South Shields Local History Group

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Kirkpatrick, John Simpson

John Simpson Kirkpatrick was born on the 6th July, 1892 at 10 South Eldon Street, South Shields to Scottish parents Robert Kirkpatrick and Sarah Simpson.  By 1900 four of his siblings had died: three brothers and a sister.  His parents and his three surviving sisters referred to him as Jack.  He attended Barnes Road Junior School and later on, Mortimer Road Senior School.  All of his life he had a love of animals and during the summer holidays he worked at the town’s fair on the donkey rides at Herd Sand, now known as Little Haven. 

In 1905, his aging father Robert (a ship’s mate) was incapacitated and left unable to support his family.  Prior to his thirteenth birthday Jack left school to work as a milkman on a horse drawn milk float.  Times were hard and the family were forced to move to a number of different houses before they settled at 14 Bertram Street.  In October 1909 his father died and to provide for his mother and his younger sister (his two older sisters had married) Jack went to sea, aged seventeen.  He got a job as a storeman, onboard the SS Heighington, carrying coal to the port of Genoa in Italy.  He returned to England in December to spend Christmas at home with his family. 

John Simpson Kirkpatrick

In February 1910 Jack joined the SS Yeddo as a stoker; sailing for Australia.  However, conditions on the Yeddo were so dreadful that on arrival in Newcastle, New South Wales, the young Jack jumped ship along with other crewmen.  After a number of poorly paid jobs on the mainland, Jack returned to sea for the next three years as a stoker onboard the steam ships Kooringa, Tarcoola and Yankalilla; sailing around the Australian coastline.  Jack was now yearning for home and regularly wrote letters to his beloved mother Sarah and his sister kid Annie, sending them money and expressing his wish to be back in “Canny Auld Shields”.

In August 1914 Jack’s ship berthed at the port of Fremantle and he was astounded to find that Britain and Germany were at war.  Undoubtedly, the homesick Jack, saw this as an opportunity to get back home.  He decided to join the Australian Army, thinking he would be sent to Aldershot to do his basic training and from there he would travel back to South Shields, before being posted to the Western Front.  So, Jack left his ship and enlisted in the Australian Army under the name John Simpson and due to his muscular physique he was selected as

a stretcher bearer in the Medical Corps.  However, after his section boarded the SS Medic bound for England, the entire convoy of Australian troops, were diverted to Egypt because Turkey had joined the war on the German’s side and the British had a plan to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula, forcing the Turks out of the war. 

On the 25th April 1915, the ANZAC’s (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) were put ashore at Gallipoli and the Turkish forces on the plateau above inflicted heavy casualties on the landing troops, including Jack’s fellow stretcher bearers.  So, he took it upon himself to use an abandoned donkey to carry the wounded to safety.  He didn’t report back to his ‘section’ and was technically a deserter for the first few days until his Commanding Officer, seeing the value of his work, turned a blind eye and approved his action.  Jack camped with an Indian artillery unit and the Sikh gunners who witnessed his daily routine of conveying wounded soldiers to safety, under sniper heavy fire, gave him the name ”Bahadur”, which means the Bravest of the Brave. 

On May 19th Jack was making his way down Shrapnel Valley with a casualty on his donkey when he was fatally hit in the back by machine gun fire.  He was only 22.  Jack was buried at a place called Hell Spit, a clergyman officiated and the grave was marked with a simple wooden cross with only his name on it.  After the armistice he was remembered with a headstone in the Beach Cemetery in ANZAC cove.  During his 24 days of donkey trips down Shrapnel Valley, he conveyed numerous wounded soldiers to the beach for evacuation onto hospital ships.  Jack was recommended for the Victoria Cross by his Commanding Officer but he only ever received a ‘Mention in Dispatches’ for his bravery.

Kirkpatrick Statue Jim Mulholland

South Shields Local History Group, Sand Dancer leaflet

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