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A Bell from Simpson’s Donkey

A Bell from Simpson’s Donkey

Moama RSL
Merool Road
Moama NSW, 2731

For many years the Services Club at Moama had a museum that included small and fragile objects and military uniforms. This museum added interest to the collection of military hardware, tanks and cannons displayed in the club’s grounds.  Changes to the club have resulted in much of the museum’s display going into storage, but in the foyer, a diorama in the style of those at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra remains. It depicts John Simpson Kirkpatrick and one of his donkeys making their way down Monash Valley with a wounded digger.  In front of the diorama is a second model of the figures in this scene, sitting on a case in which is displayed a small brass bell.

Set on a red cloth cushion decorated with gold braiding, the small bell is given particular status.

Simpson served with the 3rd Field Ambulance at Gallipoli from the time of the landing on 25 April 1915 until his death in action on 19 May. He became well known in those few weeks for using donkeys to evacuate casualties from the front line, despite the risk to his own life from sniping and shrapnel fire. His legend has included a story that soldiers at Gallipoli fashioned a brass bell for his donkey from used shell cases. The bell, it is said, would alert them to Simpson’s presence. 

Simpson was killed by machine-gun fire at Bloody Angle, close to the junction of Shrapnel Gully and Monash Valley, near the place where General William Bridges was mortally wounded. Legend has it that Simpson spoke to the wounded general, offering to carry him back to the beach, but Bridges was reluctant to put a stretcher-bearer’s life at risk.

The bell at Moama does not appear to be made from the nosecone or casing of a shell, as reported in some stories.  Moama’s Gallipoli memento appears to be a simple brass bell, of the type commonly made made in India or the Middle East. If genuine, it might have been acquired from Indian troops at Gallipoli or kept as a keepsake during training in Egypt.

References

Simpson and his donkey: The making of a legend, Peter Cochrane, Melbourne University Press, 1992

The man with the donkey: John Simpson Kirkpatrick, the Good Samaritan of Gallipoli, Sir Irving Benson, Hodder and Stoughton, 1965

John Simpson and his donkey: www.quinnsrocksrsl.org.au/download_file/view/287/

Submission 038: Seeking a postumous military decoration for John Simpson Kirkpatrick: https://defence-honours-tribunal.gov.au/.../Submission-038-Ms-Jill-Hall-..