Forgotten Chinese ANZACs Remembered

The Chinese Museum (at Melbourne) explores the stories of various Chinese-Australian soldiers, acknowledging their dedicated contributions to the war effort. 

When war was declared, Australia issued a call to arms. The Chinese-Australian community rallied behind the war effort with around two hundred Australians of Chinese descent enlisting to fight. Of these, nineteen received a total of twenty-three gallantry awards, and forty tragically perished in action.

Under the White Australian policy, those who were “not substantially of European origin or descent” were exempted from serving in the naval and military forces, according to The Defence Act 1909. Physical requirements such as height and chest circumference also had to be met. As a result, it was difficult for young Chinese men to successfully enlist. Changes to the physical requirements and an easing of restrictions in 1915 and 1917 saw many more Chinese enlist.

Thomas William “Bill” Ah Chow attempted to enlist early in the War but was rejected for being “not substantially of European origin”. Undeterred, he reapplied and was accepted in June 1917. During his service with the 5th Battalion, he was wounded at least three times.

Benjamin “Ben” Moy Ling was the son of Rev. James Moy Ling who preached at the Gospel Hall in Melbourne Chinatown. During the enlistment interview, Ben explained, “If Australia is good enough to live in, it is good enough to fight for. I hope to live in it again after the war.” He served with the 60th Battalion and later, the 4th Divisional Signals Company. In 1932, Ben became a founding member of the Young Chinese League and served as Vice-President.

William Edward “Billy” Sing, whose father migrated to Australia from Shanghai was a famous sniper and is believed to have shot more than one hundred and fifty enemy soldiers and was given the nicknames of “The Assassin” and “The Murderer”. Billy returned medically discharged having been both wounded and gassed while on active service. Later in life, he moved to Brisbane where he lived alone and died in relative poverty and obscurity.

While Sidney Shang was serving in the terrible battles on the Western Front, he often wrote postcards to his girlfriend Laura, his mother Jane and other family members. Some of these letters were quite flippant in nature. He once told Laura that he was still ‘alive and kicking’ in France – perhaps a poor choice of words when thousands were dying there each day. In another letter he told Laura that he had volunteered for grenade training – a particularly dangerous occupation in trench fighting. It was no wonder that he referred this as a ‘suicide job’. Despite the horrors of war, love prevailed when Sidney returned to Australia to marry Laura.

An estimated 30 per cent of ANZAC soldiers were born overseas. The Chinese Museum explores the stories of various Chinese-Australian soldiers, acknowledging their dedicated contributions to the war effort. The Chinese ANZACs exhibition will be on show at the Chinese Museum from 14 July 2014 onwards.

More information can be found on the website: www.chinesemuseum.com.au

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Billy Sing – ‘The Assassin’, Australian War Memorial, C00429

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