The day Private Leigh Simpson the stretcher bearer arrived off Gallipoli would turn out to be a significant milestone in the military & social history of Australia. Not that anyone remembers the date, but all know about the death of another stretcher bearer who was carting wounded down Monash Valley on a donkey. The work and attitude of John Simpson (Kirkpatrick) and his borrowed mule was already the focus of admiration from fellow soldiers, but after his death, they catapulted Simpson to the status of, not just a national hero, but a national emblem of identity.
Courage. Endurance. Mateship. Sacrifice.
The less detail we know, the easier it is to imagine. Simpson’s work for those few weeks at Anzac gave Australians the perfect example of how they wanted to be known. The Story was simple, easy to remember and easy to imagine. And so ‘The Man with the Donkey’ has served us, for over a century now.
John Simpson Kirkpatrick was with the 3rd Field Ambulance. Private Leigh Simpson was with the 3rd Light Horse Field Ambulance. John died on May 19th 1915, Leigh died in December 1960. Both were stretcher bearers who served under fire along with thousands of others in WW1.
John served under fire for three weeks.
Leigh worked and lived for four months on Gallipoli, including four weeks attached to Monash’s 4th Brigade for the failed attacks on the Sari Bair Range and Hill 60. He then returned to Egypt and worked again under fire in numerous operations, including the Raid to Jifjafa, Romani, Bir el Abd and Salmana. He then transferred to the Flying Corps and spent months training as a pilot in the UK, which included surviving four crashes. And survive he did, transferring to France and flying over 150 reconnaissance missions in R.E.8 machines. Even when attacked by von Richthofen, the great German Ace, his ‘luck’ held, but only for another month. Shot in the thigh with Anti-Aircraft fire he was repatriated in the UK and arrived home to Hamilton, Victoria in December 1918.
‘The Other Simpson’ will be launched in Dunkeld, Victoria on Sunday 28th April, 2019. Copies will be available online here at ‘six bob tourists’.