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Thursday, 21 September 2017

Admiral Sir Lionel Halsey GCMG, GCVO, KCIE, CB, ADC

Having tantalized some of my regular blog readers with a reference to one of the naval members of the Halsey family in yesterday's bog entry, I thought that I might add a few biographical details about him today.

Lionel Halsey was the fourth son of Sir Thomas Frederick Halsey Bt MP, and very early in his life he decided upon a career in the Royal Navy. After attending Stubbington House School in Fareham, Hampshire (a well-known navy 'crammer'), he joined HMS Britannia as a Cadet in 1885. He became a Midshipman in 1888, a Sub-Lieutenant, and then a Lieutenant in 1894, having served with the Royal Yacht Squadron from 1893.

His next sea appointment was to HMS Powerful, and in 1897 he sailed in her to the Far East. The ship was supposed to come back to the UK in 1899, but during her return journey the Second Boer War broke out, and she was diverted to South Africa to given what support she could. This took the form of a Naval Brigade, part of which – a battery of 4.7-inch naval guns mounted of extemporised mountings – was commanded by Lieutenant Halsey. His exemplary service marked Lionel out for rapid promotion, and he became a Commander in 1902 when he joined the newly-built cruiser HMS Good Hope. Only three years later he became a Captain, and took over command of HMS Donegal.


In 1912 Captain Lionel Halsey took command of the newly-commissioned battle cruiser HMS New Zealand, and during a cruise to New Zealand to show the flag, Lionel was presented with a Māori piupiu (warrior's skirt) and hei-tiki (pendant) which he was asked to wear if the ship ever went into battle. He did so, and it is recorded that he wore them on the bridge of his ship at the Battles of Heligoland Bight and Dogger Bank.

By the time of the Battle of Jutland in 1916 Lionel had been promoted and was Admiral Jellicoe’s Captain of the Fleet, serving aboard the flagship, HMS Iron Duke. When Admiral Jellicoe moved to the Admiralty in November 1916 to become First Sea Lord, Lionel went with him and became Fourth Sea Lord. The following year he was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral and moved to the position of Third Sea Lord. He returned to sea the following year when he took over as Rear Admiral commanding the Second Battle Cruiser Squadron of the Grand Fleet at the same time as becoming the commander of the Australian Fleet. He held these two posts from 1918 to 1920, during which time he received his knighthood.

He retired in 1926 and became an Extra Equerry to the King, King George V. He also took on the role of Comptroller and Treasurer of the Prince of Wales’s household, and when King George died, he moved over to become an Extra Equerry to King Edward VIII. Unfortunately the relationship between the two broke down as the Abdication crisis loomed, and he ceased to perform these duties, only to return as an Extra Equerry to King George V when the latter came to the throne.

He died in 1949, and Arthur Marder (the famous naval historian) wrote of him that he was:
'one of the most popular Officers of his day – a delightful, outgoing, frank person, a fine leader, a very zealous and competent Officer, who might have gone to the very top after the War but for his acceptance of a Court Appointment.'

It is of interest to note that he was a very, very distant cousin of Admiral William Frederick 'Bill' (or 'Bull') Halsey USN, who at various stages of the Second World War commanded Carrier Division 2, Task Force 16, the US forces in the South Pacific Area, and the US Third Fleet.

6 comments:

  1. Minor typo - I think it should read "King George VI when the later came to the throne". When was he born?

    Fascinating stuff, I was wondering why he wore a Maori skirt after the last post but this one puts my curiosity to rest with an obvious answer!

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    1. John Armatys,

      Thanks for spotting the typo; I have corrected it.

      Sir Lionel was born in 1872, and was 54 years old when he retired from the Royal Navy in 1926.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  2. Admiral Halsey always makes me think of Paul McCartney's song, Uncle Albert. :) (apparently that song refers to the American Admiral Halsey)

    (and when you post a comment there's the check box to "Notify me", which also brings that song to mind sometimes - "Admiral Halsey notified me...")

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    1. Fitz-Badger,

      I came across the reference to the Paul McCartney's song whilst researching the life of William Frederick Halsey.

      It is interesting to see that two quite distantly related descendants of a late medieval tenant farmer could rise to prominence as naval officers on different side of the Atlantic.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  3. The battle apron worked of course: the New Zealand emerged pretty much unscathed from Jutland, unlike so many of the other battlecruisers!

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    1. Ian Drury,

      It would be nice to know what happened to it after the ship was scrapped. I've read that the admiral once wore it to a meeting, but as he left it aboard when he moved to his next appointment, that doesn't seem to make sense.

      All the best,

      Bob

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