Cyril Bassett enlisted as a sapper in the New Zealand Divisional Signal Company and he sailed with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in late 1914. After training in Egypt, he landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. 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.
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 have been some guardian angel looking after me, especially as one man was shot dead in front of me and another wounded just behind.
Ottoman artillery fire cut the telephone lines repeatedly, but Bassett and his fellow linesmen went out day and night to repair them.
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. I was face down and belly down and as near as I could get to Mother Earth.
Bassett was the only member of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force to be awarded the Victoria Cross at Gallipoli. His citation read:
For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty on Chunuk Bair ridge in the Gallipoli Peninsula on 7 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.
Victoria Cross citation
A reluctant hero, he was always modest about his actions and seldom mentioned his award.
I have got a lot to be thankful for, and, really, I am afraid to ‘skite’ about it in case my luck turns. When I got my medal I was disappointed to find I was the only New Zealander to get one at Gallipoli, because hundreds of Victoria Crosses should have been awarded there. All my mate ever got was a wooden cross.
After Gallipoli, Bassett served on the Western Front, where he was twice wounded. During the Second World War he served doing signal work in New Zealand. Cyril Bassett died in 1983, aged 91.