|CHARLES DOBIE : GENEALOGY|
This is a transcript of a biography of Sir William George Shedden Dobbie, published on pages 151 through 153 of "Current Biography: Who's News and Why" 1945 edition. Transcribed by Charles Dobie.
DOBBIE, SIR WILLIAM (GEORGE SHEDDEN) born July 12, 1879
In 1943, when the Reverend Daniel A. Poling ended a survey of armed services chaplains, he wrote of the high-ranking officers whom he had met: "Never before in any comparable area have I found so many ranking executives giving so much attention to religion." Typical and outstanding among these "sword and Bible" generals of the Second World War is Sir William Dobbie, who was called from retirement to become the hero of Malta, one of the most heavily bombed spots in the world and the island which "conceivably . . . saved the war." Dobbie, who is now again on the retired list, in 1945 made a lecture tour in America in which he brought home vividly to his audiences his sense of God's aid in the Battle of Malta.
William George Shedden Dobbie seemed destined at his birth for a military career. On the Dobbie side of the family he is of Crusader stock. Only his father, W.H. Dobbie, had broken with tradition, taking a post in the Indian Civil Service. Hence, it was in Madras that William was born in 1879. When he was only nine months old, his parents left him with relatives in England so that he might receive an education in keeping with his family's station. At Charterhouse, "one of the best of England's special preparatory schools," he became a top-ranking classical scholar and a keen student of ancient military campaigns. Upon completion of the course, by competitive examinations he proved qualified to continue his military career at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, from which, in due course, he went to the School of Military Engineering at Chatham.
In 1899, at the age of twenty, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Royal Engineers. Dobbie first saw service in the Boer War in 1901 and 1902, winning the rare honor of the Queen's Medal with five clasps, indicating further awards. Thereafter, he was stationed for a time in Bermuda and later served in Ireland. In 1911 he entered the Staff College at Camberley for further training and was graduated two years later. (In 1904 he had been married to Sybil Orde-Browne, youngest daughter of Captain Orde-Browne of the Royal Artillery. They are the parents of one daughter, who was with them on Malta, and of two sons who served in the British Army; they also have a grandson.)
During the First World War Dobbie served in France and Belgium, rising to the rank of brevet lieutenant colonel and becoming General Staff Officer No. 1 under Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig. It was in this capacity that he acquired the distinction of composing, and issuing under his own signature, the "ceasefiring" telegram of November 11, 1918: "Hostilities will cease at 11:00 hours today. Troops will stand fast at the line reached at that hour. There will be no fraternization with the enemy." When asked what he did in that war, Dobbie now answers that he ended it. Dobbie was also the officer who signed the order for the British occupation of Germany. "Life" (magazine) reports that "he has since carried with him the originals of those two epochal orders."
During those four years in battle Dobbie was the recipient of many honors: the Mons ribbon, the Croix de Guerre from Belgium, the Croix de Guerre with Palms from France. He was made Officer of the Order of Leopold by Belgium and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (1916) and Companion of St. Michael and St. George (1919) by his Government. Seven times he was mentioned in dispatches. To his men he was a hero. Said one officer: "When things were blackest and one defeat had followed another, it was wonderful to see how the young officers and men admired the big fellow in the worn greatcoat who never revealed the slightest sign of fear." British officers still remember how, as a staff colonel in the operations section with Haig during the heavy German offensive in March 1918, Dobbie could not be disturbed by discouraging dispatches.
Even then he was a man of deep religious faith, and had been
since his schooldays. "When I was a boy in my teens," he said
once, "I heard it said that Christ came to earth to reveal the ways
of God to man, but I had never taken it in. I got to thinking it
might be a sensible thing to take the trouble to turn to the Bible
and see for myself. I've read the Bible every day since then --
always, if possible, before the day's work, and often before having
to make decisions." Dobbie, who is a member of the Plymouth
Brethren and the author of numerous pamphlets on religion for army
use, finds that neither the progress of science nor war has
disturbed his faith. Nor does he believe that the military
profession is necessarily an evil. "It will
After the war Dobbie was promoted rapidly
When the Second World War burst upon Europe in the fall of 1939, Dobbie, though in retirement after a long and active military life, offered his services to his Government. The following April he was sent to command the strategic Mediterranean island of Malta, which was situated nine hundred miles in either direction from the nearest friendly base, Gibraltar to the west and Alexandria to the east. Once believed by some London officials to be a military liability, Malta is now credited with contributing largely to the downfall of the Axis power in the Mediterranean theater and elsewhere. Under General Dobbie's guidance, Malta became a constant threat to the Axis supply line, prevented thousands of Axis planes from reaching Europe and engaging in action in the Battle of Britain and on the Russian front, and provided a base for British submarines preying on Axis shipping.
Serving first as acting governor and later as governor and
commander in chief, Dobbie became the most popular leader the
Maltese ever had, winning their respect and confidence by a belief
in God and courage under fire which matched their own. When the
initial attack occurred on June 11, 1940, the day after Mussolini
declared war on the Allies, Il Duce boasted that the taking of
Malta would be only a matter of days, for the island was totally
unprepared. With a garrison that numbered less than five thousand,
General Dobbie, however set out to defend the more than thirty
miles of coastline of the island against overwhelming odds. For
the first three months of the siege, he had only four nearly
obsolescent airplanes, one of which was defective, and unable to
fly. Manned by some seaplane pilots who had never flown fighters,
three of these planes
Malta did not fall, but its 270,000 people, huddled together in limestone caves honeycombing its ninety-one and a half rocky square miles, suffered greatly. Two-thirds of the island's food supply had to be imported and shipping of both food and materiel was paralyzed by the perils of enemy planes, submarines, and surface vessels. Yet the people and General Dobbie were equal to the situation, and together they firmly believe that it was God's help which brought them through the crisis. Typical of their spirit was one of Dobbie's orders of the day: "It may be that hard times lie ahead of us, but however hard they may be, I know that the courage and determination of all ranks will not falter, and that with God's help we will maintain the security of this fortress. I call on all officers and other ranks humbly to seek God's help and thus in reliance on Him to do their duty unflinchingly."
Dobbie is described as steadfastly calm and unflinching in the face of danger. During the worst air raids he could be found helping the wardens to rescue the wounded and helpless. (At one time he rescued a Persian cat, Maurice, which became his constant companion.) A young British officer, proud of his commander's courage, said: "Dobbie paid no more attention to bombs and machine- gun fire than to rain. He was in the tower of the palace roof when the Germans, trying to get the crippled "Illustrious" at the dockyard, concentrated more fire power on Valetta and Grand Harbor than has ever been released on any other spot on earth." Each day German and Italian planes were bombing and strafing the ship, which had limped into Malta for repairs, and for four successive days bombs were aimed at the crippled carrier but failed to inflict a mortal wound. "It was a wonderful sight," said Dobbie, "when on the evening of that fourth day the "Illustrious" steamed out of the harbor under her own power." During his command at Malta, Dobbie held nightly Bible classes and quoted the Scriptures in his War Office reports.
When Dobbie was relieved at Malta by the new governor, General the Viscount Gort, in May 1942, he had accomplished the complete fortification of the island and turned it into a bulwark which in March 1942 destroyed 275 German and Italian planes and badly damaged 600 others. Dobbie had also established cooperation of the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air, and civilian forces through a central defense group and had, among other acts, exiled a boatload of Fifth Columnists. All this he did, say the island's defenders, "by his engineering skill, by his understanding of aviation, by making the most of the skills of many others -- in a word, by personality and leadership." Prime Minister Winston Churchill, praising his work, said it "entitled him to release and repose." And for the gallant stand the Maltese made under General Dobbie, King George VI awarded "to the fortress of Malta itself" the George Medal. In 1941 Dobbie, who had been elevated to the rank of temporary lieutenant general that year, had also been made Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath. In 1942 he was made Knight Grand Cross of St. Michael and St. George.
Sir William returned to England to rest, and to lecture on his experiances at Malta and his belief in the religous basis of this war. "If ever we have gone to war on a spiritual issue it is now," he wrote in 1942. "We are not only fighting for our existence and for the preservation of our institutions, we are fighting for the fundamental principles without which life, whether individual or national, will not be worth living. There can be no vestige of doubt that our cause is righteous, and that it must be in accordance with God's will." In January 1945 he began a similar lecture tour of the United States and Canada sponsored by the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, during which, accompanied by Lady Dobbie, who had been with him at Malta, he traveled 15,000 miles, visiting forty cities and addressing audiences aggregating 150,000 persons. While in Ottawa he was entertained at Rideau Hall by the Earl of Athlone, Governor General of Canada, and Princess Alice. At Washington, Sir William and Lady Dobbie were guests of the White House. At City Hall in New York the General was received by Mayor La Guardia.
General Dobbie, whose troops referred to him familiarly as "Old Dob Dob," has been described by a "Liberty" (magazine) interviewer as "a huge, quick, but heavy-going man with thick gray hair, reddish eyebrows run wild, and a short gray mustache." "The most singular thing about him," says the same interviewer, "is the serenity of his deep-set gray-blue eyes." LIke Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery, Dobbie is a teetotaler, and does not smoke. Young men who have fought under him report that they will never be the skeptics they were before the war. Dobbie "did something" to them, they said. Added one young officer: "Old Dob is the simplest, humblest, gentlest of men. There never was a man with less vanity. I think that's one reason why after two years with him, I've found it so difficult to describe him to others. There's nothing to get hold of, no oddities. He was never excited in his life. There is in him an inner calm hard to explain." Dobbie, his men said, was always fair: it was a job done, not rank or position which mattered.References quoted: