Billy Sing, he was Australia’s top sniper in the First World War, and top sniper in general. But he had a pretty quiet start to his life in Clermont in Queensland where he was born to a Chinese father, John, and an English mother, Maryanne.
Billy would have been inspired to enlist because of the outbreak of the First World War. England is going to war so he would’ve been inspired to serve the mother country, but also the fledgling country that he called home as well.
One of the great things about the AIF was that it was an inclusive organisation. Once you’re in, it didn’t matter the colour of your skin. You were able to be promoted, you got the same awards as other men. The only colour you really wear was khaki.
Billy’s greatest achievement is probably his fame that he had at Gallipoli as a sniper. He was quite famous on Gallipoli after a little while, and so you’ve actually got his commanding officer who rated him very highly.
Sir Ian Hamilton basically gave Billy his first mention for his sniping record in Gallipoli in January 1916.
“Sing’s courage and skill were most marked and he was responsible for a very large number of causalities among the enemy. No risk being too great for him to take.”
In March 1916 he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal which is a significant medal for people who aren’t officers. It’s the next thing up from a Distinguished Service Order and for another ranker it’s just one down from the Victoria Cross, so it’s a very high award indeed.
As people have understood his story and actually understood what he did and the life he’d had, coming from a mixed relationship and actually having that heritage. People have actually sort of seen that it is a multicultural story. It’s not just white Australians. it’s Chinese Australians, it’s Aboriginal Australians. It’s Russians, Germans. Every conceivable nationality that was in Australia at the time actually served under the Australian flag. So, to actually have Chinese Australians recognised in the AIF is a great thing.