Military Wiki
Sir William Dobbie
Lieutenant-General Sir William Dobbie, May 1942.
Born (1879-07-12)12 July 1879
Died 3 October 1964(1964-10-03) (aged 85)
Place of birth Madras (now Chennai)
Place of death Kensington, London, United Kingdom
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  British Army
Rank Lieutenant-General
Unit Royal Engineers
Commands held Commandant of the Royal School of Military Engineering
General Officer Commanding Malaya Command (August 1936 – July 1939)
Governor of Malta
Battles/wars Second Boer War
World War I
World War II
Awards Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George
Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath
Distinguished Service Order

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.

Early life

William was born in Madras to a civil servant father, W. H. Dobbie of the Indian Civil Service - and to a family with a long military lineage. When he was only nine months old, his parents left him in the care of relatives in England, so that he might receive an education in keeping with his family's station.[1] At thirteen, young William won a scholarship to Charterhouse School and became a top-ranking classical scholar and a keen student of ancient military campaigns. Upon graduation, he proved to be qualified for a military career at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, from which, in due course, he went to the Royal School of Military Engineering at Chatham.[1]

Second Boer War

Sir William Dobbie was plunged into the Second Boer War shortly after the funeral of Queen Victoria in 1901. Interestingly, he later took the view that it was a rather unjust war.[2]

World War I

During World War I, Dobbie happened to have been the staff officer on duty in November 1918 and his is the only signature on the cease-fire telegram that was sent to all troops. In later years, when asked what he did in The Great War, Dobbie would reply "I stopped the bloody thing!".[citation needed] After the War Dobbie was awarded the Croix de Guerre by Belgium.[3]

Interwar years

He was General Officer Commanding Malaya Command from 1935 to 1939.

World War II

Dobbie, then holding the rank of major-general, was informed that after Malaya he would be retired, because new War Office regulations deemed him too old for a further position. After war was declared in September, he was frustrated in his attempts to return to active service, until in April 1940 he encountered the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Edmund Ironside, who offered him the position of Governor-General and Commander-in-chief of Malta. He remained Governor of Malta until May 1942.

While in Malta, he was criticised[Clarification needed] for his approach to leadership during the 3 year siege and for what critics argue to have been an unacceptable delay in the creation of bomb shelters; as well as in implementing efficient food-rationing and creating an effective civil-defence system. Issues surrounding the unloading of ordnance were also a criticism.[citation needed]

He was also the former Commandant of the Royal School of Military Engineering. Dobbie was a member of the Protestant Plymouth Brethren, and when living in The Paragon, Blackheath, attended the large Brethren assembly in Nightingale Vale, Woolwich Common, London SE18. On 31 July 1944 a German V-1 flying bomb fell on houses in Milward Street and Nightingale Vale, Woolwich, and the Brethren's Gospel Hall was severely damaged, but none of the 450 members perished.[citation needed]

Later years

He died on 3 October 1964 in Kensington, London, England at the age of 85 years. He was buried in Charlton Cemetery, near the Chindit memorial of his nephew Major-General Orde Charles Wingate, DSO (1903–1944). His wife Sybil and other members of his family are also buried there.

Dobbie's hypothesis to the fall of Singapore

In 1936, Dobbie, then General Officer Commanding (Malaya) stationed in Singapore, made an inquiry to find out if more forces were required on mainland Malaya, so as to prevent the likelihood of Japanese landings and capturing forward bases to attack Singapore. Percival, then his Chief Staff Officer, was tasked to draw up a tactical appreciation on how the Japanese were most likely to attack. Percival's finalised report in the late 1937, did confirm that north Malaya was a strategic position for the conquest of Singapore and Borneo.[4] Both Dobbie and Percival made it clear that Singapore could no longer be seen as a self-contained naval base, and that its survival rested on the defence of mainland Malaya. So in May 1938, Dobbie wrote to the Chief Of Staff:

...It is an attack from the northward that I regard as the greatest potential danger to the Fortress (Singapore). Such an attack could be carried out in the northeast monsoon.The jungle is not in most places, impassable for infantry...[5]

Dobbie further added that an attack might be possible between the months of November and March, despite high winds and waves produced by the northeast monsoon. The recent landing of "5000 smuggled coolies" during this period, dissolved any preconceptions that the monsoon offered protection. On the contrary, this monsoon would provide good cloud cover for the invaders.[6]


  • Reverend Daniel A. Poling, 1943
    • Never before in any comparable area, have I found so many ranking executives giving so much attention to religion.
  • Prime Minister Churchill
    • [Dobbie is] a Governor of outstanding character who inspired all ranks and classes, military and civil, with his...determination...a soldier and religious zeal...recalled memories of General Gordon and...the Ironsides and Covenanters.
  • Lord Louis Mountbatten
    • [Dobbie] prays aloud after dinner, invoking the aid of God in destroying our enemies. This is highly approved of by the Maltese, who have the same idea about God, but I would prefer an efficient Air force here.
  • Mabel Strickland
    • At San Anton, every night about seven, everyone would be summoned for prayer...Dobbie would stand...and...pray...and....ask the Almighty to bless the convoy...but he never prayed to stop the bombing...that was God's will...God helps those that help themselves...
  • William Dobbie, on British intervention to restore order in the Arab-Jewish riots of 1928
    • This will be the easiest war... We will have to fight only four days a week. The Arabs won't fight on Friday, the Jews on Saturday and Dobbie certainly won't on Sunday.[7]
  • Dobbie was stationed in Palestine and had an office overlooking (Gordon's) Golgotha. In 1929 the Bible Society distributed New Testaments to the British soldiers serving there. Dobbie wrote the following note which was inserted into each copy for his troops:
    • You are stationed at the place where the central event in human history occurred - namely the crucifixion of the Son of God. You may see the place where this happened and you may read the details in this book. As you do this, you cannot help being interested, but your interest will change into something far deeper when you realise the events concern you personally. It was for your sake 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. W.G.S. Dobbie (Brigadier) 10 October 1929.
  • I can't help feeling that the security of the Fortress might be better served by having a stronger force in being outside it … I consequently feel that the answers to the possible threat (of Japanese landing and establishing an advanced base on the mainland) is primarily to be found in suitable mobile forces in being in the Malay Peninsula… - Dobbie's letter as GOC (Malaya), to the War Office on 17 March 1936.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Current Biography: Who's News and Why (1945 ed.) New York : H.W. Wilson Company. ISBN 0-8242-0482-4
  2. Stephens, Don (2005). War and Grace. Evangelical Press. pp. 288. ISBN 978-0-85234-594-8. 
  3. "No. 31514". 19 August 1919. 
  4. Ong, Chit Chung (1997) Operation Matador: Britain's war plans against the Japanese 1918–1941. Singapore: Times Academic Press.
  5. Dobbie, as cited in Lt. Gen. A. E. Percival, Operation of Malayan Command from 8 December 1941 to 15 February 1942, 2nd supplement to The London Gazette of Friday, 20 February 1948; dated Thursday, 26 February 1948, p.1250.
  6. Dobbie correspondences (War Office Document no. W106/2441), in Directorate of Military Operations and Intelligence Papers.
    in Hack, Karl & Blackburn, Kevin (2004) Did Singapore have to fall? : Churchill and the impregnable fortress. London : RoutledgeCurzon.
  7. "World Battlefronts, THE MEDITERRANEAN: Tiger for Old Dob Dob". Time. 18 May 1942.,9171,849818,00.html. 

Further reading

  • Dobbie, Lt-Gen Sir William (1944) A Very Present Help. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
  • Dobbie, Sybil (1944) Grace Under Malta. London : Lindsay Drummond.
  • Dobbie, Sybil (1979) Faith & Fortitude. The Life & Works of General Sir William Dobbie : ISBN 0-7066-0810-0
  • Dobbie's report on the military weakness of Singapore, and on the probable plan of Japanese attack, is discussed at some length in War and Remembrance (1978) by Herman Wouk.

External links

Military offices
Preceded by
Ernest Lewin
GOC Malaya Command
Succeeded by
Sir Lionel Bond
Government offices
Preceded by
Sir Charles Bonham-Carter
Governor of Malta
Succeeded by
The Viscount Gort

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