*** RESERVED *** The historically important Arab Revolt 'Bassett Letter' medal group to one of the 40 officers listed in the T.E. Lawrence of Arabia's foreword to 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom', as being able to "each tell a like tale" - author Philip Walker attributes the very success of the revolt to Bassett and Col. Cyril Wilson: "Wilson and Bassett shored up the revolt when collapse was a serious threat. Their lost stories show that the Arab Revolt could not have had its hollow success without their unsung interventions. Without them there would have been no call for Lowell Thomas to promote Lawrence as a hero, no iconic 1960s film, and libraries around the world would have space for other subjects." Renowned for the British response to the leaking of the Sykes-Picot Agreement and Balfour Declaration to King Hussein of Hejaz, which came to be known as the 'Bassett Letter', and latterly stepfather to the famous Russian spy, Guy Burgess. Consists of: Distinguished Service Order George V; Military O.B.E. with silver hallmarks; Queen's South Africa Medal with Cape Colony, Orange Free State and Transvaal clasps to Lieut. J.R. Bassett, Rl. Berks. Rgt.; King's South Africa Medal with South Africa 1901 & 1902 clasps to Lieut. J.R. Bassett, Rl. Berks. Rgt.; WWI War Medal to Lt. Col. J.R. Bassett; Order of Osmanieh 4th Class; Legion d'Honneur Knight's Class in bespoke velvet-lined fitted case.

"The book so written passed in 1921 into proof; where it was fortunate in the friends who criticized it. Please take it as a personal narrative piece out of memory. I could not make proper notes: indeed it would have been a breach of my duty to the Arabs if I had picked such flowers while they fought. My superior officers, Wilson, Joyce, Dawnay, Newcombe and Davenport could each tell a like tale. The same is true of Stirling, Young, Lloyd and Maynard: of Buxton and Winterton: of Ross, Stent and Siddons: of Peake, Homby, Scott-Higgins and Garland: of Wordie, Bennett and MacIndoe: of Bassett..." - T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom. John Retallack Bassett was born on 27 Oct 1878 in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire and served as Acting Chief Staff Officer with the Royal Berkshire Regiment during the Boer War and appointed Governor of two provinces of Sudan on 25 Oct 1916, and acted as a senior intelligence officer where he became a trusted member of General Reginald Wingate's inner circle. Following this, he took up an important role as intelligence liaison officer with the French in the eastern Mediterranean, working closely with the British Eastern Mediterranean Special Intelligence Bureau. Appointed Acting Lieutenant-Colonel whilst in command of the 2nd Battalion, Imperial Camel Corps in Sinai on 23 Jan 1917. After leading the Camel Corps into battle during the Raid on Bir El Hassana, Bassett was sent to join the British Military Mission in the Hejaz where he met King Hussein and his son Feisal to discuss military strategy. Bassett gained information on Ottoman railway lines from a network of local spies, which even included the number of spare rails stockpiled at each station.

Bassett was thrust into the high politics of the revolt almost immediately, deputising for Colonel Cyril Wilson, who was suffering from a life-threatening dysentery and evacuated for half a year to Cairo (he would later have to have a leg amputated). The British plans for the region had been leaked in the Sykes-Picot agreement, possibly direct from Lawrence to prince Feisal. His father, King Hussein, was so shaken by what looked like British skulduggery that he not only threatened to pull the plug on the entire revolt but also talked despairingly of suicide. Bassett had to cope with this and the diplomatic fallout of the Balfour Declaration being made public. The issue of the 'Bassett Letter' in Arabic to King Hussein frames one of the greatest episodes of British subterfuge in the Middle East which still impacts on politics 100 year later. It was a lie that was to eventually lead Lawrence himself to alienation, disillusionment and depression and to feel like 'a worn tool lying in the darkness under a bench.' Bassett's D.S.O. Gazetted 4 Sep 1918: "For distinguished service in connection with Military Operations in Egypt and Hedjaz." Military O.B.E. Gazetted Birthday Honours 1919: "In recognition of services rendered during the war." Legion d'Honneur, Knight's Class, Gazetted 14 Oct 1918. Order of Al Nahda of the Kingdom of the Hijaz, 2nd Class, Gazetted 24 Oct 1919 (the first ever to be awarded, absent from the group). Mentioned In Despatches, Gazetted 25 Oct 1916, 7 Oct 1918 and 24 Mar 1919.

Read the full story of John Retallack Bassett's time in Arabia.


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