News and Views

Posted by Website Admin on April 24, 2017

Cyril's Tour - From Grafton to Gallipoli

Historian Laurie Barber profiled Aucklander Cyril Bassett (pictured), the country’s first Victorian Cross recipient during World War One, in the following excerpt:

Cyril Royston Guyton Bassett was born at Auckland, New Zealand, on 3 January 1892.  He attended Grafton School, Auckland Grammar School and the Auckland Technical College.

On 10 August 1914 Bassett was attested as a sapper in the New Zealand Divisional Signal Company, at that time attached to the Corps of New Zealand Engineers. He sailed with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force on 16 October that year. Following divisional training in Egypt, the company was thrust into the fighting at Gallipoli when it landed on 25 April 1915. Between 7 and 9 August 1915 Bassett, now a corporal, was involved in an action that won him the Victoria Cross, the first awarded to a New Zealand serviceman in the First World War. During the ferocious battle for Chunuk Bair, he and a handful of companions laid and subsequently repaired a telephone wire to the front line. In full daylight and under continuous and heavy fire, Bassett 'dashed and then crept, then dashed and crept again, up to the forward line'. The lines were cut again and again, but Bassett and his fellow linesmen went out day and night to mend them. He was always modest about his actions, later claiming, 'It was just that I was so short that the bullets passed over me.'

Bassett was evacuated through illness to Britain on 13 August 1915. He rejoined his unit in France in June 1916, and on 21 September 1917 was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He was twice wounded in action on the western front and returned to New Zealand in December 1918. Before his release from the NZEF in January 1919 he was promoted to full lieutenant.

After the war Bassett resumed his career with the National Bank, serving in Auckland and as manager in Paeroa. He retained his link with the military by joining the Territorial Forces.

Throughout his military career he was regarded as a popular and hard-working officer.

Cyril Bassett retired from banking in January 1952. During his retirement he served the Devonport community as a justice of the peace. He died on 9 January 1983 at his home in Stanley Bay, Auckland, at the age of 91, survived by his wife and two daughters. Bassett had been the only New Zealander serving in a New Zealand unit to win the Victoria Cross at Gallipoli. He had been reluctant, however, to talk about the award saying, 'All my mates ever got were wooden crosses.' Following his death, his widow donated the Bassett VC Memorial Trophy to the Royal New Zealand Corps of Signals; the trophy depicts Bassett laying a line at Gallipoli. It is awarded annually to the corps' most outstanding corporal – the rank Bassett held when he won his Victoria Cross.

Acknowledgement:   Laurie Barber. 'Bassett, Cyril Royston Guyton', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/biographies/3b15/bassett-cyril-royston-guyton (accessed 24 April 2017)