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Remembering a remarkable man - Royal Marine Lewis Halliday

Who was Lewis Halliday?

Lewis Halliday was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant into the Royal Marine Light Infantry, Plymouth Division in September 1889. By 1899, he had been promoted to Captain and embarked for service on the China Station in the cruiser HMS Orlando.

Learn about Lewis Halliday's Royal Marine Career

On 29 May 1900, Captain Halliday disembarked from HMS Orlando landing at Taku, China with 50 men of the Royal Marine Light Infantry and proceeded by train to Peking (now Bejing) to act as the Legation Guard, part of a naval force drawn from eight countries sent to defend their nation’s missions and embassies in Peking.

In spring-summer 1900, a military uprising led by a secret resistance society, known as  the Yihequan (Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists) but colloquially known as ‘Boxers’, because of the martial arts they practised, occurred in China.

The group opposed foreign influence over the ruling Qing dynasty and the physical presence in China of foreigners particularly those from the West and Japan and those involved in Christian missionary work.

From 1898, foreigners and Christian Chinese were targeted by members of the Yihequan movement, who enjoyed the support of the Chinese government and the Dowager Empress Cixi.  In the city of Peking, foreign nationals sought refuge from attack in the diplomatic legations. 

The Siege of the Legations, in the diplomatic quarter of Peking, lasted from 20 June – 14 August 1900. In total, 473 foreign civilians, 409 soldiers from eight countries and 3,000 Chinese Christians took refuge in the Legation Quarter.

An Allied multinational military expeditionary force known as the ‘Eight Nation Alliance’ was sent to relieve this siege, suppress the rebellion and safeguard the privileges of the foreign nationals and Chinese Christians.

The force was in excess of 45,000 strong and the siege was relieved on the 14 August, nearly two months after Captain Halliday was injured in action during the defence of the legation during the siege. 

Receiving The Victoria Cross

The following citation for the award of the Victoria Cross to Captain (now Brevet Major) Lewis Stratford Tollemache Halliday, Royal Marine Light Infantry was published in The London Gazette, Tuesday January 1, 1901:

On the 24 June, 1900, the enemy, consisting of Boxers and Imperial troops, made
a fierce attack on the west wall of the British Legation, setting fire to the West Gate
of the south stable quarters, and taking cover in the buildings which adjoined the wall.
The fire, which spread to part of the stables, and through which and the smoke a
galling fire was kept up by the Imperial [Chinese] troops, was with difficulty extinguished, and as
the presence of the enemy in the adjoining buildings was a grave danger to the Legation,
a sortie was organized to drive them out. A hole was made in the Legation Wall, and
Captain Halliday, in command of twenty Marines, led the way into the buildings and
almost immediately engaged a party of the enemy. Before he could use his revolver,
however, he was shot through the left shoulder, at point blank range, the bullet fracturing
the shoulder and carrying away part of the lung. Notwithstanding the extremely severe
nature of his wound, Captain Halliday killed three of his assailants, and telling his men to
" carry on and not mind him, "walked back unaided to the hospital, refusing escort and
aid so as not to diminish the number of men engaged in the sortie.

Halliday wrote of the event in his diary:

‘Led sortie among some ruined houses. I went down a narrow alley and came upon
  five men with rifles round the corner of a house. One immediately plugged me in
the shoulder cutting the left brace of my Sam Browne belt in half. I then began to
empty my revolver into them, as they were only a yard away there was no question
of missing. I finished four and the fifth bolted round another corner. The men had
then come up and I told them to go on. I found my way back to the hole in the wall
through which I was helped. Poole helped me to the hospital and dressed me there.
Had no pain to speak of. That finished my active share in the siege which was rather
hard luck’.

Halliday received his Victoria Cross from HM King Edward VIII during an investiture at Marlborough House, London, 25 July 1901.

What happened after Lewis Halliday received the Victoria Cross?

He continued to serve in the Corps of Royal Marines for a further 30 years including an appointment as the Commander of a Company of Gentlemen Cadets at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, 1908-1912 and various staff appointments during the First World War.

From 1927-1930, he was Adjutant General Royal Marines, retiring at his own request the following year. Upon his death on 9 March 1966, aged 95 years, he was the longest surviving recipient of the Victoria Cross. He bequeathed his medals to the Royal Marines Museum. 

General Sir Lewis Halliday VC during a visit to the Royal Marines Museum, Eastney Barracks Portsmouth, 10 August 1962. General Halliday, aged 92, is seen on the right.

Major (later General) Lewis Halliday RMLI VC, signed and dated 1913

The Legation Guard of Royal Marines, Peking, China, 1900. All are individually identified. Captain L Halliday VC RMLI is in the centre to the right of Sir Claude MacDonald.


Gun and fortifications in the Mongol Market adjacent to the British Legation, Peking, China, 1900.

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