Monday, April 15, 2024

Anzac Reflections – the man, the donkey, and the quail


Header image with map, small boy with cap
Images: Canva

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Sculpture of a wounded soldier astride a donkey being led by a medical corpsman
(, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Man with the Donkey, Pukeahu National
Memorial Park, Wellington, NZ 

The bronze sculpture of The Man with the Donkey, by Paul Walshe, depicts New Zealand Medical Corps stretcher bearer Richard Henderson and his donkey carrying a wounded soldier from the battlefield at Galliopli in 1915. Henderson continued his work at the Battle of the Somme the next year. He repeatedly rescued the wounded while under heavy fire and was later honoured with the Military Medal.

Photo of a medium-sized tree in bloom with red flowers
Credit: Lainey Myers-Davies

The statue sits beneath a stand of Pohutukawa Trees. Also known as New Zealand's Christmas Tree, their red flowers bloom in December and provide magnificent displays up and down most of the country. Close by is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which contains the remains of a New Zealand soldier who died on the Somme during the First World War.


photo of a Californian quail showing distinctive brown and grey plumage
Californian Quail (Image: Canva)

The man, the donkey, and the quail

After midnight, when the traffic quietened, the man could hear the quail calling "Where ARE you? Where ARE you?" as it marched towards the tomb. 

"G’day mate," said the man. "I see you’re back on duty tonight. Smart uniform you’ve got there. I like the browns and the plume. Nice grey tunic. Very Kiwi, very Army. You are a Kiwi aren’t you?" asked the man, looking a little puzzled.
"Well I’m a Californian quail, actually. But I hatched here, so I guess that makes me a Kiwi as well," said the quail. "And thanks for the compliment – I try to look my best for him," he remarked, looking at the tomb. "He deserves it – so, do you, come to think of it."
"Just did my job for the Anzacs, mate," said the man. "If anyone deserves a fuss, it’s the donk here, not me. Must have carried a good couple of hundred wounded out of Quinn’s Post." 
The quail nodded his head towards the Unknown Warrior. "Was he there?" he asked.
"Dunno, mate," said the man. "Could have been. He copped it later on in France, possibly the Somme. I got gassed at Passchendaele. We Kiwis lost thousands on the Western Front – more than at Gallipoli."
"I was up country when they brought him home," said the quail. "About a year ago wasn’t it? What was it like?"
"Aw, mate, you missed a show. Eleventh of November it was – Armistice Day. Your Army lot did him real proud, slow-marching him here all the way from the cathedral, crowds lining the footpaths, real quiet-like, big-wigs all over the place, famous poets, padres, not a dry eye for miles. Tell you what though, that funeral march they played – it still makes me fair shiver, the way it sounded."
The quail stood silently on one leg for a while, leaning against the tomb.
"How many more guard-nights are you on for?" asked the man.
"Not sure. No one else seems to be putting their hands up. Why?"
"Strewth," said the man, sounding embarrassed. "It’s just that I could do with some company over the next few weeks – my nerves get a bit stretched this time a’year. Truth is, around Christmas this tree here starts bleeding all over the ground and I...I mean the donk doesn’t handle it too well."

In early November 2005, a Californian Quail was reported to have taken up a periodic sentinel by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on the steps of the National War Memorial.

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