General William Dobbie

Lieutenant-General Sir William George Shedden Dobbie GCMG, KCB, DSO (12 July 1879 – 3 October 1964) was a British Army veteran of the Second Boer War, and First and Second World Wars“. Thus begins the Wikipedia article summing up the man, his life, work and legacy. Interestingly enough, while the article does go through his distinguished contribution in three wars: the Boer War, World War 1 and World War 2, it made little reference to the significant part he played when as Brigadier in charge of British troops seeking to enforce the British mandate of Palestine around 1929, when tensions were mounting and hostilities looked like breaking out because of the net increase in Jewish immigration and a negative Arab reaction with threats of retaliation, but he was able to maintain the peace with relatively few troops at his disposal, resisting the temptation to go on the offensive, in particular against Arab resurgents, and his belief in a prayer answering God.

Before reading another related link that appeared among today’s emails, I hadn’t given Dobbie much thought, although I was just about aware of this man. But as soon as I read the article titled: “Jerusalem Remembers General Who Halted WW1it struck me this would be a suitable article for my blog, for several reasons, as I hope will become apparent. I realise that the journal, Israel Today, is not everyone’s cup of tea, given its pro-Israel line but, in writing as it did concerning Dobbie, it has rendered a service to us all, given that most people would otherwise be ignorant concerning what this man achieved. The article tell us: “on the 50th anniversary of his death, Lt.-Gen. Sir William Dobbie’s life is being celebrated at Christ Church, an Anglican community with strong links to the family and located within the ancient walls of the Old City” and recounts incidents from his life including his part in bringing about a cease fire in World War 1 but in particular what he did while he was serving in Palestine / Israel, for which Jewish folk especially at the time were grateful. There are three aspects of Dobbie’s life I feel to be particularly significant (there may well be others) but I will mention these ones here as they happen to strike a personal chord.

Besides being a career soldier with an exemplary record, evidenced by his career progression, awards and the testimony of others, he was essentially a man of faith. One of the strategic points in World War 2 concerned the small island of Malta that was under British protection and was threatened to be overrun by the Nazis but it did not succumb. A significant contributory factor was Dobbie’s governorship and his faith. Many stories are told about his faith but one, cited in both the above references, was especially poignant: at the time he was commanding troops in Palestine, in 1929, he gave New Testaments to his soldiers, with the following inscription: You are stationed at the place where the central event in human history occurred – namely the crucifixion and death of the Son of God. You may see where this took place and you may read the details in this Book. As you do so, you cannot help being interested, but your interest will change into something far deeper when you realise that that event concerns you personally and that it was for your sake that the Son of God died on the cross here. The realisation of this fact cannot but produce a radical change in one’s life – and the study of this book will, under God’s guidance, help you to such a realisation.” Another time, different ideas – I suspect today with our rulers more obsessed with political correctness, and not showing favour to any religion, than the sharing of God’s word, anyone trying to replicate such actions may find himself in trouble!

The name Dobbie rang a bell because of “Brigadier Ian Dobbie, Chairman of the SASRA Council and grandson of Lieutenant General Sir William Dobbie, former Governor of Malta, while bringing the congregation up to date with the activities of the Association since the sesquicentennial (150th) anniversary, emphasised the unchanging gospel of an unchanging Saviour in an ever changing military environment“. Soldiers and Airman’s Scripture Readers Association (SASRA), was something I have no doubt Ian Dobbie’s grandfather approved and believe played a part in. SASRA was set up with the avowed aim of reaching servicemen with the gospel and scripture readers are tasked with engaging with the men and women at every level, and play an important part in looking after their welfare. It also happens to be an organisation the church I attended for many years has supported. One important aspect of Dobbie’s legacy is that many of his descendants practice and share his faith and contribute toward their community today.

My third point about Dobbie’s life is one that I suspect few would have noted. I have done so merely because both Dobbie and I were influenced by and involved with a relatively small group of Christians, known as the Plymouth Brethren, something I have also written about (dated but still relevant). Like many of its members he was Christian first and PB second and it would be interesting (for me anyway) to study that link. While what I have found about Dobbie is consistent with what many PB members thought and did, he does challenge the stereotype that PB members are only interested in the world yet to come. After all, his WW1 peace involvement and his actions in Palestine and Malta show that he was far from disinterested and did more than most to make the world of the here and now a better place. While I know little of Dobbie’s theology regarding Israel, I have no doubt that he was aware of standard PB teaching on the matter. It is therefore evident he supported the Jewish people and saw a special place for them under God and likely he supported the land of Israel for a Jewish home.

While the exhibition about his life that is taking place in Jerusalem will attract Jews and Christians alike, Arabs too have good reason to be grateful to Dobbie. Given today’s tensions in Israel, with some of the spotlight being placed on the Israeli Defence Force (see here), my dream is God would raise up those, who like Dobbie, seek to understand and apply God’s truth, righteousness and justice.


One thought on “General William Dobbie

  1. Jos Johnston says:

    Thank you for your interesting article. I am William Dobbie’s grandson (Ian, whom you mention, is my first cousin), and I was involved in setting up the Jerusalem exhibit. I just thought that you might be interested to know that Sir William’s book, “A Very Present Help” is available to read on the website and his autobiography, Faith & Fortitude by my mother, which has been out of print since the 70s, is currently in the process of being uploaded onto the same site.
    With best wishes

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