History: The Hero from The Bella Luce

Earlier this summer we received an anonymous type written note in the post telling the story of a past resident of the Bella Luce. We know that the Bella Luce was a private residence at various points in its history, but we had no idea that a highly decorated military officer had called this building “home” over a century ago.  What follows is the story of Sir Lewis Halliday:

General Sir Lewis Stratford Tollemache Halliday, 1870-1966

Victoria Cross, Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath

Lewis Stratford Tollemache Halliday was born at Medstead in Hampshire on May 14th 1870, to Annie Louisa (nee Robinson) of Guernsey, the wife of Lieutenant-Colonel Stratford Charles Halliday, R.A. Although he was not born in Guernsey (Sir Halliday’s grandfather was the reverend of St Martins), the young Lewis was intimately associated with the island from his infancy when his father bought and refurbished the sixteenth century farmhouse at La Fosse de Bas that we now know as the Bella Luce Hotel.  The family used the Bella Luce as accommodation for holiday visits. Young Halliday became even more closely identified with the island in 1880 when, at the age of ten, he entered Elizabeth College as pupil number 2237. He remained there for eight years and then on September 1st 1889 (the year after he left the College, and following a three-month spell at a school at Boulogne-sur-Mer run by a certain Mr. Blackadder) was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Marine Light Infantry.

Ten years later, in February of 1899, a year after his promotion to Captain, he joined HMS Orlando, bound for China.  It was in China where Captain Halliday was injured in the line of duty during the Boxer Uprising, and was subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry.

China’s Boxer Rebellion was an uprising against occupying and imperialist western, Christian, and Japanese powers who were exerting influence over the ruling Quing dynasty, led by a secret group known as the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists.  The Boxers, so-called because of the martial arts practised by the rebels that they believed made them invincible to foreign weapons, swept across northern China and in late May the British Ambassador sent a telegram requesting that the Royal Navy send guards to protect the international embassies in Peking.  On May 29th, Captain Halliday disembarked HMS Orlando and landed at Taku, where he proceeded by train with 50 men of the RMLI to Peking (now Beijing) to act as Legation Guard, part of a force of 435 naval troops from eight countries allowed by the Chinese government to defend their nations’ missions.

Peking Legation Quarter, with the British Legation on the left side of the canal after the bridge.

On June 20th the Boxers began a siege of Beijing’s Legation Quarter, where foreign embassies were located and where foreigners and Chinese Christians had sought refuge.  The following day, the initially hesitant Qing Empress Dowager Tzu’u Hzi declared a war on all foreign nations with diplomatic ties in China and the Imperial Army of China joined the Boxers in besieging the Legation Quarter.  The siege would go on to last for 55 days.

Map of the Western Legations in Peking, 1900

On the 24th 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 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 organised 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.

— Captain Halliday’s Victoria Cross citation in the London Gazette, 1 January 1901

Painting of American soldiers fighting in the siege of Peking.

Years later, Captain Halliday challenged the details of the attack, stating that he had led a much smaller party of six soldiers and that he had in fact killed four rebels before his pistol jammed.  The hole in the wall had been cleared by Captain Strouts leading the subsequent party of twenty soldiers:

“I went down a narrow alley way and ran into a group of five Boxers armed with rifles.  The first fired without bringing his rifle to the present.  I shot him and three others. The fifth ran away.  I told the men to carry on.  I got back unaided to the wall.  I was helped through the hole and Dr. Poole helped me to the hospital.  Strouts then took out twenty or thirty men and pulled down the small building and cleared the field of fire.  I think Strouts was killed before the final draft (of the V.C. citation) was made.”

Halliday was twice mentioned in despatches in connection with this gallant exploit, for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross.  Having returned to England to recover from his injuries, he was presented with the Victoria Cross by King James VII on July 25th 1901 at St James’ Palace.

Passing Staff College in 1906 he was promoted to Major in 1908, whereupon Major Halliday commanded a Cadet Company at Sandhurst from 1908 to 1912 and became an instructor at the Royal Naval War College, Portsmouth, from 1912 to 1914. Created a Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath in 1913 and promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel shortly after the outbreak of the First World War, he served throughout the conflict as a Staff Officer in Malta, the United Kingdom and France. As a Colonel he was made Royal Marine Aide-de-Camp to the King in 1924, he became a Major General in 1925 and was appointed Adjutant-General of the Royal Marines (with the rank of Lieutenant-General) in 1927, being promoted to full General the following year.  He retired in 1931.

On retirement, this distinguished warrior was accorded the accolade of knighthood as a Knight Commander of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath. Thereafter, although settling at Dorking in Surrey, Sir Lewis still kept up his Guernsey connections, paying periodical return visits to renew acquaintance with his circle of friends in the island for which he retained a great affection. During his retirement he served as Gentleman Usher to the Sword of State from 1933 to 1946 and as Deputy Lieutenant of Devonshire in 1936. He lived between Dorking, Surrey and Kingsbridge in Devon, and passed away on March 9th 1966 in Dorking Hospital, aged 95 years and 299 days.  At the time of his passing he was the longest surviving recipient of the Victoria Cross.

Sir Lewis Stratford Tollemache Halliday received a Victoria Cross, the most prestigious award that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces for gallantry in the face of the enemy. His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Royal Marines Museum in Southsea, England.

Sources in addition to the mysterious type-written note that we received:

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Bella Luce