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Remembered Today:

Simpson & the 'Sabertache' article


grantmal

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Further to the discussion of deserved VCs and Graham Wilson's attack on Simpson (The Man With the Donkey) in 'Sabertache' (http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=69140&st=40) I attach my reply:

Dear Sir,

I write in response to a recent article by Graham Wilson, “The Donkey Vote: The VC for Simpson – the Case Against” (Sabertache, December 2006).

On the questions of whether Simpson deserved a VC or not, or whether the current campaign to have Simpson posthumously awarded a VC is appropriate, I proffer no opinion. I write to point out a number of inaccuracies in Mr Wilson’s article and to challenge a number of his conclusions.

The most serious error of fact regards Captain Fry’s ‘personal narrative’ in the Australian War Memorial, which Mr Wilson describes as being written “at the behest of Colonel Butler...in either late 1918 or early 1919.” This material is actually a hand-written copy of Fry’s original diary, not a personal narrative. Fry did omit some entries, but what remains is Fry’s original diary, word-for-word.

Captain Fry was not Simpson’s “Company Commander”. Simpson’s immediate officer, Captain D.M. McWhae, C Section (Bearer Sub-Division), was severely wounded two days after the Landing: Captain Fry (B Section), the senior surviving 3rd Field Ambulance officer from the Landing, was later asked by the ADMS to submit a report on the 3rd Field Ambulance’s role in the Landing. Fry was involved in recommending 3rd Field Ambulance personnel for awards as Lt-Col Sutton was not a witness to initial events onshore.

Regarding the circumstances of Simpson’s enlistment: Simpson was examined by Captain McWhae at Perth Barracks on August 23rd, 1914, and allotted by McWhae to “C” Section, 3rd Field Ambulance. Infantry units were still being formed at this time. Men allotted to C Section, Bearer sub-division, were generally either experienced stretcher bearers in militia units or ex-RAMC, had a St Johns first aid certificate, or were chosen for their physique.

In his attempts to dismiss the case for the awarding of a VC to Simpson, Mr Wilson seeks to diminish the evidence that a VC recommendation was made in 1915. The only support offered his conclusion is the absence of the original document, whereas the evidence that Simpson was recommended by his unit for a Victoria Cross is in the diaries of the officers who gathered the evidence and submitted the recommendation:

Sutton on May 24: .... I send in a report about No 202 Private Simpson of C Section, shot on duty May 19, 1915. He was a splendid fellow and went up the gullies day and night, bringing down the wounded on donkeys. I hope he will be awarded the DCM.

Sutton on June 2: ..... ADMS is fighting about honours. There has been a hitch and he says he has asked to be relieved if his recommendations are not accepted.... I think we'll get a VC for poor Simpson..... Proceeded up gully, along valley to find Captain Green, Padre.... It is about his recommendations in favour of Simpson.

Fry on June 2: Incongruity of mention in dispatches. Four of N. Z. none of Australians (AMC). Overlooked while Howse away. Called by Howse in afternoon -- McWhae, Farnham & Rosser (for mention).

Fry on June 3: ... Saw ADMS RE Simpson and Goldsmith. (Simpson for VC) Adams, Sharples, and Jeffries and Conrick to give evidence. Met Jeff on beach tried to find Col Green

Sutton on June 4: .....I have been writing up poor Simpson's case with a view to getting some honour for him. It is difficult to get evidence of any one act to justify the VC, the fact is he did so many.

Fry on June 5: ... Adams and Sharples evidence (RE Simpson) in morning. Afternoon Jeffries. Saw ADMS -- soft futile words.

Fry on June 18: .... received word from ______ and finally sent in Simpson's recommendation.

According to these two diaries, the Commanding Officer of the 3rd Field Ambulance, Lt-Colonel Sutton, sent in a report (presumably to ADMS Howse) about Simpson within days of Simpson’s death. A report on Simpson had already been received from Colonel Monash, 4th Brigade CO. Lt Col. Sutton and the 3rd Field Ambulance Adjutant, Captain Fry, then spoke with ADMS Howse about Simpson. Sutton at first hoped that Simpson would receive the DCM, but after further discussions with Howse – during which Howse told Sutton he will resign if his recommendations are not accepted - Sutton began to think Simpson would get the VC, and started contacting witnesses to give evidence to support the recommendation. Fry then spoke again with Howse about Simpson’s VC recommendation and settled on a list of witnesses for interview.

These diary entries do not constitute a VC recommendation for Simpson, but do show that, after conferring with ADMS Howse, both Sutton and Fry believed the evidence they were gathering was in support a VC recommendation.

Colonel James Green, the Methodist Chaplain who presided over Simpson’s burial, was prepared to give evidence in favour of Simpson’s recommendation. Fry took evidence from Pte Arthur Adams, a stretcher bearer from Simpson’s section, Cpl Samuel Sharples, Simpson’s section NCO, Captain Conrick (3rd Field Ambulance) and Captain Jefferies (4th Field Ambulance). Sutton, who was writing up Simpson’s case, had trouble getting evidence of any one act which would justify Simpson’s VC, “the fact is he did so many.” The recommendation was finally completed, and sent in by Captain Fry in mid June.

That Sutton’s reports and the recommendation sent in by Fry have not survived does not mean they were not written.

The Gallipoli records of the 3rd Field Ambulance were lost when Howse ordered a stack of the unit’s paperwork pushed off the jetty at North Beach during the evacuation of Anzac in December 1915.

The fact that Simpson was Mentioned in Despatches did not preclude him from being recommended for the VC. Ptes Gordon Farnham (B Section) and Syd Rosser (of Simpson’s C Section) were named with Simpson on the original list of 3rd Field Ambulance personnel worthy of recognition; Rosser and Farnham were both later awarded the DCM for their actions at the Landing (April 25th –May 5th). In his article Mr Wilson enlists Pte Godfrey (12 Battalion) to support his arguments against Simpson. Godfrey is said to have been awarded a DCM “for a separate action” to that which he was Mentioned in Despatches. The DCM recommendations is, however, exactly the same – word for word – as the MID recommendation quoted by Mr Wilson. Like Farnham and Rosser, Godfrey was awarded the DCM and ‘Mentioned in Despatches’ for the same actions.

Regarding the categorisation of Colonel Monash’s statement on Simpson as a recommendation for a MID: it is hard to believe a Brigade Commander would spend his time writing MID recommendations, unprompted, for personnel not under his command. How many other such recommendations did Col Monash write? Mr Wilson’s reduction of Simpson’s activities to “strolling up and down Shrapnel and Monash Gullies with a donkey” performing a job “far easier....and far safer....” is rebutted by the words of Monash. Describing Simpson’s self-imposed job as “perilous work”, Monash writes admiringly of the way Simpson “moved unconcernedly amid shrapnel and rifle-fire.” Monash did not recommend Simpson for a VC, but his admiration for Simpson far outweighs that of Mr Wilson. The men manning the upper end of the valley – the infantry in the most dangerous part of the firing line – also admired Simpson’s courage and frequently applauded him “for his many fearless rescues of wounded men from areas subject to rifle and shrapnel-fire.” A number of Simpson’s comrades from C Section wrote in diaries and letters of their admiration for Simpson’s actions and his bravery. Even men from C Section’s Tent Sub-division, working on a hospital ship off Anzac Cove, wrote about Simpson and how “he had become famous on shore for his bravery; numbers of the wounded told us of him.”

That Monash and Simpson’s comrades and officers had greater admiration for Simpson’s performance at Gallipoli than does Mr Wilson is understandable, given they were there and witnessed Simpson in action. Mr Wilson’s conclusion regarding the bravery of Simpson is directly contradicted by more qualified judges.

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Grant,

Many thanks for this and for the ref back to the other thread which I had some how managed to miss.

quote: "Regarding the categorisation of Colonel Monash’s statement on Simpson as a recommendation for a MID: it is hard to believe a Brigade Commander would spend his time writing MID recommendations, unprompted, for personnel not under his command."

I would like to add that Monash wrote his letter on 20th May 1915 - that is to say within 24 hours of Simpson being killed. There was no delay on the part of the general who thought the matter so important that he gave it his immediate attention - hardly indicative of a MiD!

Grant, thanks again for your work here

Michael

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Thanks gentlemen. Yes Michael, Monash's statement is certainly extraordinary. Unfortunately Mr Wilson uses the usual tactic of Simpson critics in emphasising the importance of the missing pieces to the story, rather than giving credit to the available evidence.

Good on you,

Grant

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Documentation relating to almost all WWI VC cases has been lost, see Crook, 'Evolution of the Victoria Cross.' That argument is bunkum!

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Hi Grant

. . . looking forward to your book on the 3rd Field Ambulance coming out.

Another book on 3? Blimey, just spent a bomb on Ron Austin's book (but very pleased with it).

Keep us posted on its publication date and let me be your first Pom purchaser.

Chris

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Grant - Just as a matter of interest does Private Adams, my Wolverton man get a mention in the forthcoming book? - (Just looking for plausible explanations to give Mrs O'B for the purchase of another book :lol: )

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Will, yes Chips Adams certainly gets a gurnsey....still haven't found his family though. The local paper ran a piece on Adams last year (Stony Stratford and Wolverton Local Pages) but no-one popped out of the woodwork.

Thanks for the orders gents! If I can get to the UK in May (as planned) the book should be staggering to a finish sometime this year (said that before)......

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Grant,

Congratulations on the concise research you have undertaken, just brilliant.

From what I have read of Simpson (John Simpson Kilpatrick), he would most probably have been the last person on earth to worry about whether he received a gong for his work, or not.

There is one undeniable fact, he and his donkey have become one of the most enduring images to the Spirit of Anzac.

He was a legend in his own time, and as you have noted, he had become known to just about all on Gallipoli, from the men in the firing line to the most senior of officers.

He like so many other brave and courageous men were worthy of being bestowed the VC, the recommendations were submitted, but never granted.

It should be noted in this vain, that there was not one honour or decoration given to the men of the 8th and 10th Light Horse Regiments for the charge at the Nek.

At the Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne, there is a small bronze statue, simply titled "Man and His Donkey", but known to all as "Simpson and his donkey". The anonymous title has been given to the statue, as no one individual is recognised by name, all men who made the ultimate sacrifice are honoured as equal.

This small but imposing statue is probably the most visited memorial at the Shrine, there is not one day of the year, that the red poppy of remembrance and other small tributes are to be seen laid at the foot of his statue.

Simpson's memory stands beyond any bravery decorations, he symbolizes the true meaning of the courage and sacrifice of all Australians who served at Gallipoli, his name and story has been known to all Australians through the successive generations and as such is still recognized today.

I for one would wholeheartedly support the bestowing of a posthumous award of the VC for Simpson, it is long overdue.

Thank you for bringing this topic forward again.

Jeff

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Interesting question, seeing as how John Simpson Kirkpatrick came from Shields, County Durham, joined the British Merchant Navy, jumped ship and enlisted in the A.I.F. in Western Australia, he is still one of yours.

It only takes the most cursory look through the service records of men who enlisted in the A.I.F. to note just how many were English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish subjects. Further investigation will reveal that very many more were either, native born, or the progeny of British settlers.

In 1914 they were technically not Australian citizens, but all subjects of the British Commonwealth.

Australia, like all other Commonwealth countries, did not hesitate to support Great Britian once war was declared. They offered and served under the overall command of the British Military authority.

I take it from your question, that you concider any decorations bestowed upon non British service personnel should not have been awarded.

It was not Australia who sent the men of the 1st A.I.F. to Gallipoli, it was Lord Kitchener.

If, as has been amply demonstrated, Kirkpatrick was recommended for the VC, but not granted the award, what is the problem with rectifying this injustice and bestowing him with the decoration posthumously?

Jeff

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If, as has been amply demonstrated, Kirkpatrick was recommended for the VC, but not granted the award, what is the problem with rectifying this injustice and bestowing him with the decoration posthumously?

I imagine that many men were recommended for the VC but did not receive the award, what makes Simpson a special case? I can't imagine for one minute that the MoD or British government will even consider awarding Simpson the decoration....it has to be up to the Australian government to rectify what you consider an injustice.

Andy

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Interesting More Majorum, are you suggesting that the AIF was not an Australian formation? As so many in the AIF were Brits that must mean that “we” can claim all the kudos they gained as they were all “ours.” I must have misread that Simpson 'and his donkey have become one of the most enduring images to the Spirit of Anzac.' Therefore he is an Australian as well as English hero, which is why I advanced the idea of him being given an Australian award to right the wrong done by those miserable Poms. There is no mechanism for such a retrospective award of the VC, but I wondered whether there was for the Australian.

What an amazing leap to ‘take it from your question, that you consider any decorations bestowed upon non British service personnel should not have been awarded.’ I have not expressed any such thoughts on this forum or elsewhere, indeed I have presented a conference paper giving the direct opposite view. I happen to think that the Victoria Cross (as we are discussing that at the moment) is a great example of equality and inclusively in the empire, which could have profited from more such cases.

It sounds that you think that the only decorations that count are good old British ones. Are you campaigning for the Australian ones to be melted down? I did not question: the ancestry or the AIF, whether the AIF were Australian or Imperial subjects, whether they answered the call, where they stood in the battle order, who it was sent them to Gallipoli, or the courage that they showed whilst they were there. Take the chip off your shoulder it’s big enough to go with all the fish sold in London.

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per ardua per mare per terram.

I think that the brevity of your post may have given the wrong impression.

I am not up with posthumous decorations nor with who can award what relating back to WW1, but what Jeff says is true, there were quite a few members of the AIF that were born OS from Australia. The fact that they fought in an Australian Army does not and should not have precluded them from receiving any medal that their superior officers recommended.

Simpson, even if he is known as an image of the Spirit of Anzac, is also an image of what man can do in times of need, regardless of where he was born.

I cannot speak for Jeff, but the lack of medals for the AIF at Gallipoli stands out against the medals awarded for the British units.

You may call this a chip on the shoulder, and as you say that you have presented a paper Quote" What an amazing leap to ‘take it from your question, that you consider any decorations bestowed upon non British service personnel should not have been awarded.’ I have not expressed any such thoughts on this forum or elsewhere, indeed I have presented a conference paper giving the direct opposite view. " then I would have thought that you would have an understanding on the history of the chips that Australians carry. They started with the men who were in the front line, the ones that saw and knew what was what.

Not saying that they whinged, just that they felt that men who should have been recognised for outstanding bravery, were passed over, and why was this.

That is the question that gets a few Aussies uptight.

Cheers

Kim

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Quote: "the lack of medals for the AIF at Gallipoli stands out against the medals awarded for the British units."

It is quite easy to see how this subject upsets the Anzacs, past and present.

It beggars belief that 12 VCs could be awarded at Helles on the 25th April 1915, plus another 3 the very next day. And yet none were awarded further up the coast, and when the first one was awarded there, it went to a chap not from the NZEF or the AIF, but to one in the RND!

The explanation offered most often is that the ANZAC commanders did not know the ropes as far as this aspect of their admin was concerned. I can sympathise with that and personally can see no reason for not correcting the oversight. 'Precedence' is irrelevant here and merely an excuse for doing nothing. I for one deeply regret the UK's intransigence on this.

regards

Michael

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Congratulations Grant :)

I took what Jeff said to mean that Australia did not have it's 'own' army till post WW1 it was 'under the rule' of England. Our boys went off to fight for King and Country and the Empire. In some cases their birth place may have been in Australia but they are recorded as 'British Subjects'.

I find it very intriguing that the English considered the Australian's an 'undisciplined lot' when such a large proportion of them were from the UK :D

Many people consider Major Percy Black DCM DSO 16th Battalion the bravest Australian soldier yet no VC.

It is interesting that for the entire Australian Light Horse there was only 1 VC awarded.

Bright Blessings

Sandra

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Interesting More Majorum, are you suggesting that the AIF was not an Australian formation? As so many in the AIF were Brits that must mean that “we” can claim all the kudos they gained as they were all “ours.” I must have misread that Simpson 'and his donkey have become one of the most enduring images to the Spirit of Anzac.' Therefore he is an Australian as well as English hero, which is why I advanced the idea of him being given an Australian award to right the wrong done by those miserable Poms. There is no mechanism for such a retrospective award of the VC, but I wondered whether there was for the Australian.

What an amazing leap to ‘take it from your question, that you consider any decorations bestowed upon non British service personnel should not have been awarded.’ I have not expressed any such thoughts on this forum or elsewhere, indeed I have presented a conference paper giving the direct opposite view. I happen to think that the Victoria Cross (as we are discussing that at the moment) is a great example of equality and inclusively in the empire, which could have profited from more such cases.

It sounds that you think that the only decorations that count are good old British ones. Are you campaigning for the Australian ones to be melted down? I did not question: the ancestry or the AIF, whether the AIF were Australian or Imperial subjects, whether they answered the call, where they stood in the battle order, who it was sent them to Gallipoli, or the courage that they showed whilst they were there. Take the chip off your shoulder it’s big enough to go with all the fish sold in London.

PAPMPT

I did take take your one line, "Isn't there a good case for him to get an Australian VC?", to imply to that which I responded to.

You have demonstrated that my assumption was totally wrong, and for this I unreservedly apologize.

I will admit to a chip on shoulder when it comes to respecting and honouring our Anzac's, no matter where they hailed from.

Jeff

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Thanks for the comments re the article. I'm steering clear of the debate whether Simpson should get a VC, both on the forum and in the book, but enjoying the read.

Good on you,

Grant

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  • 4 years later...

Further to the discussion of deserved VCs and Graham Wilson's attack on Simpson (The Man With the Donkey) in 'Sabertache' (http://1914-1918.inv...pic=69140&st=40) I attach my reply:

I am an unabashed admirer of Simpson who I think would have made a worthy recipient. The strength of the Wilson article is the attack on the legend of Simpson. Wilson's analysis shows the exaggeration of Simpson's deeds that have essentially hidden the real man.Your comments and corrections were most enlightening and informative. I agree that the matter was seriously considered but whether Sutton's reports and the recommendation sent in by Fry survived or not does not mean an actual recommendation was submitted by Sutton as Commanding Officer 3rd Field Ambulance to higher headquarters. Personally, I believe that if a recommendation has been submitted it would have been approved just as the awards to O'Meara and Castleton were approved for Pozieres in 1916. If Simpson had been recommended for the Victoria Cross in 1915 and the recommendation had survived then he would have been the 71st Australian recommended for the Victoria Cross in the First World War whose recommendation was either rejected or downgraded.

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My interest in Simpson comes about because I knew a man who met him in Shrapnel Gully (at a moment when a shell burst overhead wounding a colleague). He considered Simpson to be a 'REAL hero' and he was a proud owner of Benson's book - which was my initial reading. I have subsequently read from other sources including many contributors to this forum. On balance I also view Simpson as a hero worthy of recognition and look forward with interest to the outcome of the current official review.

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