Vivian Carpenter AKA James Brewster Carpenter, WW1 Merchant Marine, Donkeys at Gallipoli

October 04, 2009 Subject: WWI Merchant Ships


I know this is a long shot so I will be brief. My father told me stories of WW1 and how he ran away from home and an became a merchant seaman. He told me that he was away from home for 18 months and during that time he served on two ships that were sunk. One of the ships was sunk by a German torpedo. As I recall, he told me the ship was carrying donkeys. He said that when he jumped into the water there were also many donkeys thrashing around and that he grabbed onto one of the their tails. He commented to me that "don't let anyone ever tell you a donkey can't swim" I believe he said that they were off the coast of Turkey when they were hit. He worked as fireman in the boiler room but was off duty and sleeping up on deck. One of the men he worked with in the boiler room was an Englishman so for all I know he may have been on a British ship. I do not know the names of the ships or if my dad even used his real name, Vivian Carpenter AKA James Brewster Carpenter.

Do you have any thoughts on the possibility of back tracking and locating ships that fit this description an if so would crew information still be available?



We know that donkeys were landed at Gallipoli to be used as water carriers, and of course Simpson and his donkey are part of the ANZAC legend, but I am unable to unearth the names of any merchant ships that carried them to Gallipoli, and were sunk.

Sorry I cannot help with your query.

Best regards, 


Thanks for getting back to me, I never expected to get an answer this soon!  

Best wishes


Jill Brough has written this about donkeys at Gallipoli:

The Donkey (and Mule) in the Gallipoli Campaign of WW1 by Jill Bough [University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia]

SUMMARY: The invaluable contribution that the horse has made in the history of mankind at war is well documented; not so well recorded is that of the donkey and mule. This paper will discuss the role played by both these animals in the Australian defence forces in the Gallipoli campaign in World War I. This campaign became the most important event in forging the Australian nation; it created the legendary “digger” and was, according to Cochrane, “the pre-eminent legend of Australian heroism and self sacrifice” (1992).

The single most important and emotive representation of this is Simpson and his Donkey, the official icon of the
ANZACs. This paper will explore the stories of Simpson and “Murphy” in some detail. It will also trace the origins of the donkeys used by the stretcher bearers from the start of the campaign and consider their role as “favourites”, pets and mascots, the focus of affection amidst the brutality of war.

Mules, on the other hand, were valued for their strength, agility in the mountainous terrain and great work capacity but were left to their Indian muleteers; the Australians found them to be stubborn, awkward to handle and bad tempered. To find more of the origins and transportation of the mules to Gallipoli, it is necessary to look to those in the Indian Mule Corps who lived and worked with them. It is interesting to note here that reports about and appreciation of the contribution that these animals made in both the First and the Second World Wars, are far more widely available in American and British records. Both the donkey and the mule have, to large extent been overlooked in the history books of Australia. This research will address the oversight.

I have written this to Jill:

Hello Jill,

In your research have you found the names of any Merchant ships used to transport donkeys to Gallipoli? and did you find a record of any sunk by German torpedo?

Of course Simpson and his donkey grab the limelight to the detriment of other donkeys used there.

Thank you,

Mackenzie Gregory.


October 5, 2009

For your interest, here is Jill's response, it is of little value in our search.

Hi Mackenzie,

Sorry not to be much help - but it is a while since I was looking into this - and I was not looking for names of ships. The only actual reference to a ship that I have is this one - and Cochrane I found to be the most useful source for what I wanted, so you might find more there:

A New Zealand soldier reported that they brought several donkeys with them on the troop ship SS Goslar - to test drinking water.  
P. Cochrane.1992. Simpson and the donkey: The making of a legend. Australia: Melbourne University Press

I have a couple of general mentions such as this:

Soldiers travelling from Australia brought many animal mascots with them: "Every ship that leaves the Commonwealth with troops on board carries a miscellaneous collection of Australian animals and birds as
mascots of the different troops". Men enlisting from Gilgandra were given a horse, a kangaroo, a cockatoo, a fox cub and a cattle pup.
Sydney Mail 19th March 1916 p17

I am sure that with a bit of research you would be able to find the names of some of the ships.

Best of luck with your research

Some more on Simpson.

Sick of life at sea, he found accommodation at 616 Bourke Street, West Melbourne. Then later while living at 330 Raglin Street, Port Melbourne he was ill for three months with influenza. Realizing life at sea wasn't too bad he sailed once again as a stoker onboard SS Tarcoola on New Years eve, following an argument with the chief he wrote home saying he was coming home later in the year. He then transferred to SS Yankalilla which was working solely off the Western Australian coast, three weeks later when they returned to Perth Jack was surprised to learn that England and Germany were at War.

Once again he jumped ship, enlisting in the AIF on 23 August 1914 under the name of John Simpson.  His attestation papers show he listing his previous military experience as twelve months with 4th Durham
Territorial's (equivalent to CMF or Army Reserve).

He was a 22 years and 2 months old Protestant, 5 foot, 8 ½ inches tall, weighing 12 stone.

To the memory of our hero comrade 'Murphy' (Simpson) killed May 1915.

      John (Murphy) Simpson Kirkpatrick leading a donkey along a cliff path.  

See this URL:

For troopships at Gallipoli, but no mention of donkeys going ashore.


October 19, 2009

Hi Mac,

I'm following up a bit late on my mail. I Just wanted to thank you for taking the time to find this information for me. It makes connecting the dots a bit more possible now. My limited knowledge of WW1 centered primarily on the trench warfare in France. The history channel and the military channel are my two favorite TV sites. As a young man I read All Quiet On The Western Front and it's sequel The Road Back. The information you sent is all new to me and quite fascinating. I have not had much time to devote to further research over the past couple of weeks but I intend to follow up on the ships. If I come across any new information on my Dad's exploits over in that area I will be sure to let you know what I have found. It would be great to find the records of a ship that was sunk that had donkeys onboard and list of the seaman showing Dad's name.  However, I just have a feeling that it's not going to be that simple. 

Thanks for the story and the picture of Simpson and his donkey. I notice that he was 5-8 1/2 and weighed 12 stones? I thought to my self, what in the world is a stone, so, I looked it up online and the information I found said that a stone = 14 lbs. That would make Simpson 168 lbs. You learn something new every day and also meet lot of great people like yourself.

Thanks ever so much for your help.

Best regards


Pleased to be a small help.

Sometimes it is difficult, if not impossible to track down something like the ship names that donkeys may have been shipped in to Gallipoli.

Then all of a sudden you are led to such a site, but in the main it is sheer perserverence that will prevail.

Some time ago I was searching for a passenger name from the Royal Charter, a sailing ship going to Liverpool from Melbourne, she foundered on the rocks at Moelfre Bay Wales in one of the worst storms in history there, there were but a few survivors. It took me a year to finally track down one Manus Boyle who was a relative of my USA correspondent.

So, I am suggesting you do not give up lightly.

Best wishes,

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