Play to mark the death of local war hero John

A Whitley Bay author is helping mark the 100th anniversary of the death of a north east war hero by writing a play about his life.

Playwright Valerie Laws was inspired to tell John Simpson Kirkpatrick’s story by seeing a display about him during a visit to the War Memorial in Sydney.

Valerie’s play follows John, who was born in South Shields in July 1892, as he joins the Merchant Navy at 17, and heads off to Australia, where he is enlisted to serve with the Anzacs as a stretcher bearer in the First World War.

There, with the help of his donkey Duffy, and under fire, he helped to rescue wounded soldiers on the shores of Gallipoli until his death on May 19, 1915.

“I felt his story should be told in his local region,” she said.

“He is Australia’s best loved war hero, with statues in every state and on coins and stamps , and he is commemorated every year.

“As a boy he worked with the donkeys on the beach at South Shields sands, probably that skill and his natural gift with animals helped him use a donkey for his life-saving work under heavy fire and in appalling conditions at Gallipoli.”

The Man and the Donkey,will be at the Customs House in South Shields, from Tuesday, May 19, to Saturday, May 23, at 7.45pm and 2.30pm on Thursday and Saturday. Call (0191) 454 1234 for tickets.