Most people are familiar with John Kirkpatrick Simpson and his donkey. There has been a lot written about this pair and their efforts at Gallipoli. There is a statue of them at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and this is a story that is often told to children in primary school.

Cockburn Libraries has a range of books on the subject for everyone from younger children through to adults.

Simpson and Duffy by Mary Small and illustrated by Ester Kasepuu

Simpson and Duffy (2)

This is one of a couple of books written for children that deal with the topic of Simpson and his donkey – Duffy. In this book you will find all of the information about the Simpson story however, the writing is not the best. It will make a wonderful book for children to read themselves as it is written more like an early reader than a captivating non-fiction narrative.

Simpson and his Donkey by Mark Greenwood and Frané Lessac

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This book was shortlisted for the Eve Pownall Book of the Year in 2009.

The book has wonderful illustrations that add to the text, which is well-written, informative, and makes for a good book. Overall, this is a good story – whether the books that come later make you a little jaded over how many men Simpson saved or not. It’s an interesting titbit that Simpson apparently saved a man he’d grown up with in England as a boy. I think personally, this is my favourite of all of the Simpson books I talk about in this post.

JSK Drummond

John Simpson Kirkpatrick by Allan Drummond with illustrations by Lucky Espiritu

Begins with John Kirkpatrick in Scotland and Newcastle before his move to Australia. He enlisted with the Australian Army under his mother’s maiden name and like so many others thought that he would have a chance to go back to England for training before joining the war and that he would have time to see his family. It wasn’t to be and Simpson was shot dead on May 19, 1915 at Gallipoli. This book is about the man and not just the myth and provides a well written if slightly older opportunity to learn about Simpson than the previous books. There is a great depth of detail in this book which recommends it.

The Donkey Who Carried The Wounded by Jackie French

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Tells its story from different perspectives, with chapters in Jack’s point of view, the donkey’s, an English captain, and a Turkish sniper, along with others. Jackie French, is currently the Australian Children’s Laureate and has a long history of writing history in ways that make it both as accurate as possible and interesting to read. This one is for older readers who want to know more. She has also written A Rose for the ANZAC Boys which deals with a female perspective to the Great War and is also worth a read.

We also have some books on Simpson for the adult reader.

Simpson and the donkey

Simpson and the Donkey: the making of a legend by Peter Cochrane is a book about what happened to the simple tale of John Simpson Kirkpatrick following his death. As well as how Simpson went from a stretch-bearer doing what he could to help other soldiers to a national hero by the time the Gallipoli campaign ended.

Dust Donkeys

In his book Dust Donkeys and Delusions: the myth of Simpson and his Donkey, Graham Wilson looks at the ‘truth’ behind the myth that is retold as history. Having served in the army for over twenty years and having had to research Simpson as part of his job Wilson looks at the truth, Simpson’s actual achievements, and what has been fabricated since.

Wilson in no way claims that Simpson did not provide a valuable service in transporting wounded soldiers. In fact the problem that Wilson finds with the myth is that is all occurred after Simpson died.

One of the main areas discussed by Wilson is the fact that we are led to believe that the acts of Simpson somehow outweigh the acts of other stretcher-bearers. And that the movement for Simpson to be awarded a Victoria Cross for Australia based on undocumented stories rather than fact is misguided at best.

It is a fascinating book that looks at the facts and myths behind Simpson – who is often looked to as the pinnacle of the ANZAC, digger, and mateship image in Australians.


If you have a book about Simpson and his Donkey or have read one of the ones above we would love to know about it.