South Shields’ famous ‘man with the donkey’ will be remembered on 100th anniversary of his death

Jamie Brown is starring as John Simpson Kirkpatrick in the Customs House's play The Man and The Donkey.
Jamie Brown is starring as John Simpson Kirkpatrick in the Customs House's play The Man and The Donkey.

South Shields-born war hero John Simpson Kirkpatrick will be remembered tomorrow as a poem is read out in his honour by the man starring as him in a play.

Tomorrow will mark 100 years since the death of Mr Kirkpatrick, who put his life on the line to rescue around 300 injured Australian and New Zealand soldiers during the Gallipoli campaign of 1915, using his trusted donkey to carry them to safety.

John Simpson Kirkpatrick at Shrapnel Gully.

John Simpson Kirkpatrick at Shrapnel Gully.

Jamie Brown is starring as Kirkpatrick in the Customs House’s production of The Man and the Donkey, and will take time out of rehearsals to read a poem at a service tomorrow at his statue, in Ocean Road, South Shields.

The Australian High Commmissioner, the Hon Alexander Downer AC, will attend a civic reception at South Shields Town Hall, in Westoe Road, before attending the service. Members of the armed forces, veterans’ organisations and local schools will also attend the event, at 10.45am.

Mr Downer, who will be accompanied by Mr Robert Taylor, the Deputy High Commissioner for New Zealand, will be invited to lay a wreath while an army piper plays. He 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 the new plaque to commemorate the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign, and acknowledge all the men from across the North East, including more than 100 from the local area, who were killed in action there.

It’s a real honour to be asked to attend this event. Kirkpatrick was a genuine hero, and I feel lucky to be playing him.

Jamie Brown, actor

Mr Brown said: “It’s a real honour to be asked to attend this event. Kirkpatrick was a genuine hero, and I feel lucky to be playing him.”

The Man and the Donkey is on at the Customs House between tomorrow and Saturday, with tickets costing £15, £14 for concessions and £5 for those attending with schools.

Customs House executive director Ray Spencer said: “The story of John Simpson Kirkpatrick is one of immense bravery that is not as well-known as it perhaps should be.

“In Australia, everyone knows his story, but in his home town it’s not as well-known.

“I hope that our production does his legacy justice.”

To book a ticket to see the play, call 454 1234 or visit www.customshouse.co.uk