Honouring Jack Simpson: The ANZAC Spirit Embodied in Courage and Sacrifice

Jack Simpson and Duffy the donkey

A decade ago, Mooloolaba in the Sunshine Coast held a large dawn service on ANZAC Day to pay tribute to fallen heroes, including John “Jack” Simpson Kirkpatrick and his donkey, Duffy. Despite honouring a non-Australian hero and known deserter, the service reflected the universal values of courage and selflessness that define the ANZAC legacy.

An Unlikely Hero

John “Jack” Simpson Kirkpatrick remains a significant figure in ANZAC history. He did not gain this recognition through conventional battlefield bravery, but rather due to his remarkable commitment to saving lives in extreme conditions at Gallipoli. Although he was originally from South Shields, a seaside town in northern England, Jack’s journey to Gallipoli was unexpected, as were his selfless actions there.

Born into a family of eight on 6 July 1892, Jack faced a challenging childhood. Though he was literate, a rarity among his peers, his education ceased at the age of 11. His articulate and persuasive letters from Australia testify to his critical thinking and literacy skills.

His mother, determined to prevent Jack from coal mining, had hoped for him to secure an engineering apprenticeship; instead, Jack found work as a milkman. Despite his affection for his family and South Shields, he departed Britain shortly after his father’s funeral.

At 17, Jack arrived in Australia, jumping ship from the SS Yeddo under dire conditions, thereby branding himself a deserter. His subsequent four years in Australia were transformative. 

After deserting the Merchant Navy when he arrived in Australia, he decided to enlist in 1914, hoping it would allow him to return to his homeland. However, his fate had something else in store for him. He was sent to the tumultuous beaches of Gallipoli as a stretcher bearer with the ANZAC forces, instead of being deployed to the Western Front as he had expected.

A Bond Beyond Battle

The saga of Jack and his donkey, Duffy, whom he either found or commandeered shortly after landing at Gallipoli in April 1915, embodies the heart of his legend. 

Over 24 days, until his untimely death on 19 May 1915, the duo braved the battlefield to rescue over 300 wounded soldiers, demonstrating a level of bravery and endurance that immortalized Jack as a symbol of the ANZAC spirit. 

Jack Simpson in Gallipolli
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The soldier and his donkey were renowned among Australian soldiers at Gallipoli for their bravery. They searched the hills and valleys for wounded soldiers, with Jack risking his life to drag them to safety. He then placed the injured on the donkey and led them down to the beach.

His actions, performed without any regard for his personal safety, showcased the extraordinary human capacity for compassion and bravery amidst the horrors of war.

Why Australia Embraces Jack Simpson

Despite originating from England and being considered a deserter, Jack is highly esteemed in Australia. This admiration reflects the nation’s inclusive view of valour and the essence of the ANZAC spirit. This admiration is particularly evident on the Sunshine Coast, where community participation in ANZAC Day events vividly celebrates his memory.

Jack’s story, characterised by his unyielding dedication to others, embodies the ANZAC values of friendship, endurance, and sacrifice, continuing to inspire both current and future generations.

Jack Simpson
Wallace Anderson (1935) The Man with the Donkey, bronze. 78 × 66 × 42 cm. Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne

Jack Simpson's profile with the Australian War Memorial
Photo Credit: Australian War Memorial

One scholar who studied his life said: “Australians have embraced Kirkpatrick as a key figure in the Gallipoli legend.”

While no bronze cross commemorates his bravery, his image graces the ANZAC Commemorative Medallion. Although Jack was suggested twice for the Victoria Cross and once for the Distinguished Conduct Medal, the British War Office rejected these nominations and subsequent appeals. Nonetheless, he was honoured posthumously in military dispatches.

Published 10-April-2024