for four weeks he braved rifle and machine gun fire to carry the wounded soldiers out of harms way. He seemed to have some kind of bullet proof shield around him and it is said he saved the lives of over three hundred allied soldiers. On the 19th of May he was struck in the heart by a Turkish bullet and died instantly.

Simspn the Legacy

 Although he did not win any bravery awards, Simpson was twice recommended for the Victoria Cross but a clerical error denied him of this honor.  The Australian people though have elevated his status to somewhat iconic proporti0ons over time and he sits proudly with many other wartime heroes.  He have been immortalised on Australian stamps and coins over the years and there is a famous bronze statue of him and his donkey at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. 

His gravestone in Gallipoli reads 'HE GAVE HIS LIFE THAT OTHERS MAY LIVE'.

John Simpson Kirkpatrick is truly an Australian hero.


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    • mizjo profile image

      mizjo 5 years ago from New York City, NY

      What a very brave young man. There are men like that who in the face of danger seem to fly in the face of it, daring what in normal times they would not dream of doing. Simpson himself had had no dreams of heroism but faced with Turkish fire, made those trips to save 300 wounded soldiers. Interesting hub. Voted up.

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 7 years ago

      Very awesomely beautiful write! Buttons up! Thank you for telling this wonderful story about a man I've not known. God bless!

    • profile image

      markbennis 7 years ago

      Nice article I really enjoyed this one...