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South Shields tribute to Aussie war hero John Kirkpatrick

RAIN failed to dampen spirits as people from South Shields gathered to pay tribute to a true First World War hero yesterday.

A wreath was laid and the last post played as about 100 hardy souls gathered beside the Kirkpatrick statue in Ocean Road during yesterday morning.

They were there to offer homage to South Shields-born Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick.

The ceremony marked Anzac Day – the national day of remembrance commemorated each year as tribute to members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps who fought at Gallipoli in the 1914-18 conflict.

Kirkpatrick – dubbed the ‘Man with the Donkey’ – was a stretcher bearer who rescued more than 300 of his comrades during that battle, before losing his own life to a sniper’s bullet on May 15, 1915, at the age of just 22.

South Tyneside Council staged yesterday’s ceremony as it looks to highlight Kirkpatrick’s status as a true hero.

Plans are also afoot to move his statue to a more prominent position in town.

It comes after his reputation was dented earlier this year when an Australian defence tribunal found there was “insufficient evidence” to bestow on him a posthumous Victoria Cross.

There was no such negativity at yesterday’s rain-driven ceremony.

The Rev Paul Kennedy said: “We are here to remember John Simpson Kirkpatrick, his brave deeds for the safety of his comrades and all those who have served their country in times of conflict. We ask God to protect those who continue to live in the face of war and pledge to co-operate in the purposes of peace.”

Children from Lord Blyton School were also in attendance.

They read, in unison, a famous section from Lawrence Binyon’s wartime poem, Ode to Remembrance, first published in 1914, which includes the words: “They shall not grow old as we that are left to grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.”

A minute’s silence was observed and the Reveille played, before the Mayor of South Tyneside, Coun Eileen Leask, laid a wreath in remembrance of the fallen.

The ceremony was filmed and is to be sent to Australia’s Returned and Services League in Perth, members of whom paid a visit to South Shields last year.

Twitter@shieldsgazpaul