Monument for Chinese 'Gallipoli Sniper' rewrites history

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A monument to one of Australia's most deadly Anzac snipers has rewritten the history of Chinese-Australians serving during the First World War.

Trooper Billy Sing fought at Gallipoli and became a wartime hero only because he dodged a law banning non-Europeans from enlisting.

More than 70 years after he died in poverty, he will no longer be a byline in the history books of the country he served but that had until now largely forgotten him.

His story is carved and gold-plated into a black-granite slab​ in a Brisbane cemetery.

Retired Major General Darryl Low Choy, the patron of the Australian Chinese Ex-Servicemen’s National Reunion, said it was symbolic.

"I think it's a significant event because it provides a permanent marker about Billy Sing's place in Australian history, the history of the defence force and the Army in particular,” he said.

Billy Sing was a kangaroo shooter from north Queensland who had a Chinese father and English mother. He joined up aged 28 in 1914, despite the law barring non-Europeans.

“In the past when it was a largely white Anglo-Saxon society. First World War regulations required that people who served in the defence forces were of substantial European descent or origin,” Mr Low Choy said.

“Billy Sing was enlisted against that regulation. He volunteered and knew full well that he might not be required to serve because of his half-Chinese origins. Once in the Army, it didn’t matter. 

“The Army acknowledged someone because of their skills and expertise. Billy Sing enlisted in the 5th Light Horse in Bowen and soon proved he was as good as the rest of them, riding a horse and shooting in particular.”

Trooper Sing became a sniper in the Light Horse.

“The attitude of the soldiers, sneaking up and shooting someone wasn’t considered fair game, so they called him 'The Murderer' or 'The Assassin',” said Ray Fogg from the 31st Battalion Association that has helped secure recognition for one of their own.

“As time went by they recognised his ability and he became the ‘Gallipoli Sniper’, which is a much more honourable term.”

Official records showed Trooper Sing made 150 kills, though his officers said it could be double that number. Among his victims was rival Turkish sniper 'Abdul The Terrible’, who fell to Billy Sing's .303 rifle.

Decorated with the DCM and the Belgian Croix de Guerre, he was also recommended for the Military Cross.

"Owing to the imperial attitude of the days, he wasn’t recognised for the military medal but received a mention in dispatches instead, which is a very high honour anyway," Mr Fogg said.

After Gallipoli, Billy Sing was shot and gassed on the Western Front. Too injured to fight on, he returned to Australia and a discharge. His wartime marriage fell apart, and like so may other soldiers, his government land allocation failed and he drifted from job to job.

“There was no depression or psychological services or help for those fellas who came back, so he just went about his business. He became a heavy drinker, which is not unusual for fellas who have be through four or five years of combat," Mr Fogg said.

Billy Sing died aged 57 in 1943 in a Brisbane boarding house, virtually penniless.

He was buried in Lutwyche cemetery in a pauper's grave and lay forgotten for decades but now his life and sad end are permanently marked.

Remembered too on the memorial were all Chinese-Australian service men and women who have served over the years.

“Same goes for World War II, because the regulation preventing people of Chinese origin serving in the defence force wasn’t rescinded until after World War II,” Mr Low Choy said.

Mr Low Choy said Billy Sing’s memorial was an Anzac legacy that finally recognised non-Europeans and acknowledged their contribution in the face ofracial discrimination.

"I think it's a point of reference to say to the broader Australian community that the history we've had in the past needs to be, not rewritten, but embellished to reflect the greater depth of involvement of the many people who have served - that have made this country - that come from a multitude of ethnic backgrounds,” he said.

Mr Low Choy will give the keynote speech when the memorial is officially unveiled on the anniversary of Billy Sing’s death on May 19.

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