Simpson Prize Essay

Gabrielle Metherall
Newhaven College

"The image of a stretcher bearer, leading his donkey laden with a wounded digger connects with ... the experiences and responses of ordinary people caught up in great historical events not of their own making … we in turn respond to the heroism and the sacrifices because they are ordinary people like us."

The ANZAC spirit revolves around the concept of determination, mateship, courage and "the ability of ordinary people to do extraordinary things" in situations of extreme adversity. Perhaps the ANZAC spirit was contributed to by patriotism; the desire to win the war for ‘King and Country', however many of the most exemplary examples of ANZAC spirit were from ordinary men, who risked the 'supreme sacrifice' for the far more righteous purpose of mateship.

John Simpson Kirkpatrick, the most revered ANZAC hero, has been described as follows; 'A boozer, a brawler, a rowdy stoker-type larrakin. But that is what he was … never the delicate, aesthetic visionary the artists and eulogists have recorded "

Does this revelation affect Simpson's image? I believe, in terms of the ANZAC spirit, it does not. It only further accentuates the impact of war and how many ANZACs reacted. A man described as this seems an unlikely candidate for a national hero, but John Simpson Kirkpatrick apparently directed his strength and anger, previously engaged in brawls and such, to the protection of his fellow Australians. The "delicate" and "aesthetic" image presented to generations of Australians is founded on his courage and determination in rescuing injured ANZACs with his donkey. Each time Simpson carried a wounded man down Monash or Shrapnel valleys, at Gallipoli to safety, he was endangering his life. Simpson did eventually sacrifice his life, while rescuing two wounded men who were also unfortunately killed. For this consistent display of ANZAC spirit, he is a hero; "As images of war go, the man with the donkey has to be one of the most benign on earth ... It's a symbol of compassion amid the chaos of war'

Private Martin O'Meara also exhibited the ANZAC spirit. O'Meara fought on the Western Front at Poziéres from July through to August, 1916. At one point in battle Private O’Meara "became almost solely responsible for the carriage of water, supplies and care of the wounded. Four times he went out through the barrage with supplies, on one occasion taking a party with him. Then he brought out all the wounded of his battalion ". Many accounts from Australian soldiers told of O'Meara venturing into "no-man's land" during heavy shell fire to rescue men, bring them back to safety and dress their wounds. One soldier's account states; "I estimate that the number of men rescued by him is no less than thirty ". O'Meara was perpetually on guard for any wounded men who needed assistance, searching the ground at every possible moment. For his excellent conduct, O'Meara was awarded a Victoria Cross and later promoted to Corporal, then Sergeant.

While O'Meara also demonstrated the ANZAC spirit, it is extremely interesting to note that O'Meara was not Australian, but Irish. Born in Tipperary, O’Meara migrated to Australia while he was a young man and worked throughout South and Western Australia on the railroads. When World War One began, O'Meara was thirty, and enlisted with the Australian Infantry Force. Although O'Meara was born Irish, he fought under the Australian flag, is listed on the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, returned to and died in Australia, and, most importantly, exhibited all of the aspects associated with the ANZAC spirit.

Did one have to be born Australian to show the ANZAC spirit? Obviously not. Many of the ANZACs were probably English or Irish immigrants, if not children of immigrants, as before the mass immigration policies of 1945 onwards, the majority of Australians originated from either England or Ireland. So it would seem that the ANZAC spirit was not related to nationality – was it infectious Australian personality characteristics, resulting in the aforesaid qualities of the ANZAC spirit? "Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag, And smile! smile! smile!... What's the use of worrying? It was never worth the while... Smile! smile! smile! " Perhaps joviality, individuality, and how C. E. W Bean described a proportion of the Australian soldiers as "strong, independent minded men", combined with a fatalistic attitude to form the components of the Anzac spirit.

In my family, several ANZAC heroes are present, Six of my great, great uncles – all brothers – participated in World War One; Sapper John Tatt, Driver Frederick Tatt, Private George Tatt, Private Joseph Tatt, Private Arthur Tatt and Private Clifford Tatt. Five returned home, wounded, one of whom was a German prisoner of war for over one year. The other brother, Private Joseph Tatt, a stretcher-bearer, was killed at Pozières and 1 consider him to be a family ANZAC hero; as John

Simpson Kirkpatrick is to Australia. 1 admire all six men, not for their participation in man's lowest creation – war, but because they acted on their beliefs that one should assist, and in their efforts demonstrated the ANZAC spirit. Such large family participation earned their immediate family admiration in their local area of Castlemaine in Victoria. This local admiration continues, through local war memorials and museums.

"They [diggers] give us hope that we, who are a part of the national story, could also be capable of heroism when heroism is needed, and in situations that have nothing to do with wars and battles"

The concepts involved in the ANZAC spirit; determination, mateship, courage and sacrifice are the perfect foundations for a successful and sanguine life, regardless of one's chosen path, nationality or generation. It is these qualities that one strives for in life, All Australians are fortunate, for these qualities are included in our sense of history.

Each and every Australian digger is a hero and icon, regardless of notoriety. It is this sense of audacity that attracts each new generation of Australians to the history that is entwined in the ANZAC legend. Everyone wishes for the ability to achieve more for themselves and others. It is impossible for everyone to naturally possess the ability, yet we can all believe in the abilities of our ancestors and the ANZAC spirit and attempt to emulate them.

The relevance of ANZAC spirit increases, as the diggers of World War One pass away, placing more importance on maintaining the momentum it creates, especially each April 25th and November 11th when we specifically celebrate Australian soldiers' sacrifices.

While the importance of preventing future world wars is always stressed, ANZAC spirit is one factor of World War One which our nation should be proud of. I consider the conduct of both John Simpson Kirkpatrick and Martin O'Meara in the face of the horrendous futility of war to typify the ANZAC spirit. Their courage, determination, persistence and personal risks in the interest of others are replicated in every generation of Australians. It is the ANZAC spirit which gives Australians the stamina to be heroes, as every ANZAC digger was.

"We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valour led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that looms above the dead
In Flanders' fields"

Words: 921.



Newspaper Articles:


Resource Kit:

References cited:

Editorial, "The Day That Came Back To Life", The Age, 25 April 1998:9

Munro, Ian, "We Said We Wouldn’t Forget", The Age, 10 November 1996, see Agenda: 2.

Adam Smith, Patsy, The ANZACS, Thomas Nelson, Australia, 1978; vii.

Flanagan, Martin, "Simpson: The Man And The Legend", The Age, 25 April 1999, see Anzac Day, Special Tribute: 15

Laffin, John, Guide to Australian Battlefields of the Western Front 1916–1918, Kangaroo Press and The Australian War Memorial, Australia, 1992:89.

Gurry, Tim; Lewis, Robert, Reid, Richard, Somewhere in France, Soldiers’ Experiences of the Great War, Ryebuck Media, and the Australian War Memorial for the History Teachers Association of Australia, evidence file 6 – source 6. *No date or place of publication listed.

Adam-Smith, Patsy, The ANZACS, Thomas Nelson, Australia, 1978: 5.

C.E.W. Bean, "Heroism in War: Myth and Reality", The Age: ANZACS, Reprint Booklet No 42, 22 (reprinted from The Age, 22.4.1983). *No date or place of publication listed

Editorial, "The Day That Came Back to Lifer", The Age, 25.5.1998:9.

Corfield, Robin: Blankfield, Allan, Never Forget Australia/ N’oublions Jamais L’Australie, The Royal Victoria Regiment, Victoria, 1994: 5–92, "The Victory Emblem", Miss Moina Michael, in response to "In Flanders’ Fields", by Colonel John McCrae.

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