|William Edward Sing|
W. E. Sing, c. 1918
Australian War Memorial P03633.006
|Nickname(s)||The Assassin, The Murderer|
|Born||2 March 1886
|Died||19 May 1943
|Buried at||Lutwyche War Cemetery, Brisbane|
|Service/branch||Australian Imperial Force|
|Years of service||1914–1918|
|Unit||5th Light Horse Regiment
31st Infantry Battalion
|Awards||Distinguished Conduct Medal
Croix de guerre (Belgium)
Mentioned in Despatches
|Relations||John and Mary Ann Sing (parents),
Elizabeth Sing (née Stewart; wife)
|Other work||Stockman, sheep farmer, gold miner|
William Edward 'Billy' Sing, DCM (2 March 1886 – 19 May 1943) was a part Chinese Australian soldier who served in the Australian Imperial Force during World War I, best known as a sniper during the Gallipoli Campaign.[a] He took at least 150 confirmed kills during that campaign, and may have had over 200 kills in total. One contemporary estimate put his tally at close to 300 kills. Towards the end of the war, Sing married a Scottish woman, but the relationship did not last long. Following work in sheep farming and gold mining, he died in relative poverty and obscurity in Brisbane during World War II.
A biography by John Hamilton, Gallipoli Sniper: The life of Billy Sing, was published in 2008. A television mini-series based on this book, The Legend of Billy Sing, is in post-production as of 2010. The production has attracted controversy due to the director's decision to cast actors of European ancestry in the roles of Sing and his father, as Sing's father was ethnically Chinese.
Sing was born on 2 March 1886 in Clermont, Queensland, Australia, the son of a Chinese father and an English mother. His parents were John Sing (c. 1842–1921), a drover from Shanghai, China, and Mary Ann Sing (née Pugh; c. 1857–unknown), a nurse from Kingswinford, Staffordshire, England.[b] Sing's mother had given birth to a daughter named Mary Ann Elizabeth Pugh on 28 May 1883, less than two months before marrying Sing's father on 4 July 1883. It is unclear whether this child was John Sing's daughter as well. A daughter, Beatrice Sing, was later born into the family on 12 July 1893. The three children grew up together on the farm run by the Sings, and all three performed well academically.
There was considerable anti-Chinese sentiment in Australia at this time. As a boy, Sing was well known for his shooting skill, but was the subject of racial prejudice due to his ancestry. He began work hauling timber as a youth, and later worked as a stockman and a sugarcane cutter. Sing became well known for his marksmanship, both as a kangaroo shooter and as a competitive target shooter. In the latter role, he was a member of the Proserpine Rifle Club. He regularly won prizes for his shooting, and also played cricket with skill.
On 24 October 1914, two months after the outbreak of war, Sing enlisted as a trooper in the Australian 5th Light Horse Regiment of the Australian Imperial Force. His Certificate of Medical Examination at the time showed that he stood at 5' 5" (165 cm) and weighed 141 lb. (64 kg). According to John Laws and Christopher Stewart, he was accepted into the army only after a recruitment officer chose to disregard the fact that Sing was part Chinese; at the time, only those of European ancestry were generally considered suitable for Australian military service.
Sing began his military career as part of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) forces in the Gallipoli Campaign in modern day Turkey. Biographer John Hamilton described the Turkish terrain thus: "It is a country made for snipers. The Anzac and Turkish positions often overlooked each other. Each side sent out marksmen to hunt and stalk and snipe, to wait and shoot and kill, creeping with stealth through the green and brown shrubbery ..." Sing partnered with spotters Ion 'Jack' Idriess and, later, Tom Sheehan. The spotter's task was to observe (spot) the surrounding terrain and alert the sniper to potential targets. Idriess described Sing as "a little chap, very dark, with a jet black moustache and goatee beard. A picturesque looking mankiller. He is the crack shot of the Anzacs."
Chatham's Post, a position named after a Light Horse officer, was Sing's first sniping post. Biographer Brian Tate wrote, "It was here that Billy Sing began in earnest his lethal occupation." He set about his task with a Lee-Enfield .303 rifle. An account by Private Frank Reed, a fellow Australian soldier, states that Sing was so close to the Turkish lines that enemy artillery rarely troubled him. His comrades left three particular enemy positions to his attention: a trench at 350 yards (320 m) from his post, a communication sap at 500 yards (457 m), and a track in a gully at 1,000 yards (914 m). According to Reed, "Every time Billy Sing felt sorry for the poor Turks, he remembered how their snipers picked off the Australian officers in the early days of the landing, and he hardened his heart. But he never fired at a stretcher-bearer or any of the soldiers who were trying to rescue wounded Turks." In contrast, Hamilton said in a 2008 interview, "We have an anecdote where, after spotting an injured Turk, he said 'I'll put that poor cuss out of his agony' and just shot him. He was a very tough man."
Sing's reputation resulted in a champion Turkish sniper, nicknamed 'Abdul the Terrible' by the Allied side, being assigned to deal with him. Tate alleges that the Turks were largely able to distinguish Sing's sniping from that of other ANZAC soldiers, and that only the reports of incidents believed to be Sing's work were passed on to Abdul. Through analysis of the victims' actions and wounds, Abdul concluded that Sing's position was at Chatham's Post. After several days, Sing's spotter alerted him to a potential target, and he took aim, only to find the target—Abdul—looking in his direction. Sing prepared to fire, trying not to reveal his position, but the Turkish sniper noticed him and began his own firing sequence. Sing fired first and killed Abdul. Very shortly thereafter, the Turkish artillery fired on Sing's position—he and his spotter barely managed to evacuate from Chatham's Post alive.
Near the beginning of August 1915, Sing was hospitalised for four days with influenza. That same month, an enemy sniper's bullet struck Sheehan's spotting telescope, injuring his hands and face, and then hit Sing's shoulder, but the latter was back in action after a week's recuperation. Sheehan was more severely wounded, and was shipped back to Australia. This was reportedly the only time that Sing was injured at Gallipoli. He would not fare so well later on in the war.
Sing's marksmanship at Gallipoli saw him dubbed 'The Assassin' or 'The Murderer' by his comrades. He reportedly acquired the latter nickname due to his callous attitude towards the enemy. By early September 1915, he had taken 119 kills, according to Brigadier-General Granville Ryrie, commanding officer of the 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade. Regimental records list Sing as having taken 150 confirmed kills, but on 23 October 1915, General William Birdwood, commander of ANZAC forces, issued an order complimenting him on his 201 unconfirmed kills. Historian Bob Courtney noted that an official kill was recorded only if the spotter saw the target fall. If the first shot missed the target, it was very risky to take a second shot, as this could give away the sniper team's position.
Major Stephen Midgely estimated Sing's tally at close to 300 kills. Midgely had brought him to the attention of Birdwood, who in turn had told Lord Kitchener that "if his troops could match the capacity of the Queensland sniper the allied forces would soon be in Constantinople." Birdwood had reportedly joined Sing as his spotter on one occasion, and had the opportunity to witness his marksmanship first hand.
In February 1916, Sing was Mentioned in Despatches by General Sir Ian Hamilton, Commander of the Allied Forces. This was the first official recognition of his service. On 10 March 1916, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, with a related entry in military records reading: "For conspicuous gallantry from May to September, 1915, at Anzac, as a sniper. His courage and skill were most marked, and he was responsible for a very large number of casualties among the enemy, no risk being too great for him to take." Apart from the recognition he received from his superiors, Sing's exploits were also reported in British and American newspapers of the time.
At the end of November 1915, Sing suffered from myalgia and was confined to the hospital ship HMHS Gloucester Castle for almost two weeks. During this time, he was conveyed to Malta, then Ismaïlia, Egypt. While in Egypt, he was also hospitalised with parotitis and mumps, but rejoined his unit at the end of March 1916.
Sing transferred to the 31st Infantry Battalion on 27 July 1916 at Tel-el-Kibir and sailed to England the following month. Following a brief period of training in England, he sailed for France and entered action on the Western Front in January 1917. He was wounded in action several times, and commended many times in reports by Allied commanders. In March 1917, he was wounded in the left leg and hospitalised in England. In May 1917, while recovering in Scotland, he met waitress Elizabeth A. Stewart (c. 1896–unknown), who was the daughter of Royal Navy cook George Stewart. The two were married on 29 June 1917 in Edinburgh.[c] In July 1917, Elizabeth Sing's address was noted in records as 6 Spring Gardens, Stockbridge, Edinburgh.
After a month with his new wife, Sing returned to the trenches in France in August 1917, but was in very poor health due to his battle wounds and the effects of gas poisoning. It is not clear whether he operated as a sniper on the Western Front, but in September 1917, he led a unit in the Battle of Polygon Wood in counter-sniper operations. For this action, he was awarded the Oorlogskruis (Belgian Croix de Guerre) in 1918, and was also recommended for the Military Medal—but never received it. In November 1917, he was confined to hospital again due to problems with his previously wounded leg. In mid-February 1918, he was hospitalised due to a gunshot wound in the back. Sing suffered lung disease from his exposure to gas, and it soon brought his military career to an end.
Return to civilian life
Sing returned to Australia on submarine guard duty in late July 1918. An army medical report from 23 November 1918 noted that he had gunshot wounds in the left shoulder, back, and left leg, and had suffered gas poisoning. The report stated that his general health was 'good' but that he complained of coughing upon exertion. It recognised that Sing's disability were the result of service, was permanent, and recommended that he be discharged as permanently unfit for service. Following his departure from the army, he briefly turned his hand to sheep farming, but the land he was given was of poor quality. He then worked as a gold miner.
According to some accounts, Sing and his wife were honoured by the local community when they arrived in Proserpine, Queensland, in late 1918. Other accounts, however, state that although Sing arranged for passage from Scotland to Australia for his wife, there was no evidence that she made the journey.[d] If Sing's wife did come to Australia, it appears that she left her husband after a few years; Tate suggests that the "transition from the green hills and ancient culture of Edinburgh to the dust and rough life of the mining district around Clermont must have been traumatic for Elizabeth Sing" and might have been a reason for her departure.
In later life, Sing reported chest, back, and heart pain. His final days were spent in relative poverty and obscurity. His elder sister or half-sister, Mary Ann Elizabeth, had died in childbirth in 1915. In 1942, Sing moved from Miclere to Brisbane, telling his surviving sister Beatrice that it was cheaper to live there. His final occupation was as a labourer.
Sing died alone in his room in a boarding house in West End, Brisbane, on 19 May 1943. The cause of death was a ruptured aorta. His only significant possessions were a hut (worth around £20) on a mining claim and a mere 5 shillings found with him in his room. There was no sign of his medals from World War I, and his employers owed him around £6 in wages. Sing was buried in the Lutwyche War Cemetery, in Kedron, a northern suburb of Brisbane. His grave is now part of the lawn cemetery section of the Lutwyche Cemetery, and the inscription on his headstone reads:
WILLIAM EDWARD (BILLY) SING (DCM)
Born Clermont Qld. 2–3–1886 — 19–5–1943
Reg. No. 355 Australian Fifth Light Horse Regiment and later the 31st Infantry Battalion
Son of JOHN SING (bn. SHANGHAI) and MARY ANN (nee PUGH bn. ENGLAND)
AND MARRIED FOR A TIME TO ELIZABETH (STEWART) IN EDINBURGH 29–6–1917
A man of all trades, Pte. Sing was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for conspicuous gallantry, the Belgian Croux [sic] De Guerre and mentioned often in despatches. Serving at Gallipoli and in France from 1915–1918, he became known as Australia's most effective marksman/sniper accounting for more than 150 of the opposing forces.
His incredible accuracy contributed greatly to the preservation of the lives of those with whom he served during a war always remembered for countless acts of valour and tragic carnage.[e]
The Queensland Military Historical Society set up a bronze plaque at 304 Montague Road, South Brisbane, where Sing had died. In 1995, a statue of Sing was unveiled with honour in his home town of Clermont. In 2004, an Australian Army sniper team in Baghdad named their post the 'Billy Sing Bar & Grill.' On 19 May 2009, the 66th anniversary of Sing's death, the Chinese Consul-General, Ren Gongping, along with Returned and Services League of Australia officers and community leaders, laid wreaths at his grave. Ren said, "Billy Sing is a symbol of the long history of Chinese in Australia, and the great role they have played in your nation's past ... It also reminds us that China and Australia were allies through both world wars, and that we have a long and proud shared past."
Sing's life was recounted in a chapter of Laws and Stewart's book, There's always more to the story (2006), and in greater depth by Hamilton in his book, Gallipoli Sniper: The life of Billy Sing (2008). Hamilton's book includes a detailed account of how snipers worked at Gallipoli and their contribution to the progress of the campaign. Reviewer John Wadsley wrote that "Hamilton is able to bring together a range of sources to create the story, and while at times, you get the feeling he is padding it out to make up for the lack of direct material about Billy Sing, the book works."
A television mini-series, The Legend of Billy Sing, is being produced as of 2010; it is based on Hamilton's book. Although Sing and his father were partly Chinese and fully Chinese, respectively, they are being portrayed by actors of European ancestry. The director of the series, Geoff Davis, has been criticised for this decision.[f] Politician Bill O'Chee, a member of the Billy Sing Commemorative Committee, said, "When a person dies, all that is left is their story, and you can’t take a person’s name and not tell the truth about their story." Davis has said, "Whatever [Sing's] genetic background, his culture was Australian. To me, he's very representative of every Australian whose parents were not born here. ... A lot of people are sitting at the back of this bus attacking the driver. A lot of people feel they own the story of Billy Sing. But they've probably got more resources than me—if they want to tell that story, then tell it."
Hamilton characterised Sing as "a cold-blooded killer ... [yet] a man with a sense of humour ... the Anzac angel of death," and Laws and Stewart described him simply as "one of many Australians of Chinese descent who served with distinction in the Australian forces during World War I." Around 400 people of Chinese descent served in Australia's military forces during the 20th century.
b. ^ Sing's father was also known as Richard Sing. Sing's paternal grandfather was See Sing. Sing's mother arrived in Australia in 1881. Sing's maternal grandparents were John Pugh, a clerk, and Mary Ann Pugh (née Pearson).
d. ^ Historian Alastair Kennedy (2009) reported that Sing's medical records from December 1917, a few months after he married, stated that he was diagnosed at first with venereal disease and then syphilis. Kennedy hypothesises that Elizabeth Sing might have learned of her husband's condition and decided to end the marriage.
f. ^ Mini-series director Geoff Davis asserted that he could not find a 60 year old Chinese actor to play Sing's father; Chinese Australian actors Warren Lee and Tony Chu have expressed disagreement with this assertion. According to Australia's SBS, Davis said that he called for actors willing to work pro bono or for deferred payment, but no Chinese actors responded. Josh Davis, the director's son, was cast as Sing. Tony Bonner was cast as Sing's father. Apart from Australia, the controversy has been reported in Canada, Kuwait, Macau, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United Kingdom.
- Hamilton (2008), p. 5.
- Tate, B. (1993): Trooper William Edward (Billy) Sing, DCM , Croix de Guerre, 1886–1943: "The Assassin of Gallipoli" Courier Mail Weekend (24 April 1993). Retrieved 26 May 2010. Alternative copy retrieved on 11 June 2010.
- Reed, F. (1916): Billy Sing: Famous Australian sniper The Mercury (13 March 1916, p. 4). Retrieved 26 May 2010.
- Gallipoli and the Anzacs: The Anzac Walk – Artillery Road (2009). Retrieved 26 May 2010.
- Hamilton (2008), p. 6.
- Hamilton (2008), p. 8.
- Hamilton (2008).
- National Library of Australia: Gallipoli sniper – The life of Billy Sing / John Hamilton (2009). Retrieved 12 June 2010.
- Mini series on our Billy Sing Whitsunday Times (2 July 2009). Retrieved 26 May 2010.
- Callick, R. (2010): Director slammed for 'white-out' of legendary Gallipoli sniper Billy Sing The Australian (6 May 2010). Retrieved 26 May 2010.
- Bryant, N. (2010): Chinese Australians angry at Gallipoli TV casting BBC News (8 May 2010). Retrieved 26 May 2010.
- Australia-China Youth Association: Media release regarding the legend of Billy Sing (13 May 2010). Retrieved 26 May 2010.
- Dunn, M. (2010): Sing film under fire[dead link] The Great Southern Star (18 May 2010). Retrieved 31 May 2010.
- Malkin, B. (2010): Row over 'whiting out' of Chinese hero in new TV show Telegraph (6 May 2010). Retrieved 4 June 2010.
- Hamilton (2008), p. 7.
- Brisbane graveside ceremony for famed Gallipoli sniper Brisbane Times (18 May 2009). Retrieved 26 May 2010.
- Nash, J. (2008): The Aussie Assassin Gold Coast News (2 August 2008). Retrieved 26 May 2010.
- Hamilton (2008), p. 12.
- Courtney (2001), p. 3.
- Hamilton (2008), p. 13.
- Hamilton (2008), p. 14.
- Hamilton (2008), p. 18.
- Hamilton (2008), p. 19.
- Hamilton (2008), pp. 14–15 & pp. 17–19.
- Hamilton (2008), p. 5 & p. 19.
- Laws & Stewart (2006), pp. 21–22.
- Maunder, P. (2010): Gallipoli sniper Excerpt from Outback (Issue 70, April/May 2010). Retrieved 12 June 2010.
- Laws & Stewart (2006), p. 22.
- National Archives of Australia (2010a), p. 1.
- National Archives of Australia (2010a), p. 3.
- Laws & Stewart (2006), p. 25.
- Kennedy, A. (2009): British War Brides of Chinese Australian Diggers (30 March 2009). Retrieved 12 June 2010.
- Hui, J.-A. (2002): Chinese-Australian servicemen to be honoured The Sydney Morning Herald (25 April 2002). Retrieved 13 June 2010.
- Hamilton (2008), p. 3.
- Courtney (2001), p. 4.
- Laws & Stewart (2006), p. 23.
- National Archives of Australia (2010a), p. 10.
- Laws & Stewart (2006), p. 24.
- 5th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment Association: Billy Sing, Gallipoli sniper[dead link] (c. 2009). Retrieved 26 May 2010.
- Rule, A. (2004): A sniper's tale The Sydney Morning Herald (26 April 2004). Retrieved 12 June 2010.
- Sparrow, J. (2009): The Mind of a US Army Sniper NewMatilda.com (28 July 2009). Retrieved 12 June 2010.
- Hamilton (2008), p. xi.
- National Archives of Australia (2010a), p. 16.
- National Archives of Australia (2010a), pp. 20–21, pp. 22–23, & p. 29.
- National Archives of Australia (2010a), p. 86.
- An Australian sniper accounts for 200 Turks The Mercury (18 January 1916, p. 5). Retrieved 4 June 2010.
- National Archives of Australia (2010a), p. 12.
- National Archives of Australia (2010a), pp. 65–66.
- National Archives of Australia (2010a), p. 23.
- National Archives of Australia (2010a), p. 30.
- National Archives of Australia (2010a), p. 79 & pp. 84–85.
- National Archives of Australia (2010a), p. 68.
- National Archives of Australia (2010a), p. 31.
- National Archives of Australia (2010a), p. 74 & p. 76.
- National Archives of Australia (2010a), p. 32.
- National Archives of Australia (2010a), p. 14 & p. 36.
- Kelly (2004), p. 51.
- National Archives of Australia (2010a), pp. 46–48.
- Courtney (2001), p. 5.
- Laws & Stewart (2006), p. 26.
- Brisbane City Council: Grave location search – Sing William Edward Retrieved on 11 January 2011.
- Department of Veterans' Affairs: Cemeteries Queensland (22 April 2009). Retrieved 12 June 2010.
- Chermside & Districts Historical Society: Lutwyche Cemetery (c. 2010). Retrieved 11 June 2010.
- Vandewalle, J. (2010): Battle of Polygon Wood, 26 September 1917 Retrieved on 12 June 2010.
- Billy Sing Community News from the Sunnybank Community and Sports Club (No. 19, March 2009, p. 6). Retrieved 12 June 2010.
- Laws & Stewart (2006).
- Wadsley (2010).
- Wadsley (2010), p. 6.
- Mackay, J. (2010): 'The Legend of Billy Sing' miniseries ABC Capricornia (23 April 2010). Retrieved 4 June 2010.
- Hu, M. (2010): ANZAC mini-series on Billy Sing (Chinese) SBS Audio and Language: Mandarin (10 May 2010). Retrieved 12 June 2010.
- Atkins, G. (2010): Where are the Asian-Australian faces on Aussie TV? Asian Correspondent (7 May 2010). Retrieved 12 June 2010.
- Hamilton (2008), pp. 5–6.
- National Archives of Australia (2010b): Mapping our Anzacs – B2455, Sing William Retrieved on 31 May 2010.
- Callick, R. (2010): When character is more than just skin deep The Australian (8 May 2010). Retrieved 26 May 2010.
- Cuthbertson, I. (2010): Dozens of Chinese could play plum role, says actor The Australian (7 May 2010). Retrieved 26 May 2010.
- Special Broadcasting Service (c. 2010): Anger as White actor plays Chinese hero Retrieved on 1 October 2010.
- Malkin, B. (2010): Filmmaker accused of 'whiting out' Aussie-Chinese hero[dead link] Calgary Herald (7 May 2010). Retrieved 4 June 2010.
- As it happens: WWI Sniper[dead link] CBC Radio-Canada (14 May 2010). Retrieved 12 June 2010.
- ‘Whitewash’ of Chinese war hero provokes anger Arab Times (9 May 2010). Retrieved 12 June 2010.
- 'Whitewash’ of Chinese war hero Macau Daily Times (10 May 2010). Retrieved 4 June 2010.
- Anger at Aussie film's 'whitewash' of war hero[dead link] Malaysian Mirror (10 May 2010). Retrieved 4 June 2010.
- Marks, K. (2010): Movie takes the Chinese out of Aussie war hero The New Zealand Herald (12 May 2010). Retrieved 4 June 2010.
- Anger at film's 'whitewash' The Straits Times (9 May 2010). Retrieved 4 June 2010.
- Anger at Australian film’s ‘whitewash’ of Eurasian war hero Taipei Times (10 May 2010). Retrieved 4 June 2010.
- Australia angered by film's 'whitewash' of Chinese hero China Post (10 May 2010). Retrieved 12 June 2010.
- Anger at Australian film's 'whitewash' of war hero[dead link] Bangkok Post (9 May 2010). Retrieved 4 June 2010.
- Courtney, B. (2001): Anzac: Gallipoli marksman Retrieved on 11 June 2010.
- Hamilton, J. C. M. (2008): Gallipoli Sniper: The life of Billy Sing. Sydney: Pan Macmillan Australia. (ISBN 978-1-4050-3865-2)
- Kelly, D. (2004): "Lance Corporal Charles Bunney: Unmarked but not forgotten." Just Soldiers: Stories of ordinary Australians doing extraordinary things in times of war (pp. 47–53). Brisbane: ANZAC Day Commemoration Committee. Retrieved 12 June 2010. (ISBN 978-0-9581-6254-8)
- Laws, J., & Stewart, C. R. (2006): "The Assassin." There's always more to the story (pp. 21–26). Sydney: Pan Macmillan Australia. (ISBN 978-0-3304-2282-6)
- National Archives of Australia (2010a): William Edward Sing Retrieved on 24 July 2010.
- Wadsley, J. (2010): Gallipoli Sniper by John Hamilton Friends of Soldiers Memorial Avenue Newsletter (Issue 48, April 2010, pp. 5–6). Retrieved 12 June 2010.
- "William Edward Sing – Discovering Anzacs". National Archives of Australia. Retrieved October 10, 2014.
- Australian War Memorial: C00429 contains a photograph of Sing at his sniping post (August 1915).
- Australian War Memorial: P01778.004 contains a photograph of Sing talking to Birdwood (1915).
- Australian War Memorial: P08403.001 contains an informal photograph of Sing in Egypt (c. 1915).