Billy Sing

William Edward (Billy) Sing was born in Clermont, and worked as a bush stockman prior to enlisting in the 5th Light Horse in October 1914.

As a sniper at Gallipoli, Sing was officially attributed 201 kills, and unofficially over 300, although he only claimed 109, and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for ‘Conspicuous gallantry’. In France, he fought with 1 ANZAC and was Mentioned in Dispatches for Gallantry and awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre. A recommendation for the Military Medal was not awarded.

Proserpine received Sing with a civic welcome in 1918; however, he died in Brisbane in 1943 with only five shillings in his pocket.

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Known as The Assassin of Gallipoli, The Gallipoli Sniper, The Anzac Sniper, Turkhammer, and The Murderer, among other titles, Private William Edward (Billy) Sing was born in Clermont on 2 March 1886. His father, John Sing was a Chinese settler from Shanghai, China, and his mother Mary Ann (nee Pugh) was an English nurse from Staffordshire.

Billy Sing grew up on the Sing family farm with his sister Beatrice Sing and half-sister Mary Ann Elizabeth Pugh. Sing worked as a bush stockman, becoming a skilled horseman and crack shot, prior to enlisting as a Trooper in the 5th Light Horse at Bowen on 24 October 1914.

Sing was shipped to Egypt in December 1914, and embarked to Gallipoli in May 1915, where he spent time receiving basic trench warfare training in an infantry unit. In mid-June, Sing's regiment was regrouped and positioned at Chatham's Post on the seaward side of Bolton's Ridge. At Chatham's Post, legends of Billy Sing's marksmanship began to emerge on both sides of the front line, and in Europe and the US.

With both Turkish and Anzac forces dug-in to a stand-still, the Gallipoli terrain proved well-suited to sniper warfare. Sing's fame and effectiveness at removing numerous Turkish snipers from the field of battle saw him become the darling of his comrades. As a result, The Turks deployed their best, German trained sniper, 'Abdul the Terrible', solely to eliminate Sing.

To succeed, a sniper requires not only elite marksmanship, but also outstanding field craft, a curious mind and extreme patience. The sniper works with an observer, who uses a spotting telescope to gain information on the enemy for the sniper. In late-August 1915, Sing's spotter, Trooper Tom Sheehan, was hit through the telescope, with the bullet embedding in Sing's right shoulder. It is possible that this bullet was fired by 'Abdul the Terrible'. Sheehan's replacement was Ion (Jack) Idriess, later to become one of Australia's highest published authors.

Sing and Abdul stalked each other for a long time, before each believed they had located the other. After waiting hours, Sing’s observer spotted Abdul. Sing took aim, realising he was looking directly down a rifle barrel into the face of Abdul. As Abdul squeezed the trigger of his rifle, a bullet from Sing’s Lee-Enfield was already on the way and travelled over the barrel of Abdul’s rifle and hit him straight between the eyes. Sing's position received a heavy artillery barrage, but he managed to escape.

In December 1915, Sing received high praise from the Army Corps Commander for 'accounting for 201 casualties to the enemy'. In January 1916, Sing received the Distinguished Conduct Medal for 'Conspicuous gallantry from May to September 1915, at Anzac, as a sniper'.

After the Gallipoli withdrawal, Sing joined the 31st Battalion on the Western Front. He suffered several periods of illness, recuperating in Britain. He met and married a waitress named Elizabeth Stewart in Edinburgh on 29 June 1917. Sing was wounded twice in France, and went AWOL once.

He received a Mention in Dispatches for Gallantry, from the Commander of 1 ANZAC Corps, General Birdwood, and was recommended unsuccessfully for a Military Medal, but received the Belgian Croix de Guerre, for his initiative in leading a counter-sniper operation in the Battle of Polygon Wood.

In late-1918, Sing returned to a civic welcome in Proserpine, without his wife Elizabeth. He took out a Soldier Settlement farm. The venture failed, as did a mining claim on the Miclere goldfield near Clermont. In 1942, he moved to Brisbane to be near his sister Beatrice, and died from heart failure, alone in a boarding house in May 1943. Sing had five shillings in his pocket.

In 2010, controversy erupted over the casting of a Caucasian actor to play the role of Billy Sing in a television mini-series 'The Legend of Billy Sing'. Director Geoff Davis cast his own son Josh in the title role, and Tony Bonner as Sing's father, receiving criticism for whiting-out an Australian hero of Chinese ancestry.

  • Callick, Rowan. 2010. 'Director slammed for 'white-out' of legendary Gallipoli sniper Billy Sing'. The Australian [online]. 6 May. .
  • Hamilton, J. Gallipoli Sniper - The Life of Billy Sing. Pan Macmillan, Sydney, 2008.
  • Kennedy, A. 2013. Chinese Anzacs: Australians of Chinese Descent in the Defence Forces 1885-1919, 2nd Edition. Canberra: A Kennedy.
  • Kennedy, A. 'Queensland's 'Assassin of Gallipoli' and other Chinese Australian heroes of World War One', in K Wong Hoy, K Rains (eds.), Rediscovered Past: China in northern Australia. Chinese Heritage in Northern Australia Inc., North Melbourne, 2009.
  • Seeto, Richard. 2011. 'Lest We Forget'.