A NARRATIVE OF PERSONAL EXPERIENCES OF THE OFFICER COMMANDING THE 4th FIELD AMBULANCE, AUSTRALIAN IMPERIAL FORCE
JOSEPH LIEVESLEY BEESTON
C.M.G., V.D., L.R.C.S.I., Colonel A.A.M.C. Late O.C. 4th Field Ambulance, late A.D.M.S. New Zealand and Australian Division
ANGUS & ROBERTSON LTD.
89 CASTLEREAGH STREET
We had a good many Indian regiments in the Army Corps. The mountain battery occupied a position on “Pluggey’s Plateau” in the early stage of the campaign, and they had a playful way of handing out the shrapnel to the Turks. It was placed in boiling water to soften the resin in which the bullets are held. By this means the bullets spread more readily, much to the joy of the sender and the discomfiture of Abdul. The Indians were always very solicitous about their wounded. When one came in to be attended to, he was always followed by two of his chums bearing, one a water bottle, the other some food, for their caste prohibits their taking anything directly from our hands. When medicine had to be administered, the man came in, knelt down, and opened his mouth, and the medicine was poured into him without the glass touching his lips. Food was given in the same way. I don’t know how they got on when they were put on the ship. When one was killed, he was wrapped up in a sheet and his comrades carried him shoulder-high to their cemetery, for they had a place set apart for their own dead. They were constantly squatting on their haunches making a sort of pancake. I tasted one; but it was too fatty and I spat it out, much to the amusement of the Indians.
One of them saw the humorous side of life. He described to Mr. Henderson the different attitudes adopted towards Turkish shells by the British, Indian and Australian soldiers. “British Tommy,” said he, “Turk shell, Tommy says ‘Ah!’ Turk shell, Indian say ‘Oosh!’ Australian say ‘Where the hell did that come from?'”
The Divisional Ammunition Column was composed of Sikhs, and they were a brave body of men. It was their job to get the ammunition to the front line, so that they were always fair targets for the Turks. The mules were hitched up in threes, one in rear of the other, each mule carrying two boxes of ammunition. The train might number anything from 15 to 20 mules. All went along at a trot, constantly under fire. When a mule was hit he was unhitched, the boxes of ammunition were rolled off, and the train proceeded; nothing stopped them. It was the same if one of the men became a casualty; he was put on one side to await the stretcher-bearers—but almost always one of the other men appeared with a water bottle.
Everyone knows of Simpson and his donkey. This man belonged to one of the other Ambulances, but he made quite frequent trips backwards and forwards to the trenches, the donkey always carrying a wounded man. Simpson was frequently warned of the danger he ran, for he never stopped, no matter how heavy the firing was. His invariable reply was “My troubles!” The brave chap was killed in the end. His donkey was afterwards taken over by Johnstone, one of our men, who improvised stirrups out of the stretcher-slings, and conveyed many wounded in this manner.
I watched the pinnaces towing the barges in. Each pinnace belonged to a warship and was in charge of a midshipman—dubbed by his shipmates a “snotty.” This name originates from the days of Trafalgar. The little chaps appear to have suffered from chronic colds in the head, with the usual accompaniment of a copious flow from the nasal organs. Before addressing an officer the boys would clean their faces by drawing the sleeve of their jacket across the nose; and, I understand that this practice so incensed Lord Nelson that he ordered three brass buttons to be sewn on the wristbands of the boys’ jackets. However, this is by the way. These boys, of all ages from 14 to 16, were steering their pinnaces with supreme indifference to the shrapnel falling about, disdaining any cover and as cool as if there was no such thing as war. I spoke to one, remarking that they were having a great time. He was a bright, chubby, sunny-faced little chap, and with a smile said: “Isn’t it beautiful, sir? When we started, there were sixteen of us, and now there are only six!” This is the class of man they make officers out of in Britain’s navy, and while this is so there need be no fear of the result of any encounter with the Germans.
Another boy, bringing a barge full of men ashore, directed them to lie down and take all the cover they could, he meanwhile steering the pinnace and standing quite unconcernedly with one foot on the boat’s rail.
I have elsewhere alluded to the stacks of food on the beach. Amongst them bully beef was largely in evidence. Ford, our cook, was very good in always endeavouring to disguise the fact that “Bully” was up again. He used to fry it; occasionally he got curry powder from the Indians and persuaded us that the resultant compound was curried goose; but it was bully beef all the time. Then he made what he called rissoles—onions entered largely into their framework, and when you opened them you wanted to get out into the fresh air. Preserved potatoes, too, were very handy. We had them with our meat, and what remained over we put treacle on, and ate as pancakes. Walkley and Betts obtained flour on several occasions, and made very presentable pancakes. John Harris, too, was a great forager—he knew exactly where to put his hand on decent biscuits, and the smile with which he landed his booty made the goods toothsome in the extreme. Harris had a gruesome experience. One day he was seated on a hill, talking to a friend, when a shell took the friend’s head off and scattered his brains over Harris.
As noted above, I published this last year when I read the eBook Five Months at Anzac. I republish it today as a follow-up to Mark Baker’s Taken for a ride? in today’s Sydney Morning Herald. See also Review: Dust donkeys and delusions by Christopher Bounds, G P Walsh in The Australian Dictionary of Biography, the book Dust, Donkeys and Delusion — The Myth of Simpson and his Donkey Exposed by Graham Wilson (2012), and two well-informed discussion threads here and here on The Great War Forum. Mark Baker’s article concludes:
The repetition and embellishment of such accounts turned them to gospel truth for later generations of Australians, with the few bold enough to question or challenge the detail risking accusations of heresy. As the legend has grown, so has the clamour to right the presumed injustice that Simpson’s gallantry was never rewarded with a Victoria Cross.
That campaign – backed by a clutch of vocal MPs from both sides of politics – was instrumental in Simpson being one of 13 servicemen from the First and Second World Wars and Vietnam whose cases for the award of a retrospective VC were considered by the Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal.
But the tribunal found there was no such injustice in the case of Simpson who, on May 14, 1915 – five days before his death – was one of eight members of the 3rd Field Ambulance commended for their work by the officer in charge of medical services at Gallipoli, Colonel Neville Howse, VC.
All of them, including Simpson, were subsequently Mentioned in Dispatches, an award entitling them to wear an oak leaf emblem on their service medals.
The tribunal also curtly rejected long-running arguments that Simpson had been denied a VC due to procedural errors or administrative stonewalling.
”On both process and merits, Simpson’s case was properly considered at the time. The process and procedures were … appropriate and fair. Private Simpson was appropriately honoured with an MID. A merits review was unable to sustain an alternative outcome.”
After a century of overwrought adulation, it is perhaps time to do justice to the memory of ”Jack” Kirkpatrick by setting the record straight on the facts of his service and sacrifice.
He was a brave and tenacious soldier who gave his life doing his duty and supporting his mates – like thousands of others whose deeds were never acknowledged and are now long forgotten.