BILLY Sing became a famous sniper during the Gallipoli campaign and later served with distinction on the western front. He served his country in a unique role that not too many could do as well. His fame as a sniper spread quickly amongst the troops on Gallipoli and even the commander of the ANZAC Corps, General Birdwood was full of praise for his efforts.
Stories were written about him in the UK, Australia, Egypt and the USA. He became known as the “assassin”, such was his skill but it was also known that he never killed a wounded Turkish soldier, or a Turkish medical orderly trying to help.
Bill was also one of the 400 or so soldiers in the Australian Imperial Force who were of Chinese ancestry.
Born in Clermont in 1886, his father, John Sing, was a Chinese drover who had emigrated from Shanghai, while his mother, Mary Anne Sing (nee Pugh) was an Englishwoman who came to Australia from Staffordshire. The Sing family moved to Proserpine during Billy’s childhood, and he soon gained a reputation as a brilliant shot in the Proserpine Rifle club, winning many prizes and was also known as a keen cricket player.
In 1914 he enlisted from Proserpine in the newly forced ANZAC corps, as part of the Light Horse. His unit landed on Gallipoli during May 1915 and Bill’s reputation as a crack shot meant he was made a sniper, with a “spotter “ also assigned to assist him. One of the spotters who assisted Bill during his time on Gallipoli was Ion Address who later became a famous Australian author.
Sings ability as a sniper made him famous amongst his fellow troops and notorious amongst the Turks. By the time the Gallipoli campaign was over, he was credited with over 150 kills. The Turks feared Billy and his deadly accuracy and bought in their own snipers to try and end his reign of terror. They did not succeed.
Billy suffered from sickness though and was wounded at least once on Gallipoli. After Gallipoli the ANZAC corps was taken back to Egypt to re-equip and Billy was reassigned to the 31st battalion, a battalion enlisted partly from Queensland and which is today based in the North. He served on the Western front and later suffered influenza. Spending time in hospital in the UK, he was eventually sent home to Australia in 1918 just weeks before the war ended and while in the UK he married, but it was to be a short lived marriage.
When Bill arrived home to Proserpine, the whole town gathered to give him a hero’s return.
After the war all veterans had to transition back to civilian life and such were the times that there was little support in terms of counselling available to them.
Billy like many tried to get on with his life, and for a while became had a sheep property near Clermont. He tried several jobs and travelled, usually doing labouring work and became a great supporter of the labour movement, assisting with election campaigns.
He finally settled in Brisbane where he lived until his untimely death at 57. He passed away alone and virtually penniless in a South Brisbane boarding house during 1943, with the cause of death given as a ruptured Aorta. He was buried in Brisbane.
Billy Sing represented in many ways the changing face of Australia 100 years ago, neither of his parents were born in Australia, he was part Chinese, part English but 100 per cent Aussie. During war time he did a job his country asked him to do and did it extremely well, and while he received the Distinguished Conduct Medal, it seems that for some time he was largely a forgotten figure.
In more recent years though Billy Sing’s rightful place in Australian history has been covered in a book by John Hamilton called “Gallipoli Sniper”, and with the plaques constructed in Clermont and Brisbane to commemorate his deeds.
Billy Sing represents a whole generation who were just living their normal lives when they were asked to take up arms and serve their country a long way from home, often in hazardous and difficult circumstances.
Most, like Bill did it very well, then just came home and tried to get on with their lives.