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Our Committee is raising funds to create a lasting legacy telling the story of Lemnos' link to Gallipoli and Australia's Anzac story. Our projects include the Lemnos Gallipoli Memorial in Albert Park, the publication of a major new historical and pictorial publication and more. To make a donation you can also deposit directly by direct debit into the Committee's bank account: Account Name: Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee Inc; Bank: Delphi Bank; Account No: 204299-020 BSB No: 941300; Include your surname in the reference section. For further information on our legacy projects or to make a donation please contact either Lee Tarlamis 0411553009 or Jim Claven 0409402388M

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Lemnos Heroes - Murphy the Donkey and the Donkeys and Mules of Lemnos

Gallipoli and its Donkeys
One of Lemnos' least appreciated contributions to the Gallipoli campaign was its role as a major source of animal labour - the thousands of donkey's and mules from the Island who helped out the Anzacs on the peninsula.
Donkey's - the beasts of burden of the Gallipoli campaign. Photo AWM
These poor and hardy animals were real beasts of burden, doing all the heavy lifting.
They dragged ambulance wagons to and fro, hauled steel guns, water tanks, shovels and all manner of important equipment from the barges on the Gallipoli coast to the trenches uphill and inland.
Photographs show them, forty at a time, in single file, traversing the steep gullies that ran up from Anzac Cove.

Where did these animals come from?
Well they came from a variety of sources - from Egypt and Palestine, from Cyprus - but many of them came from the nearby Islands of the Aegean, and especially Lemnos.
Donkey's and mules were certainly a mainstay of Lemnos' life and economy. To have a donkey or mule was an important requirement for Island families, essential for transport and work in the fields. Some Australians expressed sympathy for these hard and often over-burdened animals.
A Lemnian villager with his donkey at an Anzac camp on Lemnos. Photo AWM
The Anzacs and the Lemnian Donkeys
Certainly many Lemnians hired out their donkey's to the newcomers - soldiers and nurses who wanted to make the most of their few hours of recreation by traveling across the Island to see and partake of its sites and places of interest. These were essential to their many visits to the distant towns of Therma, Kontias and Myrina for example. There are many lovely photos of Australian nurses and soldiers enjoying a ride on a Lemnian donkey.
Nurse Evelyn Davies enjoys a donkey ride on Lemnos. Photo AWM
Australian nurses enjoy a donkey ride on Lemnos, probably on the Turks Head Peninsula. Photo AWM
There are also many examples of Anzacs purchasing and "lightering" donkey's on Lemnos for use on the peninsula. For example, the British intelligence officer, seconded to the Anzacs, Lieutenant Colonel Aubrey Herbert, purchased six donkeys on Lemnos for his use on the peninsula, keeping one as a mascot.
Donkeys and their handlers on board ship, to Gallipoli, 1915. Photo AWM
Simpson's Murphy
Yet the most famous Lemnian donkey has to be "Murphy", the donkey that worked with Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick carrying the wounded from the battle front to the medical services in the rear and on the near the beaches. Simpson would become revered by his Anzac comrades in the field and turned into an icon following his death from a machine gun bullet only a few weeks after he's arrival at Gallipoli.

Simpson with Murphy at Gallipoli, April 1915. Photo AWM.

Pre-war portrait of John Simpson Kirkpatrick. Photo AWM
Simpson's grave at Gallipoli. 1915. Photo AWM
Other "Simpsons and Murphy's"
It is true that a number of other donkey's were enlisted by Anzacs to help with moving the injured but Murphy remains the most famous. There are many images in the AWM archive of Anzac medical staff with donkey's being used in the same way as Simpson used Murphy. Some of these are reproduced below.

Where did Simpson acquire Murphy?
There are many stories of how Murphy came to be on the peninsula. Some talk of Greek water-carriers with donkeys who landed with the Anzacs on 25th April, only to be removed soon after, their donkeys straying up into the gullies of the peninsula. Another argues that donkey's and mules were captured from the Ottoman troops.
However the most detailed and contemporary account is from Captain Longmore of the AIF's 16th Battalion Machine Gun Section, who reported the story of his comrade Captain H.J. Sykes:
"Abdul was one of two donkeys purchased by members of the 16th Battalion Machine Gun Section at Lemnos. these optimists thought they would need assistance in carrying their guns to Constantinople and they paid 12 pounds and 15 shillings for their long-eared transports. At Anzac they dropped them overboard and saw them swim ashore forgetting all about them until they saw one of them in partnership with Kirkpatrick..."
Other reports confirm the purchase of two donkeys by the unit's quartermaster, Lieutentant Gorman, and their having been put over-board at Anzac, freely swimming to the shore. Another recollection by Private H. Thorne reports that the donkey's became separated from their unit during the disembarkation at Anzac and they were pushed over-board to make their own way to the shore.
An Indian soldier leads his horses and donkey's up from Anzac Cove, 1915. Photo AWM
What happened to Murphy?
It is generally agreed that after Simpson's death Murphy was adopted by an Indian unit, the 6th Mountain Battery, staying on the peninsula for many more months, yet its identity and whereabouts became confused. Following Simpson's death and the publication of his story, attempts were made by the Australian authorities to bring Murphy to Australia before the evacuation of the peninsula. But apparently Murphy could not be located by then. So Lemnos' most famous donkey may have wandered the peninsula following the evacuation of the peninsula.
Stories tell of Murphy having been returned to Lemnos along with his Indian minders on one of the transport ships - during the evacuation - and was subsequently let free as the troops departed Lemnos for Egypt and Western France in 1916. Some argue he was taken by the Indian soldiers to India.
I think its more likely good old Murphy would have been set free after the end of the campaign - on his native Lemnos.
So Murphy the Lemnian donkey may well have returned to his home on Lemnos. And therefore his descendents may be wandering the Island to this day.
So if you see a donkey on your travels on Lemnos, have a thought that you might be looking at a descendent of Murphy, Simpson's famous donkey.
Murphy's descendent? A Lemnian donkey on Lemnos, 2013. Photo Jim Claven

Jim Claven
Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee


  1. I wish there was a confirmation that Murphy survived the war.

  2. I wish there was a confirmation that Murphy survived the war.