The Kirkpatrick Pub

The Kirkpatrick Pub


Posted 2013-11-04 by Margaret Watersfollow

Kirkpatrick's bar stands detached in quite a grand building opposite the town's museum in Ocean Road in the centre of South Shields.

Originally a marine college dating back to the 19th century, there is quite a grand entrance with tables placed outside for days when the weather is warmer. Inside there is a grand staircase and traditional wooden furniture situated around a long bar serving the usual ales and pub grub.

A pleasant place to visit during the day for families and people of all ages, while at night it buzzes with a different atmosphere as the town centre comes alive, especially at weekends.

But it's the story behind the pub that draws my attention. A few metres from the entrance there is a statue cast in bronze and an epitaph that commemorates John Simpson Kirkpatrick, The Man with the Donkey.

Placed as it is, between a pub and a supermarket on a busy pedestrian thoroughfare, hundreds if not thousands of people must pass it every day without paying too much attention but John Simpson Kirkpatrick, after whom the pub was named, became a legend on the far side of the world. A hero at Gallipoli, he is renowned not just in the town of his birth, South Shields, but in Turkey and in Australia too.

Born in South Shields in July 1892, at 17 he joined a merchant vessel on the Tyne and went to sea, jumping ship in Newcastle, New South Wales where he gained work for several years in different parts of Australia, apparently sending much of his pay home to his widowed mother and sister.

As a character he is said to have been obstinate and perhaps opposed to the war when he joined the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) in Perth in 1914 (some say as a means of returning to Europe and eventually home) where he became a stretcher barer in the Medical Corps.

By this time Kirkpatrick had taken his mother's maiden name of Simpson to avoid detection as a deserter from his Merchant Navy vessel and was simply known as John (or Jack) Simpson.

Simpson was sent to Gallipoli on the western peninsula of the Dardanelles Straits as part of an ANZAC force in April 1915 where a bloody battle against the Ottoman Turks ensued and casualties were high.

The Gallipoli Campaign evolved as the Western Front became deadlocked and First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill proposed a plan to gain a foothold on another front in the Balkans and prevent the Turks from attacking western allies Russia, who had already lost ships in the Black Sea port of Odessa to a Turkish raid and had requested assistance from the British and French. They also needed to protect British and French interests in the Middle East and the Suez Canal in Egypt.

The Dardanelles Campaign was meant to be a short sharp naval strike on the Turkish capital of Constantinople (Istanbul) followed by landing forces but the Turks had time to prepare, under the leadership of Mustafa Kamal, and by the time forces from Britain, France and the British Empire, including ANZAC forces landed in April 1915 it was already a no-win situation; a blood-bath. The whole campaign was a total catastrophe and Allied forces finally withdrew in December 1915 with over 130,000 killed in total on both sides of the conflict.

There's plenty of detail about the bigger picture surrounding the Gallipoli Campaign if you wish to investigate it further, but getting back to the tale of John Simpson Kirkpatrick - it is thought that Kirkpatrick had worked with donkeys on the seafront in South Shields as a young lad and when he found a donkey wandering around the battlefield he was able to befriend the animal and use it to assist in the rescue of his comrades.

It is said Kirkpatrick may have rescued 300 men in just a few weeks (although how much is myth or propaganda has been questioned) and that his repeated acts of valour in rescuing his fellow soldiers had earned him a recommendation for a Victoria Cross, as was widely communicated among the forces on the ground at the time.

The donkey was interchangeably called Murphy, Duffy or Abdul, according to accounts at the time and it is said he worked night and day alongside Kirkpatrick staying faithful to his new found master.

Kirkpatrick was killed a few weeks later on 19th May 1915 aged just 22. He was buried at ANZAC Cove. His legend however, lives on in Australian culture, although he never received the Victoria Cross.

Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick's bravery was Mentioned in Dispatches. It is thought that instructions from his commanding officer were incorrectly entered in formal communications and he was denied a Victoria Cross because of this administrative error.

In July 1967 Australian leaders sent a petition to the British War office to try and correct the error and requested that a posthumous Victoria Cross be awarded to Private Kirkpatrick but the request was denied, on the grounds that it would be setting a precedence for retrospective award to military personal who had served in other historical conflicts.

The case was reviewed by the Australian Government again in 2011 and in February 2013 the committee ruled that there were many other brave stretcher bearers present and carrying out their duties at Gallipoli and that a Mention in Dispatches was an appropriate recognition of his bravery.

There are memorials commemorating John Simpson Kirkpatrick in Gallipoli and Melbourne, Australia and the Australian Army Medical Corps has long since adopted a donkey as its mascot. ANZAC DAY is commemorated on 25th April each year.

The story has only relatively recently entered the consciousness of the people of South Shields when in 1988 a local councillor campaigned to have him commemorated in his home town and local artist Robert Olley was retained to create a statue cast in bronze based on a photograph taken in 1915 on the battlefields of the Gallipoli Peninsula.

The photo showed a man with a donkey, but it is thought this was taken after Kirkpatrick was killed and that a New Zealander named Dick Henderson, a fellow stretcher bearer, took over the role of using the donkey that had survived Kirkpatrick's fatal shooting to continue the rescue work in one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War.

As for Kirkpatrick's bar, what better way to enter popular consciousness than to have such an establishment named after a local hero?

South Shields is well served by the Tyne & Wear Metro and Buses from Newcastle and Sunderland.

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