It might just be that I’m getting old, but as I pondered the coming ANZAC Day I was reminded of my earliest memories of its meaning. I have a clear picture of the frail old WW1 diggers who used to come to the school I attended in the 60’s. One story stands out, that of Simpson and his donkey, which has become a legend in its own right.
John Simpson Kirkpatrick was part of the 3rd Field Ambulance and had somehow acquired a moth-eaten old donkey to help him transport men with leg injuries back down Shrapnel Gully to be treated. The way the story was told (and I suspect how I have continued to tell it) he was portrayed as a saint, a modern day good Samaritan who selflessly took risks to help his Aussie mates. Yet there was an ironic twist, instead of this story having a happy ending, on 19th May 1915, on his way up the valley he is hit in the heart and is killed.
According to Les Carlyon, in his book Gallipoli, (ISBN 0 7329 10897) Simpson was not even an Australian, though he had joined up in Australia. He was portrayed as the average bloke that you would meet in a shearing shed or on a railway gang in outback Australia, yet he was in reality more familiar with Northern England!
Carlyon concludes that the real Simpson was probably more interesting than the legend, more rough around the edges and probably sadder. History suggests that Australians often seem to choose “quirky heroes’ (Carlyon) and the reality is that the stories of many ordinary diggers who lost their lives at Gallipoli were included in this one “picture”.
So when it comes down to it, I think that I have chosen the story of Simpson and his donkey as a meta-narrative which describes my forbears who fought and died in the ugly chaos of WW1, both at Gallipoli and in France. Like many of you, I have their medals but not their stories, and I can only imagine what they went through. I choose to believe that Ben and his older brother Joe (who was killed in France) acted heroically, put their lives on the line for their mates, with courage and conviction set the standard which has been handed down to us.
This ANZAC Day, pause to remember and honour all those thousands of unnamed myth makers who are represented in Simpson. He was not perfect, but if you are looking for a perfect example then I need to direct you to Jesus who demonstrated those same values, which is what Easter is really all about!
Chaplain Ian S Whitley