Honouring South Tyneside's Gallipoli heroes

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Thursday, 6th December 2018, 9:12 am
Updated Thursday, 6th December 2018, 9:15 am
Peter Hoy in front of the grave of John Simpson Kirkpatrick.

The hero in question is John Simpson Kirkpatrick, a stretcher bearer, who lost his life helping soldiers wounded by Turkish defenders during the failed naval attack on the Gallipoli Peninsular. .

Kirkpatrick, who died just three weeks after the seaborne landings, is fondly remembered for using a donkey to carry the injured to safety.

The grave of John Simpson Kirkpatrick.

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And Peter was determined to pay his respects to him and the many others who never returned home.

“I spent three days visiting the landing beaches, battlefield sites, cemeteries and, most importantly, the Helles Memorial at Gallipoli,” explains Peter.

“After a five-hour coach trip from Istanbul to the peninsula, we were first taken to the observation platform on Achi Baba, the 718–feet high hill that formed the Allies’ ultimate objective during the campaign – the summit of which they never came remotely close to capturing.

“From this elevated vantage point, one gets an excellent, uninterrupted view of the whole of the Helles front, all the way to the location of the landing beaches, some six miles away.

The book left by Peter Hoy at John Simpson Kirkpatricks grave.

“I arrived with four objectives and just about succeeded in achieving all of these.

“I visited Beach Cemetery at Anzac Cove to pay my respects at the grave of John Simpson Kirkpatrick; I saw the name of my great uncle, James Hoy, inscribed on the Helles Memorial, and placed a newly-made memorial plaque among the graves of a number of his mates in the Nelson Battalion of the Royal Naval Division at Skew Bridge Cemetery.

“I also placed a facsimile of a Gallipoli diary written by a man from Hebburn at the grave of the man who saved his life – but lost his own in the process; and I aimed to photograph the headstones, special memorials and Helles Memorial references to the 103 men from South Tyneside who are buried at or remembered on honorific memorials at Gallipoli.”

Peter says he left a copy of James Mulholland’s book about Kirkpatrick on his grave – “in two plastic, water-proof (hopefully!) wallets”.

“I went to nearby Shrapnel Valley Cemetery and looked up the valley that Kirkpatrick and his donkey ‘Murphy’ had trudged up and down repeatedly in 1915.

“It had been virtually barren then but was now a veritable forest. I also stood at the top of Monash Gully and, looking down, had a clear view of Shrapnel Valley Cemetery and could, therefore, readily imagine how it had once harboured a nest of deadly Turkish snipers and more fully appreciate how hazardous Kirkpatrick’s job had been.

“While at Anzac Bay I was able to photograph the names of all eight South Shields men known to have been killed in action there in 1915 – either their headstones or their names on a variety of honorific memorials.

“A couple of these cemeteries were well off the beaten track and, as such, are rarely visited by tourists or ‘pilgrims’.

“Then there are others which can be accessed readily enough but are not visited anywhere near enough.

“Standing mere yards away from this, one can look down on the aptly-named ‘Sphinx’ and see the bulk of Anzac Bay and immediately appreciate the taxing nature of the severely rugged and demanding terrain and the almost impossible task faced by the Australians from 25 April 1915.

My visit to the Anzac front was quite an eye-opener as I hadn’t appreciated that the Gallipoli Campaign is proudly regarded in Turkey as the equivalent of its own ‘Battle of Britain’ moment.

“Tens of thousands of Turkish pilgrims wend their way to this remote part of the country every year to pay their respects to the Turkish ‘martyrs’ of 1915 – the phrase that is repeatedly used on their memorials.

“I spoke to two such pilgrims at Ari Burnu Cemetery at North Beach and showed them my copy of Jim Mulholland’s book. They recognised who he was immediately and took a keen interest in the book, even asking me if I would give them my copy!

“It’s reassuring to know that Kirkpatrick is an icon even among ordinary Turks today.

“However, we must never forget the very many other men from South Tyneside who either fought and died there or survived their Gallipoli experience only to be required to fight on later in France, Salonika (northern Greece) or elsewhere.”