3 January 1892|
Mount Eden, Auckland, New Zealand
|Died||9 January 1983
Stanley Bay, New Zealand
|Service/branch||New Zealand Military Forces|
|Years of service||1914–1919
Cyril Royston Guyton Bassett VC (3 January 1892–9 January 1983) was a New Zealand recipient of the Victoria Cross (VC), the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. He was the first New Zealander to be awarded the VC in the First World War.
Cyril Bassett was born on 3 January 1892 in Auckland, New Zealand to a printer and his wife. After completing his formal education, Bassett worked as a clerk for the National Bank of New Zealand. He joined the Volunteer Force in 1909 and was assigned to the Auckland College Rifles. Two years later he transferred to the Auckland Divisional Signal Company.
First World War
When the First World War broke out, it was Bassett's intention to join the Royal Navy. However, his mother, from a family with a history of service in the British Army, convinced him to enlist in the New Zealand Military Forces. Bassett was not particularly tall and was initially rejected due to his lack of height. He persisted with his attempt to enlist and eventually joined the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) as a sapper in the New Zealand Divisional Signal Company.
Bassett embarked with the main body of the NZEF for the Middle East in October 1914. Initially based in Egypt, after a period of training, he landed at ANZAC Cove on 25 April 1915, the opening day of the Gallipoli Campaign. He along with the other signalers of his unit, were immediately set to work laying communication lines. In early May, his courage under fire was noted in consideration for a gallantry medal.
Later in the campaign, Bassett was promoted to corporal. In August 1915 a series of offensives were planned and carried out against Turkish positions along the Gallipoli front. On 7 August, the New Zealand Infantry Brigade attacked Chunuk Bair, a prominent hill overlooking the battle field. The battle lasted for three days, during which Bassett, in command of a section of five other signalers of his unit, laid down and maintained telephone lines between the brigade's headquarters and the front lines. He braved continuous gunfire during this time. Although not wounded, bullets passed close enough that his tunic was twice pierced. After the battle, he was nominated for the Victoria Cross (VC) for his actions.
The citation for Bassett 's Victoria Cross read as follows:
No. 4/515 Corporal Cyril Royston Guyton Bassett, New Zealand Divisional Signal Company. For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty on the Chunuk Bair ridge in the Gallipoli Peninsula on 7th August, 1915. After the New Zealand Infantry Brigade had attacked and established itself on the ridge, Corporal Bassett, in full daylight and under a continuous and heavy fire, succeeded in laying a telephone line from the old position to the new one 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.—The London Gazette, No. 29238, 15 October 1915
A few days after the battle, Bassett was evacuated from Gallipoli due to his poor health. Suffering from dysentery, he spent several months recuperating in England. He eventually rejoined his unit, by then on the Western Front in France as part of the New Zealand Division, in June 1916. He participated in the Battle of the Somme the following September. A year later he was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He was wounded twice during his time in France. He returned to New Zealand in late 1918 as the NZEF started demobilising and was formally discharged from the NZEF in 1919.
Bassett returned to his banking career after the war, managing branches of the National Bank in Auckland and later in Paeroa. He retained a link to the military, joining the Territorial Force. He was placed on the retired list of officers in 1929. By 1939 he was manager of the Auckland Town Hall branch of the National Bank. He had also married, his union with Ruth Louise Grant producing two daughters.
Second World War
Recalled to duty in the Military Reserve as a result of the outbreak of the Second World War, Bassett was called up for active duty in 1941 as a captain in the Royal New Zealand Corps of Signals. He was not required to serve overseas and instead he worked in signals while remaining in New Zealand. Promoted to major in February 1942, his active war service ended in December 1943. By then he had achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel and was commander of Northern Military District Signals.
Bassett returned to the Military Reserve and eventually retired from the military in 1948. He once again returned to his banking profession. He retired in 1952 but remained active in the community of Devonport, Auckland as a justice of the peace. He died in Stanley Bay, Auckland on 9 January 1983, shortly after his 91st birthday. He was survived by his two daughters and his wife. His VC, gifted to the Corps of Signals upon his death, is displayed at the Auckland War Memorial Museum.
According to his daughter, Bassett rarely spoke about his achievements as "It just wasn't done", and in fact, she did not learn of her father's award until Gallipoli was the subject of her primary school class studies. He was modest of his achievements and expressed embarrassment at being the only New Zealand VC recipient of the Gallipoli Campaign.
Bassett remains the only signaler to have been awarded the VC and was a lifetime member of the Corps of Signals Association. Every year the Bassett Memorial Trophy is awarded to the most outstanding corporal, Bassett's rank at the time of winning the VC, in the Corps of Signals. The trophy is a statue of Bassett on Chunuk Bair.
- Barber, Laurie. "Bassett, Cyril Royston Guyton 1892–1983". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 28 December 2012.
- Harper & Richardson 2007, pp. 113–118.
- The London Gazette: . 15 October 1915. Retrieved 28 December 2012.
- Eames, David (24 April 2009). "Gallipoli hero downplayed his achievement". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 26 September 2011.