THE AUSTRALIAN High Commmissioner is paying a flying visit to South Tyneside to pay tribute to a courageous soldier who became a war-time hero both in the borough and Down Under.
John Simpson Kirkpatrick – known as the ‘Man with the Donkey’ – put his own life on the line to rescue around 300 injured Australian and New Zealand soldiers from the frontline during the Gallipoli campaign, using his trusted donkey to carry them to safety.
He was killed, aged 22, by a sniper’s bullet on May 19, but his legendary bravery continues to inspire people to this day.
As part of special celebrations to mark the 100th year of his death, the Hon Alexander Downer AC will tour South Shields next Tuesday – the centenary anniversary of his death.
During his visit, Mr Downer, who will be accompanied by Mr Robert Taylor, the Deputy High Commissioner for New Zealand, will take a tour of South Shields Town Hall, before attending a service of commemoration at the Kirkpatrick Memorial in Ocean Road South Shields, at 10:45am.
The service will be led by Rev Paul Kennedy, of St Michael and All Angels Church. The Mayor of South Tyneside, Councillor Fay Cunningham and Mr Downer will be invited to lay a wreath while an Army piper plays.
Mr Downer will then head to the coast, where he will unveil a new war memorial at the town’s Littlehaven Promenade overlooking South Shields seafront, where Kirkpatrick once worked on the donkey rides during the summer holidays as a young boy.
The unveiling ceremony will begin at 11.20am with a welcome from Rev Kennedy, followed by a poetry reading and a Prayer of Dedication. The service will end with the Last Post, a one- minute silence, then Reveille.
The new plaque will commemorate the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign and acknowledge all the men from across the North East, including more than 100 men from the local area, who were killed in action at Gallipoli.
Coun Ed Malcolm, chairman of South Tyneside Armed Forces Forum, said: “We are extremely proud of John Simpson Kirkpatrick’s links to South Shields.
“It is fitting that on the 100th anniversary of Kirkpatrick’s death we will have a special service of commemoration as well as unveil a new war memorial at South Shields seafront – the very place where he worked as a child.
John Simpson Kirkpatrick was born in South Shields in 1892 and set sail for Australia as a merchant seaman in 1910. At the outbreak of the First World War he signed up for the Australian Army Medical Corps and landed at ANZAC Cove, Gallipoli, as a stretcher bearer, eight months later.
During ANZAC operations in Gallipoli, hundreds of men suffered terrible casualties. On 25 April 1915, Kirkpatrick, who was a natural with animals, began using his donkey to rescue more than 300 injured soldiers from the frontline to the beach for evacuation.
For three weeks he defied orders for ambulance men not to go out when enemy fire was at its worst. He cheerfully continued to ferry them through a dangerous route called Snipers Alley – usually whistling or singing along the way – before being shot dead by a Turkish sniper on 19 May 1915.