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Billy Sing – Gallipoli’s most feared sniper
‘A picturesque looking man-killer’
Two months after war had been declared, a recruitment officer overlooked the Chinese ancestry of Clermont’s Billy Sing, probably because he was a prize-winning crack shot. Arriving at Gallipoli with the 5th Light Horse Regiment, a Lee Enfield .303 rifle and extraordinary patience to remain still for hours, he became the most feared sniper on the peninsula.
Nestled at his posts, he notched up 150 confirmed kills but the figure was probably more than 200. Major Stephen Midgely estimated Sing’s tally at close to 300 kills.
Sing’s spotters included Ion Idriess (later to achieve fame as an author) who described the sniper 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.’
Biographer John Hamilton noted the Turkish terrain was ‘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.’
Positioned so close to the Turkish lines that enemy artillery rarely troubled him, Billy Sing came to the attention of General Birdwood who asked to take a turn at spotting for the sniper so he could see his marksmanship first hand.
Birdwood told Lord Kitchener that if his troops could match the capacity of the Queensland sniper the Allied forces would soon be in Constantinople.
According to Private Frank 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.’
Sing’s sniping record was reported in the British and American newspapers. A story written by Ion Idriess told how Sing had become so feared by the Turks that they had assigned their champion Turkish sniper, nicknamed ‘Abdul the Terrible’ by the Anzacs, to deal with him. The Turks believed they could distinguish shots from Sing and by studying those victims ‘Abdul’ pinpointed Sing’s position at Chatham’s Post. After a few days, both snipers had spotted each other at the same time. Sing had fired first and killed Abdul. Turkish artillery had quickly fired on Sing’s position—he and his spotter had barely managed to evacuate the post alive.
Idriess did not relate his story until 1942 so some doubt is cast on its authenticity but it will remain part of the folklore of Gallipoli for Australians.
After the evacuation, Bill Sing was awarded the DSM: “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.”
Sing was wounded several times and gassed on the Western Front. He was awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre in 1918 for his actions in leading a counter-sniper operation at the battle of Polygon Wood the previous year.
In 1917 while recuperating in England, Australia’s famous sniper married a 21-year-old waitress from Scotland, Elizabeth Stewart. It is unknown if she accompanied him back to Australia.
Discharged as medically unfit after the war because of chest problems, he returned to a hero’s welcome in Proserpine and was given a purse of sovereigns. Farming and mining ventures failed and in 1942 he moved to Brisbane to be near his sister Beatrice.
At 57 he died in a Brisbane boarding house owning five shillings and a miner’s hut worth about 20 pounds. A small plaque marks the site of the boarding house and his headstone in Lutwyche Cemetery reads: 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.