Gallipoli Sniper

Discussion in 'The Club House' started by AusLach, Mar 10, 2011.

  1. AusLach

    AusLach Active Member

    This is a long one :eek:

    I know we hate the 's' word aroud here but this bloke was one of the best snipers to have fought in WWI.
    His name is Billy Sing, and he was a part of the 5th Light Horse Regiment that landed on the beach of Anzac Cove in Gallipoli, Turkey in 1915. His life is detailed in the book I'm reading at the moment, "Gallipoli Sniper: The Life of Billy Sing". Although he was one of Australia's greatest war heroes of WWI, sadly he died in obscurity in 1943. Here is his story:

    Billy Sing, nicknamed ‘The Murderer’ was a World War 1 hero, once known around the world. But by the time he died in 1943, alone and almost penniless he had all but been forgotten. Billy was born in 1886 in Clermont, Queensland to a Chinese father from Shanghai and an Englishwoman. This son of a Chinaman rose above the racist attitudes and laws of the time and was a likeable young bloke admired for his sporting prowess, particularly with the rifle. While still a boy, the story went, he could shoot the tail off a piglet at 25 paces with a .22 rifle.

    From the age of 15, Billy worked as a station hand, ringer and horse drover further cultivating his childhood bush skills, including hunting. He honed his shooting skills at the Clermont Rifle Club, and later at the rifle club in Proserpine. A regular winner of shooting prizes, he was also a good cricketer.

    Sing was in his prime when he journeyed to Brisbane to join the 5th Light Horse (LH) Regiment in 1914. The 5th LH was in Egypt when the ANZACs landed at Gallipoli. Leaving their horses behind, Billy’s regiment deployed in May 1915 as Infantry to Turkey’s Gallipoli Peninsula. Trooper 355, Billy Sing became ‘probably the most dangerous sniper in any army throughout the war’, wrote Ion Idriess. Idriess sailed to war on the same boat at Billy and became a popular author after the war. He was also an experienced bushman and at times was Billy’s spotter.

    ‘Abdul the Terrible’, as the Allies called him, was the decorated Turkish sniper bought to Gallipoli to stop Sing! He methodically studied the Australian’s handiwork – up to nine kills per day. Having finally located Sing’s specially constructed ‘possie’ by carefully studying Sing's victims, Abdul prepared to take down his prey – only to be shot between the eyes by Sing.

    Abdul was one of Sing’s 201 confirmed Gallipoli kills, though he probably took the lives of many more Turks, up to 300 – there was not always a spotter to verify kills, and it was sometimes difficult to determine if targets that had been hit and fallen into trenches had actually been killed. Though bringing grief to Turkey, Sing’s exploit saved Allied lives and was perfect propaganda – he was mentioned in despatches, awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and lauded in newspapers from Sydney to San Francisco.

    But it didn’t go all Sing’s way. He was wounded in August 1915, when a Turkish sniper hit the telescope of his spotter, who was badly wounded before the bullet finally came to rest in Billy’s shoulder. As the weather deteriorated, Billy succumbed to the cold, wet weather and the appalling conditions in the trenches and was evacuated to Malta just weeks before the Allies withdrew from the Gallipoli peninsula.

    Bouts of illness kept Billy in England for some time before he was deployed to the Western Front in January 1917 with the 31st Australian Infantry Battalion, where soon after he was wounded and sent back to England to recuperate. He wrote home, ‘We had an awful time in France this winter; it was the coldest they’ve had for years ... It would break your heart to see the dead bodies lying around unburied.’

    Following his discharge from hospital he was given leave. Sing headed to Edinburgh, where he had a whirlwind romance with a waitress Elizabeth Stewart. On 29 June they were married. A month later Billy was back in the trenches!

    Private Sing was awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre in early 1918, for his role in leading a patrol, killing several German snipers at Polygon Wood in September 1917. Over his period of service he contracted influenza, rheumatism, mumps, had been gassed, shot on two occasions, sustained shrapnel wounds to both legs and his back, spending quite some time in and out of hospitals, eventually causing his medical discharge.

    The mustard gas caused lifelong lung disease for Billy and it signalled the end of his military career when in July 1918 he was shipped home. Despite having been wounded, gassed and ill several times he was declared fit and able to work when discharged in Brisbane.

    For a time Billy was buoyed by an enthusiastic welcome in both Proserpine and later Clermont but that soon faded. He set out to be a sheep farmer like so many other soldiers on blocks donated to returned servicemen by the Federal Government, but his land was poor like many of the blocks in this flawed scheme. Almost a third of the soldiers turned farmers walked off the land – including Billy Sing.

    There’s no indication that Billy’s wife was ever part of his new life. There is correspondence showing that he applied for Elizabeth to have free passage from Britain, it doesn’t seem to have eventuated.

    Though hampered by illness and his wounds, the failed sheep farmer still had to make a living. He turned to gold prospecting and did well enough to go on weekend sprees with his mining mates. He also got a reputation for heavy drinking and a bad attitude. When the gold ran out, Billy turned to labouring in Brisbane where he continued to work hard although complaining of pains in his heart, chest and back.

    On May 19, 1943, Billy was found dead in his boarding house bedroom. Five shillings were also found but no sign of his war medals.

    As his humble grave marker in the Lutwyche War Cemetery weathered away, Billy Sing was all but forgotten. 50 years after his death a newspaper article revived interest in ‘this ace Australian sniper’. A plaque was erected on the site where he died and in 1995, a statue of Sing was unveiled with full military honours in his hometown of Clermont.

    In 2004 Australian Army snipers named their Baghdad post the ‘Billy Sing Bar & Grill’.

    Private William Edward Sing: 2/3/1886-19/5/1943

    Lest We Forget
  2. NitroxAZ

    NitroxAZ New Member

    Great post but a sad ending.

  3. Dillinger

    Dillinger New Member

    A very interesting read, thank you for posting. I had read some of the stories of Sing's exploits in a couple of my sniper books, but they never went into much detail, just that the guy was a shooter's shooter and made life miserable if you were in the opposite trenches.

    A very unfortunate ending. :(


  4. pandamonium

    pandamonium New Member

    Thanks Aus, good read. Seems almost a typical ending for many war heros, sad thing that.
  5. willshoum

    willshoum New Member

    Beyond the Call of Duty......

    Seems like it's a habit with Goverment to just turn a Blind eye to those that Served thier country and went Above and Beyond what was asked of them in time of war. Why the Hell wait untill the Man has met his maker and is now free of all the pain do they Honor his past as a Great Soldier. I saw a documentary on him, how sad........How long will it take for Goverments to recognize the Hero's while they are living and do just cause to make thier lives better and not throw salt on open wounds.:mad:
  6. dunerunner

    dunerunner New Member

    Thanks for posting Aus! I had not heard of Sing until today. Glad I finally know about his contributions!
  7. AusLach

    AusLach Active Member

    The Gallipoli campaign was one of the biggest stuff-ups of the war, so I guess it was only fitting that the troops continued to be screwed around once they returned home.. The leadership displayed on the ground was outstanding, however leadership from higher up the ranks was misguided in the few cases it wasn't non-existant.

    Thankfully we've learnt many lessons from our past mistakes, and the care and support shown to today's Returned Servicemen is exemplary.
  8. Troy Michalik

    Troy Michalik Is it Friday yet? Supporter

    Thanks for the post Aus. A bit depressing, but a good read none the less.
  9. JonM

    JonM Moderator

    in an honest just nation a soldier that sacrifices that much should never have to want for anything again.