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John Simpson Kirkpatrick
& his donkey
                 Gallipoli Hero

John Simpson Kirkpatrick and his Donkey

John Simpson Kirkpatrick was born in the northern English town of Shields the son of Robert Kirkpatrick, a merchant seaman, and Sarah Simpson. Following in his father's footsteps John joined the merchant navy but jumped ship in May 1910 when his ship put into Newcastle, New South Wales.

During the next few years he worked at a number of jobs and was always extremely careful to send some of his earnings to his mother home in England. Kirkpatrick was a high-spirited young man and seems to have enjoyed a good stoush in fine Australian tradition, as he later wrote

"we drank each other's health quite a number of times until each man thought he was Jack Johnson, champion of the world, when my mate suggested going over and having a fight with the sailors . . . things went pretty lively for the next half hour. You couldn't see anything for blood and snots flying about."

A Keen Recruit

When war broke out in 1914 Kirkpatrick enlisted in the Field Ambulance Unit hoping to be sent to England. He enlisted as Jack Simpson and was known under that name in the army. Much to his annoyance Kirkpatrick's unit was sent to Egypt not England and he consequently wrote to his mother: `I would not have joined the contingent if I had known they were not going to England. I would have taken the first ship home and had a holiday at home and then joined the army at home and went to the front instead of being stuck to this Godforsaken place'. Four months later Kirkpatrick took part in the dawn landings at Gallipoli.

On the evening of 25 April 1915 he found a donkey in a deserted hut and began to use it to move wounded down to the dressing stations. The donkey's name has been variously given as Murphy, Duffy or Abdul and he and his master, who was allowed to carry out his work on his own initiative, soon became familiar sights to the troops. As the workload increased Simpson acquired a second donkey from the Indian mule camp where he lived.

Alone and Unarmed

The work was highly dangerous as no area of the front was safe from Turkish snipers. Despite the hazards Kirkpatrick continued his mission of mercy and seemed to bear a charmed life. Eventually, however, his luck ran out. On 19 May Kirkpatrick and his donkey were both killed by machine gun fire whilst leading two wounded men through Shrapnel Gulley. Kirkpatrick had walked this way many times before but a recent Turkish counterattack had made the area especially dangerous.

John Simpson Kirkpatrick never received any award for his actions though his bravery was undoubted. Alone and unarmed he calmly continued saving lives at the risk of his own. Many Australian troops owed their lives to his unselfishness.


S.J. O'Brien (Excerpt from 200 Years - printed in Australia by Bay Books)


Born 1892 South Shields England

Career Ambulance officer

Died 1915 Gallipoli.

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Last modified: May 20, 2006