Tuesday, September 22, 2009

John Simpson Kirkpatrick

John Simpson Kirkpatrick.

I have no idea who he is.

I shall go talk to Lord Wiki....


John Simpson Kirkpatrick fought in Gallipoli. He was part of the Anzac Troops. It seems he wasn't exactly Australian though. He was part of a Scottish family that lived in England.

Baby John was born on 6 July 1892, in a town in England called Durham. His parents had moved there from Scotland six years before.

Kirkpatrick dropped out of school when he was thirteen. He went to work for a milkman. Cool. I miss the days when we had a milkman. Actually, the only time I remember having one was when we lived in Madison Wisconsin.  The word Milkman is kind of sexist. I should say milk delivery person....or something like that.

A little later, Kirkpatrick joined Britain's Territorial Army. This was a volunteer reserve type group. They worked part-time, and did home defense stuff.

When Kirkpatrick was about seventeen, his dad died. Kirkpatrick went to join the Merchant Navy. I'm not sure why the death of his father caused him to do this. Or maybe it was just a coincidence. Maybe he had been planning to join anyway. It's just that Lord Wiki makes it seem like he joined the navy BECAUSE his dad died.

Not long after joining the Navy, Kirkpatrick quit. He jumped ship. This was in Newcastle...in Australia. He made his way to Queensland. There he worked with sugar cane, and he also did station work.

Later, he made his way back down to New South Wales. He worked in a coal mine in the south coast.

This guy moved around a lot. In 1911, he went to Western Australia. For a short time, he worked on a gold mine.

Kirkpatrick traveled. He worked and worked. He sent money back to his family. Lord Wiki says he was the only son. I guess that gives some explanation to why he left. He needed to find work to provide his family with money.

Kirkpatrick was one of those things that certain Americans are terrified of....a socialist!!!!! Oh no!!

In 1914, Kirkpatrick joined the First Australian Imperial Force. He was also part of the Royal Australian Army Medical Corps. Was he part of two groups, or does Lord Wiki mean that he was in the medical division of the AIF? I'm a little confused. Oh well.

Lord Wiki says the reason he joined was he hoped to use the military for a free trip back to Europe. He thought he'd be going to Western Europe. And it seems that WAS the plan. But first they stopped off in Egypt to do some training for an upcoming battle in Turkey. This was the infamous Gallipoli. There was a lot of bloodshed. Kirkpatrick became a hero by carrying men to safety with the use of donkeys. On his way down to the beach, he'd carry water while riding the donkey. On his way out of the beach, he'd carry an injured soldier.

On the unfortunate day of 19 May, he was shot and killed. He was only twenty-three.

Lord Wiki says there's some controversy about his story. Some say the accounts of what he did were heavily exaggerated. They say it's not true that Kirkpatrick rescued over three hundred men. They also say what he did was less dangerous than doing what he had supposed to be doing....carrying men on a stretcher. Why would that be more dangerous than the donkey thing? I don't really understand.

Anyway, that's it for Lord Wiki. Now I'll look at the Australian Biographical Dictionary. They say a lot of the same stuff that Lord Wiki said. I'll try to look for the stuff that I haven't read before.

Here's something. Kirkpatrick had a strong attachment to his mom and sisters. He wrote to them often. Although he was physically far away, the love was still there. That's how I feel about my friends far away in Australia.

This website says he was a hero, and well-loved. He loved animals. The website says, Though others after him also used donkeys to bring in the wounded, Simpson and his donkey became a legend — the symbol of all that was pure, selfless and heroic on Gallipoli.

It's amazing how brave people can be. It's funny that he just wanted to go home. Then he had to go to Turkey, and he did what needed to be done.

This Australian War memorial site talks about how Kirkpatrick's story has been exaggerated. But they say, Cochrane, (who wrote about Kirkpatrick) having demonstrated the extent to which embellishment and sometimes outright falsehoods have served to obscure the real Simpson, described a man who was as flawed as any other, but whose bravery is not disputed.

In his book, Cochrane claimed that the story was exaggerated for war propaganda purposes. Is it more useful for us to have superhuman heroes, or flawed one? It reminds me of that Gruen Transfer commercial about Don Bradman. The idea behind it is that when a hero is too perfect, it makes the rest of us give up. There's no way we can live up to our hero, so we don't even try.

I think there is some truth to that. I feel more comfortable with flawed heroes. Even better is the person who started off very flawed, and then changed/improved in the end. That gives me a lot of hope.

As for Kirkpatrick, he sounds like one of those fairly decent guys who turned into a hero when the situation called for it. He might not be as amazing as some people imagined, but I still think he was great enough.


  1. Known here as Simpson and his donkey. Ah, reread, you picked that phrase up. Doubt even a returned digger would have known who John Kirkpatrick was.

  2. Andrew,

    I'm glad I remembered to put that phrase in. I couldn't remember if I did or not. I definitely read about it though.

  3. Just in case you didn't know:
    Simpson had 5 different donkeys. Fist he had Duffy, then he got Murphy, Abdul and Queen Elizabeth from some Indians.
    He was called "the bloke with the donk", or the Casualty Carrying Service.
    He wasn't Australian, but he sure acted like one! Everyone loves the story of Simpson and his Donkey, so the fact that he didn't act like much of a hero is, or at least was, hushed up alot, he was just like any other digger in the first world war, disrespectful to the authorities, and always breaking the rules! But that's what Auzies are good at, not listening to others!
    Thanks, this info is so helpful, saves me from reading the same thing a hundred times on different websites! :D

  4. Anonymous,

    Thanks for the donkey trivia. That's cool!

    Maybe Simpson was sort of Australian....