An ANZAC donkey

It is often a forgotten fact that non-human heroes: dogs, cats, pigeons, camels, horses, dolphins and many other animals, served alongside humans in support of their wars throughout history.

Australia and New Zealand Army Corps troops (ANZACs) arrived at the Gallipoli Peninsular in Turkey, April 1915, aiming to secure the Peninsula for the British and their allies to control the Dardanelles Strait. They fought Turkish and German troops who were advantageously perched at the very top of the cliff hills, proving to be as resilient and difficult as the formidable rocky terrain.

Strong and tough, donkeys were used to carry heavy loads. Their small hooves were suited to climbing the rocky hillsides. They were especially useful for carrying the sick and injured. Perhaps the most famous of all the war donkeys was Murphy who helped the ANZACs at Gallipoli.

Murphy arrived at Gallipoli by ship in 1915. He worked hard, carrying supplies up the hills and along the rocky paths. He was an asset to the soldiers and the war effort. An Australian soldier, John Simpson Kirkpatrick (Simpson) who was a stretcher-bearer, started using Murphy to carry injured soldiers to and from the cliffs and beachside army hospital. Murphy and Simpson would search and retrieve hundreds and hundreds of the wounded over 24 days like an emergency ambulance service. In May 1915, Simpson was killed by machine gun fire as he was mounting an injured soldier onto Murphy’s back. Without Simpson, Murphy continued to the army hospital alone, with the injured soldier on his back. A hero indeed. Despite his fear, as Simpson lay dead beside him and gun fire spraying around him; Murphy continued doing his job and delivered the wounded soldier to safety. The soldier survived.

New Zealander Richard Henderson, a fellow soldier and stretcher-bearer, continued Simpson’s work. Together with Murphy, they transported the sick and injured from the front line in amongst the ever present danger of rapid gunfire. Henderson served at Gallipoli then on the Western Front before returning home to New Zealand in 1918 with seriously damaged lungs as a result of the mustard gas exposure at the battle of Passchendaele.

It is uncertain what became of Murphy after the unsuccessful Gallipoli campaign. Correspondence letters between an Australian war correspondent, Charles Bean and ANZAC officials, revealed Murphy’s possible movements. They suggested Murphy had been transported to safety from ANZAC Cove to the Greek Island of Mudros where he went missing. He had disappeared. It was further speculated that Murphy may have been shipped to Egypt or Mesopotamia but it was never confirmed. Despite this, Murphy was indeed a well-known and much loved donkey as evidenced in the above mentioned correspondences. Wherever he ended up and however his life ended, Murphy will remain in the hearts and minds of all ANZAC generations past, present and future.

This and many other stories of animals who served in the wars throughout history must be acknowledged and honoured for their brave service to humanity. Lest We Forget.


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