Bearing The Wounded
Copyright © 2010 Ron Marshall
This painting is of John Simpson Kirkpatrick with his donkey Duffy, carrying a wounded ANZAC soldier to the dressing station on the beach at Gallipoli between April 24 and May 19, 1915.
He was a young Englishman, living and working in Australia, and sending regular letters and money home to his mother and sister when World War I began. He enlisted with the Australian Army Medical Corps, hoping that in this way he would eventually be able to return to his family in England.
Simpson landed with the ANZACs on the shore at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915. The defending Turkish Army rained rifle and machine-gun fire down on the ANZACs as they landed on the shore. The huge number of casualties suffered by the ANZACs resulted in a scarcity of stretchers, and stretcher bearers. By mid-morning on the 26th April, the stretcher bearers had to improvise. Two man squads instead of regular four man stretcher squads used oilskin sheets to carry the seriously wounded, slipping and sliding down the difficult terrain. Others like Simpson carried wounded men over their shoulders and down to the beach.
While attending a wounded soldier, Simpson noticed a little donkey grazing nearby, and came up with a better idea. Using some field dressings he made a headstall and lead-rope and caught the donkey, naming him Duffy. He lifted the wounded soldier onto the donkey's back, then with the soldier's arm around his shoulder for support he and Duffy carried the soldier down Monash Valley and Shrapnel Gully to the Dressing Station on the beach. Soon other stretcher bearers were using donkeys as well.
Simpson used a number of donkeys, feeding and sleeping with them at the mule camp of the 21st Kohat Mountain Battery. The Indian Sikh gunners admired Jack, calling him "Bahadur", which means "bravest of the brave." He worked very long hours, all day and long into the nights. It is estimated that he and his donkey saved about 300 soldiers. Walking upright to support the wounded soldiers he could not hide and was an easy target for the Turkish snipers. He was repeatedly warned of the danger to himself, but "My troubles" was his cheery reply. Always a larrikin he was whistling, singing and clowning to his passengers, keeping up a steady stream of cheerful chatter to raise their spirits as he and his donkey carried them to safety.
Admired by all the soldiers fighting in the trenches for his bravery and commitment, it was his Commanding Officer of 3rd Field Ambulance, Lt-Col. Alfred Sutton who tied his own Red Cross armband around Simpson's donkey's head announcing that he was an official member of the unit.
Simpson was killed - shot through the back, while carrying an injured soldier on his donkey, on the 19th of May, aged 22 years. He was buried at a place aptly called Hell Spit.
Tom Curran "Not Only A Hero an illustrated life of Simpson, the Man with the Donkey”