The Sing Brothers Go to War
Helene Wong and Ant Sang's comics in the Being Chinese in Aotearoa exhibition bring to light the experiences of some amazing Chinese New Zealanders. One of these comics explores the story of Private Herbert Stanley Sing, a brave signaller who served with the Auckland Infantry Regiment in the First World War.
We set out to find out more about Herbert and his brothers who joined him on the frontlines in the First World War: Herbert Stanley (12/1097), Albert Victor (13/3077), Robert Francis (12/1096) and Arthur Percy Sing (13/3078).
Descendants from a "fighting family"
The Sing brothers were the sons of Francis Margaret Smith and William Ping Sing. Little is known about their father William, who was born in China. Francis Margaret was of Irish descent, born in New Zealand and came from a “fighting family”. Her grandfather served in the battle of Waterloo and her father in the Crimean War while other relatives served in the New Zealand Wars. This military tradition continued on as all four brothers enlisted to serve in The First World War. Later generations of the Sing family were involved in the Second World War, the Vietnam War and conflict in Iraq.
All four men lived in Browning Street in Grey Lynn, Auckland with their mother when they enlisted. Their frequent letters and postcards home show us that they were a close family. Before the War the men were well known for their sporting interests. Herbert was a successful swimmer and football player, while his brother Arthur was also an outstanding rugby player. During the War Arthur played in the New Zealand Army Rugby team and later in 1926 toured England with the New Zealand Rugby League team.
Herbert Stanley was the first brother to enlist (under the false name Albert Sing) along with his brother Robert Francis (also known as Frank). They enlisted in October 1914, very soon after war was declared, and joined the 1st Battalion of the Auckland Infantry Regiment. Their brothers Arthur Percy and Albert Victor enlisted two years later, serving together in the Auckland Mounted Rifles, A Squadron.
Herbert and Frank both served in Egypt and Gallipoli until Frank was discharged in May 1916 due to a knee injury. Frank returned home while Herbert continued on to France and the Battle of the Somme. By 1916 Arthur and Albert had joined their brothers in France. At the time Herbert was attached to Headquarters in the 1st Auckland Brigade while his brothers were attached to the 2nd. Albert writes that they were stationed in the trenches at Armentieres a bit further down the line from each other and Herbert came to visit them while they were there. Tragically it was during the Battle of the Somme on the night of 3 July 1916 that Herbert was killed.
Private Albert Sing wrote a moving tribute to his brother that was published in the Auckland Star in October 1916. In this he recounts Herbert’s bravery during a strafe just a few weeks before his death. Herbert was a signaller on telephone duty during a bombardment when the telephone wire was continually being broken. Each time this happened Herbert went out under fire to repair the wire, making sure that the lines of communication were kept open. For this he was recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal for deeds of exceptional bravery.
Herbert is remembered for this determination and bravery but also for what he meant to his family. Descendent Isobel Willmot left a note on his Online Cenotaph page which reads:
I have read two of the lovely letters you sent home to your mother during the war. I feel I have a sense of the good-hearted generous person that you were. How sad that a pointless war took you from your family then and limited the knowledge your descendants have of you today!"
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Kennedy, A. (2013). Chinese Anzacs. (Second edition) Canberra: New Zealand Chinese Association.
Auckland Star, Volume XLVII, Issue 255, 25 October 1916, p.7
The Quiet Achievers
Cite this article
The Sing Brothers Go to War. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 7 February 2017. Updated: 29 June 2017.