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Local war hero to be honoured with new plaque

South Tyneside Council is making special plans to commemorate the death of local World War I hero John Simpson Kirkpatrick.

South Shields-born John 'Jack' Kirkpatrick used a donkey to rescue an estimated 300 wounded Australian and New Zealand soldiers from the frontline during the Gallipoli campaign of 1915.

He was killed aged 22 by a sniper's bullet on May 19 but his legendary bravery continues to inspire people to this day.

To mark the 100 years since his death, the Australian High Commissioner, the Honourable Alexander Downer will attend a civic reception at South Shields Town Hall and a service at Kirkpatrick's statue on Ocean Road.

Mr Downer, who will be accompanied by a representative from the New Zealand High Commission, will also unveil a plaque at Littlehaven promenade to commemorate the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign and the men from our region who fought and died there.

Councillor Ed Malcolm, Lead Member for Resources and Innovation and Chair of the South Tyneside Armed Forces Forum, which is helping to organise the events, said: "John Kirkpatrick is a local hero and we are proud to hold these events in his memory.

"He is very highly regarded in Australia, where his story is told to schoolchildren, so we are delighted to welcome the Australian High Commissioner to join us in remembering him.

"The new plaque will be a fitting memorial to him and all the brave men - around 100 from the Borough - who were killed at Gallipoli.

"It is important that their sacrifice is never forgotten."

Members of the armed forces, veterans' organisations and local schools will attend the events.

Alexander Downer said South Shields should be exceptionally proud of John Kirkpatrick, who served under the name John Simpson.

He said: "Simpson and his donkey worked tirelessly amid gunfire to rescue soldiers at Gallipoli, an effort that made him an Australian hero and a legend of the ANZAC story."

Before the war, John Simpson Kirkpatrick worked with donkeys on South Shields beach. He set sail for Australia as a merchant seaman in 1910. At the outbreak of war, he enlisted for the Australian Army Medical Corps and landed at ANZAC Cove, Gallipoli, as a stretcher bearer, eight months later.

On 25 April 1915, he obtained a donkey and began ferrying wounded soldiers to the beach for evacuation over a three-week period, defying orders for ambulance men not to go out when enemy fire was at its worst.

His story has inspired numerous songs and plays about Kirkpatrick and his trusty donkey companion.

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