Credit: Photograph by Andy Palmer, Manatū Taonga
Just outside the National War Memorial Hall of Memories, you will find a bronze scupture of two men, one of whom is riding a donkey.
The sculpture, The Man with the Donkey by Paul Walshe, is a memorial to all medical personnel, stretcher bearers and ambulance drivers who served alongside New Zealand troops in wartime.
While the statue depicts Private Richard Alexander Henderson of the New Zealand Medical Corps, the story of the statue actually starts with an Australian folk hero.
The story of John Simpson Kirkpatrick, who made his name as John Simpson, combines self-sacrifice, mateship, courage and compassion, and represents all the finest qualities of the ANZACS (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps). Simpson, originally from South Shields in England, enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in 1914. He served as Private John Simpson in the 3rd Field Ambulance, Australian Army Medical Corps, and was involved in the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915.
The following morning Simpson was carrying casualties over his shoulder from the fighting in Monash Valley to the beach on Anzac Cove when he saw one of the donkeys brought in for carrying supplies. He soon ‘acquired’ the donkey, known variously as ‘Murphy’, ‘Abdul’ or ‘Duffy’, and used him for bringing in the wounded from the firing line.
Simpson is said to have led a charmed life from 25 April 1915 until he was hit in his back by a machine gun bullet on 19 May, while carrying two wounded men to safety. In his 24 days at Gallipoli he rescued over 300 men down the notorious Monash Valley, through ‘deadly sniping down the valley and the most furious shrapnel fire’.
Private Richard Henderson, and others, continued Simpson’s work, using donkeys to evacuate the wounded from the frontline.
After Gallipoli, Henderson served on the Western Front. At the Battle of the Somme he was awarded the Military Medal on 22 October 1916 for repeatedly bringing in wounded men under heavy shell fire. He was wounded at Passchendale, and returned home in 1918 after suffering gas poisoning.
In 1950 Henderson told a newspaper, ‘There was nothing really heroic about the work Kirkpatrick and I did with that donkey. It was easier carrying a wounded man on a donkey than it was on a stretcher or on one's shoulder.’ He died on 14 November 1958.
The Man with the Donkey was modelled by Walshe on a photograph of Henderson taken by Sergeant James Gardiner Jackson. The photograph was also, ironically, the basis for a renowned painting by New Zealand war artist Horace Millichamp Moore-Jones, which he entitled To the memory of our hero comrade 'Murphy' (Simpson) killed May 1915. Heroes of the Red Cross. Private Simpson, D.C.M., & his donkey at Anzac.
The sculpture was commissioned by the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association and was unveiled by Ross Henderson, son of Richard Henderson, in 1990.
Updated on 23rd July 2015