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Billy Sing

I was watching the ABC for a while on Australia Day and they had a show with a panel of distinguished guests nominating various Australians for consideration as most notable Australian. he idea being an Australia Day celebration (and timely reminder) of various achievements over the years.

General Peter Cosgrove was asked to nominate one in the military field. He nominated Lieutenant T. C. (Diver) Derrick, who fought at Tobruk, won the Distinguished Conduct Medal at El Alamein, where his battalion of over 800 lost so many men it left the field in just two trucks, and the Victoria Cross at Satelburg for destroying ten Japanese bunkers and capturing a key position before being killed on Tarakan in May 1945.

His choice surprised many. Why Derrick and not Simpson or Weary Dunlop?

Why indeed.

This goes back to Gallipoli. At one point it was decided to deliberately select a hero for propaganda purposes. General Birdwood nominated his idea of the ideal soldier, Trooper William Edward (Billy) Sing(right) of the 5th Light Horse Regiment, a sniper reputed to have shot 150 Turks between May and September 1915, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. (He is wearing this in the picture, taken in England in 1918, when he was a private in the 31st Infantry Battalion.)

Sing was rejected. God forbid that the public should get the impression that the Army goes around shooting people. Instead, Private John Simpson of the 3rd Field Ambulance was selected.

General Cosgrove was acting to correct what many have long regarded as a wrong. It remains Sing (who survived the war, returning to Australia in July 1918) who is the Army's idea of the good soldier.