On This Day…

On the 9th January 1983 Cyril Royston Guyton Bassett, VC died

Bassett was the only soldier serving with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) to be awarded the VC in the Gallipoli Campaign of the First World War. Born in Aukland on 3rd January, 1892 he was working as a clerk in National Bank of New Zealand when war broke out in 1914.

A member of New Zealand’s Territorial Force, he volunteered for service abroad with NZEF and was posted to the New Zealand Divisional Signal Company as a sapper. He sailed with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in late 1914. After training in Egypt he saw action on the opening day of the Gallipoli Campaign on 25th April 1915 and was later promoted to Corporal.

Bassett played an important role in the Sari Bair offensive in early August, including the ferocious battle for Chunuk Bair. On many occasions, in broad daylight and under heavy enemy fire, he was required to lay and repair telephone wires from the Apex up to Lieutenant-Colonel William Malone’s headquarters just below the summit of Chunuk Bair, which was about 500 metres away. It was here that Bassett was to win the Victoria Cross.

 

 Action post Gallipoli

Medically evacuated due to sickness shortly after the battle, he was invalided first to Malta, then England. In June 1916, Bassett rejoined his unit, by then on the Western Front in France as part of the New Zealand Division and participated in the Battle of the Somme.

After being commissioned in 1917 he was wounded during the German Spring Offensive in March 1918 when an artillery barrage destroyed the headquarters of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade at Colincamps, where he was the signals officer. The same barrage killed the brigade’s commander, Brigadier-General Harry Fulton. On extracting himself from the rubble of the headquarters, Bassett immediately set about re-establishing communications for which he was recommended for, but was not awarded, the Military Cross. At the end the war he was a 2nd Lieutenant.

After the war Bassett returned to the banking profession but was recalled to active duty during the Second World War. He served on the Home Front and by the time he was taken off active duty in December 1943 he had been promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and was commander of signals in the Northern Military District, New Zealand.

Bassett remains the only New Zealand signaller to have been awarded the VC and was a lifetime member of the Corps of Signals Association. In recognition of Bassett’s rank at the time of his award, the Bassett Memorial Trophy is awarded annually to the most outstanding corporal in the RNZSigs. The trophy is a statue of Bassett on Chunuk Bair.

 

Victoria Cross Citation

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty on Chunuk Bair ridge in the Gallipoli Peninsula on 7th August 1915. Corporal Bassett, under a continuous and heavy fire, succeeded in laying a telephone line from the old position to the new on Chunuk Bair. He has subsequently been brought to notice for further excellent and most gallant work connected with the repair of telephone lines by day and night under heavy fire.

In his own words

‘We had to make short, sharp dashes under enemy fire – mostly rifle fire from snipers. It was pretty tough, and on the first day I got one through my tunic collar, another through my pocket. Both my bare knees were just grazed, and a spent bullet lodged in my boot. So I reckon there must be some guardian angel looking after me, especially as one man was shot dead in front of me and another wounded just behind.’

‘I followed our line all the way to a point where I could see some shelling, and happened to come across three breaks in the line. Two of them were very close together and the other was twelve feet away. I had no trouble mending the first two breaks but the other was causing me a lot of trouble. It was in the open and I thought to myself that if I had to go out there I was going to be sniped.’

 

Corporal Michael Fisher wins the Cyril Bassett VC Memorial Trophy in 1987
Above: Corporal Michael Fisher wins the Cyril Bassett VC Memorial Trophy in 1987, as the Royal New Zealand Signal Corps’s most outstanding Corporal.
Cigarette card of Gallipoli signals work at battle of Chunuk Bair
Above: Cigarette card of Gallipoli signals work at battle of Chunuk Bair.
Image available in the public domain via Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Commonwealth of Australia.

Roger So Far

The illustrated Corps Centenary book

Buy now: Royal Signals Museum Shop

Cyril Bassett VC Credit: © IWM
Above:

Cyril Bassett VC Credit: © IWM (detail of VC 61)

https://www.gov.uk/government/case-studies/ww1-new-zealand-vc-recipient-cyril-royston-bassett

Below
The Victoria Cross (VC)

Cyril Bassett VC Credit: © IWM

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