105th anniversary of the Battle of Chunuk Bair

Cyril Bassett_VC, 1916 (Archives NZ. 15792094849)

The Battle of Chunuk Bair, 8 August 1915, by Ion Brown. (Alexander Turnbull Library D-001-03)

8 August 2020 marked the 105th anniversary of the Battle of Chunuk Bair.

Posted by NZ Remembrance Army, 8 August 2020.

After a night of tough climbing, on the morning of August 7 the Auckland Battalion pushed on to the Pinnacle, a ridge just below Chunuk Bair. In the struggle for the Pinnacle, some 227 New Zealand lives were lost, including 78 from the Auckland Infantry Battalion, 75 from Canterbury and 46 from Otago.

In the midst of the battle, the Wellington Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel William Malone refused to send his men to their slaughter and resolved to press for Chunuk Bair at night.

A naval barrage early on August 8 virtually cleared Chunuk Bair of the Ottomans and the Wellingtonians took the ridge virtually unopposed. However, it was difficult to defend and the Ottomans were on the counter attack by 5am. A day of fierce fighting followed with a total of 424 New Zealand lives lost. The Wellington Infantry Battalion – spared from the heaviest fatalities the day before – lost 296 men in a single day. It was by far the worst day of the Gallipoli campaign for New Zealand fatalities.Malone was killed late in the day by a short NZ shell. He remains on the hill in an unknown grave with the rest of his Battalion. His leadership and actions looked like he should have been awarded a Victoria Cross. Sadly that didn’t occur.

On August 9, the exhausted men holding Chunuk Bair faced third consecutive day of fighting. Attempts to send in reinforcements against a fierce Ottoman counter-attack faltered and the New Zealanders suffered further casualties. Those that remained of the New Zealanders fell back in the early hours of August 10.

During the battle, Victoria Cross winner Cyril Bassett [footnote] – along with a handful of companions – laid and subsequently constantly repaired a telephone wire to the front line in broad daylight and under continuous and heavy enemy fire. Although he wasn’t wounded, two bullets passed through the fabric of his uniform. He was modest about his actions, saying “it was just that I was so short that the bullets passed over me”.

But the way men died at Chunuk is shaping the deeds yet to be done by the generations still unborn. When the August fighting died down there was no longer any question but that New Zealanders had commenced to realise themselves as a nation.

  1. Cyril Royston Guyton Bassett, VC (3 January 1892 – 9 January 1983) was a New Zealand recipient of the Victoria Cross (VC), the highest award for gallantry “in the face of the enemy” that could be awarded to British and Empire forces at the time. He was the only soldier serving with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) to be awarded the VC in the Gallipoli Campaign of the First World War. Cyril Bassett was a lifetime member of College Rifles.