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Diary revelation may give Simpson his VC
Historian Grant Malcolm. Picture: John Mokrzycki/The West Australian

The discovery of a 1915 diary entry could see the Digger who inspired the Anzac legend of Simpson and his donkey finally receive the Victoria Cross almost 100 years after he was killed at Gallipoli.

Images and stories of Pte John Simpson Kirkpatrick braving enemy fire while carrying wounded Diggers to safety on his donkey have become synonymous with the Anzac spirit.

But the Englishman, who tried his hand at mining in WA and worked as a stoker on a steam ship out of Fremantle before the outbreak of World War I, never received anything other than a "mentioned in dispatches" for his heroic efforts with the 3rd Field Ambulance at Gallipoli.

But new evidence uncovered by WA amateur historian Grant Malcolm - specifically a five-word entry penned in the original diary of one of Pte Simpson's superior officers - could finally tip the tide in Simpson's favour after 97 years of fiery debate.

Mr Malcolm said the original diary of Simpson's superior officer, Capt. Henry Kenneth Fry - held by the South Australian State Library - contained about two months of entries excluded from the official reproduction of the journal, which is now held by the Australian War Memorial and regarded as reference material.

Mr Malcolm said a significant sentence "missing" from the reproduction undermined the main obstacle to Simpson being awarded a VC; that his superiors never wrote and lodged a formal request asking he be considered for a medal.

Mr Malcolm said that on June 18, 1915, Capt. Fry penned in his original diary: "Finally sent in Simpson's recommendation."

Simpson landed at Anzac Cove on April 25, 1915.

Capt. Fry's lost sentence could, according to Mr Malcolm, silence critics who have maintained that Simpson should not be awarded a VC because he was not recommended for the coveted medal.

"It lends huge weight to the argument that Simpson was denied due process, which if followed correctly could have resulted in him receiving the Victoria Cross," Mr Malcolm said.

It is well documented that on June 2, two weeks after Simpson was fatally machinegunned in Shrapnel Valley on May 19, 1915, the commanding officer of the 3rd Field Ambulance, Lt-Col Alfred Sutton, attended a meeting with the Australian senior medical officer, Colonel Neville Howse, and noted afterwards in his diary that: "I think we'll get a VC for poor Simpson."

On June 4, Capt. Fry said he took the statements of four witnesses to Simpson's gallantry.

Part of the supporting evidence needed for a VC recommendation and records of these accounts have never been found.

Mr Malcolm's research suggests the recommendation and witness statements were destroyed by Acting Sgt R. B. O'Carroll - along with all of the 3rd Field Ambulance records - on the orders of Colonel Howse during the evacuation of Gallipoli. Strangely, it was Capt. Fry who omitted the two months of entries when he copied his original journal for a historian in Canberra.

"There is definitely an element of intrigue surrounding Simpson's case," Mr Malcolm said.

"For some reason he's omitted mention of Simpson. That's where the stumbling block has been before now." Mr Malcolm, who began research for a book on Simpson 12 years ago after discovering his great-great uncle Will Lindsay had served with him, will present his findings on Wednesday at a Perth tribunal which is collecting evidence and drafting recommendations to the Federal Government on whether Simpson and 12 other Australians should be awarded a VC retrospectively. <div class="endnote">

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