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John 'Jack' Simpson Kirkpatrick
Simpson and the donkey.jpg
J. Simpson (centre) with his donkey,
bearing a wounded soldier
Nickname Jack
Born 6 July 1892
Died 19 May 1915(1915-05-19) (aged 22)
Place of birth South Shields, United Kingdom
Place of death Gallipoli, Turkey
Buried at Gallipoli, Turkey
Allegiance Flag of Australia.svg Australia
Service/branch Australian Army Rising Sun Badge 1904 Australian Imperial Force
Years of service 1914–1915
Rank Private
Unit 3rd Field Ambulance, Australian Army Medical Corps

World War I

Awards Mentioned in Despatches

John "Jack" Simpson Kirkpatrick (6 July 1892 – 19 May 1915), who served under the name John Simpson, was a stretcher bearer with the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) during the Gallipoli Campaign in World War I. After landing at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915, he obtained a donkey and began carrying wounded British Empire soldiers from the frontline to the beach, for evacuation. He continued this work for three and a half weeks, often under fire, until he was killed. Simpson and his Donkey are a key part of the "Anzac legend".

Early lifeEdit

Simpson was born on 6 July 1892 in South Shields, United Kingdom,[1][2] the son of Robert Kirkpatrick and Sarah Simpson Kirkpatrick.[3] He was one of eight children, and worked with donkeys during summer holidays as a youth.[1]

Military serviceEdit

After deserting from the merchant navy and travelling around Australia, prior to the war, Simpson apparently enlisted as a means to return to England.[2] One account alleges that he dropped "Kirkpatrick" from his name and enlisted as "John Simpson" to avoid being identified as a deserter.[1] He was accepted into the army as a field ambulance stretcher bearer on 23 August 1914 in Perth.[1] This role was only given to physically strong men.[1]

Simpson landed on the shores of the Gallipoli Peninsula on 25 April 1915 as part of the ANZAC forces.[1] In the early hours of the following day, as he was bearing a wounded comrade on his shoulders, he spotted a donkey and quickly began making use of it to bear his fellow soldiers.[1] He would sing and whistle, seeming to ignore the deadly bullets flying through the air, while he tended to his comrades.[1] The donkey came to be named Duffy.[4]

Colonel (later General) John Monash wrote: "Private Simpson and his little beast earned the admiration of everyone at the upper end of the valley. They worked all day and night throughout the whole period since the landing, and the help rendered to the wounded was invaluable. Simpson knew no fear and moved unconcernedly amid shrapnel and rifle fire, steadily carrying out his self imposed task day by day, and he frequently earned the applause of the personnel for his many fearless rescues of wounded men from areas subject to rifle and shrapnel fire."[1]

On 19 May 1915, Simpson was struck by machine gun fire and died.[1] At the time of his death, Simpson's father was already dead, but his mother was still living in South Shields, England.[3]

The paintingsEdit

Private Simpson, D.C.M., & his donkey at Anzac

One of the paintings by Horace Moore depicting a man and a donkey, formerly thought to be a portrait of Simpson, now known to portray Henderson.

A painting of Simpson and his donkey, sometimes titled The Man with the Donkey, has immortalised his deeds at Gallipoli and been widely reproduced as sculptures and memorials. It was painted from a photograph by Horace Jones, a New Zealand artist[5] who took part in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force’s Landing at Anzac Cove in Gallipoli. He made at least six versions of the painting.[6] However, the photograph he worked from is not of Simpson but of a New Zealand school teacher,[7] Dick Henderson, who was a stretcher bearer in the New Zealand Medical Corps at Gallipoli.[citation needed]

It is commonly reported that following the death of Simpson, Henderson took over his role and used the donkey Murphy[8] to repeatedly rescue wounded soldiers from the battlefield (he was later awarded the Military Medal).[9] The photograph that Moore used, of Henderson with the donkey wearing a Red Cross band around its muzzle, was taken by Sergeant James G. Jackson of the NZMC on 12 May 1915,[6] a week before Simpson's death.[citation needed]

In descriptions of the paintings and derivatives over the years, there has been confusion over the name of the donkey which has been mainly called Murphy, but occasionally Duffy or Abdul as well. Even Simpson himself was sometimes called Murphy. Interviewed in 1950 by the Melbourne Argus, Dick Henderson said the legend that Simpson was called Murphy was incorrect and he wanted to clear up the matter. He said Simpson found the donkey wandering on a shell-torn beach and had named it Murphy.[7]

The theme of the paintings has appeared widely down the years and a variation of it (drawn from a sculpture) was included on three postage stamps issued in Australia in 1965 to mark the 50th anniversary of Gallipoli - on the five penny, eight penny and two shillngs and three pence stamps.[10]

Murphy the donkey has been widely recognised also, and in 1977 a donkey joined the Royal Australian Army Medical Corps, being allocated the regimental number MA 0090 and assigned the name Private Jeremy Jeremiah Simpson. In 1986 the donkey was permamanently adopted as the official mascot of the corps.[11]

In May 1997 the Australian RSPCA posthumously awarded its Purple Cross to the donkey Murphy for performing outstanding acts of bravery towards humans.[12]



A commemorative statue of Simpson and Duffy

The "Simpson" legend grew largely from an account of his actions published in a 1916 book, Glorious Deeds of Australasians in the Great War. This was a wartime propaganda effort, and many of its stories of Simpson, supposedly rescuing 300 men and making dashes into no man's land to carry wounded out on his back, are demonstrably untrue. In fact, transporting that many men down to the beach in the three weeks that he was at Gallipoli would have been a physical impossibility, given the time the journey took.[13] However, the stories presented in the book were widely and uncritically accepted by many people, including the authors of some subsequent books on Simpson.[citation needed]

The few contemporary accounts of Simpson at Gallipoli speak of his bravery and invaluable service in bringing wounded down from the heights above Anzac Cove through Shrapnel and Monash Gullies.[14] However, his donkey service spared him the even more dangerous and arduous work of hauling seriously wounded men back from the front lines on a stretcher.[citation needed]

Popular cultureEdit

A popular silent film was made of his exploits, Murphy of Anzac (1916). The story was also an episode of the anthology television show Michael Willessee's Australians (1988). There is a song about him, "John Simpson Kirkpatrick", on the album Legends and Lovers by Issy and David Emeney with Kate Riaz (Wild Goose Records WGS344).[citation needed]

Victoria CrossEdit

There have been several petitions over the decades to have Simpson awarded a Victoria Cross (VC) or a Victoria Cross for Australia.[15] There is a persistent myth that he was recommended for a VC, but that this was either refused or mishandled by the military bureaucracy. However, there is no documentary evidence that such a recommendation was ever made.[16] The case for Simpson being awarded a VC is based on diary entries by his Commanding Officer that express the hope he would receive either a Distinguished Conduct Medal or VC. However, the officer in question never made a formal recommendation for either of these medals. Simpson's Mention in Despatches was consistent with the recognition given to other men who performed the same role at Gallipoli.[citation needed]

In April 2011 the Australian Government announced that Simpson would be one of thirteen servicemen examined in an inquiry into "Unresolved Recognition for Past Acts of Naval and Military Gallantry and Valour".[17] The tribunal for this inquiry was directed to make recommendations on the awarding of decorations, including the Victoria Cross. Concluding its investigations in February 2013, the tribunal recommended that no further award be made to Simpson, since his "initiative and bravery were representative of all other stretcher-bearers of 3rd Field Ambulance, and that bravery was appropriately recognised as such by the award of an MID."[18][19]

See alsoEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 Simpson – Australia's favourite hero (c. 2010). Retrieved on 19 June 2010.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Australian War Memorial: Simpson and his donkey (2010). Retrieved on 18 June 2010.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Australian War Memorial: Roll of Honour – John Simpson Kirkpatrick (2010). Retrieved on 18 June 2010.
  4. Walker Books: Simpson and His Donkey (27 May 2009). Retrieved on 25 June 2010.
  5. Gray, Anne (Updated 1 September 2010). "Moore-Jones, Horace Millichamp - Biography". Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 20 December 2012. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 P03136.001 (description of photograph), Australian War Memorial. Retrieved March 2013.
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Man with donkey not Australian". The Argus (Melbourne). 17 April 1950. Retrieved 20 December 2012. 
  8. "Anzac Heirs: A selfless lifetime of service - A picture of bravery". New Zealand Herald. 22 April 2010. Retrieved 20 December 2012. 
  9. "About Richard Henderson. The Man With The Donkey". NZ Returned and Services Association. Retrieved 20 December 2012. 
  10. "50th Anniversary Of Gallipoli Landings". PreDecimal Stamps Of Australia. 14 April 1965. Retrieved 20 December 2012. 
  11. "RAAMC Customs, Traditions and Symbols". Royal Australian Army Medical Corps. Retrieved 20 December 2012. 
  12. "Donkey Activities". Donkey Society Of Queensland. Updated 29 August 2012. Retrieved 20 December 2012. 
  13. Wilson, G. (2006). "The Donkey Vote: A VC for Simpson – The case against". pp. 25–37. 
  14. "MURPHY OF ANZAC.". Qld.: National Library of Australia. 30 January 1919. p. 2. Retrieved 14 June 2012. 
  15. AAP (19 May 2008). "Anzac legend Simpson to miss out on VC". The West Australian. Retrieved 19 May 2008. 
  16. Australian Department of Defence (November 2007). "Defence Honours and Awards". Australian Department of Defence. Retrieved 9 August 2010. 
  17. Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal (April 2014). "INQUIRY INTO UNRESOLVED RECOGNITION FOR PAST ACTS OF NAVAL AND MILITARY GALLANTRY AND VALOUR Terms of Reference". Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal. Archived from the original on 22 April 2011. Retrieved 16 April 2011. [dead link]
  18. Valour at Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal. Retrieved on 2 March 2013.
  19. 'Fog of war' blamed for VC denials at The Telegraph


  • Adam-Smith, P. (1978): The ANZACs. Penguin Books. (ISBN 0-7343-0461-7)
  • Buley, E. C. (1916): Glorious Deeds of Australasians in the Great War. London: Andrew Melrose.
  • Cochrane, P. (1992): Simpson and the Donkey: The Making of a Legend. Burwood, Australia: Melbourne University Press.
  • Curran, T. (1994): Across the Bar: The Story of "Simpson", the Man with the Donkey: Australia and Tyneside's great military hero. Yeronga: Ogmios Publications.
  • Greenwood, M. (2008): Simpson and his Donkey. Australia: Walker Books. (ISBN 978-1-9211-5018-0)

External linksEdit

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