Each one of the models in our previous Sounds Like Us exhibition was special. Each one represented an aspect of Kiwi culture or identity.
One of our radio icons that may have stood out to some people, but yet fly under the radar for others, was the ANZAC radio. The ANZAC radio encapsulated the spirit of World War One, a global event that changed our national identity. However, the radio also held significance as communications technology is of undeniable importance to people, both in peacetime and war.
World War One was, to put it shortly, a mess – underprepared bodies and minds faced horrifying odds in the trenches, in the air, and at sea.
However, it was under the shadow of war that the world saw amazing feats of humanity and bravery, showcased by men and women worldwide. Though unprepared, they put their best foot forward.
One aspect of the War that relates closely to our ANZAC radio model is the field of military communications, or how information was conveyed on the battlefield and beyond. More important than the technicalities of how this was achieved are the sacrifices of the many people who made information transmission in war possible, the sappers, signallers, runners, and postmen.
Communications were vital at Anzac Cove. An effective telephone or signal network facilitated better coordination and command.
Right from the start, work was carried out to ensure proper communications were established. For the first six weeks, two Kiwi Post and Telegraph men, named Roy Vause and Fred Kent-Johnston, manned the newly established signal office around the clock, subsisting on poor food and little water.
By June 4, 1915, the frontline trenches were linked to the brigade HQ by telephone.
On June 6, as the Canterbury Battalion was relieved from the frontlines, the Canterbury signallers stayed. The Canterbury signallers were working at Quinn’s Post, which was regarded to be the most dangerous position as was the nearest point to the Ottoman Turkish lines.
Danger lurked for every man at Gallipoli, but each man carried on and did their part for all the others, showing exceptional bravery and integrity in the process.
Cyril Bassett, a bank clerk from Auckland, worked with and commanded a small troop of signallers at Gallipoli. He served as part of the New Zealand Divisional Signal Company, and it often fell to him and his contingent to lay and repair telephone wires on the battlefield, often when the fighting was hot.
It was during the battle of Chunuk Bair that Bassett performed these duties with exceptional bravery, which earned him the only Victoria Cross to be awarded to a New Zealander at Gallipoli. According to his VC citation and his own words, Bassett laid a telephone wire from an old position up to Chunuk Bair while under constant heavy fire, and in broad daylight.
Bassett apparently had two very close shaves – he had one bullet go through his collar and another through his pocket. On top of this, he had a spent bullet lodged in his boot – probably nothing compared to the psychological odds he had been up against.
Physically, it is pretty fair to say that Bassestt got off lightly, and he has admitted that he attributed this luck to his stature, stating, “It was just that I was so short the bullets passed over me.”
In 1915, Cyril Bassett’s bravery was depicted on a cigarette card that came with Wills’ Cigarettes, which shows that signallers were rightfully appreciated and admired.
Of the nearly 3,000 Post and Telegraph employees who signed up for the New Zealand Expeditionary Forces, 234 did not return home. Those ANZACs who fought at Gallipoli were and always will be heroes, their sacrifices will live on forever, and their immense contribution in building New Zealand’s national identity will stand indefinitely.
By Connor Lysaght
- The ANZAC radio icon model from Sounds Like Us.
- A postcard from Egypt during World War One.
- A postcard showing bed-ridden soldiers, likely wounded ANZACs.
- Gallipoli veterans outside the Ashburton RSA weatherboard building, c.1920.
A cigarette card showing Cyril Bassett.