This is a tale of reversed fortunes. Often a soldier is recognised for bravery while the deeds of his faithful animal go unsung and unrewarded.
Murphy the trusted donkey of Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, and nominated by our Ambassador Michael Thompson, was posthumously awarded a Purple Cross by the RSPCA, the highest honour available for animals. However, the British World War One hero known as ‘The Man with the Donkey’, was dubbed in Australia and New Zealand, and his home town of South Shields, as the bravest soldier never to win a Victoria Cross.
Private Kirkpatrick rescued more than 300 wounded Australian and New Zealand soldiers at Gallipoli in 1915. He served as a stretcher-bearer and used his loyal donkey to carry injured soldiers from the frontline to the beach for evacuation during ANZAC operations during World War One. For three weeks he defied orders for ambulance personnel not to go out when enemy fire was at its worst. He was killed by a Turkish sniper on May 19, 1915. Although twice recommended for the Victoria Cross and the Distinguished Conduct Medal, he was never decorated for his actions.
A service marking the centenary of his death was held in South Shields in 2015. Guests included the Australian high commissioner and the deputy commissioner of New Zealand. Local dignitaries, army personnel and schoolchildren took part in the service before a bronze statue of Private Kirkpatrick on Ocean Road. Alexander Downer, the Australian high commissioner, said: “For us as Australians – even though he was, of course, originally British – he is a great national hero. This was a man who risked his life, every hour, every day. He was a hero of great stature.”
Following the service, a new war memorial plaque was unveiled on Littlehaven Promenade, which overlooks the seafront where Private Kirkpatrick worked on the donkey rides as a young boy during the summer holidays.