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DAVID ADAMS reports on moves to celebrate an Australian icon, Simpson and his donkey…

In many ways he sums up what the Anzac spirit is all about. Facing overwhelming danger without thought for himself, John Simpson Kirkpatrick – known simply as “Simpson” – is celebrated across Australia for his efforts in leading wounded soldiers to safety on the back of a donkey amid fierce fighting on the shores of Gallipoli.

Yet despite the fact that he is credited with saving the lives of up to 300 Anzacs, the English-born private was never awarded the Victoria Cross.


SELFLESS ACTS: Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick (who enlisted as John Simpson), of the 3rd Field Ambulance, he was known as ‘The Man with the Donkey’. He is seen here working in Shrapnel Gully at Anzac Cove, with a wounded soldier on his donkey. PICTURE: Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial (ID A03114)

Last month – almost 90 years after he was killed at Gallipoli at only 22-years-old – a petition was tabled in Federal Parliament aimed at changing that.

Presenting the petition Jill Hall, the ALP member for the New South Wales seat of Shortland, told Federal Parliament that Simpson, who was recommended for the award by none other than (later General) John Monash, was denied the Victoria Cross “as the result of an error in the original application”. 

She said a second application made in 1967 was also denied “as the British Government claimed a dangerous precedent would be set”.

Urging the oversight to be amended, Hall said: “Simpson is symbol of the self- sacrifice, mateship and all those values that Anzacs now stand for and Australians treasure. By honouring him, we honour them all.”

The petition has won the support of thousands of Australians. Among them is Mal Garvin, co-ordinator of national Christian renewal organisation Awakening.

“You can learn a lot about a culture by looking at its heroes,” he said at Easter this year.

“Not for us a Winston Churchill with big speeches or a Douglas Macarthur with big political aspirations; for us an ordinary man who laid down his life for his friends. For us a military hero who probably never fired a shot in anger and we note died under a red cross, the symbol of another only son that we remember on Good Friday who laid down his life for his friends.”

In Queensland this year organisers of the Ipswitch Awakening had the petition for people to sign at the city’s Easter Monday “funday” – an annual day aimed at “reclaiming” Easter for Christ. Around 300 people did so.

“He’s an Aussie icon that our kids can look up to and we need Aussie heroes,” says one of the co-ordinators of Ipswitch Awakening, Ruth Booij. 

According to G.P. Walsh writing in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Simpson dropped his surname when he joined the Australian Imperial Force in Perth in August 1914, apparently believing he would be going home to England. 

Allotted to the 3rd Field Ambulance of the Australian Army Medical Corps, however, he went first to Egypt and then landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula with the covering force at dawn on 25th April, 2005.

He quickly “befriended” a donkey (known as Abdul, Murphy or Duffy) which he used to carry leg wound casualties to a dressing station, working amid “fierce shrapnel and rifle-fire” and earning the respect of those around him for his courage. He was killed only 24 days after the landing.

While others used donkeys to carry the wounded, it was Simpson and his donkey who in the words of Walsh, “became a legend – the symbol of all that was pure, selfless and heroic on Gallipoli”.

As Ruth Booij says: “He was just an ordinary bloke and he rose up and did something amazing.”

For further information on Simpson, visit the Australian War Memorial at



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