As Australians and New Zealanders approach Anzac Day, a day where the two countries remember and pay respects those who died at war, I recall a story of herosim from my school days. It is the story of Simpson and his donkey. In Gallipoli, a remote peninsula in Turkey, ANZAC troops were ordered to land and take out the Turkish army, a key ally of Germany in the First World War. Meeting stiff resistance from the Turkish army, the savage campaign ensued for several months with heavy casualties (over 10,000) on both sides.
From dawn each day and unarmed, Simpson and his trusty donkey Duffy would travel a couple of kilometers through the evocatively named Shrapnel Gully to an area where the opposing forces were in trenches less than twenty metres apart. He would crawl forward, at times under fire, aid a wounded soldier, load him across his donkey and make the trek back. He repeated this same journey ten to fifteen times a day, often well into the night.
Just under four weeks later, Duffy returned with an injured soldier but without Simpson. This brave man had been killed under fire carting over 300 injured warriors from the fields of war. This story was taught in schools as Simpson was one of many who epitomised what became known as the Anzac spirit – qualities of endurance, courage, friendship and good humour. Simpson and Duffy are commemorated with a stirring sculpture outside the national war museum.
These stories are enshrined in Australia’s psyche and ensure that Australians continue to treasure the ANZAC tradition.
Painting by Horace Moore-Jones now hangs in the National Library of NZ.