No son of Shields could have been more feted or honoured than John Simpson Kirkpatrick the other day, on the centenary of his death at Gallipoli.
It was interesting to hear that there are Australians who would still be surprised to hear that he was “a Pom at heart,” so closely has he become associated with the country.
There was certainly a commemorative statue of him there, long before there was ever one in his home town.
This is it here. Standing beside it, more than 40 years ago, is reader Heather Simpson, whose pictures these are.
The statue stands outside the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, which Heather was on holiday to at the time, visiting an old friend who had emigrated.
“As soon as I saw it, I said ‘Oh, he’s from South Shields’,” says Heather. “Nobody out there knew where he was from.”
But of what part of Shields was he actually a son? The Man With The Donkey seems to be acquiring a peripatetic birth.
The point is raised by reader Olga Mitchelmore, who was impressed to hear of the events in Shields.
But she was puzzled by what has become a tendency to say he was born in Bertram Street in the town.
Says Olga: “I was always told that John Simpson Kirkpatrick was born in South Eldon Street, later moving to Bertram Street. I think the family moved a few times. He went to St Mary’s Church and Barnes Road School, as well as to Mortimer Road later.
“I was born in South Eldon Street and also went to Barnes Road and St Mary’s and the information about Simpson has been in my family for years. My grandparents lived there as well and would have been contemporaries of his.”
Well it’s always been my understanding, too, that Kirkpatrick was born in South Eldon Street. His biographer of 20 years or so ago, Tom Curran, certainly places the family there when the young John was born. The first mention of Bertram Street isn’t until 1909, when he would have been 17.
By the way, Olga also let me see a recent article in the Australian newspaper, The Age, which looks at Kirkpatrick’s story and raises some of the points that historians have debated over the years: the fact that he was never on the front line, that he was never feted when he was alive, and was it really possible that he could have rescued more than 300 men in the 24 days that he was there?
It’s thought-provoking to say the least! You can read it at www.theage.com.au Search for “Beyond the Anzac myth.”