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The Anzac Story
Prelude to War
Prelude to Gallipoli
P. J. Lalor
Littlefair's lamp
Will Lycett's Diary
Anzac Sunday
Simpson's Donkey
Boy Soldiers  
The Unknown Soldier
Fisher H.
Aussie Air Aces


Simpson and his Donkey
Jack Simpson Kirkpatrick was born in 1892 at South Shields in the north east of England. He came from a large family, being one of eight children. As a child during his summer holidays he used to work as a donkey-lad on the sands of South Shields. He had a great affinity with animals, in particular donkeys. Later he deserted ship in Australia when he heard of the war with Germany.
Fearing that a deserter might not be accepted into the Australian Army, he dropped Kirkpatrick from his name and enlisted simply as John Simpson. He was to become Australia’s most famous, and best-loved military hero.

In Perth on 23rd August 1914, Jack was accepted and chosen as a field ambulance stretcher bearer. This job was only given to strong men so it seems that his work as a stoker in the Merchant Marine had prepared him well for his exceptional place in history. He joined the 3rd Field Ambulance at Blackboy Hill camp, 35 km east of Perth on the same day.

On the 25th April 1915 he, along with the rest of the Australian and New Zealand contingent landed at the wrong beach on a piece of wild, impossible and savage terrain now known as Anzac Cove.

Attack and counter attack began.

During the morning hours of April 26th , along with his fellows, Jack was carrying casualties back to the beach over his shoulder – it was then that he saw the donkey.

Jack knew what he had to do.

From then on he became a part of the scene at Gallipoli walking along next to his donkey, forever singing and whistling as he held on to his wounded passengers, seemingly completely fatalistic and scornful of the extreme danger. He led a charmed life from 25th April 1915 until he was hit by a machine gun bullet in his back on 19th May 1915.

In these amazing 24 days he was to rescue over 300 men down the notorious Monash Valley. His prodigious, heroic feat was accomplished under constant and ferocious attack from artillery, field guns and sniper fire. Quoted from some of his officers:

  • "Almost every digger knew about him. The question was often asked: "Has the bloke with the donk stopped one yet?"
  • "he was the most respected and admired of all the heroes at Anzac."
  • Captain C. Longmore, in 1933, remembered how the soldiers "watched him spellbound from the trenches... it was one of the most inspiring sights of those early Gallipoli days."
  • Colonel 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."

Jack was recommended for the Victoria Cross, officially, through his unit, on June 3rd 1915. He was also recommended for the highest military honours by Colonel (later General Sir John) Monash, Australia’s greatest commander of the First World War. Monash, commander of the 4th Brigade at the time (where Jack was operating) was an eye-witness to his activities and sent in a lengthy submission to Divisional Headquarters on May 20th.

Unfortunately, the senior medical officer at Anzac, Colonel Howse VC, had given faulty instructions to the junior officer preparing Simpson’s citation.

He was recommended under the wrong category of heroism and consequently his VC request was denied.

In July 1967 Australian leaders tried to correct this tragic error by sending a petition to the British War Office, signed by Prime Minister Holt, the Governor General, the Chief of the General Staff, and other leaders on behalf of the Australian people, requesting that a posthumous Victoria Cross be awarded to Private John Simpson Kirkpartrick. The request was denied, on the grounds that it would be setting a dangerous precedent. This  was incorrect. The precedent had already been set. In 1907 two British officers, Lieutenants Melvill and Coghill were posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for their actions in South Africa, twenty-eight years previously.

It is now 33 years since this petition was tendered by Australia’s leading citizens. The denial of the request by a handful of people in Whitehall, England was an unacceptable slight on Australia’s Political and Military leaders and of the people they represented.
It begs the question
: " Why is an award from another country more important than any honour we may bestow on our own heroes?"

Let us redress the injustice imposed on the memory of Jack Simpson Kirkpatrick. Please read on:

The Victoria Cross for Australia

This medal was established in 1991 and is the pre-eminent Australian decoration and the highest award of all Gallantry decorations. It replaced the Imperial Victoria Cross - 96 of which have been awarded to Australians. Because of the nature of the award, it can be conferred on an individual posthumously.

No Victoria Cross for Australia has ever been awarded.

Next question : Why have successive Australian Governments since 1991 chosen not to confer on Simpson his rightful honours with the Victoria Cross for Australia?

In reponse to a bid by M/s Jill Hall, Federal member for Shortland to have Simpson given his rightful due, Senator Heffernan, acting for Prime Minister Howard responded:

"Despite the admiration and affection that Australians have for Simpson, it is no longer possible to support further recognition as you have proposed. There were so many Australians who served heroically during World War One, many making the ultimate sacrifice. To now single out one brave soldier of this period would not be appropriate. The judgements of the commanding officers of the time on how Simpson's service was recognized should be respected and their decisions allowed to stand."

Exactly, Senator.
The judgement of Colonel (later General Sir John) Monash was that Jack Simpson should be awarded the Victoria Cross. His judgement along with other senior officer's recommendations have never been recognized. Prime Minister Holt supported a bid in 1967 to have these recommendations accepted. Denied!

Why would it be "inappropriate" in the year 2006 to adopt the recommendations of Simpson's senior officers and award him the Victoria Cross for Australia?    This would not constitute 'further recognition", it would be the payment of a debt of honour so long, long overdue, Your Government Senator,  has the ability to honour this debt.
It requires only the will to do so.

A comprehensive biography of Jack Simpson is provided by Dean at Anzac House in Gallipoli. read it HERE.