Gallipoli hero downplayed his achievement

By David Eames

Victoria Cross winner Cyril Bassett's daughter never fully learned about her father's experiences in battle until after his death.

Cherry Bramwell was helping to clean out Mr Bassett's Stanley Pt home in Devonport when she unearthed from under the house a container packed with war memorabilia.

Only then, in her early 50s, did she learn the entire truth.

Mr Bassett - who died in 1983, aged 91 - was the only New Zealander to win a VC for bravery at Gallipoli.

As a 23-year-old corporal in the New Zealand Signals Corps, he was decorated for his deeds at Chunuk Bair in 1915 when, under constant fire, he laid and relaid telephone wires.

In the words of one historian: "No VC on the [Gallipoli] peninsula was more consistently earned ... not for one brilliant act of bravery, but for a full week of ceaseless devotion."

Mr Bassett later went on to fight on the Western Front, and in World War II used his Great War experience to train young soldiers.

Mrs Bramwell, now 78, said as a girl she had been only dimly aware of her father's achievements - and only then because her parents seemed to be invited to a lot of public events.

Her ignorance was not helped by the fact that her father was of a generation that refused to talk itself up.

The men and women of that era did not boast about their accomplishments, even if it meant downplaying bravery of the highest order.

Mr Bassett certainly downplayed his VC, mainly because he felt there were hundreds of men who were just as deserving.

He virtually never spoke about the war itself. "He had had enough. He thought 'bugger it' so he shut it up in a box and threw it under the house," Mrs Bramwell says.

Instead, Mr Bassett absorbed himself in civilian life and a career in banking. Only the military precision with which he kept his garden threatened to betray his Army past.

Today, more than 25 years after his death, his legacy is kept at Mrs Bramwell's Albany home.

In a rusting tin - with a faded floral pattern and a busted hinge - are kept the war documents, newspaper clippings and letters related to his war service.

There is a topographical map of the Gallipoli Peninsula, a notebook full of what look to be wiring diagrams, even old Herald cuttings marking his return home in March 1916.

Spatchcock, roast pork and lamb were served at a commemorative dinner he attended in 1956. We know, because he kept the menu.

As Anzac Day dawns tomorrow, Mrs Bramwell will be thinking "a little bit" about her brave dad, even if knee problems keep her from early services. "I would just like him to be here, that's all."

And almost a century on, Mr Bassett's bravery will be remembered with love and respect by his granddaughter, Jane Bramwell.

"I think he must have been really brave. He was my granddad. I wish he was still here. When I think of him, I just think about sitting in the warmth with him in his garden."

* The National Bank - where Mr Bassett worked for more than 40 years - has joined the RSA to launch the Cyril Bassett VC Speech Competition. The annual event - relaunched this year - invites Year 11 and 12 students to participate in a national speech competition paying tribute to New Zealanders who made sacrifices, and in many cases died, for their country.

The Auckland War Memorial Museum's offical Book of Remembrance can be read online. It alllows people to send their messages and memories of loved ones who have served in past wars or to people currently serving in the armed forces. You can also leave messages of remembrance at nzherald.co.nz.

- NZ Herald

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