b. 03/01/1892 Auckland, NZ. d. 09/01/1983 Auckland, NZ.
Cyril Royston Guyton Bassett (1892-1983), the first New Zealander to be awarded the Victoria Cross in the First World War, was born at Mount Eden, Auckland on 3rd January 1892, the only son of Frederick Charles and Harriett Adelle Bassett. The family lived in Burleigh Street, and Cyril was educated at Grafton Public School, Auckland Grammar School and Auckland Technical College. He joined the National Bank of New Zealand in Auckland at the age of 16 and, apart from military service in two world wars, was employed by the bank all his working life.
His military career began shortly before the First World War when he volunteered for the Auckland College Rifles. Despite his small stature, which saw him nearly barred from the unit, he rose to the rank of lance-corporal. On 10th August 1914, the 22-year-old bank clerk and part-time soldier enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. Two months later, by then a sapper in the Divisional Signals unit of the NZ Engineers, he embarked for Egypt.
Bassett took part in the initial landing at Anzac Cove, and ended his first day in action in command of a signals section. Within the next month, he would be being recommended for the award of the VC for his actions on Chunuk Bair Ridge. On 7th August 1915, after the New Zealand Brigade had attacked and established itself on the ridge, Corporal Bassett, in full daylight and under continuous fire, succeeded in laying a telephone line from the old position to the new one on Chunuk Bair. He also did further gallant work in connection with the repair of telephone lines by day and night under heavy fire. He is quoted “I was so short that the bullets just passed over me”.
After being evacuated seriously ill, Corporal Bassett spent nearly nine months recuperating in England. He rejoined his unit in France, in June 1916, shortly before the Somme offensive. Commissioned in September 1917, he was recommended for the Military Cross for his actions on the Western Front, but the award was not granted. He was twice wounded, in October 1917 and the following March.
Lieutenant Bassett returned to his native Auckland in December 1918. Demobilised a month laterr, he resumed his banking career. At the same time he joined the Territorials, serving until 1929, when he was placed on the Retired List with the rank of Lieutenant. His career in banking continued to flourish. He was appointed branch manager at Paeroa and then Auckland Town Hall, a post he continued to hold until his retirement in 1952.
During the Second World War, he served in the National Military Reserve and, from January 1941, as a captain in the New Zealand Corps of Signals. He did not go overseas, but regular promotion followed until he was given command of the Northern Districts Signals. In December 1943 Lieutenant Colonel Bassett’s service career ended. He was just a few days short of his fifty-second birthday.
Cyril Bassett took an active role in community affairs. He served as a Justice of the Peace and was a prominent member of numerous services organisations, including the Gallipoli Association, the Sappers Association, the King Empiree Veterans Club and the Navy League. He had married Ruth Grant, and had two daughters, and lived in retirement at Stanley Point Road, Stanley Point. It was there, on 9th January 1983, that he passed away, aged 91. He was interred in North Shore Memorial Park Cemetery, Auckland. Following his death, his widow donated the Bassett VC Memorial Trophy to the Royal New Zealand Corps of Signals. His medals were donated to the Auckland War Memorial Museum. According his family, he rarely spoke about the war or displayed his VC. He also maintained “When I got the 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.” He also added “All my mates ever got were wooden crosses.”
LOCATION OF MEDAL:AUCKLAND WAR MEMORIAL MUSEUM, NEW ZEALAND.
NORTH SHORE MEMORIAL PARK CEMETERY, AUCKLAND, NZ. BLOCK A, ROW C, GRAVE 45
Steve Lee www.memorialstovalour.co.uk – Image of replica medal group at the Royal Signals Museum.