[Cyril Bassett, VC, talks about the assault on Chunuk Bair].
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Max, [identity not verified, but he was a Canterbury Regiment veteran], interviews Cyril Bassett, Victoria Cross, about the fighting on Chunuk Bair in early August 1915.
Interviewer: Whenever the Gallipoli campaign is mentioned it possibly isn't generally realised that the fighting really attained its crescendo in August, four months after the first landing at Anzac. This for the New Zealanders was the terrific assault on Chunuk Bair, the dominating spur of what was known as Koe Chepe [sic i.e. Koja Chemen Tepe], known to us as 971. This was away on the left from the Anzac position. In this battle, largely concentrated from August the 6th to the 9th, the size of the New Zealand infantry battalions shrank to that of a company or much less - forty men in one case and the mounted rifles regiment became a pitiful handful, about twenty-two, I believe, answered a muster, but the New Zealanders reached the top of Chunuk Bair. A few passed over the summit to view the narrows but they died or were wounded. The rest dug in fifteen yards behind the crest and for two days fought with bullet and bayonet to hold it. It was after they were relieved that this grip was lost. Our boys still clustered lower down on a fork of the slope called The Apex, a thumb, what you might call a thumb, of Rhododendron Ridge. The tragedy of this battle was the green British troops, who had landed on the left flank at Suvla Bay, didn't connect with us, had they done so we would have won the narrows and that, the experts say, would have meant the shortening of the war by several years. In this battle Corporal, now Lieutenant Colonel Cyril Bassett won the VC. He is with me now.
Interviewer: Firstly Cyril, do you agree that the Battle of Chunuk Bair was the heaviest of all our fighting on Gallipoli?
Cyril Bassett: Certainly, Max.
Interviewer: And you were a signaller, of course?
Cyril Bassett: I was.
Interviewer: A corporal and you were attached to the New Zealand Brigade so you knew what was going on.
Cyril Bassett: I had a good, fair idea
Interviewer: I know you were right out in the open taking lines out. Now, where were you on the first night when the New Zealand Mounteds cleared the deres and the New Zealand Infantry moved up through them onto the higher and clearer ground above and made for Chunuk Bair?
Cyril Bassett: Well, we arrived at the top of The Apex in daylight. We were supposed to arrive up there before daylight but owing to congestion on the way up and ah, and well, things that happen naturally in battle.
Interviewer: We got lost, I was in the Canterburys, we got lost for a while and had to go back and then up again.
Cyril Bassett: Well, having arrived at The Apex it was decided to, the Chunuk Bair must be taken at all costs. I'll take we're on top of The Apex now, in the daylight.
Interviewer: Yes, that's on the 6th.
Cyril Bassett: That's on the morning of the 7th.
Cyril Bassett: Well, as I said before Chunuk Bair was ordered to be taken at all cost. The Auckland Battalion was allotted to this task and, ah, I don't think they had any clear idea of what kind of ground they had to go over or what was before them but, ah, they gallantly attacked across an open space that was swept by fire from all sides - front reserve Turkish, reserves manned the heights, in front and were sweeping with rifle fire, artillery from Abdull Ramin Bair, one of the spurs of 971, were sweeping in from the left. Battleship Hill was giving all they wanted and the consequence was they were practically decimated. They didn't get very far and the survivors got into an old Turkish trench and stayed there until
Interviewer: But there was no panic.
Cyril Bassett: There was no panic.
Interviewer: I think no one did any retreating in that battle, did they?
Cyril Bassett: Never, there was no such thing as a retreat. It was one of the great epics of, of the British history and I don't think there had been more suffering since the Crimea.
Interviewer: Yes, well tell me something about the wiring. You were, all this time the battle was going on, we had to have communication. You running round with wire, weren't you?
Cyril Bassett: Well, the day of the 7th there was nothing else but running out wires and reeling them up because the wire was so scarce that we couldn't afford to leave it out, we had to reel it up and every battalion had to be kept in touch.
Interviewer: As scarce as water.
Cyril Bassett: Well, everything was, really. The morning of the 8th, about 9 o'clock in the morning, I'm not too sure of times now; I volunteered to take a line over to the hill
Interviewer: Chunuk Bair.
Cyril Bassett: Chunuk Bair. I was allotted to help me, a corporal named McDermid, who had just arrived from Egypt, or the fifth reinforcements, two Wellington signallers named Edwards and McLeod, and we started off on our journey. We didn't know what was in front of us; we didn't know what the ground was like or anything else. All we knew was that the hill was in front of us. Well, we managed just in short rushes. The first rush, we ran into, ah, two or three men who were hiding, well I don't know whether they were hiding, but they were taking
Cyril Bassett: shelter in some scrub and I don't think they thanked us for seeing us because we attracted fire to them. I think a couple of them were knocked out. I was, had my right pocket of my tunic shot out and I wondered what was happening, what was struck us. Anyway, we made another short rush to a bit more cover and there one of my chaps was wounded, Don McLeod, but he was able to get back and I think he is living in Wellington today. I had a bullet throw my, the collar of my tunic, but it only scratched my neck, but it put the wind up me properly. The next rush we made to re-organise and we were just on our way to the hill when some Mounteds came over and commandeered my telephone. While they were talking on this phone, another line came over from the brigade, lead by one of, a sapper named Dignan with two other signallers named Birkett and Whitaker. They reported to me and I told them to get straight on, they're only attracting fire. Anyway, they hopped across and the next thing I saw them was when we joined them at the foot of the hill and Dignan had run out of wire. So I had some spare wire there so I handed this to him and he completed the wire and reported to Captain Harston who was the adjutant on the hill. I had a feeling the wire might go off because I had seen shrapnel falling over the ground we had just left. So, I had reorganised the party and sent Edwards, Whitaker and McDermid up the hill with Dignan to look after the telephone, and Birkett and I waited down below and while we waited we straightening out the wire down below and we were also trying to relieve wounded. The valley we had come up was, had been absolutely choked full of dead and dying. It was a most pitiful sight, these fellows lying there in the heat, without water and you could hardly, you couldn't do anything for them except try and relieve their suffering wherever we could. We managed to get wire a little bit out of the way but it was really lying in a place where it could be easily knocked about and broken, however um. While we were in the process of doing this job, Dignan came running down the hill to say that the wire had gone and that he had an urgent despatch. Well, I sort of think, the best thing you can do is, I asked if him if he'd tested the wireless, yes. The best thing you can do is take the despatch and Birkett and I'll go out on the wire. Dignan hopped out and managed to get his despatch back and Birkett and I went along the wire - followed it all the way back, or at least I followed it about half way back and I discovered that we had left one of our spindlers behind, well spindlers were like hens' teeth and knowing, that we're, or hoping that we were going to have to have use it on the trip to Constantinople
Interviewer: Yes, we all expected that.
Cyril Bassett: I said to Birkett, "You'd better go back and get that". I thought after it might have been a trivial thing to do but it's what happens. I went on and followed the wire all the way across ... the crest we'd come across. It was a scrubby place, not much shelter. I come across three breaks - I mended two of them, they were pretty close together. I followed the wire a little bit further and mended that. I don't mind telling that you I was pretty windy while I was doing it for the stuff was coming across, luckily there wasn't much shrapnel - bursts now and again, but there's a lot of rifle, machine gun fire, mainly from the left. Well, time was getting on then and when I reported back to headquarters, fairly late in the afternoon, we found the wire had gone again, so that night we decided, Birkett and I - Birkett in the meantime had come quite safe he'd straightened up the wires on his way back and he and I went out that night and laddered all the lines. It was a pretty exhausting sort of job and, um, the 5th reinforcements had arrived by this time and they were lost. We were, a lot of our time was spent in guiding these chaps up to the line, and of course you can imagine what the position was between the line and the hill.
Interviewer: In the meantime, of course, the battle was going on.
Cyril Bassett: The battle was going.
Interviewer: And, of course in all that confusion, everything depended on communication and you chaps were out in the open on wind-swept, bullet -swept hillsides, rather, and had to do that sort of thing on out on your own, without it everything would have been chaos. It is generally recognised that you signallers, in this case epitomised by you, by the award of the VC, did a magnificent job. I think all your boys deserved decoration - I think you will agree with that.
Cyril Bassett: Absolutely
Interviewer: And without them things couldn't have happened as they did. Anyway, we held, we held the ah, the lower portion of Chunuk Bair when the division of Turks came over the top. Remember that terrible fighting we had - we threw them back but the summit was lost but we still held onto that Apex that stuck like a finger right into their position.
Transcript by Sound Archives/Ngā Taonga Kōrero
Reference number 146322
Media type AUDIO
Collection Sound Collection
Ngā Taonga Korero Collection
Nonfiction radio programs
Bassett, Cyril Royston Guyton, 1892-1983 (New Zealander, b.1892, d.1983), Interviewee
New Zealand Broadcasting Service (estab. 1946, closed 1962), Broadcaster
Bassett, Cyril Royston Guyton, 1892-1983 -- Interviews
New Zealand. Army. Auckland Regiment. Battalion, 1st. Band
Gallipoli Peninsula (Turkey)/Turkey
World War, 1914-1918 -- Campaigns -- Turkey -- Gallipoli Peninsula