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War Hero Kirkpatrick Remembered In Centenary Year

The South Tyneside community gathered to commemorate the centenary of the death of a Great War hero from South Shields.

The Australian High Commissioner, the Hon Alexander Downer AC, visited South Tyneside on Tuesday 19 May as part of special celebrations marking 100 years to the day Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick died in 1915.

South Shields-born Kirkpatrick, known as 'The Man with the Donkey', risked his own life to rescue around 300 wounded Australian and New Zealand soldiers from the frontline during the Gallipoli campaign of 1915. He carried the soldiers to safety using his trusted donkey.

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

During his visit, Mr Downer, who was accompanied by Mr Robert Taylor, the Deputy High Commissioner for New Zealand, took a

tour of South Shields Town Hall, before attending a service of commemoration at the Kirkpatrick Memorial in Ocean Road South Shields.

The service was led by Rev Paul Kennedy, of St Michael and All Angels Church. The Mayor of South Tyneside, Councillor Fay Cunningham and Mr Downer laid wreaths.

The Mayor said: "This was such an important day for South Tyneside and particularly for South Shields because this is where John Simpson Kirkpatrick was born. He attended school here and left from here to go to the Merchant Navy and made his way to Australia.

He showed the strength of character in overcoming adversity. Nothing got him down and when he was put to the test, he came through with flying colours. I think that epitomises the people of the North East of England."

Mr Downer then headed to the coast where he unveiled a new war memorial at the town's new 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 began with a welcome from Rev Kennedy, followed by a poetry reading and a Prayer of Dedication. The service ended with the Last Post, a one minute silence then Reveille.

The new plaque commemorates the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign and acknowledges all the men from across the North

East, including more than 100 men from the local area, who were killed in action at Gallipoli.

Acknowledging John Kirkpatrick, who served under the name John Simpson, Mr Alexander Downer said: "This was very moving for us Australians because John Simpson Kirkpatrick is seen very much as an Australian hero, having been heroic during the Gallipoli campaign and saving up to 400 Australian and New Zealand lives and he being a member of the Australian Medical Corps.

"But of course he wasn't really an Australian. He was a Brit. He came from South Shields, grew up and went to school here and learned to use donkeys on the beach in South Shields.

"He was only in Australia for just over four years before he joined to the Australian Army and went off to war. That part of the story we don't know in Australia and it's fascinating. It's also wonderful that the people of the North East pay such tribute to this man who is such a national hero for Australians."

Local dignitaries including the Lord Lieutenancy of Tyne and Wear, business and community representatives attended the events alongside local school children and war veterans.

The services also involved military organisations including the Royal Navy, Royal British Legion, Durham Light Infantry Association, the 101 Regiment Royal Artillery, 4 Infantry Brigade and Kirkpatrick's former unit, the South Shields-based 205 (3rd Durham Volunteer Artillery) Battery, which continues to serve today.

Councillor Ed Malcolm, Chairman of South Tyneside Armed Forces Forum, said: "John Kirkpatrick is a local hero and we are proud to hold these events in his memory.

"It is fitting that on the 100th anniversary of Kirkpatrick's death we held a special service of commemoration as well as unveiled a new war memorial at South Shields seafront - the very place where he worked as a child.

"This event has helped us to open up Kirkpatrick's courageous story to an even wider audience while ensuring his legacy continues to live on where his roots lie in South Shields. It also gave us an opportunity to remember the huge sacrifice of all those local men who served in this bloody conflict at Gallipoli and the suffering of the families they left behind."

John Simpson Kirkpatrick was born in South Shields in 1892 and set sail for Australia as a merchant seaman in 1910. At the outbreak of the First World War he signed up for the Australian Army Medical Corps and landed at ANZAC Cove, Gallipoli, as a stretcher bearer, eight months later.

During ANZAC operations in Gallipoli, hundreds of men suffered terrible casualties. On 25 April 1915, Kirkpatrick, who was a natural with animals, began using his donkey to rescue more than 300 injured soldiers from the frontline to the beach for evacuation.

For three weeks he defied orders for ambulance men not to go out when enemy fire was at its worst. He cheerfully continued to ferry them through a dangerous route called Snipers Alley - usually whistling or singing along the way - before being shot dead by a Turkish sniper on 19 May 1915.

Kirkpatrick's heroic story has inspired numerous songs and plays about Kirkpatrick and his trusty donkey companion.

The statue depicting Kirkpatrick and his donkey was sculpted by local artist Bob Olley, and installed in South Shields Town Centre in January 1988. A small reproduction of the sculpture was sent to the Australian Prime Minister, Bob Hawke on the 75th anniversary of Gallipoli in 1990.

Mr Downer added: "Communities gain strength from their heroes and he is an Australian hero. He is also a hero of South Shields and the North East."

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