Faith & Fortitude

The Life & Work of General Sir William Dobbie

By Sybil Dobbie

© 1979  P. E. Johnston

Edited by Dr. J. O. D. Johnston

P.E. Johnston : Gillingham, England All Rights Reserved

Used by Permission of the Dobbie family


1. Dobbie, William, Sir, 1879-1964. 2. Dobbie family. 3. Great Britain. Army Biography. 4. Generals Great Britain Biography.
LC Class: DA69.3D58 D62 ~ LCCN: 79670365 ~ Dewey: 355/.0092/4 B ~ ISBN: 07066-0810-0 ~ OCLC: 775715339 ~ 327p.

Faith & Fortitude is presently held by 41 libraries including Stanford University, University of Cambridge, and University of Oxford.

This Biography of her Father is being published privately, from the manuscript left by my Late Wife, Sybil Johnston, to whom this book is dedicated.

Table of Contents

Foreword by General Dove

Prologue ..... 9

I. Family Portraits ..... 13

II. Commissioned ..... 25

III. To South Africa ..... 45

IV. The Boer War ..... 57

V. Peace and Marriage (1902-14) ..... 71

VI. World War (1914-16) ..... 89

VII. Continuing War (1917-18) ..... 103

VIII. Letters from the War ..... 115

IX. Peacetime Postings (1918-28) ..... 133

X. Egypt (1928-32) ..... 150

XI. To Pacify the Holy Land (1929) ..... 162

XII. To Chatham as Commandant (1933-35) ..... 181

XIII. Commanding Singapore & Malaya (1935-39) ..... 195

XIV. Retirement & Recall ..... 208

XV. Malta Under Siege ..... 226

XVI. Author's Recollections ..... 238

XVII. Malta Retaliates ..... 249

XVIII. Mediterranean Summer ..... 263

XIX. Maltese Winter ..... 274

XX. Return from Malta G.C. ..... 292

XXI. Proclamation ..... 309

Editor's Note ..... 321

Books Consulted ..... 325

Short Note on the Author


By Major General A. J. H. Dove, C.B., C.B.E., Colonel Commandant Royal Engineers, 1961-1966.

   It is a great honour to be invited to write a foreword to this life of Lieutenant-General Sir William Dobbie. He was one of the outstanding soldiers of his time, and was not only a great soldier, but also a great Christian.

   I first met him when I was a young officer at Chatham, and he was a Colonel. This was just after the first World War, and it was my privilege for many years to know him as a friend. As an officer and as a Royal Engineer he was admired and trusted.

   I left the Staff College shortly after he had been appointed to command in Singapore. The Commandant referred to him when I had my final interview. He told me that another Major-General had commented to Dobbie on the appointment, and had said jokingly "I suppose you've now got the task of surrendering Singapore to the Japanese!" Dobbie had looked straight at him and said quietly "We'll eat rats first".

   It was this determined spirit which carried him through his great test as Governor of Malta, and which carried Malta triumphantly through its siege. But it was not only the abundant courage and the great military ability he displayed which played such a large part in Malta's defence, but his firm faith in a living, loving God.

   He was known in the Army as a great Christian, and his whole life was a witness to his faith in his Lord, Jesus Christ, and this witness was an inspiration in times of need to many of his brother officers.

   It is my hope that this life of a great soldier, a great Sapper and a great Christian will continue to be an inspiration to many.

Major General Arthur J.H. Dove, C.B, C.B.E.
Colonel Commandant Royal Engineers, 1961-1966.

From the Back Cover of the Book

   The full story of the Life of SIR WILLIAM DOBBIE has now been told by one who was best qualified to do so, as she was with him in Singapore, and again all through the tense and exciting days of the historic Siege of Malta in World War II, when final victory was in the balance.

   Here is Sir William, friend of the people, as he was affectionately dubbed by the Maltese, in a very honest and carefully researched Biography.

   His character was summed up, at the time of the Siege, by an article in The Times on 13th May 1942, when it referred to:

"The island garrison of Malta, which Sir William Dobbie has led with inspired and inspiring resolution."

   A generous testimony to his faith and fortitude was given by another great soldier, Field Marshall Viscount Gort, V.C., his successor as Governor, when he was addressing the Maltese government on 2nd November 1943:

"It was under Sir William's inspiring leadership that Malta was awarded the George Cross by H.M. King George VI, and today the name of Malta G.C. is honoured everywhere as a symbol of heroic faith and resistance."

   This book is thoroughly recommended both to those who knew him, and also for those who wish to study the life of a famous Christian soldier. They will find much to uplift and to encourage them in this human story.


   It was a clear, starry night in Spring, a Mediterranean Spring. The slight breeze brought occasional wafts of orange-blossom scent from the orchard to the high square tower of San Anton Palace, Malta, where a tall man, wearing uniform and a tin hat and very upright despite his sixty odd years, was standing, peering at the night sky. General Sir William Dobbie, Governor and Commander in Chief of Malta, 1940-42, was watching an air raid.

   The silence was almost complete, and no light but the stars showed across the whole island. Then to the north, a searchlight appeared, its long finger pointing upwards. Soon there were others, circling the sky, like spokes of a gigantic glowing wheel, seeking, probing, searching. Presently they began to concentrate on a particular area, their brilliant points moving south and west. More and more took up the quest.

   There was sound now — the thud of bombs, but also the throb of aircraft, planes hurrying, dodging, striving to escape those moving, clutching fingers of light. Suddenly a plane was caught and held, lit up clearly. The watcher on the tower drew in his breath sharply, and his blue eyes narrowed as he strove to follow the battle.

   There were flashes all round the island, as the anti-aircraft guns got into action, for this did not happen to be a "fighter night" and the artillery were working alone. After a perceptible pause the noise of the guns reached San Anton in a shattering wave of sound that boomed and echoed round the tower. A moment later the plane, still held in those remorseless fingers, was seen to lose height, to sink rapidly, smoke belching from its tail. One by one the searchlights died away to the south-west; the guns were silent, but presently a slight patter on the tower indicated that shell fragments were coming down.

   The Governor waited and watched, thrusting his hands into his pockets against the cold night air. Then in the north the probing finger showed again, and it was clear that the next wave of Axis bombers was coming in from Sicily. The battle went on.

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   At last the sirens screamed forth the raucous "Raiders Past" signal, and every loud speaker in the island interrupted its programme to do the same. The Governor hurried down to his study in San Anton Palace.

   It was a beautifully proportioned room, part of the poem in white stone that the Knights of St. John had built in the 17th century for their Grand Master. The long windows faced out on to gardens to dream of, though now their starlit loveliness was hidden, for every window in the Palace, and indeed in the island, was blacked out. And the Governor had no time to do more than sense the beauty that surrounded him. He hurried to his telephone and rang up various authorities to learn what damage the raid had caused.

   Thanks to the searchlights and the guns there had not been much. Nearly everyone had been in a shelter, those shelters for whose provision he had worked so hard, and there had been no loss of life. He could relax — until the next raid.

   On his desk, together with his papers, files and telephone, was a Bible, large and worn. He had had it nearly all his adult life, and inside it was much marked, showing the result of many hours of study. Now he picked it up and began to read it. Presently his wife joined him, and they prayed together, for the problems of the island and for their own. Then they went to bed, the telephone within reach, so that by night as by day, the people of the island could contact their Governor. There would probably be other raids during the night, but neither he nor his wife went to a shelter. His people might need him.

   This book is the story of Dobbie of Malta, and the path he followed that led him to the most bombed part of the British Commonwealth during the Second World War.

Chapter I

Family Portraits

Never the lotos closes, never the wild-fowl wake,
But a soul goes out on the East wind, that died for England's sake—
Man or woman or suckling, mother or bride or maid—
Because on the bones of the English, the English Flag is stayed.

"The English Flag"

   The British ruled in India for nearly two hundred years, first as servants of the East India Company and latterly under direct British rule. Generations of young men came out from English schools and made the hazardous voyage to India — until 1869 round the Cape. Many such lads never saw their homes or parents again for, in the days before inoculation for anything but small-pox, before anesthetics and antiseptics, before refrigeration or sterilisation of food, before adequate drainage or water supplies, before good roads or railways, when plague and typhus and typhoid were rife, the mortality from illness was terrible. To this can be added the hazards from snake-bite and wild animals, from hunting and riding accidents, from civil disturbance and war. The English graveyards in India show a heart-breaking record of young lives lost, and English families serving there paid a heavy toll.

   Nevertheless India wove her spell, and some families came back again and again. One such family was the Dobbies. From Sarah Dobbie, whose father Samuel Staple R.N. was killed at the siege of Pondicherry in 1761, to the last baby of Dobbie blood, who was born (and died) in India in 1947, the family steadily gave sons and daughters to the Indian service.

   Dobbies had originally come from Scotland, where one Robert Dobbie had won a prize for shooting with the Royal Company of Archers in 1642, and they had, before the Indian epoch, owned considerable property in America. During what a family record austerely describes as "the dispute between Great Britain and her Trans-Atlantic colonies", this was lost. They came back to England and then sought service in India.

   They were soldiers and sailors and administrators; and the treasures of the East, so effectively garnered by many merchants and traders at the end of the 18th and during the 19th centuries, did not come their way. Indeed the only record of any financial success is that the East India Company gave £300 worth of plate

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and a diamond ring for his wife to Captain William Hugh Dobbie (R.N., but attached to the naval forces of the Company) for his work in putting down pirates in 1803, in which action he was severely wounded.

   William Hugh, who was the great-grandfather of Dobbie of Malta, transferred, after 18 years in the service of the Company, once more to the Royal Navy. He settled down finally in Essex at Saling Hall, becoming a J.P. and deputy-lieutenant for the county, and lived till 1830. India which had killed his grandfather, one uncle and his only brother, had let him go.

   He married the daughter of his nearest neighbour in Essex and reared a large family, born between 1809 and 1828. The children received the normal education of the time. The little girls learned to sew and embroider — there is a sampler extant on which one of them painstakingly recorded the names and birthdays of all her brothers and sisters — the boys learned Latin and arithmetic and "the use of the globe."

   But perhaps it was Father's stories that most enlivened geography lessons — stories of near shipwrecks in tropical gales, visits to temples and mosques, battles with pirates, traditions of the siege of Pondicherry and probably (for people were far from squeamish in what they told children then) horrible tales of thuggery, suttee and such features of early nineteenth century India. The call of India came faint but clear across the lush meadows and sluggish streams of Essex and some of the family answered it.

   George Staple Dobbie and Robert Shedden Dobbie (born 1819 and 1821) went out as officers in the Indian army, and some of the daughters married men serving in India. (One, Mary Amelia Vansittart, lived through the siege of Agra during the Mutiny, where she nursed the wounded, and left an absorbing and, in some places, horrifying account of her adventures).

   Till then, as far as is known, the Dobbie men had followed the pattern of the better type of 18th century soldier or sailor. That is, they were brave and honest, uninterested in social or economic questions, had a casual respect for the Indians under their command and were prepared to leave well alone when it came to

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Indian customs and beliefs. They subscribed, in a general way, to the Christian faith — possibly watered down to a benevolent theism — and they hoped and expected that some time all Indians would gradually adopt it voluntarily. Like Warren Hastings they were prepared to:

"leave the Indians religious creed to the Being who has so long endured it and who will, in His own time, reform it."

   Dobbies had no strong beliefs themselves and were little interested in imposing those they had on others, English or Indian. But when, after training at Addiscombe (The East India Company's 'Sandhurst') George and Robert went out to serve in the Madras Infantry, a new element came into their lives — a new and fervent faith.

   Though not apparently noticeable in Essex, the Evangelical movement was sweeping the educated classes of England at this time. It may be traced to Wesley's preaching half a century before, and perhaps, more specifically to the outstanding conversion of William Wilberforce, Member of Parliament, friend of William Pitt the Prime Minister, and favourite of London society.

   The tenets of the Evangelicals were not revolutionary. They merely reiterated what had been said time and again since the time of the Apostles. They believed strongly in the absolute authority of the Bible and studied it assiduously, including Biblical prophecy. They engaged in much private prayer. They insisted on such traditional abstinences as cards, dancing and theatres. They were zealous Sabbatarians.

   These sterile beliefs would not however have been enough to give the movement the force and power of sacrifice that, in fact, it contained. But the Evangelicals re-emphasised strongly two beliefs which, it would seem from history, can be explosive in their results. One was justification by faith alone, and the other a very personal devotion to Christ, and a feeling of His constant, day-by-day direction.

   This creed found expression in great works for social reform and philanthropy. The achievements of such people as Wilberforce, Hannah More, or Lord Shaftesbury have long found their way

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into history books, though the beliefs that inspired their activities receive less recognition.

   The Evangelical wind, strong in England, was blowing hard across India in the first half of the 19th century. Lord Macaulay, brought up under the influence of "the Clapham Sect" was active in educational reform. Successive Governor-Generals were trying to stamp out the more debasing religious customs, notably suttee, though often, in doing so, they faced the terrifying choice of provoking a riot, or condoning a hideous act of cruelty and injustice — a problem at least as old as Pilate's day.

   Perhaps the proto-type of the Evangelical administrator and soldier in India is Sir Henry Lawrence, the "Titan of the Punjab". He, his brothers and the many young men they trained served God and India with an amazing combination of zeal, energy, courage and probity. Though there may have been some element of intolerance in their attitude to Indian beliefs and culture, yet their single-mindedness achieved results, as the growing peace and prosperity of the country showed.

   Early in the 19th century Parliament, under the influence of Wilberforce and Lord Teignmouth (a former Governor-General) had been persuaded to insert into the Act renewing the Charter of the East India Company, clauses encouraging mission work in India. This had been forced through despite strenuous opposition from the Company, and Christian missionaries were soon at work.

   Such was the India to which the Dobbie brothers came in the early 1840s.

   Among the missions working near Madras, was the German Evangelical Basel Mission, and one of its ministers was the Rev. Samuel Hebich. He seems to have been an odd brusque little man, with the determination (and also the tact) of a man-eating tiger. For some reason he became convinced that his work in India was not to be so much among the Indians, as among the apparently frivolous and ungodly British officers of the Madras Native Infantry. These included George and Robert Dobbie.

   Hebich's methods were simple, but he must, despite his oddity, have had some outstanding gifts of personality to achieve what he did. He would waylay one or two officers when they were out

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walking or riding, and he would deliver what he called a message from God, which was mostly a text from the Bible, and the officers seem to have listened to him without rudeness or ridicule.

   On one such occasion he waylaid Lieutenant Robert Dobbie and told him to go home and read the first chapter of the Book of Genesis. Robert, unbelievably, did just that, and before he reached the end of the chapter, had been completely converted. His life was utterly changed. He adopted the Evangelical faith and never swerved from it till his life's end. At about the same time his brother George underwent an equally convincing conversion.

   The story is extraordinary. According to Dobbie tradition, every officer in the regiment gradually followed the same path. Every evening after mess, a Bible reading was held, and the regiment was nicknamed in the area, "Hebich's Own". How long it retained this character is not known, but Hebich's work certainly altered for good and all the lives of the Dobbie brothers, their wives and many of their descendants for three or four generations.

   George Dobbie married the daughter of an English doctor in India, but Robert went home to find a bride, and in 1851 he brought her out with him. Her name had been Isabella Monteith, and she came from Scotland. She settled happily in South India, and in April 1852 came under the influence of the redoubtable Hebich. Of all his conversions she was one of the most outstanding. She was swept off her feet, with the suddenness of a St. Paul or a John Wesley, and from then on lived only to pass on her joyful faith to everyone she knew. She implanted it in her little girl, it was an enormous link with her devout husband, and she put it to all her friends.

   She seems to have been a remarkable woman, of brains and character. She became very popular among her husband's friends and of considerable influence among the English officers in his regiment, the 39th Madras Native Infantry. She was, however a woman of her time. She accepted her lot as home-maker, wife and mother, and despite her brains, never thought of being a missionary or social worker or career woman. Perhaps too, she absorbed something of the principles of the Indians around her, that a woman's main hope of success and fulfillment will be

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through her son. Her first child had been a daughter, Margaret, but in 1855 she was expecting another baby.

   She had gone to the beautiful hill station of South India, Ootacamund, for the summer. As she sat in the verandah, looking out on the peaks and valleys of the Nilgri Hills, and sewing the absurdly elaborate clothes that fashion demanded for babies even in India, she probably wove the dreams that every mother weaves, and tried to peer into the future to see the fate of the child she carried.

   He would surely be a son, a son who would carry on the name of Dobbie, and who would love and serve God. Perhaps he would be a soldier and do something great. He might even be knighted for his services. She would have liked to call him Robert, but her husband had chosen his name — William after his father. Her dreams would slide into prayers, and she would thank God for the child to come, the child whose zeal and service for God would have a wider scope than anything life could have offered her.

   Phrases such as "remarkably resolute" and "a Cromwellian figure in a key position" floated through her mind. Did they come just from her own imaginative hopes, or were they "hints and echoes of a world to spirits folded in the womb?"

   On August 25th she was taken suddenly ill, her son was stillborn, and it was soon clear that she was dying.

   She knew it, for her husband, in accordance with an earlier promise told her clearly, and her faith did not fail. She murmured again and again "Jesus is with me" and in compliance with the somewhat ghoulish custom of the time she obediently "gave a testimony" of her faith, to all her friends who came to say goodbye and ask her "Is your faith in the Lord strong?" She urged her little girl's ayah, and the English woman who was nursing her to "come to Jesus." She sent messages to the same effect to her mother in England.

   Her mind was clear to the end, for, though she was in great pain, she firmly refused laudanum (the only pain-killer known to the doctor, and which he had offered her) so that she might not die drugged. It was an exemplary death-bed according to the standards of her circle and her time — and a remarkably courageous

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one by any standards. A detailed account of it was, in fact, written and printed in a small tract, a copy of which is among Dobbie family records.

   But what of her thoughts, what of the broken dreams? How could any descendant, bearing the name of Dobbie, now fulfil the destiny for which she had hoped? Had it all been fancy, and were all her hopes buried in a still-born baby's grave? She had tried so hard to serve God, but how short a time, how little scope she had had, and now she could not delegate her work to a son. Towards the end she cried: "There is a cloud — a dark cloud" and later she said:

"I am passing through the valley of the shadow of death — you do not know what it is to be in the dark valley — no one can know it but those who are in it!"

What was the cloud and darkness? No one knew, and a moment later she cried:

"But there is light in the valley — Jesus is with me."

Perhaps at the end Isabella Dobbie saw her shattered dream piecing together in another form. Who can tell?

   She died on September 5th 1855, and was buried in the English churchyard at Ootacamund.

   Her husband lived till 1868, commanding his regiment at the end. The storm of the Mutiny passed him by, the Madras army remaining completely loyal, and Robert's life pursued an even way. He died at Bangalore in 1868, a fervent Evangelical to the end. In a letter he wrote three days before his death, he said:

"How I lament that I have made so little of Christ's company! I have been fighting for Him, labouring for Him, but not prizing Him, whereas what is battle or weariness or glory compared to Himself?"

   What became of Margaret, the little four-year-old who had stood with her ayah at her mother's death-bed? She had a happy youth, for her bereaved father sent her home to be brought up with a tribe of Dobbie cousins, the fourteen children of his brother George, who were being sent home in twos and threes

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to grow up in England. She went to a boarding-school with the girls, and received a very good education, far superior to the usual Victorian girl's training.

   When she was grown-up she came out to her father, now commanding his regiment in Madras. She was there when he died, and went back later to live with her Uncle George, now a General. Then she followed the frequent Victorian destiny, and married the cousin, with whom she had been brought up, William Herbert Dobbie, her uncle's third son. (One of his elder brothers had been killed by a tiger; another Dobbie claimed by India). William Herbert was an extremely able young man in the Accountants' Branch of the Indian Civil Service, and almost the only member of the family in that generation not a soldier. They settled in Madras.

   Margaret Dobbie (and her name was still Dobbie after her marriage) could scarcely have remembered her mother Isabella, but she inherited much of her intelligence and strength of character. She had also followed completely the Evangelical beliefs of her parents and uncle. Her mother's last gift to her had been a testament, inscribed with the words:

"Oh may we ever walk in Him and nothing know beside,
Nothing desire, nothing esteem, but Jesus crucified."

   If these words were a prayer it was answered, for she had the same limitless faith and devotion.

   As she lived through the hot weather in Madras in the summer of 1879, waiting for the birth of her second child (she had already had a daughter, called Isabella), Margaret could not but have wondered if her fate would be that of her mother. The same dream must have come to her — the hope of a son who would serve God in a wider sphere than his mother could know. And her thoughts too slid into prayers. Margaret's Evangelical soul would have been horrified at the thought of praying to the saints, but it would be strange if, during that summer, she had not felt very close to the mother whose life had run on such similar lines to her own, and who had "died in faith, not having received the promise."

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   The summer passed. The large Indian household were sympathetic, excited, all hoping for the birth of a "Baby-Sahib". The servants had even got a rag doll ready to be presented — a fine Indian doll, for whom the local tailor had made a magnificent quilted coat. And on July 12th, 1879, in Madras, Margaret's son was born, a fine strong baby — William George Shedden Dobbie, the grandson of both the Dobbie brothers and of Isabella, whose lives had been so changed by Samuel Hebich.

   History did not repeat itself. Margaret recovered, though she never had another child. But perhaps as she watched her tough little blond son crawling round the bungalow, clutching his Indian doll (destined in fact to be the loved companion of three generations of Dobbie children) did she feel sometimes as if her mother Isabella were watching in the shadows, smiling at a dream coming to fulfilment?

Chapter II


God, who created me
Nimble and light of limb, In three elements free,
To run, to ride, to swim: Not when the sense is dim,
But now from the heart of joy, I would remember him,
Take the thanks of a boy.

H. C. Beeching

   William came home from India during his second year. European children usually stayed out longer, up till five or six, but probably Margaret wanted to get her daughter home, so they all came. Then began the nomadic life of so many children of the period, part of the price paid for an overseas Empire.

    General George Dobbie, William's Grandfather, had now retired and had settled in Devonshire, at the village of Budleigh Salterton. William was at first based on his house, and it must have been a cheerful spot, with relays of Dobbie uncles, aunts and cousins coming and going. He had, in fact, 39 cousins on that side of the family, and their parents were mostly in India, so that they came and went freely.

    The General seems to have been a hard, not to say ruthless Victorian father to his enormous family. Each of his daughters had been firmly married off, with little option in the matter, to the first suitable young man who had appeared (though these marriages all seem to have been remarkably happy), and his sons had been given some start in life and then left completely to shift for themselves. However he had mellowed in old age, and become a very kind grandfather, and William was devoted to him. Unfortunately, however, he died when William was not quite eight, and the boy went away to a boarding-school, passing his holidays with relations.

   One or other of his many aunts or uncles usually found room to tuck in William and his sister Isabella somewhere, but relations were constantly coming to and fro between England and India, so that these holiday homes changed frequently. However Margaret Dobbie managed to get home a certain amount — rather more than most parents in India — so there was some home life.

   It must have been clear early that William was going to be clever. There is in existence a beautifully written and spelled letter to his mother when he was only seven, saying gleefully that

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Grannie said that he was going to too many parties, and telling how someone in the family dressed up as a dwarf, which frightened one of his cousins. He adds proudly: "But I shook hands with him!"

   At seven he went to Tyttenhanger Lodge, a well-known preparatory school at St. Albans, and was soon engulfed in the classical education of the period. He was learning Greek, Latin and French by the time he was nine, but of course no science and not much mathematics. So good were his classics that when he was 13 he won a classical scholarship to Charterhouse, and halfway through his Charterhouse career he won a senior classical scholarship as well.

   Charterhouse was an extremely good school. It was an old foundation (early 17th century) and at first had been located in London. In 1872, however, though there were only 200 boys, it had moved to Godalming, Surrey. From then it went ahead rapidly, numbers quickly rising to 500 and many famous scholars joining the Staff. Dr. T. E. Page, who taught VI Form classics from 1873-1910 was very notable.

   William went to Saunderites house, under Dr. Haig-Brown. The boys were well looked after, though not pampered, for there was a house staff of 20 servants, including those who waited on the large Haig-Brown family. Early chapel was at 7.30a.m., followed by first school. There were of course compulsory games, football (not rugby) and cricket. William was no great adept at football, but became a keen and quite effective cricketer. Rackets courts had been built in 1877, and there was plenty of river boating.

   The boys were encouraged to take a responsible interest in the outside world. The School fire brigade used to help, for instance, in local fires. A Charterhouse mission was run in London for poor children — and at the close of the Summer term a special trainload of these children came down to Charterhouse for the day. Many boys would stay back for a day of their holidays to help with this "Mission Treat" which was started in 1887, and went on for many years.

   There have been many famous Old Boys from Charterhouse. Besides such varied types as Richard Lovelace the poet, Prince

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Albert (the son of Prince and Princess Christian) who was in the cricket eleven, Lord Baden-Powell and Professor Trevor-Roper the historian, there have been notable mystics. These include Richard Crashaw, John Wesley and General Havelock. General Orde Wingate, a nephew by marriage of William Dobbie, was a later soldier-mystic from Charterhouse.

   Was there any tradition of mysticism in the school, perhaps something indefinable, apparent only to the sensitive soul of an idealistic adolescent? At any rate, while at Charterhouse William Dobbie underwent what he regarded as the great turning-point in his spiritual experience. It is best related in his own words.

   "It was when I was a schoolboy at Charterhouse, fourteen years of age, that I came to know Him. I have had the inestimable privilege of being born into a family in which Christ had been known and honoured for several generations, and I learned about Him from parents from my earliest years. For the teaching they gave me, and for the example of consistent Christian lives which they set, I can never be sufficiently thankful. They made the things of God real to me and helped me to realize that God desired, and was able to come into every compartment of daily life, and that one's spiritual life and ordinary work-a-day life should be one and the same thing. All this stood me in very good stead in later years — but the fact remains that in spite of their teaching and example, and in spite of the fact that I knew (in my head) God's plan of salvation, yet it was not until I was fourteen years old that I entered into the spiritual experience which revolutionized my life.

   At that time God, in His mercy, caused me to feel the weight of the burden of my sins. It was a heavy burden, a crushing burden and one which made me feel miserable, and from which I greatly desired relief. I do not suppose that in the eyes of the world I was a particularly conspicuous sinner.

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I was, I imagine, much the same as most boys of my age, but I did realise that things were not right between God and me, and that I was quite unfit to stand in His sight. Looking back on it now, I am more grateful to Him than I can say, that He put this burden on me. If He had not done so, I might never have sought for the relief which I found then, and have found ever since increasingly in Christ. This experience has helped me to understand the meaning of Christ's words when He explained that the work of the Holy Spirit was to "reprove the world of sin" and so it was. Owing to the operation of the Holy Spirit, my need of a Saviour was brought home to me.

   This may have been through the words of friends or relatives who were concerned about me; or it may have been due to the fact that some of my schoolfellows at this time entered into an experience of Christ as Saviour; or it may have been due to some address or addresses I heard; or it may have been, and probably was, due to a combination of all these factors. But on the first Sunday of November 1893, when I was spending a half-term holiday from Charterhouse at Blackheath, I realized for the first time, although I had often heard it before, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, had come to this earth for the express purpose of laying down His life as the Atonement for my sin, in order to deliver me from its penalty and power, so that I might go free.

   Burdened as I was with the guilt of my sin, I realized that this remedy exactly met my need, and I then and there accepted Jesus Christ as my Saviour, on the grounds that by His death He had settled my debt once for all and that, therefore I went free. As time passed I entered more and more into the meaning and implication of this wonderful

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transaction; but from the very beginning I rested my hopes on the plain fact that Christ had taken my place and had fully satisfied the just claims of a Holy God against me, and that I was able to make no contribution to that perfect work of His beyond gratefully accepting it, and acknowledging it.

   That was the turning-point in my life. It was then that the foundation was laid — and I have found that the foundation cannot be shaken by anything whatever, because it is founded upon a rock.

   Having taken the great step, when I accepted Christ as Saviour, my first reaction was one of intense relief. The heavy burden was lifted for good and all, (and it has never come back) and I was free. I could face the past, present and future with confidence. The past, black though it was in God's sight, was blotted out; Christ's presence and help were promised for the present; and the future was assured — "Where I am, there ye may be also."

   No historian can ignore the phenomenon of sudden and startling and permanent conversion. It has happened too frequently, from the time of St. Paul on the Damascus road until that of Billy Graham's enquirers at Earl's Court or Haringey. This conversion of William's was indeed a new birth. He never doubted it, never questioned it. It was as much a fact of his existence as his human birth in Madras, as his entry into the army, as his marriage. His aims, his hopes, his outlook were completely changed. His life altered direction on that November Sunday and he never swerved again. He had of course much to learn, just as has a new-born baby, but the start had been made on the long and often uphill road to God. He himself sums up the situation as follows: —

   "As the sense of gratitude to God in Christ grew, so also grew my desire to show my gratitude by obeying, following, pleasing and acknowledging Him. In other words He became not only my

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Saviour, but also my Lord. This gave rise to many practical considerations, as I sought to translate my resolve and desire into definite policies and actions."

   William went back to school outwardly the same well-behaved hard-working boy. It is not clear that he told anyone of his experience at that time, but his mother, to whom he was very close, probably knew. In a letter to her, dated about a month after his conversion, he throws in, amongst a budget of school news, "Since the exeat, I have always done my French exercises." Were these the straightforward and obvious first fruits of a schoolboy's faith?

   As his time at Charterhouse drew to a close the question of his future came under consideration. It may perhaps surprise modern Christians that, praying as he certainly did to find out God's will for his life, the idea of either the ministry or the mission-field never apparently entered his head. He said later in life that if the missionary call — regarded by Evangelicals as a vocation much as is the cloister to Catholics — had been put clearly to him at this stage, he might well have listened and obeyed. But it was never suggested or mentioned to him and he seems never to have considered it. The simple solution would appear to be that God did not intend him for mission work, and therefore kept the idea from him.

   His career had, in fact, been settled for some time past and only the details had to be considered. Most of his relatives were in the army and he would have liked to become a soldier, but it had been discovered some time before that his eyes were defective — one eye very good but the other exceedingly weak — so that he was unlikely to pass the medical examination. He had therefore decided to follow his father into the Indian Civil Service.

   This Service, by now, had very high standards. It was said at the time that the top grades at the universities went into the English Civil Service and the next into the Indian. The authorities at Charterhouse therefore decided that William should be given some practice in a public examination before trying for an entry. Children, then, had not done "11 Plus", "O Level" and "A Level" besides minor public examinations, so a first attempt, in which

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failure did not matter, was not a bad idea. William therefore entered for the army examination for the R.M.A., Woolwich. He did not expect to get in, as mathematics were needed for that, and though he had done some, his main subjects were classics. It was just examination technique and practice that he needed.

   He took the examination and, as expected, was not offered a place. But there happened to be an unusual number of medical failures that year, so that several boys dropped out. This had two results — firstly unexpected vacancies so that William was, in the end, offered a place at Woolwich, and secondly that the medical standard was slightly lowered.

   On being offered the place William decided to submit himself for the medical examination and to his amazement found that he had passed. It was a complete reversal of all his ideas, but he seized the opportunity eagerly. He would always have preferred the army, and now, contrary to his expectations, the chance had come to him. He put away his Greek and Latin books, collected a slide-rule and mathematical tables and reported at the Academy, Woolwich, almost at the bottom of his batch, but delighted and eager.

   So began his 45 successful years as a soldier — the career he so nearly did not enter.

   The comment might here be made that in 1897 no one ever had any theory that the Services were unsuitable for keen Christians. Except in the case of the Quakers, who have held that view since their inception in the 17th century, pacifism is a plant of modern growth, rooted in the blood-soaked mud of World War I. William and his generation did not think of soldiers as "hired assassins", but as protectors of the weak, and defenders of their country, ready to die if need be in a righteous cause. What better occupation could there be for a Christian? William's way into the army seemed clear and God-ordained.

   Many years later he himself wrote a pamphlet justifying military service, but when he chose his career such questions never arose. Christian literature of the time is riddled with military analogies, as is indeed, the Bible. Furthermore there had been so many

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notable soldiers who have served God, from St. Martin to Stonewall Jackson, from Cornelius the Centurion to General Gordon, that it was unreasonable to think Christianity incompatible with the profession of arms.

   By this time (1897) William had grown to his full height, which was 6' 2½". He must have been an attractive youth, with this remarkable height, fair hair, large blue eyes and fresh colouring. He was very strong, never having had a day's illness, a good cricketer, interested in many forms of sport, and enough of a musician to play the piano and the banjo. The banjo in those days occupied the place of the ukelele his sons were to play and the guitar favoured by his grandsons. Every age has its pop instrument!

   While he was a cadet at Woolwich two influences came into his life, two very lasting influences, and they were in a large measure connected. They were his association with the sect of the Brethren and his meeting with the family of Captain Charles Orde-Browne, late Royal Horse Artillery, who was leader of the Brethren at Woolwich.

   The Brethren were part of the Evangelical revival, but they may be considered as its extreme left-wing. They began in Ireland during the 1820s, where small groups of Christians tried to resurrect the exact form, as they considered it to be, of first century Christianity. They had no ordained ministers — though in fact their founder, John Nelson Darby, had formerly been a clergyman of the Church of Ireland — and the only ceremonies that they retained were Baptism and Holy Communion. These were modified to the extent that only adult believers were baptised (not infants) and Breaking of Bread, as they called it, took place every Sunday, participants sitting around a plain table spread with a white cloth, on which was placed a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine. The blessing and sharing out of the elements was carried out by any member of the group. There was no set form of service, and any believer, who felt moved to do so, could get up and pray or preach.

   In the simplicity of their services the Brethren resembled the Quakers, but they had no pacifist principles. There were of course

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the usual Evangelical tenets of reliance on the Bible, strict Sunday observance, the need to spread the Gospel at home and abroad and the demand for a simple and austere life.

   From 1828 onwards Brethren groups appeared all over England and also in France, Switzerland and Italy. In England they attracted an unexpectedly large number of army and naval officers, and among those who joined them was Captain Charles Orde-Brown, whom, in 1897, William met leading the group in Woolwich.

   He was a remarkable man, with considerable gifts. He was an able mathematician and astronomer, something of a poet and writer, a good amateur historian and leading authority on armour, and an excellent artist.

   He was the son of a land-owning family in Gloucestershire and had, at the age of 17, served in the Crimean War with the Horse Artillery. He had survived its hardships and done well enough to be awarded not only the Crimean medal but also a Sardinian order from England's Piedmontese allies. But among the battles in the snow he had also begun to think profoundly about the Christian truths, and before he returned he had undergone conversion. He found himself much dissatisfied with the strict High Church doctrines of his family, and particularly with the doctrine of infant baptism, leading to baptismal regeneration, which he considered disastrously misleading. When he came back from the war, he searched about for any believers like-minded with himself, and finally after a period of service in Ireland, he joined the Brethren.

   His family were horrified. Had he come back, like many young men released from war service, prepared to sow wild oats in a big way, they would have understood the situation, though they would not have liked it. But this religious eccentricity, to the extent of leaving the Church of England, seemed to involve treachery to class as well as church, and he was regarded as a disgrace to the family, and unbalanced into the bargain. Charles, however, stuck to his beliefs with an almost aggressive firmness, and presently he married a girl from Ireland who had, together with her four brothers, also army officers, undergone the same startling conversion.

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   This had come about through one of her brothers, whose methods were as direct as those of Samuel Hebich. She was an extremely pretty girl and one evening was going to a dance, wearing a new ball-dress — and ball-dresses in 1863 were something, 25 yards of muslin, tulle and ribbon mounted on a crinoline. Before leaving she pirouetted in front of her brother. He said:

"Yes, you look very pretty Annie, and your dress is very nice, but it wouldn't be any good to you in heaven or hell."

This unexpected comment left her dumbfounded, but the words struck home and ere long she too had undergone a conversion as direct, sudden and unchanging as that of any in her circle.

   A year or two later she married Charles Orde-Browne and came with him to England. His mother in Gloucestershire now finally accepted the situation, and with considerable grace and kindness became reconciled to Charles and his wife, if not to their beliefs.

   Charles was stationed in Woolwich with the Artillery and gradually became involved in mission work among the poor there. One of his associates for a time in Ragged School work had been General Gordon, who was one of his close friends. Charles finally provided the money for the building of a Brethren's meeting house, known as the Gospel Hall, and when the time came for him to be posted away from Woolwich, he decided to retire from the army, live on his pension and his private means and devote himself to the meeting. Helped by two other retired officers, one army and one navy, he became the leader of the meeting as completely as any ordained clergyman in a parish.

   The Gospel Hall was not far from the R.M.A., and William Dobbie, while he was a cadet, began to go there. The Brethren were not, in fact, new to him, for his grandfather, General Dobbie, had joined them and began meetings at Budleigh Salterton. But the movement never spread much to India, and after the general's death in William's childhood, his parents had not seemed much affected. Margaret, it is true, had by 1897 become interested in the movement in England, but her spirituality was of a more mystical nature — in earlier centuries she might

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have been a Madame Guyon — and she did not concern herself greatly about sects and labels.

   But as William attended the little meeting, the light that had shone around him since his conversion, became brighter, and showed him a path leading away from the orthodoxy of the Church of England. Falling under the spell of combined charm and considerable theological knowledge of Captain Orde-Browne, he became convinced that the simple system of the Brethren was more like the Church depicted in St. Paul's epistles than any other in the modern world. With his straightforward adherence to the literal teaching of the Bible this was enough for him, and during his time at Woolwich he joined the Brethren.

   He soon began to help with the Sunday School and other work in Woolwich, and before he left the Academy he had become firmly attached to this most simple of Protestant sects.

   Meanwhile he had, of course, become friendly with all the Orde-Browne circle. The Captain and his wife lived with their family at Blackheath, near Woolwich, in The Paragon, a fine and famous terrace of Georgian houses. Despite the austerity of the Brethren regime, it was a surprisingly gay household, for the family consisted of no less than six girls and one boy — all lively and intelligent. Charles Orde-Browne too had a strong sense of humour, and his wife a happy-go-lucky Irish temperament, together with enormous strength of character. All the girls were musical, one or two up to almost professional standards, and there was constant music and singing in the house. Despite the Evangelical embargo on dancing, there was none on other forms of exercise, and the girls all played hockey and tennis well, besides being keen cyclists — the 'with it' sport of the nineties.

   All the girls lived at home — very few with any pretensions to gentility undertook a paid job in those days unless they had to do so — but they had many artistic and intellectual interests, and they did a great deal of unpaid social work in Woolwich, mostly in connection with the Brethren's meeting. They organised women's meetings and taught in Sunday Schools.

   These activities involved a great deal of district visiting and they were constantly in an out of the poor houses in the back

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streets of Woolwich. They developed a great deal of knowledge of and wide sympathy with the very poor, which lasted all their lives. Even when they were very old ladies the Orde-Brownes showed a wisdom and a kindliness in dealing with poverty which might have been the envy of many a young worker with certificates in "social science."

   Mrs. Orde-Browne, who successfully combined remarkable worldly wisdom with great spirituality, was determined that the girls should meet as many young people as possible from suitable Evangelical and/or Brethren families of the professional classes — a fairly close knit circle. She herself, in the background, would of course vet and manipulate all friendships, but she was prepared to entertain widely, and with the plentiful servants and cheap food of the nineties, this was not difficult. As a result, Number 11, The Paragon, Blackheath was constantly full of lively girls and young men, mostly from army families, mostly Brethren and all Evangelical.

   To William Dobbie, straight from the austere regime of Charterhouse, used to quiet holidays with his mother alone in lodgings and with little young companionship, for his sister had married and gone away, the Orde-Browne household was fascinating. He began to come over from Woolwich and join in with whatever the girls and their friends were doing, whether it was mixed hockey on the Heath, bicycle riding, painting texts, helping at some religious service, singing, music, going for picnics or anything else.

   In those leisured days, there seemed to be a daily tea-party at such houses. A parlourmaid brought up tea (big silver tea-pot, shallow cups, paper-thin bread and butter, and cakes on a three-tiered stand) at 4.30, and open house was kept till about 6.15. An extra cup or two were automatically put on the tray, and anyone dropped in who felt inclined. None of the circle seemed to have any occupation that kept them busy at that time in the afternoon, and these tea-parties were an essential part of social life, their place has perhaps been taken by friends dropping in for a drink in the evening. But in these days of small families, most of whom do not live at home, the wide though casual hospitality of those daily tea-parties seems as archaic as a Roman banquet.

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   Tea and cakes were the only things offered. Few of the circle smoked, and certainly not in a drawing-room, while however long the party continued there was no question of offering drinks. Wine might be served at dinner, but the drink offered to every visitor was unknown, even in circles not touched with Evangelical austerity. Captain and Mrs. Orde-Browne were not violently teetotal in principle, though many of the Brethren were so by then, but they would never have considered offering promiscuous drinks to young people. As a very young officer in his post-Crimean days, Capt. Orde-Browne, realising what a curse drink was in the army, had given it up completely in order to induce his men, for whose welfare he felt deeply responsible, to do the same. He had had some success in this, but he did not feel that such a course was necessary in all circumstances.

   William was, of course, one of the most inveterate droppers-in for tea and cakes, and during his two years at the Academy he saw a great deal of the family. It was very difficult to see any one of the girls alone, and such a thing as taking one out for the evening would never have been considered. Nevertheless, he fell well and truly in love with Sybil, the youngest daughter.

   She was very attractive. Even in those days, with no make-up or professional hair-dressing, she was pretty, with brilliant starry blue eyes, curling brown hair and a bright colour. She was active and very good at games. She was something of a tomboy, and always prepared to joke or play tricks, but she was very shrewd and intelligent, musical, very artistic, and above all, a deeply committed Christian. The combination knocked William out completely.

   She was his first, last and only love. Nowadays, when young people move in much wider circles, with little or no parental supervision, when they "go steady" from mid-schooldays, though changing their partners every few months, it is difficult to realise how serious a love affair used to be. In his old age William once said sadly, a propos of an engagement of a young officer he knew:

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"What do these young people really know about love? They can't know anything. They've been playing at it since they were sixteen."

   He was only 19, but he was certainly not playing. Here in this extremely suitable circle he had found the girl he wanted to marry, and he never thought of anyone else.

   It was a shy courtship. There was, seemingly, no stage between mere acquaintanceship and engagement. On Sybil's birthday he gave her a red-bound manuscript music book, on which he had her initials engraved in gold, but this was quite a bold step, and he could rarely do anything with her alone. However, during the large collective bicycle rides, he could sometimes get with her at the back of the column and fall behind a little. He did his best. He even wrote a poem to her in Greek — one of the last times in which he is known to have used his classical knowledge.

   Meanwhile he was doing very well at Woolwich. He discovered that he had a remarkable flair for mathematics — far better than for the classical work he had done hitherto. Having scraped into Woolwich at the bottom of fifty, he rose quickly and finished among the first half-dozen — a remarkable feat for a student who has changed completely from classics to mathematics at 18.

   The top fourteen or so cadets from Woolwich were drafted into the Royal Engineers. The rest became Gunners. The infantry, cavalry and Indian army were not at Woolwich at all, but went to Sandhurst. Now there is only one College for the army, but up till World War II there were two — Woolwich and Sandhurst.

   William joined the Royal Engineers. His commission was dated 6th August 1899, and was signed by Queen Victoria. As 2nd Lieutenant W. G. S. Dobbie, R.E., he was posted to Chatham, to continue his training at the School of Military Engineering there (now known as the Royal School of Military Engineering). He lived at Brompton Barracks, and was assiduously taught bridging, drainage, water-supply and all the arts of military engineering.

   Sapper officers ("Sapper" is the usual army nickname for Royal Engineers) were paid slightly better than other arms. According to a Sapper song of the time:

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Five and sevenpence a day,      
With two shillings extra pay,        
                                      The grateful country gives the young R.E.
And for that they cram his brain,
Till no more it can contain,            
      At the place called the S.M.E.

This does not sound much, but the Sapper soldier then was paid only about 6/- a week, though he was of course fed, clothed and housed.

   It may be wondered why William did not automatically go into the Indian army, perhaps the Bengal Sappers and Miners. But he would have been the fourth generation, at least, to have spent his life in India, and some doctors considered that, even though growing years were spent in England, continued tropical service was not good for the family constitution. Had he gone into the Indian Civil Service, as first intended, William would probably have ignored this theory, but as he now had the choice, he opted for the British army, and, as it happened, never served in India at all.

   From the very beginning of his army career, William took his stand firmly as a committed Christian. He said later that the only possible time to do this was at the beginning. The longer it was put off, the harder it became. Much of this early commitment was negative — he did not drink, gamble, play cards, dance, join theatre parties, or even attend the Garrison Church except occasionally — but he was also known to be willing to help in any way he could in welfare work among soldiers at Chatham, or work organised by the local Brethren.

   It was a hard path in many ways, but perhaps less hard in the Sappers than in other arms. There was a tradition of Evangelicalism in the Sappers, summed up in the army joke that they are all mad, married, or Methodists. General Gordon, the hero of the late Victorian world, had been a Sapper, and it was allowed usually that all Sappers could be permitted some eccentricity, on that or any other line.

   The South African war broke out shortly after William was commissioned. He was no doubt excited at the prospect of active service but on the whole the war made remarkably little difference

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to ordinary life. As compared to the immediate upheaval of World War I and the upheaval and danger of World War II, civilians in England were unaffected. It never occurred, for instance, to Sybil or her sisters, to go off and nurse, or make munitions, and their mother would certainly have prevented such an action if it had. But it is equally astonishing how little the contemporary struggle with Napoleon comes through in Jane Austen's novels. Total war must have been unknown in England until after 1914.

   William, still under training, was not sent out to South Africa at first, and as Chatham is not far from Blackheath, he was able to continue his pursuit of Sybil. Furthermore he and his parents, both home from India at the time, spent a summer holiday in Norfolk with the Orde-Brownes and several other families with young people. There are photographs of the group — the girls in sailor hats, white blouses with huge sleeves and long dark skirts, and the men in a kind of "plus fours" with Norfolk jackets. They all used to bathe in the mornings — the Orde-Browne girls all swam well — and go for bicycle rides in the afternoons.

   Shortly after this holiday, William and Sybil became engaged. At first they were very happy. They were allowed the special privileges of an engaged pair. They recalled long after that they had been allowed to go up to London alone and have tea out together — a daring innovation. The parents on both sides were pleased. Everything seemed set fair.

   But William was only 20 and they could not get married for a long time — at least until well after his initial training was over. Sybil who was a highly-strung girl, began suddenly to lose her nerve. It is difficult to know what was worrying her, but she began to suffer from conventional bridal jitters. At last, with the agreement of her father who, albeit unwillingly, respected 'nerves', she broke off the engagement. Her mother, who had no such sympathies, and a robust common sense, was horrified.

   Poor William went back to Chatham with his hopes shattered. But he was determined not to take "no" for an answer. As he said afterwards, he made up his mind that as long as Sybil was unmarried he would not give up hope. He kept in touch with her circle and family — her mother was always his ally — and used

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occasionally to appear at Woolwich or drop in on the afternoon tea-parties at 11 The Paragon. Capt. Orde-Browne died suddenly in August 1900 and he attended the funeral.

   He prayed much over his disappointment, as he did over all the details of his life. He felt that God had some lesson to teach him in all this, and it was essential to find it out and learn it. Never, in all his life, did he have the slightest resentment or bitterness for any of the blows that life dealt him. He regarded them as coming from an all-wise, all-loving Father, and accepted them. He always received troubles with determination and cheerfulness and a complete lack of self-pity.

   Furthermore, he was a healthy young man, and a disappointment in love was not enough to knock him out completely. He flung himself into his work at Chatham, interesting himself especially in the spiritual needs of the small body of men who, when his training was over, were placed under his command. There was a large Soldiers' Home at Chatham, one of the religious clubs that had grown up since the Crimean War — and he used to go down there frequently to help with services, or merely to talk unofficially to the men.

   Above all it was clear that more and more men would be needed for South Africa. The Boer republics were far tougher nuts to crack than had been imagined in 1899. General Buller's initial reverses were repaired, but, as Lord Roberts and Lord Kitchener took over and pressed on, it was clear during 1900 that there would have to be continuous drafts for South Africa. William waited, full of excitement, for the summons to come to him. At the end of the year, it came.

Chapter III

To South Africa

'Duke's son — cook's son — son of a hundred kings,
(Fifty thousand horse and foot going to Table Bay!)


   2nd Lieut. William Dobbie had his orders to leave for South Africa with a mixed draft of about 30 Sapper officers and 300 men early in 1901, but on Saturday, February 2nd, a few days before he left, he took part in an historic occasion — the funeral procession through London of the old Queen. Troops from all over the country were brought up to line the London streets, and William, with a contingent of Sappers, was standing by the Park railings at Piccadilly.

   The two lifetimes, the Queen's and William's, span a distance wide in time — 1819 to 1964 — and enormous in variation and achievement. Victoria had been born in the reign of George III, into an England of about thirteen million people, where cholera and typhoid were rife, where children toiled naked in the mines and might be hanged for stealing, where the franchise was limited to a tiny number, and where trade unions were forbidden by law. The British Empire was in process of formation, Napoleon was dying in St. Helena, and the independent states of Europe did not include Germany, Italy, Czecho-Slovakia, Jugo-Slavia, Greece, Belgium or Hungary.

   The fresh-faced young man, standing stiffly to attention in his scarlet uniform in the bitter February wind, as the funeral procession went past, lived to hear of the first satellites in space, and the first atomic bombs, to watch the disintegration of nearly all the British Empire and most of the monarchies of the world, to live in a world of universal suffrage and education, and the practical elimination of poverty in England.

   The 145 years covered by those overlapping lifetimes are among the most amazing in world history.

   William and his men had left Chatham in a troop train at 12.30 (midnight). The men on arrival were given breakfast at Chelsea Barracks, but the officers ordered (and presumably paid for) breakfast for themselves at the Grosvenor Hotel at 4.30a.m.

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Then followed the long vigil in the cold streets with the mourning crowds, and the long regal procession, which occupied most of the morning. The men were then released and given meat pies for lunch. No arrangements seem to have been made for the officers' food, but William was thankful to be able to get a surplus pie for himself. The contingent got back to Chatham at 5.30p.m.

   It was a brief interlude, but to the end of his life William never forgot his farewell to the Queen and often spoke of it.

   He resumed his preparations for active service. It is extraordinary how much an officer was expected to provide for himself in those days. Apart from a considerable outfit of clothes, which included flannel vests and shirts, he had to provide himself with such things as a luminous compass for his work, a large knife in a case that could strap on to a saddle, wire cutters and innumerable blankets, sleeping-bags, ground-sheets and camp-kit. He also, more surprisingly, had to bring his own horse, though he would get compensation for that later, and he also provided his own saddlery for two horses, receiving a ten pound grant towards it at Capetown.

   Khaki was being worn by the British army for the first time. William had to go on board in khaki — no doubt a further expense. He did not seem to have taken his scarlet uniform with him, though he did take blue "patrols".

   Certainly it was very hard for young officers in those days to live on their pay, and very few did so, even in the Royal Engineers. The Dobbies were, however, at this time, better off than sometimes in their history, as William's father was in a good appointment in the Indian Civil Service, and was giving his son an adequate allowance. The problem of an outfit for active service was not therefore too acute for him.

   He finished his preparations and said good-bye to his friends at Chatham. He gave a farewell tea for a number of his own men, at the local Soldiers' Home, and was presented with a Bible from the mounted section of his company, in which they had all written their names — a gift which touched him deeply.

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   He was to sail from Southampton in the S.S. Aurania, on February 18th, 1901. In the days before the submarine and aerial warfare, the sailing of a troopship had none of the dreary secrecy of modern wars. Friends and relatives could come and see off the ship, with appropriate music, flag-waving and drama. Sabotage was never anticipated, so they could wander around on board, so as to envisage the conditions their men would be enduring. Letters could be posted back via the pilot and from every port of call, and relatives could follow the progress of the ship in the papers. Such at any rate was the case in the South African war, a war waged against entirely land-based forces.

   Margaret Dobbie, who happened to be home from India, went to Southampton to see her son off. She had to have a permit to enter the docks, but was then allowed on board the Aurania. Most of the men had not yet arrived, and she wandered about, looking all over the ship. She was glad to find that William would have an outside cabin, shared only with one other Sapper officer, and that there was a large saloon and a wide deck for exercise. While she was making these observations, troop trains kept arriving, and at last the Sapper contingent appeared.

   William had been up since 4a.m., and, to his mother, looked tired, but she watched with pride as he got his men on board, and saw to their accommodation and the stowage of the baggage. Walking the horses on to the ship was something of an undertaking, but his old riding-master (presumably from Woolwich) suddenly appeared, and his help and advice were invaluable. When all was settled William was able to talk to his mother, and receive a few last presents.

   Margaret, in a letter that has survived, makes no comment on the accommodation or conditions in which the troops were to travel, though she describes that of the officers at length. On the other hand, she was taking a motherly interest in one particular young soldier — her son's 19-year-old groom, Driver Hodge R.E., who had been with him at Chatham, and volunteered to go to South Africa with him. She had already given Hodge a warm Balaclava helmet and taken down his mother's address, promising to keep in touch with her, and now, in this parting visit to her

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son, she remembered to bring a small present of a pocket writing-case for Hodge, and to find him to say good-bye. Later, whenever she sent parcels to William, she nearly always enclosed something for Hodge. If the Victorian Evangelicals were not always concerned with large social questions, they did show a great deal of human interest and sympathy with individual dependents.

   The bell was rung for visitors to leave the Aurania, and then took place one of the scenes so often depicted in prints and Christmas numbers of the period. The troopship moved slowly away with all the 1500 or so men on board standing on deck, cheering and waving. Friends on the quay waved back, and everybody sang "Auld Lang Syne" and "God Save the Queen." (People were hardly aware as yet that they now had a King.) Margaret said:

"It was a wonderful sight, but I watched our boy's face as long as it was visible. There were many little groups of fathers and mothers, with their dear soldier boys on board, but all kept up bravely."

   The Spartan mother was still an admired character. It was later wars, with their secrecy, and also their appallingly heavier death rolls, that took the sentimental glamour from such scenes. Besides, forty years later Margaret would probably have been busy making munitions.

   For the next year, William wrote constantly to his mother. His letters are long, interesting and very well-worded, and from them emerges a portrait of a very unusual young man. Or rather, he was unusual in one respect — that his most absorbing interest was in the spiritual welfare of his men and in his own efforts to "grow in grace". He had a healthy and real interest in sport, music, literature and painting, but his great pre-occupation was in, as he would have said, "spreading the Gospel". He makes no secret to his mother of his very deep love of God and of God's service. His greatest elation is a conversion among his men, his deepest friendship with one Lieut. Thomas R.E., who shared his views. He reads a great deal, but mostly from religious books — Bunyan's "Holy War", the "Life of George Muller", R. G. Chapman

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"Hymns and Meditations" and D. L. Moody's "Faithful Sayings." It was an unusual pre-occupation for a Sapper subaltern.

   He wasted no time. As soon as he had settled down in the S.S. Aurania, he contacted the Padre, and asked if he might hold a religious meeting for his own men. This padre was luckily sympathetic and offered him every help. The Captain of the ship and the Colonel also gave permission, the Captain adding rather doubtfully, that he hoped it would do the men good (in what way he did not specify). William, though very nervous, had the meeting given out on parade.

   He was rewarded. Some 150 to 200 men turned up, most of course, his own Sappers, but a good many of the recruits going out to join Baden-Powell's South African Constabulary. There, on the swaying deck, against a background of the ship's engine and horse noises (the horse-deck was the only available place for the group to meet) and the sound of the sea, the tall young officer led the singing of the old Evangelical favourites — "Tell me the old old story", "Hold the fort", "Abide with me", interspersed with readings from the Bible and simple gospel appeals. Other meetings followed, and another Sapper officer was persuaded to come and help too.

   William had come provided with a number of gospels to be given away, but they were much in demand, and he distributed them all and wrote and asked his mother to send out more.

   He was no fool. He realised that part of his success as an Evangelist was due to the fact that the men had very little to read nor much to do. True, there were some of the usual sports and ship's competitions (he says with pride that the Sappers came first in the ship's boxing championship), and one or two concerts, but in a day before wireless and canned entertainment of any sort, the men were immensely bored, and ready to read or listen to anything that came their way. Many times during his South African tour William asked for books and magazines, besides gospels and tracts, to distribute, and these were always received gratefully.

   Tastes seem to have been simple. Several times William mentions that Victorian children's book "Christie's Old Organ"

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as suitable for distribution. Another time he mentions passing on his own copy of "Brer Rabbit". The age of science or detective fiction had not yet dawned for the British soldier.

   The services on board did not continue to the end, for the ship ran into a period of very bad weather as she approached Cape Town, and sea-sickness brought them to a close. Then all the ship's company were busy packing up and getting ready to disembark. William remarked with pride that his horse, "Charlie" was a wonderful beast, and quite unaffected by bad weather, though, he added, he was in poor condition from lack of exercise.

   The ship docked at Cape Town on Thursday, March 7th, 1901, and William stepped ashore in his first foreign station. He came home from his last one in May 1942, more than forty years later.

   In later life William said that he now doubted whether the Boer War was a just one, and whether he ought to have taken part in it. But he added that this idea never occurred to him at the time. He just obeyed orders, and accepted the official view, as indeed did nearly everyone else in England. He never felt this doubt about later wars, which had indeed a strong element of self-defence, (or national defence), in them.

   The war in South Africa had dragged on much longer than anyone would have anticipated. After the initial Boer successes in 1899, there had been heavy re-inforcements from England and the Dominions — 448,000 men were mobilised by the end of the war, to the Boer 87,000 — and during the first six months of 1900 Lord Kitchener and Lord Roberts had occupied Pretoria and Bloemfontein, President Kruger had fled, Mafeking, Ladysmith and Kimberley had been relieved, both Boer republics had been annexed officially, and the war was, in theory, over. But it was only in theory. For two years more Christian de Wet and Louis Botha and other leaders carried on a vigorous guerilla campaign in the South East Transvaal, and sometimes elsewhere. (In February 1901 de Wet even tried to invade Cape Colony, though he was repulsed.) Particularly they tried to hold up the British occupation of their country by attacking the railways. To protect these and hem in the commandos, the British were constructing a system of defences, consisting mostly of blockhouses.

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   These structures were built of masonry or concrete, and were two or three storeys in height, with galleries and loopholes strengthened with steel plates, and very few men in them could hold off a considerable enemy force, unless it had artillery support — which the Boers frequently lacked. In course of time blockhouses became simpler in design, being made of two layers of corrugated iron, filled between with sand or shingle, and round or octagonal in shape. In the end the whole railway system of the Transvaal and Orange River Colony was defended by blockhouses and lines of barbed wire (a new invention).

   Throughout the war the Sappers had been maintaining railways and telegraphs, constructing cantonments and hospitals, and making roads and bridges, but by the time William arrived their main work was the construction of blockhouses, and this is what he was to do. He was therefore sent up immediately to Standerton, which was the British base on the Transvaal railway, from which mopping-up operations were being directed.

   The beginning of his service was not propitious. He had hardly reported for duty, and been given his first assignment, that of putting a cottage beside the railway into a state of defence, and had heard firing for the first time, when he went sick with a local fever, and spent some time in hospital at Standerton. While he was there his men suffered their first casualty — a Sapper whose arm was badly damaged when a mine he was operating blew up. William went to see him in the hospital, gave him books and was much distressed. Then he himself was sent on sick leave to Durban.

   There seems to have been no amenities for convalescent officers at the base, and at first he was very lonely. He had to find for himself a room at a hotel and pay for it — 12/6 a day, all in — and he knew no one. His first day was a Sunday, and he tried to find a Brethren's meeting, but was too tired to go far, and settled for a Baptist church near the hotel. Then he sat alone in the garden near the hotel, and engaged in studious Bible-searching followed by letter-writing. It was not exciting.

   But suddenly his lonely leave took on a new aspect for there suddenly appeared the great friend of his Woolwich days and fellow Evangelical Christian, Lieut. Thomas R.E. They had hardly

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seen each other since Woolwich and were overjoyed to meet again. They sat in the garden and exchanged spiritual experiences of which William wrote: "The talk was very helpful to me and I think it was to him too."

   William's leave was very different now. They went fishing (with some success); William played the piano and they sang songs, ranging from "The Holy City" to a ditty called "Poodle". They engaged in joint Bible-searching. They went about in rickshaws. They bought fruit in the market and ate it on the beach. But the high spot of entertainment was a "Biograph" that was being shown at the Town Hall.

   This was the first film either of them had seen, and they were thrilled and went several times. The main picture showed the Queen's funeral procession. This was apparently shown every night, and William admitted to being tired of it, especially as he had seen the original at close quarters and thought the film was too fast. However, he much enjoyed a comic strip called the "Motor Car Explosion." The humour of this seems to have been rudimentary, but the two young men were delighted with the new medium of entertainment.

   Despite his leave at Durban, William was not really well, so the doctor sent him to the convalescent camp at Howick, near the Victoria Falls, where he was put on light duty, seeing to the camp water-supply. Here he began to engage in spiritual work among the men, his fellow convalescents. He was soon helping at a small Evangelical meeting, already being organised by a sergeant, who was very glad of an officer's support.

   It was something of a sacrifice however. The authorities were not like those of the ship, but considerably more hostile, and at least one colonel objected to his activities. He also found a good deal of ridicule from his fellow-officers. It was a brave effort, for he was very junior in rank. There is a sad sound in one of his letters:

"It would be awfully nice if there were some other Christian officers here. All the officers seem to be against me, but it is nice to think that if God be for us who can be against us. All the other

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fellows begin telling stories of people they knew who turned out to be hypocrites and consequently they infer that all are like that. However I don't think they can or wish to stop the meetings."

   The cross was heavy, but later he wrote that Sergeant Taylor had told him that after the first meeting one man "came out for the Lord" and that "this more than makes up for any opposition and ridicule one has undergone." He added:

"I feel very strongly the need of being kept humble, seeking with a single eye to glorify God — one is so apt to get puffed up when the Lord gives success, and I have been praying every evening that He will keep me low. However, as you can understand, it has given me great joy, and is indeed a cause to be thankful."

   He remained a few weeks in Howick Camp and then, being fully recovered returned to his unit near Standerton. Here he was much distressed to find that Hodge was at a base hospital with enteric. He could not get to see him, but he wrote to him and asked the people at the local Soldiers' Home to look him up. Fortunately the attack was not severe, for Hodge was back on duty, looking after Charlie, in a short time. (William had kept some warm clothes to give him on his return.)

   By this time it was May. The unit was deeply engaged in blockhouse construction, and, completely recovered now, both William and Hodge flung themselves enthusiastically into the work.

Chapter IV

The Boer War

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.

Julia Ward Howe

   From May 1901 to March 1902 William's detachment was out on the Veldt (except for one six-week break at Standerton). On his first day on duty he rode out to see a blockhouse which was of the big masonry type, and after a week or two he was sent out with a few Sappers and a party of Kaffir labourers to a place up the railway line to construct blockhouses himself. It was his first independent command and he was thrilled. He took photos of the blockhouses and of his men, and sent them home — there seems to have been no censorship at all. He explains with pride that they were speeding up construction, and that his third blockhouse had been done in 1½ days less than the average. Later he built one blockhouse in days, a record for that type.

   The Sappers on blockhouse construction were usually with a column which was methodically clearing the area. De Wet was operating around there with forces varying in size from 3000 to 5000 men, and at intervals columns went after him. On one occasion he attacked Johannesburg and lost 200 men. Delaney, a very active commander, was also in the area with 1000 men.

   The unit with which William was most often in touch was the Imperial Yeomanry, a body recruited in South Africa, often from the "Uitlanders" whose grievances had largely sparked off the war. He was on good terms with all the British units, but seems to have taken a dislike to the Yeomanry. He resented the fact that the I.Y., though listed as rough riders were far less efficient than his own men, but were paid considerably more. His letters are full of stories proving (to his own satisfaction) their general inefficiency, and he passes on the simple joke that "I.Y." means "I Yield", and that their "Sharp Shooters" really meant "Sharp Scooters." It was youthful humor, and typical of the soldiers' gossip of every war, merely showing that William had the endearing quality of thinking that no one came near his own men.

   It was a strenuous life on the Veldt. William was up at 4.45 most mornings. Breakfast was at 5.30 and the working party

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moved out at 6.15. On reaching their destination (sometimes as much as 13 miles off across a waterless area) they began work on the blockhouse. Dinner was at 12, with an hour off and work stopped at 5. They got back, with a meal at 6.30, and got to bed at 8.

   He was constantly in the saddle. He had another pony as well as Charlie, and he used to ride from one group of men to another, continuously surveying the work.

   He was a good rider all his life, without being remotely "horsey", and his only recreations on the Veldt involved riding. On one occasion, when they were working near the Convalescents' Camp he recorded riding Charlie over there, being immediately drawn in to play football, and tying Charlie up, apparently on the touchline while he played. Not unnaturally Charlie resented this proximity to shouting men and a flying ball, and had to be moved further off. After the game, William saddled Charlie up again and rode back to camp.

   Charlie was a much tried horse. William used to practise revolver shooting from his back, and he was decidedly gun-shy.

   The advancing columns, Sappers or other arms, were often raided by small Boer parties, and William recorded the first time he was under close fire. It occurred unexpectedly while he was out duck-shooting with another officer and two Sappers.

   They had gone across a small river by a drift or ford, and had no idea that the enemy were anywhere near. Suddenly there was a burst of firing and they realised they had stumbled across a small enemy post, well concealed by the Boers, those masters of camouflage. It was impossible to cross the stream there, so William's party found that their only chance to regain the ford was to gallop parallel to the stream, straight across the Boers' line of fire. They were armed only with shot-guns, and for three-quarters of a mile they galloped together, while the Boers, usually good sharp-shooters, tried to pick them off. A sudden stumble by one of the horses, and consequent fall or delay, might have been fatal, but Charlie, forgetting his dislike of firing rose bravely to the occasion. In William's words: "he quite entered into the spirit of the thing and realised that he had to look sharp."

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   Writing to his mother about the incident, William said:

   "My sensations were not very distinct. When we started across the Boers' front, I just asked the Lord to keep us all safe and after that I didn't mind at all. I just noticed the bullets whistling by and I remember remarking on the one which went near my head. The gallop was too exhilarating for us to think of much."

   William often had to blow up a farm, in carrying out Kitchener's "scorched earth" policy, and he commented on how sad it was, in a fertile valley to see all the farms in ruins. Once, when he went to Johannesburg to collect stores, he mentioned the horrible number of dead oxen beside the road, about 40 to the mile, lying unburied and tainting the air.

   He also commented sadly on the heavy mortality of children in refugee camps (though mostly of measles rather than hardship), but in general he regarded the Boers just as "the enemy" and knew few details about them.

   The blockhouse building was subject to the usual changes of policy that, in every war, so madden the man in the field. One line of blockhouses, going northwards from the Vaal river had to be demolished as soon as it was built. The order came direct from Kitchener, and with apparently no rancour William and his Sappers demolished their own work. He even said, with pride, that one blockhouse that took 16 hours to build was demolished in one hour.

   Except for such occasional changes, however, the lines of blockhouses crept across the country. Much of the material was now sent up pre-fabricated, so that the time record was being steadily reduced, until at the end of September William recorded that the last one had taken only 4½ hours to construct. A blockhouse a day, with often a twenty-mile trek on horseback or by wagon thrown in, is quite a feat.

   At the end of September the two lines of Sapper columns — William's and one commanded by his friend Capt. Coffin R.E., which had been building towards one another, met. The work was

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over for the moment, and the Sappers were sent back to Standerton. Coffin and his party were sent to build blockhouses on the Swazi border, and William remained in Standerton. It was a nice change after the hard living and bitter cold and warfare of the Veldt.

   Those months had brought him very close to his men, and this comes out clearly in his letters from the Veldt. The link in those days in the field between a sympathetic officer and his men was very close. Soldiers' pay was low and there were few welfare services. True, the army medical services were good, but most of the vast network of what we now call "welfare" and the social services, did not exist officially. Private organisations, notably "Soldiers' Homes" or clubs run on a religious basis by philanthropic societies, did cater for men at the base, but out in the field, especially if the soldier were worried by a home problem, or short of extra clothes or food or anything else he wanted and could not get, he turned to his officer.

   Capt. Orde-Browne, in the Crimean War, used to spend most of his spare evenings teaching promising recruits to read. The Education Acts of 1870 and 1876 had taken this task from William, and there is no record of his ever doing such a thing, but in other ways he did feel himself completely responsible for the physical and moral welfare of the fifty or so men, many far older than himself, with whom he shared the danger and labour of war. He worried much about their safety. He said, after a long and dangerous march: "I was thankful when I got my men safe in at 7.15." The tie became almost feudal.

   The parcels William received from home were shared out. He mentioned once that he gave Hodge some socks and handkerchiefs, but that Waller, his "batman" (only the title is of more recent origin) did not need any socks, so he only gave him handkerchiefs. How many officers today would know exactly how many socks their batmen have or need?

   On another occasion his mother had included a knife for Hodge in a parcel. Hodge was apparently very pleased, but William asked anxiously that something for Waller by name might be included in the next parcel so that he would not feel slighted.

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   All this affectionate interest in his men made him much loved. It was his kindness and consideration, as much as the gospel message he so earnestly tried to disseminate, that made the men crowd to his meetings. When he gave out gospels they asked him to write his name in them. Mrs. Hodge, in gratitude for the many letters he had written to her during her son's illness, sent him a present of a plum pudding at Christmas — a gift that probably cost her some sacrifice. His former sergeant at Chatham kept up with him.

   The Kaffir labour force who were under his command, were also included in this solicitude. He became very indignant at the heartless way many people treated the Kaffirs. "Out in this country no one cares two pence what happens to the 'niggers' " he wrote, and he added the revealing remark that whenever he sent a Kaffir to the doctor he always took him himself to make certain he really got attention.

   Often when no doctor was with his little group, he had himself to doctor sick Kaffirs, alone or with the help of the versatile Hodge, whose knowledge of the ailments of inarticulate horses was presumably helpful in dealing with Kaffirs, where the language barrier was equally formidable. William described himself helping a sick Kaffir, who indicated that he had a pain in his chest. Feeling that warmth might help he gave him a woollen "binder" to put round his body, and made him hot Lemco himself. Later he gave him quinine. At last the doctor reappeared and the amateurs handed over with relief what he pronounced as a case of pleurisy and bronchitis. He added kindly that Williams's treatment had done no harm — which William seemed to accept as a tribute — and took over the case himself, taking, on this occasion, a great deal of care and trouble.

   Another time William found a Kaffir who could speak and read English. He promptly gave him a Gospel of St. John and read it with him, being delighted to find that the man was a Christian. The Kaffir seems to have been equally pleased with the contact, for he reciprocated by giving William a present of some eggs. A few weeks later William wrote that he had bought a Kaffir phrase

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book and reader, and was trying to learn the language, in the hope that he might be able to help at a mission station during his leave. An unusual leave-project for an officer of 22 in a war.

   Once he mentioned coming on a party of little Kaffir boys and feeding them on chocolate, which, after a few preliminary doubts and hesitations, they had much enjoyed.

   But sympathetically as he wrote about the Kaffirs, he did not try to give the impression of the poor black man oppressed by the jack-booted white. He mentioned in September 1901 that it was getting difficult to recruit native labour, because so many Kaffirs who had worked for the British had made so much money that they had retired and intended never to work again for the rest of their lives.

   William's period in Standerton lasted about six weeks. The town was an important base. There were three columns in camp there, besides the hospital and it is probable that men from the front line were given intervals of light duty as a rest — not exactly leave, but not full duty. William was put in charge of the garrison water supply, a job he rather liked. He also had to make a tennis court and was glad to be able to use his survey training, though the whole thing was slightly Heath Robinson, and he had to improvise a roller from a big beer barrel. At other times he was sent out with mine-laying parties. He mentioned, incidentally, after a man had been wounded in an explosion, that no Sapper should be allowed to handle a mine. "It is a job for officers and officers only. There is no danger if you are careful, but men are so fearfully careless." (His family in later days smiled cynically at this dictum, for he always seemed to them alarmingly casual in handling high explosives!)

   The rest of his days at Standerton were passed in recreation — cricket, riding, gardening. He also felt the need for serious reading and asked his mother to send out his "Iliad" or "Odyssey", Virgil's "Aeneid" and his Latin dictionary and Greek lexicon. The classical scholar was not quite lost in the Sapper officer.

   But as usual his main interest was the spiritual work among his men. There was a tent where Christian soldiers met and here William was to be found most evenings. He played the harmonium

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for hymn-singing and after one meeting the men went back to their tents and continued their hymns there. An hour afterwards they were still singing!

   There is no record what the chaplains thought of this unusual young officer and his activities. The problem of the enthusiastic Evangelical was not new to the army authorities and they seem to have found it a puzzling phenomenon. In one of Wellington's Peninsular despatches, asking for more "respectable and efficient clergymen" to be sent out, he says:—

"There are two, if not three, Methodist meetings in this town of which one is in the Guards. The men meet in the evening and sing psalms; and I believe a sergeant (Stephens) now and then gives them a sermon ..… These meetings likewise prevail in other parts of the army. In the 9th Regiment there is one, at which two officers attend, Lieutenant ————— and Dr. —————-; and the Commanding Officer of the Regiment has not been able to prevail upon them to discontinue this practice. Here, and in similar circumstances, we want the assistance of a respectable clergyman. By his personal influence and advice, and by that of true religion, he would moderate the zeal and enthusiasm of these gentlemen, and would prevent their meetings from being mischievous, if he did not prevail upon them to discontinue them entirely. This is the only mode in which, in my opinion, we can touch these meetings. The meeting of soldiers in their cantonments to sing psalms or hear a sermon read by one of their comrades is, in the abstract, perfectly innocent, and it is a better way of spending their time than many others, to which they are addicted; but it may become otherwise and yet, till the abuse had made some progress, the commanding officer would have no knowledge of it, nor could he interfere."

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   This reasonable, but slightly apprehensive attitude was still prevalent in the army in William's day. Many Commanding Officers and chaplains instinctively feared Evangelical activities, but could not say why they did so, and usually tried to be fair in the matter.

   William's quasi-leave in Standerton lasted till November and then he was again out on the Veldt, building blockhouses. The system was doing its work, and resistance was breaking down. William recorded that Botha was still operating in the region, but denied scornfully the rumour that he had 100,000 men — at most he had 2,000.

   During the next six weeks William put up 150 blockhouses. Lord Kitchener came and inspected the work and was delighted with what he saw, saying that their line was the best he had seen and taking it for a pattern and standard for others. He also said that it was being constructed more quickly than any others. Clearly Kitchener was very blockhouse-minded, and a rhyme about him was circulated among the Sappers.

"If 20 men with 20 carts,              
Should build for half a year,
Do you suppose", Lord Kitty said,
"They'd get the country clear?"
"I doubt it" said his C.S.O.,          
And shed a bitter tear.            

   The blockhouse system was catching the public fancy at home. The "Illustrated London News" of October 26th 1901 devoted a page to pictures of blockhouses and William told his mother with pride that all but one of them had been built by his party.

   So the work was going well, but the pressure was steadily increasing during this last phase of the war. William recorded that he was often up at 3.30a.m. and sometimes got his men back to camp at 7.15p.m. The river, Kaffir Spruit, was rising, and supplies of food were sometimes cut off, so that everyone was on half-rations. The rain made roads impassable too, and "rinderpest" among animals held up ox-transport with supplies. William had to sleep out, sometimes without a tent. He lost his mackintosh

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which fell from his saddle and he had to rely only on his greatcoat, as there seemed no means of getting another mackintosh until his mother could send one from home, which she did as soon as she could.

   The main food in camp was bully beef, but sometimes they could get vegetables or poultry from derelict farms, and William mentioned trying to shoot plover so as to give his men a change of diet. He was deeply grateful for such parcels from home as got through, with beef-tea, sweets, chocolate and raisins, besides soap, vaseline and phenacetin, which of course he shared out. There was a good deal of sickness among the men, and again no doctor seemed to be available, for William recorded trying himself to treat a man with dysentery.

   As the pressure of work increased there were signs that the men were getting tired and careless. William mentioned that he found a sergeant who was responsible for clearing up a camp they had vacated, had left it very dirty. He sent him back the 3½ miles, and rode back himself to see that the work was properly done. It rained heavily and they both got soaked, but he hoped that the sergeant had learned a lesson.

   The men were so busy and often so scattered that he was unable to carry on any of his small meetings. He did suggest to his Major that he would like to hold a service for his men, but was at once snubbed, as the Major said that if anyone were to do it, it was his job. (There is no record that he ever did such a thing.) William did continue to distribute cards and gospels, particularly to the blockhouse garrisons, but there was little else he could do.

   Christmas came. Christmas dinner consisted of pea soup, leg of mutton, tinned turnips, tinned plum pudding.

   The line of blockhouses crept on. The buildings were a mile apart now, and wired between. William drew plans of the line, for record, and sometimes made water-colour sketches of it. It reached Ermelo by January 20th 1902, and the little force had a modest celebration. There was little respite, however, as on 22nd January they started another line south from Ermelo to the town of Amsterdam, near the Swazi border.

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   The net was closing in round de Wet. William noted that Kitchener in person was out with a column after him, and that rumour had it that he had suffered a severe defeat. This was in fact part of Kitchener's great sweep to drive the last of the Boer commandos against the blockhouse line, and it was successful. In April a peace conference met at Klerksdorp and at the end of May 1902 the Peace of Vereeniging was signed. The long-drawn out struggle was over.

   But William was not present with his little force to celebrate the end of the war. It ended for him in March 1902, when he succumbed to the typhoid fever which had for so long raged among the British forces.

   He was very ill indeed, and lay for weeks in a military hospital at Ermelo, undergoing the near-starvation treatment that was, then, the only known cure for typhoid. He was indeed close to death, and his memory of that time was largely wiped out, so that he never left any record, written or verbal, of his thoughts as, so early in his life, he faced the Last Enemy. But it does not take much profound guesswork to imagine them. Throughout the war "all his heart was borne above" and it is difficult to think that now the prospect of meeting soon the Lord he so dearly loved and faithfully served, presented any terror.

   His mother's letter to him on April 2nd is of interest. She wrote:

   "My own precious son. I heard last night from the War Office that you are so ill at Ermelo with enteric, and my heart has been with you all day — and how much I would give to be by your bedside my darling to nurse and cheer you. But He who loves you best is there and will be with you all the time, and bring you safe through to live, to serve and glorify Him and to be our joy and comfort as you have ever been.

   You will need so much patience, but will I am sure do everything you are advised, that you may get well soon, darling. There is so much for you to do and it will be such a joy to know you are being

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raised up for service and happiness. May sweet happy thoughts be ever with you — of His unchanging love, and thoughts of how we love you and are praying for you.

   " 'The Lord make His face to shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee.' You need do nothing, darling, but rest there — in your weakness leave everything to Him. Even yourself, and don't trouble about anything. He will see to everything, and He only says 'Lie still and sleep and let yourself be taken care of.' Bye and bye there will be plenty to be done and He will make you ready for it."

   Margaret was right. The line of destiny of her son, Isabella's grandson, was not to be snapped so early in life. There was a long lifetime of work before him and the angel of death had received orders to retreat.

   In the summer of 1902 he was invalided home, wearing his First Lieutenant's stars and the Queen's South African medal, with five clasps.

Chapter V

Peace and Marriage (1902-14)

Tell me not, Sweet, I am unkind,
That from the nunnery
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind
To war and arms I fly.
True, a new mistress now I chase,
The first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace
A sword, a horse, a shield.
Yet this inconstancy is such
As thou too shalt adore;
I could not love thee, Dear, so much,
Loved I not Honour more.


   When William's ship, the S.S. Orcana, docked at Southampton on July 14th 1902, he found England basking in the brief Indian summer of the Edwardian era. The war was over and the imperialist cult, fostered by the ebullient Joseph Chamberlain, was at its height, so that those who had been helping to add further jewels to the imperial diadem received something of a hero's welcome.

   William found himself stationed once again at Chatham. But Chatham was fortunately a very short distance from Blackheath and Woolwich, and he began to find many excuses to go there. Sybil was still unmarried and perhaps was more ready to listen to a war hero from South Africa than she had been to a young man barely commissioned. Early in 1904 they became engaged again.

   This time there was no reason to wait. William's parents were giving him a good allowance and Sybil's mother was prepared to do the same by her. It is true that in 1904 officers received no marriage allowance or quarters before the age of 30, and William was only 24, but neither he nor Sybil had extravagant tastes and were prepared to live carefully. The wedding was fixed for April 7th 1904.

   It was an unusual wedding, being almost aggressively unconventional. Mrs. Orde-Browne was a strong-minded woman, with no respect for convention, and above all, her determinedly non-conformist views were very prominent. Sybil found it impossible to stand up to her mother (very few people had ever done so) and William did not greatly care how his marriage was arranged as long as it took place.

   It must, of course, be at a Brethren's Hall, and as these were not usually licenced for marriages it necessitated the registrar being present to register it. Then, for some unexplained reason, Sybil did not want to be married at the Gospel Hall, Woolwich, which had been founded by her father and where she had worshipped

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all her life, and where William had so often come. It was therefore decided that the wedding would take place at Bracknell, Berkshire, where the Orde-Brownes had friends, Sir George and Lady Pigot, who worshipped at the Brethren's meeting there. But most of the friends of both families lived in or near Woolwich, and in those pre-car days it would be difficult for many of them to get to Bracknell. It was therefore decided to have a reception the day before the wedding at the Orde-Browne home, 11, The Paragon, Blackheath. The reception would be from 3 to 5, and, as the beautifully engraved invitation said, would be "followed by prayers for those who wish to remain."

   Sybil wore a white satin blouse and skirt for the reception, with a bunch of white violets, and after the party and the prayers were over, she and one of her sisters and William left by the evening train for Bracknell, where the girls stayed at the Pigots' and William went to the hotel where his sister had already arrived (his parents were in India.)

   The rest of the party came by train next day. In the lordly way of the period someone had written to the railway company demanding that the train should be up to time, and the stationmaster had written back that it would be. Nevertheless it was late, and the party barely arrived in time.

   The extraordinary wedding went on. Sybil, having appeared the day before in white satin, and having a white satin evening dress in her trousseau had, for some obscure reason of principle, to be married in a plain blue day frock and hat. William and his best man (his friend of South African days, Lieut. Thomas R.E.) were, however, allowed to appear in full-dress scarlet uniform. The ceremony was performed by a family friend General Rice, and Sir George Pigot offered a prayer. Sybil was given away by her uncle, Sir Benjamin Browne, who, manfully trying to do his duty by his fatherless niece, was, as a devout Anglican, slightly bewildered by the whole performance. The registrar was tactfully unobtrusive.

   The ceremony was followed by a small tea party at the house of Sir George Pigot, where William cut a conventional wedding cake with a conventional sword (from which, he admitted later,

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he had forgotten to wipe the vaseline!) Then he and Sybil left for a short honeymoon in Oxford.

   The wedding may have been highly unconventional, but it was not the less happy for that. The tender companionship and affection, begun on that sunny April day in Berkshire, lasted with no dimming or break for 58 years.

   As compared with the difficulties young couples have often to face nowadays, their married life started most comfortably and easily. They simply rented an unfurnished house at Chatham, a charming little house in Mansion Bow, a Georgian terrace a stone's throw from Brompton Barracks. They paid about £70 a year for this house, and hired the furniture, which included a piano at 10/- a month. They engaged two excellent maids at £35 a year altogether.

   Their entire income, including allowances, was £389 a year, and of this they set aside an exact tenth, £39, for what appears in their accounts as "the Lord's work" — i.e. evangelistic and charitable activities. It was a high proportion for a young couple with such slender resources, but they kept it up all their lives, through all the expenses of family and education, until towards the end of William's service they found themselves well enough off to give more.

   Their list of wedding presents, which helped to furnish the house, has survived, as well as Sybil's housekeeping book and their visitors' book, and they make something of an interesting social study.

   Nearly all the presents were pieces of silver of some sort — candlesticks, frames, vases and every sort of table silver. Most of Sybil's girl friends, not well off, tried to give something small in silver, and even the women working in a laundry at which Sybil had helped run a Bible class, joined together to give her a silver frame. It was the age of silver, and not content with the many pieces which they received, William and Sybil spent over £100 of their wedding present cheques in buying complete sets of table silver and having it engraved with the Dobbie family crest. No presents were very useful or labour-saving — electric gadgets, oven-proof china or any such things were non-existent, or at any

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rate did not appear as wedding presents. Sybil's only concession to labour-saving was the sewing machine she bought for £3.7s. 6d. It was new, and it lasted her through all vicissitudes and moves for 40 years.

   A comparison was made recently of this list with that of a very modern bride and bridegroom. The latter received a great deal of china and linen, every possible labour-saving gadget and many electrical fittings, but there were only two pieces of silver on the list. Well, no doubt, each couple had the things they needed, but at least silver is nearly indestructible and increases in value, and most of the plates that were displayed so proudly in 14 Mansion Row is still in existence.

   They lived very comfortably at Chatham. Food for themselves, two maids and fairly frequent visitors cost about 30/- a week, but that provided four good meals a day — a cooked breakfast, substantial lunch and dinner at night, arid afternoon tea with homemade cakes and scones. The menu, when a young officer friend of theirs came to dinner, was: "Tomato soup, plaice, curried eggs, leg of mutton and cauliflower, apples and jelly and Charlotte Russe, cheese and dessert." For a 'penniless subaltern's' ménage, it was lavish. On the other hand, they had economies that would be considered a great hardship today.

   They had, of course, no car. William had a charger, but they had no trap or means of transport. Sybil used to shop in Chatham, where things were slightly cheaper than in Brompton, and would walk one or both ways to save the tram fare. She would mend and darn with laborious and conscientious care. She never went to a hairdresser. They almost never had an evening out at a concert, and never at a show or dance (though the latter was on principle, rather than for economy). They never seem to have gone away for weekends, though they had a good many of their families and friends to stay for a few days at a time. They played tennis at the garrison club and attended such functions as the garrison sports, but otherwise lived a very quiet life. On Sundays they used to walk across the Lines, to a small Brethren meeting in Gillingham.

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   The two maids were skillful and hardworking. People might wonder what two grown women would find to do in a small house, but they had none of the amenities of modern housekeeping. There were coal-fires to be cleared in all livingrooms and some bedrooms, cooking was done on a coal range, and much water needed for washing or washing up had to be boiled. There was probably no basin with running water upstairs, so cans of hot water had to be carried about. There was little tinned and no frozen food, so that the preparation of meals, particularly if they included vegetables, was laborious. There were no fridges so that food could not be prepared far in advance. There were no Hoovers or polishers to help with the housework. There was no washing machine, though in fact, washing was sent out to the tune of about 5/- a week — a large sum in those days. There was no gas or electricity in 14 Mansion Row, so that the daily chore of filling and trimming oil lamps had to be undertaken.

   Furthermore, the ritual of "calling" took up a good deal of time. A maid had to be on duty every afternoon, neatly dressed in a good frock and frilly apron, to answer the door to callers and bring up tea as required. Everyone in the garrison called on newcomers, and newcomers returned these calls, so that the process was continuous. Indeed calling or remaining in to receive calls was a constant afternoon occupation, but it did ensure that newcomers would not be lonely and could quickly make friends.

   The army did not often work in the afternoon, but William was fairly busy training his men in bridge-building and such Sapper ploys. In July 1904 the "Chatham, Rochester and Gillingham News" reported a small adventure he had had. It seems that some of his men were bathing, presumably in the Medway, when one was seized with cramp and would have drowned "had not Lieut. Dobbie R.E. and Sergt. D. Smith at once plunged into the swiftly flowing tide, without stopping to take off any clothing, and succeeded in bringing the man to safety, not much the worse for his immersion." The paper adds: "Such an act of gallantry deserves recognition" but, in fact, it was completely forgotten; none of his family even knew about it till the cutting was found, after his death, among some papers belonging to one of Sybil's sisters.

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   Both William and Sybil were sorry when their six months at Chatham were over. They gave up their little house and never returned to the area — until William came back 29 years later as Commandant of the Royal School of Military Engineering, and they moved into the magnificent Commandant's House, some 200 yards from Mansion Row. They certainly knew Chatham from both ends of the scale.

   Their next posting was to Bermuda, the beautiful semi-tropical island north of the West Indies. Sappers were always stationed there to deal with the fortifications and searchlights; for a long time even the mines at sea, defending the harbour, were in their care. It was to the fortress company, R.E., that William was now posted.

   Their standard of living in Bermuda was high, with a nice house, a horse and carriage and three servants. They were able to ride a good deal and they enjoyed swimming in the beautiful warm sea, and sometimes going sailing. Sybil, with her love of games, was able to play tennis often and when one of her sisters came out to stay, they both played hockey with all the zeal with which they had played it on Blackheath.

   On the other hand it is only too clear how difficult life was in a hot country before the days of (good) tinned food, refrigeration and air conditioning. William's and Sybil's eldest child, Arthur, was born in Bermuda, and it seems to have been a real struggle to rear him. It was not rendered easier by Sybil's having been brought up to think that it was quite impossible for her to look after a child, even for a day, herself. She had, of course, a nurse, first a very young, and therefore probably unreliable, white girl and then an older, coloured woman, but even so she seemed to be in a constant state of fatigue and anxiety about the baby. She would probably have had less anxiety without a nurse, using her own excellent intelligence and education to care for the child, but that was considered impossible.

   This was the usual attitude. Queen Victoria, in her letters to her daughter Vicky, Crown Princess of Prussia, makes the same point very clearly. Vicky, who was known to be passionately fond of young babies, must not allow herself to be too much

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caught up in the nursery. She had more important occupations, and she must not neglect them by hanging round her baby (the future Kaiser William II). It was not a job for a lady. Vicky had probably the best nurses procurable, and lived in a temperate climate, but it was not, perhaps, a good idea in other circumstances.

   William and Sybil and their baby had a constant fight against prickly heat, bad milk, flies, mosquitos and the generally hot, humid climate. There seem to have been none of the excellent baby foods now available, and though they kept a cow, in order to ensure a good milk supply, the arrangement was not apparently satisfactory. William's diary abounds with such entries as: "Baby poorly again. Doctor came."

   Sybil's worries over nurses were not unique. Mrs. Orde-Browne wrote to her in Bermuda that she was sorry that she seemed to be having trouble with servants, for she had hoped that that was only a European complaint. People nowadays assume that Edwardian England contained an unlimited supply of excellent and faithful servants, and perhaps for families well-to-do and long established in one place, it did. But judging by references in Mrs. Orde-Browne's letters to Bermuda, this was not the case for less wealthy families, or those with young children or constantly moving about. Though the 1901 census shows a million and a half women employed in domestic service, the "servant problem" was growing rapidly. Mrs. C. S. Peel, writing in 1902 in "How to Keep House" says:

   "The young working girl of today prefers to become a Board School mistress, a Post Office clerk, a typewriter, a shop girl or worker in a factory — anything rather than enter domestic service."

   Mrs. Orde-Browne, long established in Blackheath, and with a grown-up family, usually had few difficulties, but even she had her moments. There is a story dating from this period that, after a large family luncheon party of about 14 relatives, her cook appeared and, with screams of hysterical penitence, announced that she had poisoned everybody! Sybil's mother, that strong-minded

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woman, took this calmly, said that she did not believe a word, and that the cook was subject to delusions and a desire for notoriety, and this indeed proved to be the case for no one had been poisoned. Clearly, however, Edwardian servants were a frequent anxiety, whether in England or Bermuda.

   Chatham had been near Sybil's home, and William's sister was living quite close, so that Bermuda was, probably, their first step into life alone together. But they stuck steadily to the principles that had guided them so far.

   They led the same quiet life, with the same rigid sabbath observance, and took little part in the more festive parties of the garrison. In particular they did one thing that was, in those days, most unusual. Determining to find a Brethren's meeting, they searched about and did at last find one, of which all the other members were coloured. But every Sunday they went there and drew nearly all their spiritual help from the little community. There was one old man whom William often said was one of the greatest saints he had ever known, and for many years after they had left the island they kept in touch with him. Their son was "dedicated" — the Brethren form of christening — there in the little meeting-house, with no other white people present.

   They did not have much social contact with the coloured people, for many of them were not far removed from their slave ancestors educationally, so that it was only on the spiritual level that they had much in common. Sybil used to describe one old illiterate woman, who came to the meeting, who had been born a slave, and remembered how, as a child in 1833, she had been freed with her family. Her master, in his claim for compensation, had valued her at 10/-! But spiritually the bond was strong and real, for William and Sybil realised very well that, as St. Paul said, there are neither bond nor free, but all one in Christ Jesus. Sybil used to run a meeting at her house for the coloured women around, and William used often to preach at the Brethren's meeting. No wonder someone wrote home that: "The Dobbies were trying to convert all the natives, and a precious good work it was."

   Their Evangelical work was not confined only to the coloured people. William ran a meeting for soldiers, just as he had so often

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done in South Africa and they also had an occasional Bible reading in their house for officers — a social affair in the evening with coffee.

   It is characteristic that their work was almost entirely spiritual, and that they engaged in little philanthropy. It was not that they had no sympathy with the latter. Indeed, they were immensely kind to individual cases of hardship that crossed their path. But they considered the other of more importance and they had not the time for both.

   It was while in Bermuda that William started to write. He was by no means literary in his interests, but his classical education had left him with an extensive knowledge of the English language, so that he never made a spelling or grammar mistake, or misused or misunderstood an English word. The first article he is known to have written was, surprisingly, on the types of warship most needed by the British navy, and it appeared in the "Empire Review" early in 1907. From then to the end of his life, he kept up a desultory flow of articles on Service or religious topics, besides writing, late in life, two books.

   In June 1907 they returned to England. William was posted to Harwich, to another Fortress Company, mostly concerned with searchlights. They easily found a house to rent (four bedrooms and two sitting-rooms) but it was a heavy expense having to buy furniture. There were few married quarters for officers in those days, and in any case a wife would not be recognised until the officer turned 30, which William would not do until 1909. An officer mostly got free medical attention for his family, which, before the National Health Service, was quite something, and after 30 he might get such perquisites as army rations in kind, or the use of a horse for his family, but on the whole he was expected to make his own arrangements and the wife to exist as best she could.

   They remained at Harwich for two years or so and then were sent to Ireland to the Curragh of Kildare, the largest army camp in the island. Here the housing question was utterly acute, and William finally managed to get a wooden bungalow built, partly with Sapper labour as craftsmen's training, at a cost of £450

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which they borrowed from Sybil's mother. In this shack they lived and though the rain came, at intervals, through the roof, they were very happy. It was, in fact, the only house they ever owned in all their lives.

   William was in command of a field company, and was in very close touch with his men, and Sybil with their wives. They were a close corporate body, all knowing each other. When a number of horses were supplied to the unit from Remounts, it was decided that they should all be given names beginning with D to commemorate the Captain. Sybil spent a long time thinking out such fine-sounding names as Dainty, Dancer, Dawn, Darkness, Duchess, but William's frivolous suggestion of Drunk and Disorderly was not acted upon.

   The family used to attend all the Company functions and the children and their nurse had friends all over the camp. Arthur indeed, was something of a military enthusiast, and knew a great deal of the gossip of the unit. They had a batman, who was much loved by them all, from the children for whom he made a wooden horse, to Sybil whom he helped in every possible way. Indeed it was a very real sorrow to her when later, in World War I, she heard that Corporal James had been killed, and for many years she kept a photograph of him, in her room.

   William was now 31. While he had been in Bermuda, Harwich and Ireland, the British army had been undergoing its greatest period of change, for from 1906-12 Lord Haldane made the reforms that bear his name. One of these changes was an alteration in Staff training, and it soon became clear that the Staff College at Camberley was to be the centre and power house of the new army. Up till the South African War, there had been no General Staff on continental lines, but now the work of the Staff had become immensely important. It was becoming clear that only those who had been through the Staff College would get far in the new army. Should William try for the Staff?

   It was not easy to get to Camberley, especially for Sappers. There was a very stiff written examination, and moreover Sappers had to be among the top five to qualify and Gunners the top ten. This was because it was recognised that these Corps were

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the theoretical brains of the army — they had been first selected by competitive examination to go to Woolwich — but it was not considered desirable to have the Staff nearly all from them. It must be fully representative of all arms.

   Some private means were also needed to do the course. Pay at the Staff College was cut to the basic minimum, with none of the extra pay and allowances that Sappers and Gunners had, and many a married man, with little or nothing besides his pay decided that he could not afford the Staff College. As a friend of William's once said sadly to him: "I couldn't go to Camberley — my wife had just had a very big operation."

   William's father having now retired from India, his allowance had ceased, and though Sybil had some money it would obviously be a very hard struggle were they to contemplate Camberley, and till early in 1911 William had said little about it and seemed uninterested. But one morning he came down to breakfast, and announced: "I have decided to go for the Staff College." This was a complete surprise to Sybil, but she took it with assumed nonchalance. "All right", she said. "You do the work and I'll save the money."

   With this division of labour they set off. William, who had a great capacity for concentration, sat alone every evening working steadily at the necessary subjects, which had, incidentally to include two modern languages. His French was already good, but he learned Italian adequately in six months. Later he took three months leave — the army was generous to Staff College candidates — and went over to England to a crammer in London for the final polishing.

   Sybil meanwhile, economised in every possible way. Living was cheap in Ireland, but clothes, entertainments and luxuries were cut to the minimum. Sybil's aim was to pay back what they had borrowed for the house, and then, whatever they got for its sale, together with a few other savings they had, would tide them through Camberley. By the time the results of the examination came through this had been achieved.

   Something else had also been achieved — one of the most resounding successes of William's life. He had passed into the

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Staff College, at his first attempt, top of the fifty odd successful candidates. He had averaged nearly 80% on all 17 papers, and out of 800 possible marks for the three mathematics papers, he had lost only 28.

   There is a tide in the affairs of men that, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. In later life, Sybil often said that William's sudden decision to try for the Staff College had been such a flood tide. In the work beforehand and the outstanding success of his entry, he seemed to realise his own capacities. Furthermore his was the last course to be completed before the war came, and without the staff training he could have had none of the opportunities that, later, came his way.

   They sold the house in Ireland. They were unfortunate in that they sold it for far less than they should have done. They agreed casually to offer it for £600 to an officer who wanted it, and William went off to England, expecting to meet the man and make the offer. Meanwhile, a harassed and extremely well-off young officer called on Sybil, explained that he was just about to be married and was most anxious to get the house. He sat in her drawing-room, running up the price in hundreds, offering well over double what William was going to ask. Sybil could only say that she would telegraph to William, in case he had not yet made the offer. She telegraphed, but he had already done so, though only verbally.

   It never occurred to them to try to evade the bargain, or increase the price, but their nest-egg for Camberley, where every penny would be needed, was far less than it might have been. But as the fifteenth Psalm says, the servant of God "sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not" and it was on the Bible that they based their lives.

   In fact they got through their Camberley course on about £750 of private money — and William used to say that to put P.S.C. after his name had cost him £200 for each letter and £50 for the full-stops. Expenses were heavy. All Staff College officers were, for example, expected to hunt, and William was a heavy weight, so that they had to buy a good horse to mount him. Rents were high in Camberley and living expensive. However,

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they just got through, though William's account book shows that often they had only a balance of a few shillings at the bank at the end of the month.

   He was there from 1912-13. He enjoyed it greatly and though he continued, as always, to live a very quiet social life and to attend the local Brethren's meeting on Sundays, he made friends among the other students, played games and hunted regularly with the Staff College Drag.

   One of his friends was a Jewish officer, nicknamed "Moses", with whom he used to engage in long theological discussions. This was commemorated in a rhyme current among the students:

"Converting Hebrews is the hobby,
Of our respected Captain Dobbie,
But he finds the creed of Moses,
Goes rather deeper than he supposes."

   But above all, William found himself as a soldier. The teaching at Camberley was excellent, and he began to see the whole science of war as it was in modern times. During the very first lecture the Commandant made an astonishing statement. He said: "Remember, gentlemen, that before you finish this course you will be putting into practice in earnest what you will have learned." He was wrong — by seven months — but there is no doubt that, as a century of general peace ticked to its last days and hours, the Higher Command of the British army were well aware of what was coming. They knew too, who would be the enemy and who the allies, for the Staff College students were taken over to France for liaison with the French army.

   Civilians, well enough informed to realise the threats, thought only in terms of a strong navy. The growing naval estimates provided a battleground every Budget day, and there was little money for further army expansion. Nevertheless the army, though small, was being well trained and prepared for the coming ordeal.

   1914 dawned. William went back to regimental duty as adjutant to a R.E. unit stationed at Woolwich. Sybil's mother was still living at Blackheath, so they rented an unfurnished house there, within easy reach of Woolwich. It should have been a

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happy time, but perhaps the penumbra, the shadow of a shadow, was already creeping towards them.

   The question of the political future of Ireland was becoming acute, and in March a number of officers stationed at the Curragh had resigned rather than, as they thought, use force to coerce recalcitrant Ulster. William held the same views, and was prepared to do the same, to throw up his livelihood for a principle, and it seemed likely that the choice would come to him, as the units at Woolwich were likely to be called on next in the event of a war in Ireland. He discussed the matter with Sybil, and when she asked anxiously how they would live, he said that they would have to emigrate, and he would try to find work on a farm in Canada or Australia. Fortunately however, he did not have to make the choice, for the situation was smoothed over.

   But William was constantly aware too of the lesson that he had learned at Camberley — the imminence of a European war. He studied to improve his French during the spring of 1914, and qualified as an army interpreter in the language. He carefully kept all his Staff College notes and schemes.

   Sybil felt it too. The garden of their little house had an arbour, thickly covered with crimson roses, and as the hot summer days passed, the petals were continually dropping, and she began to have the horrible idea that they were like endless drops of blood, falling, falling, falling. She tried not to think of it, to regard it as a morbid fancy, but she began to dislike crimson roses.

   England as a whole, however, was quite unaware of what was to come. No premonition of disaster disturbed that last brilliant summer. A squadron of the British fleet visited Kronstadt, and entertained the Tsar Nicholas and his family. Did the four schoolgirl princesses and their escort of young midshipmen have any foreknowledge of how short life would be for most of them?

   At the end of June another squadron visited Kiel and there was much fraternisation between the British and German navies. When the British ships left the admiral sent a farewell message to the German Commander-in-Chief: "Friends in the past and friends for ever." Did he really think so? Probably not, mais toujours la politesse.

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   Even the crime of Sarajevo passed largely unnoticed. As late as July 17th, Lloyd George, speaking at the Mansion House, said: "In the matter of external affairs, the sky has never been more perfectly blue" and on the 23rd, in the House of Commons, he urged reduction on armaments expenditure in view of "the altogether better feeling" between England and Germany.

   During those last hot July days most of England was on holiday. But the navy were defrauded of their leave for after the news of Austria's ultimatum to Serbia was received on July 24th, Winston Churchill, foreseeing as always, ordered that the fleet should not disperse after their July review and manoeuvres. The army followed suit and all leave was presently cancelled. At Goodwood it was noticed that officers were gradually slipping away, recalled to regiments and ships, but, as at the Waterloo Ball, they did it unobtrusively, and the general gaiety was little affected. On August 1st, the Daily Mirror reported that the rush to the seaside was likely to be the biggest ever, and until that day tourists were still streaming across the Channel.

   William was at Woolwich. Sybil and the children had gone with her mother to Aldeburgh on the East coast for a holiday and William was to join them later; but he could not do so and on July 30th, he wrote doubtfully: "Though I know nothing officially I gather that we are for it this time. But it may still all come to nothing."

   On August 1st, it still seemed uncertain whether England would stand in with France in war. The French ambassador, M. Cambon, said bitterly that night: "J'attends de savoir si le mot honneur doit êtré raye du vocabulaire anglais." Earlier he had screamed in rage: "Ils vont nous lâcher!"

   William wrote to Sybil on August 3rd: "I am terribly anxious lest we should back out. It would be the blackest disgrace, and would mean disaster for us eventually." But on the same day Sir Edward Gray made the forceful speech in the House of Commons that swung England into the war in the cause of Belgian neutrality, the "scrap of paper" that was the death warrant of a generation of young men.

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   On August 4th Sybil and her children hurried back from Aldeburgh — the East coast was considered unsafe anyway. Haldane's reforms and Lord French's preparations swung into action. William's sappers were mobilised in a few days, and on Monday August 10th, less than a week from the declaration of war, the whole IV Division left Woolwich, Major-General T. D'O Snow in command, Col. H. B. Jones commanding the Divisional Engineers and Captain William Dobbie as his adjutant.

   Sybil spent Sunday night in the house of a friend at Woolwich. Very early on Monday as the dawn was breaking, she stood beside the road, watching the entire division file past. William was there, easy to pick out from his exceptional height. She watched him as long as she could, but the morning was misty, and only too soon the long columns of men, so many under sentence of death, were lost to sight. She turned to go home.

   All over Europe the same scene was being enacted. Was there no chorus of women, pleading with the chancelleries of the West:

"Pluck not the flower of youth,
let not the War-God cruel,
Lover of lust, scorner of truth,
       tear from the land her jewel!"?

Chapter VI

World War (1914-16)

Oh little mighty force that stood for England,
That, with your bodies for a living shield,
Guarded her slow awaking, that defied
The sudden challenge of tremendous odds,
And fought the rushing legions to a stand
Then, stark in grim endurance, held the line,
O little Force, that in your agony
Stood fast while England girt her armour on,
Held high our honour in your wounded hands,
Carried our honour safe with bleeding feet,
We have no glory great enough for you.

   William disappeared into the mists on August 10th. After a few days in various camps, the 4th Division reached Southampton on 22nd August, and crossed to France in the S.S. Algeria, reaching Rouen by the 24th.

   The war was not yet three weeks old, but already Joffre's offensive had failed, Belgium had been over-run and the Germans were advancing with enormous speed from Mons, south-westward towards Paris. The forward troops of the 4th Division were already in contact with the enemy at Le Cateau, and contributed largely to the battle there on the 25th, but William and his Sappers only got to St. Quentin when they were told that the army was in full retreat, and they must join up with the Division as they came back. This they finally did at Noyon, when the whole British army were back across the Somme. While they waited they prepared all the bridges over the Oise for demolition, and blew them up successfully later.

   General von Kluck was sure he had finished the B.E.F. at Le Cateau, but somehow the exhausted line held, fighting, retreating, digging in, fighting again — a terrible cycle. In that flat area, so often intersected by streams, the Sappers were continually in demand for building or demolishing bridges. On August 30th, the Commander-in-Chief gave orders that the main bridge over the Oise at Compiegne was to be blown up. While two officers were reconnoitering the position, William, using his very good French was seeking for information. He managed to find a French territorial officer, who produced plans of the demolition chamber, with which this bridge (like all others in the area) had been provided. He also produced a ton of melinite, and these two circumstances enabled the Sappers to get on with the work. They worked all night, and the next day received orders by 11a.m. that the last British division was clear, and the bridge was to go up.

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   Still the exhausted army struggled on. William was existing with a minimum of sleep, snatching ten minutes here and there in a ditch or beside the road. He even tried to sleep on horseback but found that he could not stay on! Much of the Sappers' work had to be done at night, and during the day he often found himself directing or regulating traffic to the right roads or bridges.

   The army crossed the Marne, and continued southwards. The Germans were very near Paris, and again von Kluck thought victory was in his grasp. But he could not come up with the astonishingly mobile B.E.F. as a whole, or breach the line. William and his Sappers got to Brie Comte Robert, and stopped there. The army as a whole halted at Melun and on Sept. 5th they began to retrace their steps. The ghastly retreat from Mons — nearly 150 miles of an army with full equipment and little mechanical transport in about 12 days — was over. The battle of the Marne, one of the decisive battles of history, began.

   William records that his men were delighted to be facing the other way. The first big obstacle was the Marne, and the 4th Division Sappers had to make a bridge. It has been described by Lt. B. K. Young in the R.E. Journal of Dec. 1933 as follows:

"The heads of the British Corps had reached the Southern bank of the Marne by the evening of the 8th September, and on the 9th the I and II Corps crossed the river. The III Corps was waiting for the completion of a bridge at La Ferté. This bridge, the first to be built by the field companies, was sited just below the old broken masonry bridge at the south end of the town. Its length was 220 ft. and it was made up of two trestles, the four pontoons of the 7th and 9th Field companies, four barrel piers, one barge and two boats. The site was reconnoitered by the C.R.E. 4th Division (Lieut. Colonel H. B. Jones) and his adjutant (Captain W.G.S. Dobbie). The field companies were well behind. The 9th Company had been digging all night and putting Juarre into a state of defence, and it was not until 4p.m. that it arrived

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on the spot. The 7th Company was even later. Considering the extreme probability that bridges would be required on the Marne, it is remarkable that the pontoons had not been pushed farther forward. The 1st and 2nd Bridging Trains, extremely cumbrous horsed units, after many adventures during the retreat, had been sent back to Le Mans, and were only entrained on this day for the front. There was no reason why they should not have been sent forward two or three days earlier, to follow up the advancing army.

   The work at La Ferté was divided; the 7th Company made the approaches and the 9th Company built the bridge. The covering troops were ferried across by boat. Extra decking and road bearers had to be found locally, and barrels were collected from the neighbouring cellars, their contents being run to waste. Several Germans, dead drunk, were found during this process. Work on the bridge continued all through the night of 9/10th September, and was finished at 6.30a.m. The last link was dramatic. All we possessed had been put into the bridge and it would not meet, when Lieutenant R. G. Wright (7th Company) suddenly appeared upstream in a row-boat which just filled the gap and saved the situation. The Division started crossing at once, and traffic continued up to 8.30p.m. At 4a.m. next morning, the 11th, the bridge was dismantled, the companies collecting their pontoons and hurrying off to overtake their divisions."

William adds:

"At the same time we were transporting Infantry across the river in boats. All next day troops and waggons were passing without interruptions and without any hitch. It started raining .... and the roadway got very slippery. As the day

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wore on some of the barrel pieces began to lose their buoyancy, so we inserted extra piers under the bridge, without stopping traffic …. We were the last to cross and bivouacked the other side preparatory to taking up the bridge in the early morning."

   He added that some French people invited him and his Colonel to dinner that night. They had an excellent meal, but William distinguished himself by dropping asleep in the middle. No wonder!

   The Aisne was the next obstacle and the Sappers had to bridge it at Soissons and Venizel. William was with the latter party. He says:

"I had remained up all night as I had to be ready to receive orders. We decided to build a bridge just below the broken bridge, and we got the companies down and prepared to start when the village was shelled by some German heavy artillery. We got under cover of some houses and waited till the shower was past, and then started work without any further interruption. The river was 200 ft. wide, but the banks were not so high as those at La Ferté. We found an oil factory with hundreds of barrels quite close, and we used them and so made up what was lacking in our own equipment. We had several difficulties to contend with, one trestle slipping into a big hole and disappearing, and other little contretemps like that, but we got the bridge finished at 6p.m. Meanwhile, we had been passing guns across the broken bridge by hand, and two batteries, I think, crossed this way. Also a lot of infantry crossed too."

   William stayed for several weeks on the Aisne. They repaired the iron girder bridge and made it capable of carrying heavy transport. They built another pontoon bridge, a barrel foot bridge and two swing barge foot bridges, besides the wooden girder bridge at Soissons. In between whiles, they were helping the infantry to strengthen and fortify trenches, and they prepared a defensive

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position behind in case the army had to fall back again. He adds that once they repaired a bridge that the Germans had tried to destroy, but that the latter had made a very poor job of the attempt. During this time his Sappers only had one casualty — one man with a slight wound in his neck.

   While he was making the bridge at Soissons, a Frenchman came and took a photograph. He then asked William if he could have his wife's address, as he would like to send her a copy. In course of time he did so, and the photograph, showing William and his men and their bridge, is still extant, labelled "Pont construit par les Anglais a'Soissons (Aisne)."

   By mid-October the line was being stabilised, and the first strain was over. But strain it had been. On October 19th Sir John French published his first list of "special mentions" in dispatches, and William's name was among the 37 names of Sapper officers in the entire B.E.F. Furthermore, to his amazement, he found on October 14th, that the French had awarded him the Croix de Chevalier de Legion d'Honneur for his work during the retreat. Some 8 or 10 were given in the Division. It was a high honour for an obscure Sapper Captain, and marked him out.

   They left the Aisne and went north into the 1st Battle of Ypres, which lasted until mid-November, and only ended because of the weather. The next two or three months the Sappers were busy draining water-logged trenches, and consolidating the line — that weary line that ran from Belgium to Switzerland, and changed little for nearly four years. The war on the Western front settled into something of a pattern — cold static discomfort and intensive training in the winter, followed by a spring offensive and another, often at midsummer, which would continue on and off till autumn rain and early frosts brought a respite. For four years this hideous sequence destroyed the young manhood of Western Europe.

   William wrote on Nov. 22nd 1914: "The worst is over now. The German strategy has failed. It depended on immediate success and I don't think that they had made preparation for a long campaign." Perhaps here William's incurable optimism misled him. However on Nov. 27th 1914 he was able to come back on a week's leave.

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His family were still at the little house at Blackheath, and the war was not affecting civilians very much as yet. Nevertheless Sybil never, till the end of her life, forgot the anxiety of those first months of the war. William had written to her almost every day, but during the retreat few letters had got through. The papers were full of conflicting accounts of the situation, and one terrible day at the end of August, she read, in one of the more sensational publications, that the B.E.F. could not possibly be extricated, and must all be overwhelmed. She was convinced too that England would be invaded, and that all that remained to her was to do what she could to save the children. When she went out she was aware that her neighbours looked at her with deep pity, and then seemed to avoid her, as though she were already bereaved and they did not know what to say. It must be remembered that only the regular army was in the B.E.F., and that anxiety of the whole nation did not come till later. Her former cook had a husband also with the Fourth Division, and the girl came over to see her, and they comforted each other as best they could.

   Then, early in September, a picture postcard arrived. It was a bad photograph of a street in Compiegne, and was dated Aug. 27th. On the back William had written: "I am very fit. The weather has been wet lately, but today it is getting better. Much love to you all. W.D." This laconic, banal message brought the first ray of sunshine back to the little house in Blackheath. Sybil began to hope again. Gradually more letters and field service post-cards filtered through, and William's unfailing cheerfulness started to permeate.

   England in 1914 was completely inexperienced in war. There was much good will but little organisation. Everyone tried to send out parcels and William received several from the Brethren at the Gospel Hall, Woolwich, their contents ranging between pocket Gospels, socks and cakes. These he shared out with his men as he had in South Africa.

   The possibility of a large scale war seemed never to have occurred to the business world. William, for instance, was suddenly informed by his life insurance company that unless he produced some fifty pounds in the next 48 hours his policy would

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lapse. This was a severe blow, but Sybil managed to borrow the money from a relative, to keep the policy going. She much resented the fact that extra premiums for active service risks had never been mentioned in the policy, but to do the company justice they did, later in the war, repay the extra money.

   There was as yet no rationing of any sort and William was able, on his first leave, to enjoy a certain amount of mild entertainment among his friends and relations. There was also no conscription, either for military service, or of labour. The invasion alarm had died down, and life at home was fairly normal. But the terrible casualty lists cast their shadow. In 1914 there were 90,000 casualties (58,000 in the 1st battle of Ypres) and the B.E.F., the flower of England's regular army, was nearly wiped out.

   William went back on December 6th, and plunged (almost literally) into trench warfare. The Sappers were mostly engaged in draining the terrible mud and water round "Plug Street". It was a constant struggle, but apparently they made progress, for the country people said that the water was lower than they had ever known it. Then on Christmas Eve he was wounded.

   It was not a particularly glorious wound, as it was caused merely by a hand grenade that he himself had thrown in a demonstration to Gen. Pulteney, a visiting general. He said: "I was giving a demonstration and did everything in the most approved style, but the silly grenade did not know the rules of the game and a bit came back much further than it ought to have. It just got me on the inside of the thigh."

   He was immediately evacuated onto a Red Cross train, and sent to a base hospital at Rouen. Here he was x-rayed, and it was found that a piece of the grenade was embedded very close to the main artery. An operation was performed to get it out, but it was found impossible to dislodge, and in the end the surgeons decided to leave it there, and hope that it would not start moving around. So to the end of his days William had a piece of a British grenade lodged in his leg, but it never, in fact, gave him the slightest trouble.

   Sybil and the children had gone with her mother and sisters to Brighton for a short Christmas holiday, when the news of

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William's wound came through. Leaving the children with her mother she immediately went to Sidcup, where her parents-in-law were living, and decided to go across to France, escorted by William's father. And, unbelievable as it seems in the middle of a full-scale war, they did just that. Passports were a new evil, practically unknown before 1914, and they spent nearly a day in London getting them, and the necessary French visas, but that done, they just bought their tickets from Thomas Cook's and caught the 10a.m. boat train to Folkestone and boat to Dieppe. They arrived in Rouen on Dec. 30th, and went to a perfectly normal hotel — the Grand Hotel d'Angleterre — and finally found William in a Red Cross hospital.

   By this time he had had his operation, and was making progress. Sybil was able to sit with him all day and every day, and remained with him, staying at the house of an English lady in Rouen, till he was fit to be moved, though her father-in-law went home earlier. Then on January 12th 1915 she was allowed to travel home with William on the hospital ship, which crept out of Le Havre (blacked-out, although danger from air or submarine was very slight in the Channel) and across to Southampton. She stayed with him in the troop train to London. There he was kept in hospital at 16 Bruton Street for a week, and then sent home as a convalescent.

   It was all a strange little adventure for Sybil, and certainly would not have occurred in World War II, or indeed much later than the first Christmas of World War I.

   William had some six weeks sick leave. It was a happy little interlude, further brightened by another mention in dispatches for "gallant and distinguished service in the field", which was announced on February 17th. Then early in March he was recalled to the front, back to his old job as adjutant to the Fourth Divisional Engineers. He did not keep it long, however, for early in April 1915 he was appointed to be G.S.O. (General Staff Officer) III of the Second Army.

   The new armies — Kitchener's recruits, the Territorial army and several Canadian divisions — had now arrived in France. The winter was past, the rain was over and gone, the time of the singing

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of birds was come — heralded by the first gas attack of the war. William who arrived at his new headquarters on April 1st, found himself plunged immediately into the second battle of Ypres.

   It was his first experience of staff work, since the end of his training at the Staff College in 1913. He and another officer were in charge of "operations" which meant the making of plans and working out of their details. He dealt with particular questions and was responsible for having to handle all the necessary information about the troops involved. The work was interminable, and as the battle continued he could rarely sleep for long. On May 2nd he wrote: "I have not had my clothes off for I don't know how long, except for washing" and on May 4th he added that he had slept in his boots for a week.

   It was his first experience too of a big battle in which he knew what was going on. Admittedly he had been on the Mons retreat and on the Marne, but as Adjutant R.E., he could have had little idea of the overall situation. Now, at Army headquarters he knew and was seemingly amazed at the scope and devastation of modem war. On April 30th, he wrote: "This is 'some battle' as the Americans would say" and on May 5th: "In point of view of numbers engaged and of casualties, the battle in which we have just taken part knocked Waterloo into a cocked hat". He described Ypres as a mass of ruins, and later on, when he was sent south to the Loos area, made the revealing remark that it would be child's play compared to the Ypres salient. He recorded at intervals news of certain regiments who had suffered in the fighting, and there are sad mentions of friends and relatives killed and wounded. From a list published in June 1915, of the fifty in William's term at the Staff College, nine had already been killed, and five were out of action from wounds. This did not include those wounded, but back on duty, like William himself.

   On July 28th 1915, too, the "Daily Mail" recorded that there were fifty direct descendants of the late Capt. William Hugh Dobbie R.N., of Saling Hall, serving in the army and navy. The old pirate chaser would have been proud of his progeny, but it is sad how often William had to record the death or wounds of one or other of his young cousins.

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The Germans' near break-through at Ypres caused, in England, the last invasion scare (till 1940). There is an interesting letter extant from Mrs. Orde-Browne to Sybil, dated April 30th 1915. She says:

"I don't like the look of things either at the front or at home. My feeling all along has been that the Germans will make one huge attack — occupy the army in Flanders, bring out their fleet, attack us and employ 100s and 100s of Zeppelins to set fire to our towns and cities (like those two today at Ipswich). All these operations will probably be at once or rather together. .... With incendiary bombs, all towns will be attempted, seeing they can fly low, because we have no guns to fire at them."

   Mrs. Orde-Browne then goes on to say that she will find a small house in a country village, near Malvern, and Sybil and her married sister were meanwhile to make secret preparations to come away immediately. She would write or telegraph the name of the village, when she had got the house, and the two mothers and their six children were to leave at once by hired car or by train, having previously cashed into gold or pound notes as much money as they could. She emphasised again the need for secrecy, and urged Sybil to burn the letter when read (which she did not do).

   Mrs. Orde-Browne was some 25 years out in her fears, but it is interesting to see a proposed evacuation of mothers and children (albeit by private enterprise) from London for fear of large scale bombing of towns, casting its shadow so long before it.

   Sybil all her life had a cheerful contempt for missiles from the air (an attitude that stood her in good stead later) and she seems to have fallen in with none of her mother's suggestions. It is clear, however, that she confided them to William, for his letters at this time are full of steady reassurance that the situation was in hand, and that the Germans would not break through. Even the problem of gas was, he said, being solved.

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   On July 2nd 1915 William was suddenly transferred to the First Division, as G.S.O. II. This was decidedly a promotion, and he was delighted. A first staff appointment was usually a period of probation, but he had clearly acquitted himself well in the strain of the Ypres salient and this much more responsible job followed. His pay was raised to £550, with 4/6 a day field allowance. This was an increase of £168 a year — a high percentage. Apparently General Robertson, who had known him at the Staff College had arranged for this posting.

   He left the desolation of Ypres, and with his faithful groom and batman (the same pair were with him throughout the war) and his two horses, he went south to the Loos area, where he remained for nine months. It was of course little change danger-wise, despite his assurances to Sybil how safe he was, for the division was soon involved in the battle of Loos — that terrible carnage which, though it had little effect on the war, cost the British 60,000 killed, wounded or missing.

   William was much more in the front line in this post than he had been before. He was constantly in the trenches and in September had a very narrow escape, when fragments of a shell bursting near him destroyed the binoculars slung in a case on his shoulder.

   The Germans made a counter attack in October, but the dreary battle of Loos wore itself out by the beginning of winter. The following months were devoted to training on both sides. From December to the following March William was organizing and running the Divisional School for Officers. He lectured on a variety of subjects, ranging from "Demolitions" or "River Crossings" to "Some Lessons from Military History." He worked hard at the school, and clearly his efforts were appreciated, for at the end of the course, in February, the officers he had taught gave him a present of a watch in appreciation. He was delighted, but utterly amazed. He said: "It was so nice and spontaneous and so absolutely unexpected that I did not know what to say."

   Christmas 1915 passed. William spent Christmas Day walking the trenches with General Holland. He wrote to Sybil:

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   "We started out at 7a.m. and we walked the whole length of the front trenches and back along the reserve line, wishing the men a happy Xmas. I gave away my remaining gospels and the Xmas cards you and Mother sent out. They were all very appreciative. There are not many Divisional Commanders who would have done all that. We were walking solidly for 8½ hours and must have covered 17 miles. The state we were in when we came back was awful. I enjoyed the walk immensely."

   Early in 1916 he received a New Year present — or rather two. He was mentioned in dispatches again, and on January 14th he heard that he had been awarded a D.S.O. This latter was a remarkable tribute to a mere Captain as he still was. He was able to come on leave in February and, with Sybil, went to Buckingham Palace to receive the medal from the King.

   The quiet winter went on. General Joffre came and inspected the Divisional bomb school, where every possible bomb was let off for him. It was followed by a ceremonial parade, and peace time conditions were reproduced even to the extent of a little girl presenting a bouquet to the General, and receiving in return a kiss, and a small wrist watch as a souvenir. Concert parties, rather after the style of E.N.S.A., came out and entertained the troops.

   But both sides were preparing for the spring offensive. Trenches were strengthened, and old ones filled in. Personnel were moved about, and in April William was sent to be G.S.O. II with the 8th Army Corps. He knew that it was promotion, but he was, all the same, far from pleased. He much liked his work with the Division, and his constant contact with the front line. He had found General Holland and Col. Longridge, the G.S.O. I, and the other officers very congenial, and he had hoped to be with them for the forthcoming offensive. However he moved south, to the Somme area, and began his new work.

   He was just in time for the battle of the Somme, the last great battle, in English history, fought only with a volunteer force. Five French and 19 British divisions were poised to attack on a 19 mile front by midsummer. On June 24th, the guns began an incredible softening up barrage that lasted 8 days.

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   The men waited for the attack to begin. William described on June 25th, a scene on a hillside:

"It was a Communion service and the men, about 100 or so were all kneeling in a hollow square, and the chaplain was in the middle near a little table with a white cloth on it. He was going round the men, handing each one the Bread and Wine. Some distance off the guns were firing …. May those men find the Saviour."

   It is not only earthly monarchs who receive the heroic tribute — morituri te salutamus!

   The VIII Corps (4 Divisions) attacked in the Beaumont Hamel area on July 1st. They lost 15,000 men and did little but hold the sector, but further south other units achieved more success, and the pressure on the French at Verdun was relieved. The fighting went on for a fortnight, at high pressure, and till November fairly continuously.

   William was, of course, working at incredible pressure, with constant broken nights, strain and anxiety. He was promoted Major on July 4th (antedated to April). His heart, however, was still with his old comrades of the 1st Division and on July 11th he mentioned seeing some of them, and talking to his friend Col. Longridge. He said: "It made me feel quite homesick. I would love to see Longridge promoted and myself stepping into his shoes." On August 18th, he suddenly received orders to return at once to 1st Division Headquarters, as G.S.O. I. Delightedly he went, only to find, to his intense grief, that the promotion he had hoped for his friend had been to "higher service." Col. Longridge had been killed the day before, and he had stepped into his shoes. Coincidence, prophecy or second sight?

   He remained in this post for about 18 months and this time constituted his greatest experience in the war. He was now in some authority, as G.S.O. I (Promoted to Brevet Lieut. Colonel at once) and able to feel of use to the 12 battalions and many smaller units that composed the Division. It had been appallingly reduced in the Somme fighting, but from about the beginning of September, seems to have been less in the front line, and most of

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William's early work there was connected with training, mostly the new men who had come out to fill up the terrible gaps in the ranks.

   He described, most movingly, a parade service he attended in October, of the Second Sussex Battalion. Instead of a sermon, the Battalion stood to attention and the Regimental Sergeant-Major read out the names of all the officers, N.C.O.s and Men killed in the Somme battle. It was a heart-breakingly long list, and at the end, the buglers sounded the last post, and then, led by a fife band, the hymn "For All The Saints" was sung. Among the motionless ranks stood many who had come to take the place of those gone before. What were their thoughts?

   That year, (1916) the weather broke early, stopped the heavy fighting, and once again prevented the break-through that might have ended the war in mid-October. Once again the British army had to wait and try again.

Chapter VII

Continuing War (1917-18)

In France and Flanders where men kill each other
My Pilgrim is esteemed a friend—a brother.

Bunyan, "Pilgrim's Progress"

   The very cold winter of 1916-17 passed. By early in the New Year the British army was holding 110 miles of line and by April the Germans had retreated to prepared positions in the Hindenburg line.

   William was able to get home on leave in September, in January and in April. By this time conditions were altering at home. The Germans were hoping great things from their submarine campaign and food was getting short. Rationing had not been brought in, but there was a sort of "conscience" rationing, which bore heavily on people like Sybil with a sense of duty, and had little effect on others. It was, in fact, a relief when real rationing began, but even then it was something of a blundering scheme, with none of the scientific dieting, "points" schemes, or priority foods that brought the nation so well through the next war.

   William's letters towards the end of the war refer constantly to the food rationing. The rationed food did not suit Sybil, and he urged her to try and get eggs at any price. He managed, sometimes, to send her parcels of butter from France, but some were stolen en route, and anyhow, by April 1918 it was forbidden to send any.

   The meat ration in England was apparently 10/- worth a week, per household, and Sybil recorded with pride when once she managed to get 51bs. of sausages off the ration.

   Coal too was a constant anxiety, and William urged Sybil to get in coal as often as she could, so as to stock up, and even to save, for extra fuel, the wood from a tree in the road outside their house that had been felled.

   Housing too was not easy. There was none of the later legislation preventing the families of serving men from being evicted. Sybil was living in a rented house, which was sold over her head, so that she had to get out. Perhaps however, such legislation was not yet necessary, for after some weeks of anxiety, she was able

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to find another unfurnished house in the same area, at a rental of £80, and moved in in the spring of 1917.

   Blackheath, being southeast of London, and near Woolwich Arsenal, was always something of a bomb alley, and throughout the war there had been fairly frequent Zeppelin raids, and in 1917 planes began to come over. As compared to the "Blitz" of course, these were nothing, but it was a new form of warfare, and though Sybil treated the whole matter with cheerful contempt, William was sometimes anxious for his family, even though he often joked about it. (On one occasion he wrote that there had been a raid on his own headquarters and he was glad to think he was sharing Sybil's perils).

   Labour too was, of course a problem. Though there was no conscription of labour, women were flocking into munition works and the women's services, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to find domestic servants. Throughout the war Sybil was able to have a cook and a nurse, but their presence and activities were a constant source of anxiety.

   Fifty years later it seems strange that Sybil should have been so dependent on servants, but it must be remembered how few labour-saving devices there were, so that, with no help, a fair-sized house and three children were an impossible incubus.

   Autres temps, autres moeurs. In the second World War, it seemed equally strange and absurd to Sybil that labour had to be kept back to perm and set young women's hair. She had certainly done without that in the first war.

   The summer of 1917 came at last, and it was time to launch a new campaign. But it was now clear that the French army, after the protracted horror of Verdun in 1916, was on the verge of collapse and/or mutiny. Russia was sinking into anarchy, her last effective offensive being in July, and though America entered the war in April, it was some time before she could render much help. During the summer of 1917, therefore, the British army in France bore nearly the whole of the brunt of the war, and engaged in continuous operations. In June, the battle of Messines was a success, but still the final break-through was to be made.

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   The Third Battle of Ypres followed, and it was then that William was engaged in one of the most exciting operations of his career. He himself wrote a most interesting article on it in the R.E. Journal of June 1924.

   The Germans had very strongly fortified the Belgian coastline. From the submarine base at Zeebrugge, they were directing the campaign on civilian shipping, and from Raversyde, heavy guns could shell shipping, while those along the line of the Yser were fairly effective at preventing any advance that way. It was therefore decided that an amphibious landing on a hostile coast should be made in order to silence these batteries, if at the same time a sufficient advance could be made on land to make the hazardous operation worthwhile.

   The First Division was selected for the task. First they were exchanged with a (rather ineffective) French Division on the Yser, and then, after some hard fighting, ostentatiously withdrawn on July 16th, as if in bad shape, to Dunkirk.

   Here the whole operation assumed a slightly James Bond air. Secrecy was utterly essential. The Division was absolutely quarantined in its base camp, and rations and stores were delivered by a series of "locks", whereby those bringing them in never met those receiving them. All leave was stopped of course, and every letter very strictly censored.

   Several special pickets were always on duty at all the entrances, and in the area containing a large-scale model of the proposed landing area, sentries would admit no one without a pass from Divisional Headquarters. No horses were to take part in the landing, so there were none in the training area, but the Sappers were able to build a light railway for transport.

   Amphibious craft of modern types were not known, but the navy were to use giant monitors to push ashore enormously long pontoons, carrying tanks (three each), light guns, cycles, stores and personnel. This had to be done at dawn, with a high tide, and a shore wind which would allow smoke-screens to be laid, so that only certain days could be used when the tide was right; and then the weather might well have been wrong. Middlekerke was chosen for the operation.

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   No efforts were spared to train the men for their task. Models of the sea-wall were made and tanks practised going over them, perfecting various modifications that were needed. Men, at first in light kit, and later man-handling carts and guns, endlessly practised running up it. Every house on the coast was identified and memorised, and here the R.A.F. cooperated valiantly in producing aerial photographs. Lines representing the pontoons were drawn out on the ground with every excrescence marked, and men learned exactly where they were to stand, and where every box or gun was to be.

   Most of the men had no experience of anything but trench warfare, and needed much training for this operation, when, as soon as the force had landed, a flying column of cyclists, motor machine guns and Sappers were to rush the Raversyde batteries from the shore side (where defence was weak) and blow them up.

   Divisional Headquarters were to come on a separate small pontoon, with a telephone line being laid out as they sailed, keeping them in touch with 4th Army Headquarters near Dunkirk. For various reasons they would have to land a little north of Middlekerke, after the smoke-screen had cleared, in full view of any German defences operating from Ostende — all very hazardous.

   While all this training was going on, William mentioned that, at the Staff College, he had helped plan a rather similar scheme. He was asked if he still had the papers on it, and he said cheerfully that he had, and he would ask his wife to send them. This however was far too risky, and he was sent home by a naval boat for 48 hours leave to get them himself. Sybil was of course delighted to see him, and scarcely noticed that he wandered up into the attic and grubbed among old papers for a while.

   She had, of course, no inkling of what was afoot, but it was obvious to everyone in South-East England that the fighting was getting very near the Belgian coast, as the army pushed north and north-east from Ypres. For several days that summer gunfire could be heard at Blackheath, or, more exactly, felt as a tremor in the ground. Night after night Sybil stood in the garden, feeling those distant guns, and wondering how much William was concerned with the battle.

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   The Third Battle of Ypres was another "might-have-been". It started well, but terrible rain prevented its success. The excellent firing with enormously increased supplies of shells only helped chum up the ground still further, and the high hopes of the summer were drowned in the mud of Passchendaele. The First Division landing scheme, with its split-second timing, and dependence on weather, was never attempted. The Second and Fifth Armies east of Ypres and the XV Corps from Dunkirk never got far enough to justify the attempt. William himself sums up the situation thus:—

   "It is evident that the chances of success depended very largely on the element of surprise. It was believed at the time that the surprise would have been absolute had the landing been made on the first date arranged for it. After that time the Germans were probably aware of the fact that a landing was contemplated, but remained in ignorance as to the time and place. Thus even at a late date it is probable that a local surprise would have been effected. If so, it is barely conceivable that the Division would have failed to get a good footing ashore, and once that was done, it was felt that it would have been able to hold what it had gained.

   It must be remembered that the area of possible enemy counter-attacks would have been very much restricted by the marshy ground, and that his mobile artillery would have been largely put out of action by the very fact of the landing. Further the attack of the XV Corps would have inevitably taken up a large proportion of the energies of the German troops. For these reasons, to say nothing of the splendid fettle the men were in, the 1st Division was sanguine of success.

   The results of success would almost assuredly have been very far-reaching. It was not too much to hope that the diversion on the coast would have

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very materially assisted operations of the 2nd and 5th Armies. Ostend would probably have fallen into our hands, and Zeebrugge would have been neutralized if not captured. Thus a large portion of Belgium would have been recovered, the naval aspect of the war entirely changed, the morale of the allies raised and that of the enemy lowered. The effect in Germany of such a tangible result might have anticipated by fifteen months her realization of failure. But this is all surmise; the fact remains that the landing was not attempted, and the war dragged on for more than another year."

   The First Division busied itself with winter ploys. William records that he played hockey, engaged in a rifle shooting competition and rode a great deal. He got Christmas leave, for the first time in the War. A photograph was taken of the Divisional Staff, with General Sir Peter Strickland in the middle and William beside him. Everyone looks very smart and neat.

   Meanwhile the war was altering its character elsewhere. General Allenby's spectacular success in Palestine altered the situation in the Middle East, but the Italian debacle at Caporetto left Austria strong, and forced the British and French to send five divisions each to stabilize the Italian front. (It is possible that these 10 Divisions remaining on the Western front might have turned the Battle of Cambrai into a break-through). Russia was now completely out of the war, and early in the New Year the Bolshevik government made the Peace of Brest-Litovsk with Germany. The Germans were at last freed from Bismarck's nightmare of a war on two fronts, and were able to concentrate on the West, bringing across enormous forces that had been held down on the Eastern front.

   William seems to have been restless that winter. He hoped that the Division might be sent to Italy. When Sybil seemed to dislike the idea he said: "I think it would be a very nice idea to get away from the Flanders mud and the desolation and the artillery fire to the comparatively peaceful plains of the Po. One might, with luck, manage to have a fight with an Austrian Division,

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which would be a very welcome change. The people in Palestine seem to be having the time of their lives."

   In January 1918, however, William was given a change, though not away from the Western front. He received, however, a new appointment. Except for four months, with the 8th Army Corps, he had been with the First Division since July 1915. Now he was transferred to the British G.H.Q. (General Headquarters) at Montreuil, as G.S.O. I i/c Movements. It was an exceedingly interesting and responsible job, but he was, of course, very sorry to leave his friends of the First Division.

   At Montreuil he could really see the war as a whole. At first he was covering huge distances in a car, going up by plane to make reconnaissances, in constant contact with the French. (He mentioned that the French officers always looked very smart and ordered some new uniforms to keep up with them). He must have known that a big German offensive was in preparation, for Lord Haig had just gone to London to warn Lloyd George that his forces were too much depleted to cope with the impending blow, unless some of the 400,000 men kept in England were sent out to him.

   In March the blow fell. On the 21st, 46 German Divisions attacked the Allies' weakest point, where the British and French lines joined. General Cough's heroic Fifth Army took the brunt of it, but within a few days most of the hard-won gains of three years were lost. The Germans advanced on Amiens, that railway centre which would control most of the area.

   William used to describe later the intense anxiety at G.H.Q. during those fateful days. He was now aware, in a way he had never been before, of the desperation of the situation for the Allies. There came a terrible day when, for an hour or two, contact between the British and French armies was broken, and the Germans, if they had known it, were through to Amiens. Had they gone through they could have rolled up the British army towards the Channel and dealt with the French separately, as they did in 1940. William and his comrades at G.H.Q. realised the disastrous gravity of the situation, and all his life he never forgot that day. But the Germans did not realise their success, or were too much exhausted to exploit it, and the lines joined again.

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William's letters at the time reveal nothing of this. On March 25th he just wrote: "Again I repeat, this is some battle. It is still going on as hard as ever. I have no time to write more. 'Have faith in God.'"

   On the 26th he said:

   "I have to arrange all the movements of troops to and from the battlefront, which is rather a big business" — a masterly understatement.

On the 29th he says that they have now had 9 days of battle and that he is getting used to it, but a bit sleepy. He adds on the 30th: "I am keeping very fit, though probably I will feel tired when this show is over."

   Ever after 1918 William was a very light sleeper. He would wake at the slightest sound, and be instantly aware of his surroundings and circumstances. Sybil always attributed it to those days of intense anxiety when the war was so very nearly lost, and when for weeks he snatched broken sleep, instantly conscious of an orderly hurrying in with a message, or the first whimper from the telephone at his head.

   General Ludendorff continued his hammer blows. The fighting went on on the Lys and Villars Bretonneux, and the exhausted armies struggled to hold their ground. England was horrified. Their losses had been sickening, and now this disaster seemed the end. Nevertheless the nation nerved itself for another effort. 80,000 men on leave were sent back, and, worst of all, 80,000 boys under 19 were drafted overseas.

   By the end of April the tide began to turn. There was a small British success along the Somme, the Zeebrugge raid knocked out the submarine base, and by May American troops were arriving at the rate of 50,000 a week.

   William was at G.H.Q. till the end. He seemed to be very mobile, and was constantly in the air. He became fascinated by flying, and said that if he had been younger he would have thought of transferring to the R.A.F. At other times he was visiting units and seeing to troop movements. Moving large bodies over crowded roads, or on railways with insufficient rolling stock was a constant headache. An amusing incident had occurred a little earlier, when William, at the head of a body of troops of the 1st

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Division, had met another large force at a crossroads. To his surprise, who should be leading this body, but his old friend of Staff College days, "Moses". There was no way of deciding who should go first (or how the muddle had taken place), so finally William and Moses, in full view, and amid ribald comments of their respective men, tossed for it. William won, and his unit went first. (Someone was heard to say that it was the first time anyone had got the better of a Jew in a deal!) Such incidents, however, though amusing in retrospect, did not help the war effort, and throughout 1918 it was William's job to see that they did not occur.

   As the pressure built up for Foch's great offensive in August, necessitating enormous troop movements at night, and concealments by day, his work became ever more important. It was, however, rather impersonal, and he often wished he were back with his old friends of the First Division or even commanding a Field Company of Royal Engineers.

   On August 4th, the fourth anniversary of the beginning of the war, there was an official day of prayer held all over England and among the Forces. Sybil engaged in a day's fasting for it, and at G.H.Q. there was a special parade service, attended by everyone from the Commander-in-Chief downwards. William described it at length. There were hundreds of officers present, including many French, Belgians and Americans and all G.H.Q. staff, including a party of W.A.A.C. girls. The reading desk was made of drums, and the flags of all the Allies were behind. William said: "It was a public acknowledgment of God and as such, I hope, will be blessed by Him. There were similar services throughout the army today."

   Four days later, on August 8th, the most serious break-through occurred, — what General Ludendorff called "The Black Day of the German army." (William described it as "a great day for hammering the Huns.") It was the beginning of the end. The British armies and their allies began to roll forward once more, over the old Somme and Loos battlefields with their serried lines of graves, on and on, ever eastwards. William was very sad not to be with the advancing troops, and said so again and again. Nevertheless his work was essential, and he contributed his piece to the mosaic of victory.

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   After so long no one in England really took in that the end could be in sight. Food was shorter than ever. Furthermore, Spanish influenza, which had swept through the armies in France during the summer — William had had it — took a much worse turn and began to devastate England. It was difficult to look ahead any distance.

   Curiously enough even William, right in the centre of things, does not appear to have realised how close the end was. He constantly rejoiced over isolated victories, and indulged in the pipe dreams of every soldier towards the end of a war — what he will do afterwards. (These ranged from running a farm in Devonshire, to being a missionary in the Falkland Islands or an instructor at the New Zealand Staff College). But he hardly seemed to realise how close the end was, imagining probably a long fight through Germany. It was not till November 9th that he realised the internal collapse of Germany and said "It looks as if hostilities must cease any old time now. The whole thing seems like a dream, the German army inevitably defeated and the German menace lifted once for all. God has been wonderfully good, far more so than we have deserved or could have expected."

   Early in the morning of November 11th, a message came through to G.H.Q. to be disseminated through all units of the British army. It read as follows:—

   "Hostilities will cease at 1100 today, November 11th AAA Troops will stand fast on the line reached at that hour, which will be reported by wire to Advanced G.H.Q. AAA Defensive precautions will be maintained AAA There will be no intercourse of any description with the enemy until the receipt of instructions from G.H.Q. AAA Further instructions follow AAA ACKNOWLEDGE AAA

   Addressed all Armies, Cavalry Corps and Advanced Operations, R.A.F., repeated all concerned."

   This historic message had to be signed by the G.S.O. I who happened to be on duty at the time — 6.30a.m. — and went out above the name of:

W. G. S. Dobbie, Lieut. Colonel, General Staff.

   When in later life, William was asked what he had done in World War I, he used to reply that he had stopped it!

Chapter VIII

Letters From The War

"A little lifting up the heart suffices; a little remembrance of God, one act of inward worship, though upon a march, and sword in hand, are prayers which, however short, are nevertheless very acceptable to God; and far from lessening a soldier's courage in occasions of danger, they best serve to fortify it."

Brother Lawrence "The Practice of the Presence of God."

   The preceding two chapters have been constructed largely from William's letters to his wife. He wrote to her, if only a line or two, every day, and she kept everything, and compiled a book, three large volumes, from his letters, together with newspaper cuttings, post-cards, photographs and relevant letters from other people. The whole provides a most interesting picture of one man's war service, and also gives fascinating glimpses of life in war-time England and France, but it does more. It builds up very clearly a picture of the character, personality and ideals of William Dobbie. So, rather than load the preceding chapters with too many quotations, this chapter contains a selection of extracts from his letters revealing various aspects of his character.

   These letters are less inhibited than those he wrote to his mother from South Africa. Sybil had all his heart, and his love for her and for his children is the silver thread that shines through the often dark tapestry of this war-time picture. He wrote freely and in the midst of his heavy responsibilities in France was remembering and thinking and advising about a thousand details of Sybil's war-time difficulties.

   But even clearer and brighter is the gold thread of his love for God.

   Very early in the war, on 20th August 1914, before he had left England, he made a clear declaration of faith. He said:

"Whatever happens I am trusting to the Blood only and entirely and am absolutely at peace. This thought absolutely satisfies me now and I know it will continue to do so under more strenuous and difficult circumstances, should these arise. This all sounds as if I was thinking that I was going to come to grief. I don't think that at all — in fact I feel quite sure I will come back all right — but it is so nice to remember that one needs Christ to help one to live, as well as to die."

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   He repeated this declaration on 24th September 1915:

"About 13 months ago I made a confession of faith. I would like to repeat it now. I am resting on the Blood and am entirely satisfied with its efficacy. The Lord's presence is very real in spite of my unworthiness."

   This "Presence" never left him. In the horror of battle, or the gruelling and responsible work on the staff, he was constantly engaged in the "practice of the presence of God." There was a picture, popular at this time in England, called "The White Comrade". It showed two soldiers on the battlefield, and a shadowy figure of Christ near them. For William, the White Comrade was a constant near-reality, and he was continuously turning to Him for help, guidance and companionship.

22.11.1914. "I find this sort of life necessitates constant prayer and watchfulness that one's spiritual life does not get cold. I try and have a little time of prayer at odd times during the day to bring myself back into touch with the Lord. When I am walking by myself I like singing hymns."

15.11.1914. "I have had a very busy day — very un-Sunday-like, but I managed to get a few minutes at 12.30 to join with you at the Lord's Table in spirit.

18.6.1915. "This is a lonely life, albeit a busy one. I find I am getting to value more highly the companion ship of the Lord, which is often very real."

29.8.1915. "I have just come back from the trenches where I had a good and uneventful walk round …. I enjoyed this morning's portion very much …. 'much closer touch with the Lord.' I desire this far more than anything else, such as personal advancement etc. I suppose that the realization of this wish is within one's own grasp, if one will only close on it."

19.8.1916. (On beginning his job as G.S.0.1, 1st Division)

   "I was reading in I Kings about Solomon asking

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for wisdom and it came over me so strongly that that is what I need — and not to depend on myself — and I got a great assurance that God would give it me."

27.11.1916. "I can't tell you how good the Lord is to me in helping me with my work. Any worry that comes along (and they are fairly numerous) He smoothes away in a perfectly extraordinary fashion when I ask Him. It has all been an absolute revelation to me this time."

8.7.1917. "Don't try and bear the burden of things when the Lord wants to bear the burden for you."

1.3.1917. "I had a very nice answer to prayer yesterday. I felt that one of the Armies ought to dispose its troops in a certain way. I could not suggest it, as I am not commanding the Army. So I prayed about it and in about half an hour I got a message to say they were doing what I wanted in every detail."

25.5.1918. (After expressing a wish to change his job).

"I have told the Lord all about it and there the matter rests. I do not propose agitating for any change, as I might only upset His plans for me, and He is quite able to look after my interests."

29.9.1918. "I often wonder what will be our lot after the War, but the Lord has given me an assurance that He will look after our interests and I therefore cannot feel the least anxious, or worry about it."

   As in South Africa William was immensely conscious of the need for him to try and help the work of God. His letters make constant references to distributing Gospels and tracts, to visiting welfare and mission halls, and, as occasion offered, to preach there or speak to individuals. But he also accepted and rejoiced in any Christian fellowship he could get. Despite his long Christian experience, his intellectual capacity and wide education, he was singularly humble and was prepared to listen to and learn from anyone, old or young, regardless of Service rank or anything else, who knew His Lord and would talk of Him.

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3.10.1914. "I had another Bible reading tonight with Geld (a chaplain) and afterwards I spoke at the Gospel meeting."

17.12.1914. "I am very much encouraged about the spirit of enquiry that is prevalent in the 9th Co. I have given away some of the testaments and men have come to me and asked for some and also asked for tracts. I have also given away some of the Gospel Hall things and they have all had texts or tracts in them and the men have been most grateful for them. I wrote to Mr. Miles (of the Gospel Hall) yesterday, but I did not tell him of the awakening in the company as I was not sure about it then."

8.8.1915. "I find it awfully hard to do any Christian work here …. I give away gospels and have a few chats with individuals but I don't think I am doing as much as I ought or might do. I have been praying a great deal about it, 'but don't seem to get forrader', I have not much time on my hands, but would like to do more."

8.12.1915. "I was passing through a mining village the other day and the car broke down just as I was passing the French Evangelical Church. So I went in for a bit and enjoyed the service very much."

13.9.1915. "I am hoping to have a Bible reading here for the officers at H.Q. I suggested it to our senior chaplain and he quite rose to it. He will preside and I will be quite in the background I hope …. I am praying that there may be blessing as a result."

8.11.1916. "I went to the S.C.A. (Soldiers' Christian Association) meeting last night and enjoyed it very much. There is a most remarkable work going on here. A number of Christian men have got together, and have got a large room where they hold meetings nightly. On Sunday night they have about 300 in and on week nights about 50 or more. There were about 50 there last night.... They have

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a good deal of talent. There is one Baptist minister, who enlisted as a corporal in the R.A.M.C. There is also a regimental Sergeant-Major and numerous others of that kind. Last night a Corporal of the Canadian R.A.M.C. spoke and gave a very good address indeed on the Lord's coming. I found it very helpful and the whole thing was so encouraging. They have Breaking of Bread once a fortnight on a Sunday evening and I hope to get to it one day. I spoke a few words at the end of the service."

11.11.1916. "Yesterday the S.C.A. got into difficulties about their room. The Town Mayor wanted to kick them out, so I went to see him and got it all fixed up. I was very glad to be able to do it."

4.6.1917. "Yesterday evening I bicycled to the Nonconformist service and gave the address. I was very glad of the opportunity, as I have not had an opportunity for some time."

30.9.1917. "I went to a Wesleyan Parade service this morning. The Chaplain asked me to speak afterwards, but I did not do so. It has been rather troubling me, as I think I ought to have spoken."

6.10.1917. "The Chaplain told me he had got up a mission service, so I went along to hear it. I found it run by the men themselves and the very clearest gospel was preached. I was so very glad to hear it. There were a good many chaplains present …. Next time I go I will say something."

21.5.1918. "I visited the S.C.A. hut at Staples. They seem to be having really wonderful times and spoke so highly of certain men who are there and who are Brethren. They knew Jack Dobbie (one of William's cousins who had been killed the year before) and it was in that hut that he got so much help before he got his commission. His mother sent them ten pounds as a thanks offering. I very much enjoyed having a talk with Christians and I will try to drop

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in for a meeting one evening. One gets hungry for Christian fellowship."

   But his other love, his wife and children in the little home at Blackheath, was constantly in his thoughts, and he entered into everything that was happening there. He was articulate on paper, more perhaps than in speech, and his letters abound in charming tributes to Sybil.

24.8.1914. (His first letter from France).

"I hope you are leading your normal life and are not being anxious about me. I am in very good hands. The Everlasting Arms are consciously underneath me and I want you to realize the same. You are never out of my thoughts."

8.10.1914. "I do not think that five minutes ever passes without my thinking of you, even if I am very busy."

23.7.1914. "I do wish you could see some of my work here. I do hate this not being able to share it with you. However our separate lives will soon be reunited, please God."

29.9.1915. "The thought of you and the children is very sweet to me."

26.3.1915. "I shall be thinking of you much on your birthday, though that will be nothing new."

25.4.1916. "The country is very beautiful and in the woods there are a lot of bluebells and cowslips. The latter always remind me of the part of our honeymoon we spent in Gloucestershire. Do you remember the cowslips then?"

16.7.1916. "Good-bye, my blessing. I am imagining you all at tea together and am with you in spirit."

10.11.1916. "I have been thinking much lately about the enjoyment of God's presence. In the morning I like to think that I have got a day in front of me in which I can enjoy His presence. When I am on leave I think it about you, but these days only

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come occasionally. But with God all days are, or can be, like this."

22.12.1916. "The children's letters have been rather disappointing. They generally consist of a small page of almost illegible scrawl. They never tell me of anything they are doing. I don't think they know how much I depend on them."

6.3.1917. "You are ever in my heart and thoughts and I like imagining that you are accompanying me wherever I go."

15.3.1917. "I do so resent the way the children are growing up without my seeing much of them. I feel that to be one of the biggest sacrifices I am called upon to make for my country, that and being away from you. The hard work and dangers and hardships (such as they are) don't count at all in comparison with the others. It has been a long long separation now, more than 2½ years."

3.4.1917. "This letter should reach you about our weddingday. These have been 13 wonderful years for me, darling."

7.4.1917. "This is our wedding day. It is sad to think that for one quarter of our married life we have been separated. The other three-quarters have, however, been intensely happy to me — more so than I could have thought possible and the thought of them, and of our future reunion, keeps me going now. What a lot has happened in these 14 years. We have not had a dull moment, have we? I would like to think that your life these last 14 years has been as happy as mine, but that cannot be so. God bless you, sweetheart."

12.5.1918. "I hope that my absence won't make me grow out of the children's lives. I know I won't grow out of your life, sweetheart, but children are different. I need you so much."

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21.8.1918. "You say you want to see me again. Love, if you want it half as much as I want to see you, you will be wanting it very badly. I feel I could do with a bit of your company now! Much love, sweetheart God bless you, and bring us together soon."

It is extraordinary how much William entered into all the details of family life and the problems of war-time living. In the middle of the build-up for the coast attack in July 1917, he says how "dreadfully sorry" he is to hear that the children's canary has died, and returns to the subject a day or two later, urging Sybil to buy them another one. When Sybil seemed to be in difficulties in helping their eldest son with mathematics and Latin, he urges her to send the problems out to him and he will look into them.

   He takes the air-raids calmly (though he does suggest a south coast rather than an east coast holiday, as being "less Zeppy"), but he was constantly aware of them. He wrote to one child in October 1917, that he was glad that a birthday party had gone off well, "including the air-raid." But he was constantly worried about rationing, and going into tiny details about it. Were fish and eggs included in the meat ration? Could Sybil get extra eggs — she must not stint herself with money. Could she get cod liver oil for the children to make up for the shortage of butter? Rice was nourishing, and might be a substitute for bread if that were rationed.

24.2.1918. "I am very much troubled about the difficulties you are having in procuring food. I get very anxious at times (I believe wrongly) but one does not worry for oneself (especially as one has more food than one can eat out here) but it leaves me all cold all over to think that you and the kids are going short. However I know at bottom that the Lord will provide. "Trust in the Lord and do good. So shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.' "

   He makes constant comments on the little stories about the children that Sybil sent him. He studied their school reports

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diligently and when his eldest son got minus ten marks in an examination, he says that this feat made the deepest impression on all his friends at Divisional Headquarters! When the same boy later passed a public examination he wrote:—

30.1.1918. "I can't tell you how glad I was to get your card of the 28th saying that Arthur has passed his exam. I can't tell you how thankful I am to the Lord about it. I hope it will buck Arthur up a lot. I sent off a telegram to him as I thought that the occasion was a special one."

He gave Sybil constant advice about money, including war savings, and when she had to move house, was trying to help with almost every detail of the move. Indeed it is astonishing how completely he was able to identify himself with his home and family, despite his wide anxieties and responsibilities in France. One of William's qualities that comes out most clearly in these letters is his cheerful optimism. He never, even in August and September 1914 or March 1918 saw the situation as desperate. He was constantly reassuring Sybil, who was prone to worry, that things were far better than appeared.

14.9.1914. (After Mons).

   "You seem to take a fearfully blue view of the situation. I do not think it has ever been anything but good. Our role at first was to gain time and this we did most successfully. We kept the attention of three times our numbers of Germans and gave the French time to finish their preparations and the Russians to make their weight felt. Now we are reaping the fruits and are pushing the Germans back."

5.5.1915. (After the 2nd Battle of Ypres).

   "Your remarks about the situation are based on a wrong hypothesis. It is no question of the Germans pushing on to the Coast, but it is a question of our pushing into Germany. The fighting will be and is very hard. Germany cannot stand this hammering for ever. I do not yet know

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what importance to attach to the Russian reverse in Western Galicia, but I do not think it is likely to be anything like what the Germans claim."

12.5.1915. "Don't you bother your head about Ypres. It is not going to "fall". As regards various defensive lines you need not worry. As a matter of fact I am the staff officer that has to see to them — so there!"

28.9.1915. (After the battle of Loos).

   "I hope people in England won't say any more that we never do anything. We have had some very hard fighting and have made good progress. I hear that the French also have done well and have captured a lot of Huns."

24.2.1916. "I see the Germans are making a big push at Champagne. So far it all seems very satisfactory. When one side makes elaborate preparations, it can always take the front trenches."

3.7.1916. (During the battle of the Somme).

   "You will have seen from the papers about the scrapping we have been having out here …. The situation looks most hopeful and the Germans must be thinking furiously …. Our men were absolutely magnificent and went on without wavering in spite of very heavy fire. There has been nothing finer since the war began than the way our men attacked. The Bosche opposite us are a fine lot too and fought magnificently."

7.7.1916. "The rain has been coming down in torrents today and everything is very sloppy. It is bad enough for our men who are attacking, but much worse for the Bosche who are retiring."

18.9.1916. "We are having a pouring wet day, which is a great pity. However it is worse for the Bosche than ourselves."

1.4.1917. "I don't think you need be alarmed at the rumours of a German invasion. He could not spare

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the men from here, and he probably starts the rumours himself, so as to cramp our style."

16.4.1917. (Battle of Arras).

   "The poor old Hun seems to be having rather a rotten time, poor dear. Are you not sorry for him? The quality of his troops seems to have deteriorated a great deal, which is a good sign."

13.6.1917. (Battle of Messines).

   "You seem rather blue about the military situation, for some reason. I can't think why. This last battle has been the most absolutely brilliant success we have ever had …. We have captured in a few hours one of the most important topographical features in the Western front, which they had been fortifying for nearly two years, and we did it all with extraordinarily few casualties. If people at home will keep their heart up, with God's help, the victory is certain."

25.6.1917. "Your letter was very blue, poor darling. You seem to think a very great deal about the trench the Bosche took from us and which we have now regained. You must get the right perspective."

28.10.1917. (Battle of Caporette).

   "The poor old ice creams (meaning the Italians!) seem to be getting it in the neck don't they? I don't think it is anything to matter except that it will buck the Austrians and Germans up."

8.11.1917. "The last letter I got from you was rather blue, I thought. It was taken up a good deal with Italy and Holland. I don't think you need worry about it as I am sure it is all right. We have had some successes lately in the capture of Passchendaele and Gaza, which are both very nice."

21.3.1918. (The great German attack).

   "There is no end of a scrap on and I have been kept very busy. Please God this fighting will shorten the war."

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26.3.1918. "You need not worry about the gun said to be shelling Paris. That won't affect the war …. I think and hope that this battle will make the nation realize its need of God's help. I have heard many highly placed people here acknowledge it. I am perfectly confident that He will help us, and am feeling quite happy about it."

28.3.1918. "This is the 8th day of the battle and it looks as if it is going on for a long time yet. Everyone has got their tails right up and the Bosche is getting a very hot time."

13.4.1918. "The Bosche is having very severe losses and has gained no corresponding result. Gain of ground will not compensate him for failure to get a decision."

14.4.1918. "When you read the accounts of the fighting, remember that anything short of decisive success for the Bosche is defeat for him. This will help you to see things in their right perspective."

   At the height of the battle, on April 29th 1918, William summed up his philosophy:

"I hope you are taking a cheerful view of things, and are keeping smiling. It is a great thing to keep one's tail sticking right up, especially in anxious times. It is easy enough to be bright, when things look bright."

   There are constant touches of humour, of course, and nice turns of phrase — the visit of an Artillery officer "travelling in bombs", the news that Cuba and Panama have joined in the war "so we shall be all right" the stove that was really a refrigerator, the bomb school that he visited as a kind of relaxation, the suggestion that Sybil's anxious dream about him must have been caused by a surfeit of lampreys, the mention of renewed fighting over the same area, which was "very economical of us, making one battlefield do for several battles." He describes amusing incidents.

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27.9.1914. "I had a very amusing experience last night. I was sent in a motor car to the Headquarters of the French Zouave Brigade to deliver a message and had the greatest difficulty getting through their piquets. Just before I arrived they had been warned that a German motor car was going round with German officers in British uniforms. Consequently when I arrived I was regarded with grave suspicion. However eventually I got hold of one of their officers and established my identity by showing one of your letters."

   No doubt William, big and blond, looked the part. Not for nothing had his friends at the Staff College nicknamed him 'the Baron von D'!

1.11.1914. "Yesterday the Germans sent up a balloon which our gunners shot at and which came down. This evening, when the moon rose, the gunners thought it was the balloon again and are said to have shot at it. They claim to have hit it too!"

19.6.1915. (Just after the first use, by the Germans, of poison gas).

"We captured a cylinder which we sent to General Headquarters with great care. It was opened with due precautions in the presence of high officials, who were probably wearing respirators, and it was found to contain water!"

4.3.1917. "My big boots are beginning to arrive. One has turned up, but I suppose the mail boat could not manage both on the same trip and has had to go back and fetch the other, which I hope will arrive tomorrow."

   This never-failing cheerfulness kept William going throughout the war. When the tide had turned (in August 1918) he naturally rejoiced, but he did not lose his head, and his letters remained equably happy, with frequent acknowledgments of the hand of God in what was happening.

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8.8.1918. (The 'Black Day' for the German army).

   "It has been a great day for hammering the Huns. We really seem to have caught him on the hop and we have made great progress and taken lots of prisoners."

9.8.1918. "Things are going very well here. We really do seem to have taken the Bosche entirely by surprise and to have mopped him up to rights. Our losses have been extraordinarily light."

11.8.1918. "I had a most interesting day yesterday going all over the battlefield. …. There was a feeling of great victory in the air. Everyone of course is fearfully pleased and all tails are up. It was very nice seeing the places one knew so well once more in our hands.... The change in the general situation these last four weeks has been most dramatic. One sees God's over-ruling hand in it all."

12.8.1918. "I hope you are pleased with the news. I would love to go and have a talk with Ludendorf and hear what he really thinks about it. I expect he is quite a bit annoyed. May his annoyance continue and increase."

23.8.1918. "We are still getting on well with our fighting. Today things have gone very well. The situation seems to me to be extraordinarily good. God has been wonderfully good to us allowing such a wonderful improvement to take place."

31.8.1918. "The battle is going extraordinarily well. Today we have got Kemmel and Mount St. Quentin. …. The whole of our line almost is moving …. We are also getting a steady stream of prisoners, far more than we ever used to before. May the Lord continue to give us success."

   William's war letters are completely free of any sort of boasting, implied or direct, or any "shooting a line". He was continually assuring Sybil that he was in no sort of danger. His only reference to his field glasses being blown off him was that one of the eye

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pieces had happened to be broken and he wanted it mended. It was a long time before she discovered how the accident had occurred.

   In June 1915 he mentioned that he had been in a front line trench, but that it happened to be a remarkably safe spot (during the second Battle of Ypres!). It was not till well after he had gone south that he described the new area as child's play after Ypres.

27.9.1914. "You write to say that you are hourly expecting a telegram about me. I am so sorry you feel like that. It is quite wrong and humanly speaking quite unlikely. …. For all intents and purposes I belong to Divisional Headquarters, which is the safest place in the whole division. This is all an absolute fact, and I am not exaggerating one little bit. I never unnecessarily put myself in the least danger."

23.3.1916. "Last night I was out seeing that a working party got to work properly …. It was raining and absolutely pitch black, but we managed to get them to the right place and got the work done . …. I met a sergeant of the party who had only just come out, and found the night work rather eerie I think. We were in a perfectly safe place."

   When during the Battle of the Somme (1916) he took, the place of Col. Longridge, who had just been killed, he hastened to reassure Sybil of his safety. He wrote:

"We are all being told that we must not take risks, which as a matter of fact is a thing I never do, and I am being kept in a glass case."

19.11.1916. "Leave is now being given for a fortnight, and for certain responsible people, one month — if they are showing signs of wear. I think when my leave comes near I must show signs of wear! At present I am afraid no one would believe me if I said I was worn."

   In October 1917, he wrote to Sybil, explaining at length what resources from pension and insurance she would have

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if he were killed. But he added hastily at the end:

   "Don't think I am harping on the subject, because I am not, and I think it is the most unlikely thing to happen."

   In view of all this crying down of any dangers, it is interesting to note that in William's confidential report in August 1915, General Haking said:

   "He is a most gallant and reliable officer under fire, and possesses an exceptionally cool temperament."

He was mentioned in despatches six times for "gallant and distinguished services in the field."

   It would be possible to go on almost indefinitely showing how the different facets of his character come out in these very intimate letters. A thousand stitches go to make up a picture in tapestry, and from these letters the picture emerges of a Christian soldier, untroubled by danger, ready to shoulder responsibility, constantly growing in grace, and strengthened in mind and spirit by the long strain. "In France and Flanders, where men kill each other" the most steadfast pilgrim had found himself. He emerged from the war a mature man, dependent on God and on no one else.

Chapter IX

Peacetime Postings (1918-28)

   She made offers again, and said, If I would be ruled by her she would make me great and happy; for, said she, I am the mistress of the world, and men are made happy by me.

Then I betook me as you saw to my knees and with hands lifted up and cries I prayed to Him that had said He would help.

"Pilgrim's Progress."

   A war does not end when the "cease fire" is signed, and after 1918 it took a long time for the great war machine — the most powerful in recorded history — to slow down. There were a few desultory celebrations, and then the work of rebuilding an exhausted and bereaved nation and a strained economy had to begin.

   As far as the Dobbie family were concerned, a personal tragedy darkened the coming of peace. As the bells and sirens rang out on November 11th, Sybil and two children were in bed with influenza, the virulent type that swept over war-torn Europe that year. They recovered enough to decorate the house for the Armistice, but a few days later the children's young nannie — a girl from a family in Woolwich long known to the Orde-Brownes — caught it. Almost immediately pneumonia set in, and though Sybil, with immense difficulty, managed to get a nurse for her, and the doctor (desperately harassed and over-worked because of the epidemic) did all he could, she died in the house within a few hours.

   Such tragedies were being repeated all over England and Western Europe, for the 1918 influenza mortality was terrible. Sybil and her children and the bereaved family of a munition worker in Woolwich, were only a few among many for whom memories of peace rejoicings would always be joined with those of bereavement,

   William remained at G.H.Q., but was able to get home on leave for the New Year. He heard on New Year's Day that he had been awarded the C.M.G., and when he came on leave again at the end of March was able to go to Buckingham Palace to receive it from the King. In April he was awarded the Belgian Order of Leopold and Croix de Guerre, so that with his French Legion of Honour and Croix de Guerre he now had four foreign awards.

   On April 3rd 1919 he acheived what must have been the ambition of every man serving with the Allied Forces on the

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Western front — he entered Germany. He had been appointed G.S.O. I to the Eastern Division, stationed around Bonn, and it was while living at appropriately named Siegburg ("Victory Town") that he was able to celebrate the acceptance by Germany of the Allied Peace Terms in July.

   An order was sent out from Eastern Division on 28th June 1919 which read as follows:

"The Germans have accepted the terms imposed on them by the Allies and have signed the TREATY OF PEACE.

The War has thus, through the blessing of God, been brought to a victorious conclusion.

Special Thanksgiving Services will be held throughout the Divisional Area on Sunday, 6th July. Particulars of these Services will be notified separately."

W. G. S. Dobbie
Lieut. Colonel G.S.
Eastern Division.

The wording clearly was all his own!

   The army of Occupation in Germany was settling down to peace-time soldiering. William was closely concerned with keeping busy the restless troops, mostly waiting eagerly for demobilisation. He organised a great deal of cricket that summer, frequently playing himself. He was quite a good bowler, and records that in one match he took eight wickets. In fact, in ten weeks he took 66 wickets.

   Meanwhile he was wondering what his own future would be. His great wish was of course to get back to his family. In February 1919 he had been offered the position of G.S.O. I at Quetta, in Northwest India, but realising that, education-wise, it would have been impossible to take any of the children there (subsidised air holidays were still far in the future), he had refused. But in July 1919, while he was still in Germany and wondering when, or if, families would be allowed out, he was offered a position at the War Office as G.S.O. II. This was, of course, a step down, but he accepted it thankfully. He came home in August, and after leave,

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some of which was spent sailing in Devonshire with his father and his eldest son, he settled down at Blackheath, commuting to London every day. His war was over.

   He came back to a changed world. The social and economic changes were not of great interest to him. He accepted them with an open mind, and a freedom from prejudice lacking in many of his generation. There was nothing of Colonel Blimp in him. But the changes in religious outlook concerned him closely.

   Charles Masterman, in his book "England after the War" published in 1922 mentions a report issued by chaplains of all religious bodies, describing their war experiences in dealing with the ordinary soldier. To quote Masterman:

"The general testimony was that, with occasional distinguished exceptions, this great mass of British male young adult life was facing death and being killed without any of the conviction of a spiritual existence, a dominating Providence, or a future life, which have been entertained unchallenged for nearly two thousand years. It was not the war which had made this change. It was the war which had revealed this change; England, according to these testimonies, was no longer Christian, and had become pagan; and the great majority of the male population of England had completely ceased to believe in the faith of the forefathers."

To William, who had steadily since his Charterhouse days, 'practised the presence of God', to whom Christ was the greatest reality in life, this was not only terrible but incomprehensible. He had always felt it his duty to spread the gospel, and now he felt it more than ever.

   He was now forty, and becoming fairly notable in the Evangelical world. In his present rank it was becoming less easy to speak individually to the men under his command (and at the War Office he had few, anyway). He was asked at this time to go on to the Committees of three Christian organisations dealing with the Services, and this he readily agreed to do, feeling it was now the way in which he could best help forward the Faith in the army.

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   As these three societies were to become a great part of his life, perhaps some account should be given of them.

   The oldest was the Army Scripture Readers' Association. This had grown out of the "Soldiers' Friend Society" founded in 1838. This organisation had, as its aims, to promote temperance, distribute tracts and books, provide respectable places to which the soldier could go when off duty, encourage soldiers to go to church and the churches to welcome them (not so easy when soldiers were regarded as the riff-raff of society), and generally to spread a knowledge of the Gospel.

   The first number of the Society's paper "The Christian Sentinel" (published monthly from 1845) makes an appeal to Christians:

   "Surely the soul of a soldier is of equal value with that of a Hindoo or African; yet we brave the boisterous ocean and traverse burning sands and trackless deserts to rescue the one from destruction, while the other is suffered to die in our streets ignorant of the way of salvation and to perish before our eyes for lack of knowledge".

   The article adds naively:

"Nay, what is more monstrous, that provision to a considerable extent is made for the instruction of our sailors, but scarcely anything for the soldiers."

   The paper, in this first number, makes its position clear:

"Nothing of a sectarian, controversial or political nature can be inserted in our pages; our aim and end being the advancement of the Redeemer's Kingdom."

   This is a fair statement of the position of the Society.

   It was religious, (probably, but not necessarily, Evangelical) and only indirectly concerned with social and material welfare.

   In the early days the Society, with, incidentally, a curiously civilian committee, worked on a shoe-string financially. It did, however, appoint two "Agents" who went round barracks, distributing

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tracts and visiting the men. These agents received a salary of £62. 4s. 6d. and were constantly at work in the home counties — at Woolwich, at Hounslow, at Wellington Barracks in London and even at Chelsea Hospital. They also visited army hospitals.

   A few years later these agents had become known as "Army Scripture Readers" and seem to have acquired a semi-official position. The "Illustrated London News" of 20th November 1854 published a conspicuous appeal for funds to send 13 Readers to the Crimea. Most of these men would be ex-soldiers, but a clergyman, the Rev. Alexander Levis, was also appointed by the Association to work among the French Protestants there.

   It was not only our allies who were to be helped however. An Army Scripture Reader was appointed to go round the camps of Russian prisoners of War, which soon sprang up in England, giving them Gospels and tracts in Russian.

   The Association was recognised officially by the Chaplain General in 1859, and since then Army Scripture Readers have been with the forces in peace and war. There was one, an ex-Gordon Highlander, who went up the Nile in 1884-5 in the last desperate attempt to rescue General Gordon from Khartum. This man worked with the soldiers till his hands were raw and his shoulders aching, helping to man-handle the boats when the winds failed. He slept with the men on the desert sand at night, whispering the Gospel story in the hot darkness, he helped in the hospital at Wadi Halfa where soldiers with terrible wounds were pouring in after skirmishes with the Mahdi's men, and he took church parades when there was no chaplain. It must have been a great sorrow to such a man that they failed to rescue his fellow Christian and soldier, General Gordon.

   In 1899 another appeal was launched to send Scripture Readers to South Africa, and twelve went. An officer wrote a little later:

"The Scripture Reader, who was with my Brigade all through the fighting, is going home, and it gives me great pleasure indeed to be able to praise any man as highly as I can him."

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Lord Roberts was sympathetic to the Association and sent them a special commendation.

   Of course in the Great War, Scripture Readers were in the fronts. By 1916 there were sixty-four, of whom twenty-four were in France, a number later increased to thirty-six.

   William, naturally, had known Scripture Readers, and admired their work, and he was very glad to join the many senior officers, both serving and retired, who now mainly formed their committee.

   The second society was of later origin. This was the Soldiers' (later Soldiers' and Airmen's) Christian Association. It had begun in 1887, after a series of Gospel meetings held in London by the famous American Evangelist, D. L. Moody. He noticed that several soldiers, conspicuous in their scarlet uniforms, had come two or three times to his services, and he asked one of his helpers, a young girl, to go over and talk to them and try to make friends. In the days when soldiers were still often outlaws in society, this was an amazing suggestion, but the girl went, and from this friendly contact an association was formed, uniting Christian men, of any denomination, in the army. It was an excellent idea, for it put solitary Christians in touch with others in the area or unit.

   The Soldiers' Christian Association's terminology was strictly military. Its paper was called "News from the Front" or later "Ready", and its Scripture notes were the "Daily Ration". At its meetings men were asked to "Draw their swords" and promptly held up Bibles. All this may seem very naive, but the soldiers of the period were simple people, and to such there is a great value in analogy. Our Lord knew this well, when He spoke so constantly to the peasants of Galilee, in parables reflecting their own lives.

   Being joined to a S.A.C.A. branch, and having the local Scripture reader for a friend were the main prop and stay of many young Christian boys in the Services, and this work has been of incalculable benefit.

   The third society which was, in effect, of much later origin, was the Officers' Christian Union. In 1851 a Captain Trotter of the 2nd Life Guards, used to send out a prayer letter to as many as 300 officers and other ranks, and Captain Hedley Vicars began

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to make up an army Prayer Union. He was, however, killed in the Crimea, and the Prayer Union over the years achieved little. There was also an Army and Navy Missionary Union, to interest officers in the mission work going on in overseas stations, but this had become more or less moribund.

   In 1909, with the encouragement of the Chaplain-General, Bishop Taylor-Smith, an Officers' Christian Service Union was formed. But once again death intervened. Its main instigator, Lieut. Gay Roberts R.H.A., was killed in a hunting accident shortly after its inception, and the organisation had not really got far when the Great War began.

   After the war, however, it was restarted, and with a very forceful Canadian ex-Gunner officer, Capt. Hartley Holmes as its Travelling Secretary, began to become a considerable force in the Services. Its membership was very broadly based, the only qualification being a belief in prayer. It soon began to do, among officers, what the S.A.C.A. did in the ranks. It linked up members into local branches, often with a weekly or monthly Bible reading in some member's house or room. It ran an annual conference, various local weekend conferences, and a partly subsidised whiter sports party in Switzerland. Presently wives and friends of members were allowed to join as Associates, and families' camps and house-parties were added.

   In course of time officers of foreign forces were contacted, and in 1930 the first conference of Christian officers of all nations met. It was strange, but during the troubled 'thirties', as the war-clouds gathered over Europe, officers of many forces and countries, likely soon to become each other's enemies, met together to exchange Christian experiences, feeling themselves "all one in Christ Jesus." They must indeed have prayed that they should never meet on opposite sides in battle, and such prayers must have been answered, for no instances are known when they did consciously meet. On the other hand, there are instances in which O.C.U. members during the reoccupation of Europe after D-Day were able to help families of Dutch O.C.U. members that they had known earlier.

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   But when William joined the Committee after the first war, this was all in the future. For the rest of his life he was an active member of the Union and ultimately its chairman, and it was through its activities that he was best able to help his fellow officers.

   After a few months at the War Office, he was suddenly sent as G.S.O. I to the Second Division, which was at Aldershot being reorganised after the war. This was a very pick job, and he was delighted. So was Sybil. The war years were at last behind, and she was returning to the happy family unity and peace-time garrison life that she had enjoyed in the past.

   They moved in April 1920 and were, for the first time in their lives, given a quarter — a very fine civilian house that had been bought by the army. It had a good garden, and stables. William was allotted two army chargers, as he was constantly riding out to see the divisional troops in training, and at least one of these or sometimes both, could be ridden by Sybil or the children. For a short time too they had a pony. In 1921 they bought their first car, a Citroen.

   In those first hopeful post-war years life moved along happily for many in England. William was among this number. His work with the Division was important and interesting. When the King and Queen (George V and Queen Mary) came down to Aldershot for their annual week's visit, he was often with them, showing them the latest equipment and methods of training. When there was a royal review, he led the Division, making, on his fine charger, Kim, an impressive figure.

   In 1923, during the August manoeuvres, he appeared with his General on the front page of the "Daily Graphic" under the caption: "Youthful British Soldiers, led by seasoned war chiefs, are engaged in a terrific struggle against the invader in Sussex." (William was heard to say that he liked being a seasoned war chief: it suggested something in feathers and beads!) The Second Division and William, its Chief of Staff, was coming to the fore.

   The Church's Litany includes a petition for deliverance in "all time of our tribulation" but for many Christians their spiritual life is more in danger in all time of their prosperity.

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William and Sybil were acutely aware of this during their Aldershot period. Perhaps for the first time in their career it was becoming clear that their religious principles, especially in relation to social life, might well be a barrier to promotion.

   Senior officers at that time were involved in a considerable amount of entertainment. William and Sybil would not attend dances, and objected to parties on Sundays. They were also tee-total themselves, though they would offer drinks to guests.

   Though William was very sweet-tempered and invariably friendly with everyone he met, these austere Evangelical principles often irritated and perplexed people at first, and in the gay world of Aldershot Command in the 1920s {the period of the Bright Young Things, and the throwing aside of so many war-time and pre-war restraints) they stuck out like a sore thumb.

   They did not want people to think that this abstinence was due to meanness or even economy. By now Sybil's mother and uncle having died, they had some private money, and they spared no expense or trouble in entertaining where they conscientiously could. Sybil was an excellent housekeeper and a good hostess, with charm and wit. They had two well-trained maids. They gave constant dinner parties, and many tennis parties (their large garden included a tennis court). They were always having people to stay, and they appeared at any Divisional or Command function (sports, reviews, horse-shows, concerts, tattoos) of which they could approve.

   It was a difficult position, a razor-edge between official duties and William's promotion prospects on the one hand, and strict principles on the other, and they walked it for the rest of William's Service career. It cost them a very great deal, for it is not easy to swim against the tide, and they were both quite intelligent enough to realise that such a line might effectively block William's further promotion and chances to use his very real military talents. What perhaps they never realised fully was that in some official quarters, though not in all, it brought them great respect. A man of strong moral courage is not often despised, even if, at times, his principles are inconvenient and disliked.

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   On the positive side, they ran a weekly Bible reading for officers at their house. This was under the auspices of the Officers' Christian Union, and brought them many friendships with Christian Service families in the area. They attended at least one O.C.U. Conference held at an officer's quarters at Sandhurst. Their host, on this occasion, was Captain (later General Sir Arthur) Smith, a very keen member of the Union.

   On Sundays they went over to Camberley to the little Gospel Hall they had known when William was at the Staff College. At first they drove over in a dog-cart, and William had an arrangement whereby he was allowed to unharness the horse and tie him up in a neighbouring stable during the meeting. The children used to find this unharnessing and harnessing the horse (William's charger on weekdays) with which they were allowed to help, added greatly to the interest of Sunday mornings, and they were slightly disappointed when Kim was superseded by the car.

   On Sunday evenings William often attended non-conformist meetings in the various local chapels, or interdenominational services at the Soldier's Home at Aldershot. Soon he became well-known, and was often asked to preach. His greatest joy was still "spreading the gospel" and he was humbly prepared to help anywhere, and learn from anyone at the humblest little "Bethel" or "Ebenezer" in the area. The chapel to which he went most often was a small one in Farnborough, run almost single-handed by the local dustman. It was an unusual pulpit in which to find the Chief Staff Officer of Aldershot's Second Division, who on weekdays, was in touch with leading military authorities and visiting royalties. People no doubt thought it odd, but then William never really cared much what anyone thought.

   So four happy years passed at Aldershot, and in 1924, when his time was up, William was sent first on a Senior Officers' Course at Sheerness, and then to a course at the Royal Naval College at Greenwich.

   They had, of course to give up their quarter at Farnborough. The family were all sorry to go and particularly to say goodbye to the Scottish ex-jockey soldier groom who had looked after the horses. He had taught the two younger children to ride, and

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was a friend of the whole family, William perhaps turning a blind eye to occasional peccadillos not unconnected with the bottle, on account of his skill with the horses and his general affectionate fidelity. When they said goodbye, Sybil was amazed and touched to see that the tough inarticulate little Scotsman had tears in his eyes.

   While William was doing his courses the family were homeless, so during the summer of 1924 Sybil took the youngest boy to Switzerland, sending him to a Swiss school for a term. The eldest son, who just left Cheltenham, was now at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich training to be a Sapper, and the girl was at Roedean, but the whole family, with Sybil's three unmarried sisters and another army family with young people, all met in Switzerland for their summer holidays. After that Sybil came home, and as William's second course was at Greenwich, they managed to get a furnished flat at Blackheath for a few months.

   William found his Greenwich course, with the Navy, immensely interesting. It dealt with matters of world strategy, and to one whose work had been almost entirely connected with army problems, opened a vista of new ideas. He also became very much more aware of the role of the Navy in global war — perhaps the first shadow in his life of things to come.

   When the course was over, to everybody's surprise, he was ordered, not to a Staff job, but back to the Sappers as C.R.E. at Abbassia, a suburb of Cairo, where there was a large contingent of British troops.

   He had been away from the Sappers for ten years and had never served in the East, or Middle East, but he enjoyed the thought of a complete change, including as it did the command of men again, and he went off happily to Egypt in February 1925. Sybil felt that she could not leave the family immediately, so stayed on at Blackheath, with her sisters, for a short time. During the summer, however, William was told that this post (supposedly for four years) would end at Christmas, after nine months, and he would be posted to a staff job at the War Office. Sybil therefore, anxious to see Egypt, while she had the chance, went out in August, and persuading the authorities at Roedean of the

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educational value of the trip, took her daughter away from school for a term to come too.

   The high spot of these few months in Egypt was the visit they made to Palestine. They had been brought up with a deep knowledge of the Bible, and to see the actual scenes where Biblical events had occurred was as though book-history had become personal memory. Above all they longed, with an almost Crusading fervour, to walk where Christ had walked and see the scenes that His human eyes had seen.

   This visit fulfilled their eager expectation. They were imaginative enough not to be worried by the commercialism and the obviously bogus sites, and intelligent enough to appreciate those that were genuine, and to realise that, in any case, the central events of the world's history had taken place in that area.

   They were not greatly impressed by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the alleged site of the crucifixion and of Christ's tomb, and thought Gordon's Calvary, the stony mound with its skull-like rock formation outside the present northern gate of the city, a more probable site. Sybil, writing to her mother-in-law, described their visit thus:

"We scrambled over some rough ground and up the hill and then all stood round, Will bareheaded, in silence as the place whereon we stood, as far as we could judge, was indeed Holy Ground. One longed to stay here for hours; we were actually on the place where our souls had long dwelt. 'To Calvary, Lord, in Spirit now, our weary souls repair'. For a few brief minutes in one's life one could say, 'To Calvary, Lord, in body now' etc. — These few minutes would possibly be the memory to which our minds would revert whenever we remembered the Lord's death in the Breaking of Bread to the end of our lives. 'But all too soon the symbols disappear' and we were going down the hill to the Garden.

   We returned home silently — 'we had had dreams in the valley, too lofty for language to utter' ".

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   They spent some days in Jerusalem, and then went north to Galilee, spending one night at Nazareth and another at Haifa. They then returned by train to Cairo, but it had been an experience they never forgot. They little knew how closely concerned with Palestine William would be in the future, but to the end of their lives that first visit, untroubled by "armour's clang or war-steed's champing, shouting clans or squadrons stamping", was a wonderful memory.

   Their life in Cairo was uneventful. They rode a great deal in the desert, played tennis at the local club, and saw as much as they could of the antiquities of the area. There was, too, the usual garrison life. William had been criticised when he arrived, because he did not attend the "all ranks" dances that were frequently held in the unit. He was told that he would not get to know his men or their families, but he silenced criticism by going round personally and calling on the wives of all his N.C.O.s in their homes — a thing no other bachelor (or grass widower) C.O. thought of doing. Sybil did the same when she came out, and they soon established good relationships with the Sappers. William was also a frequent visitor to the local Soldiers' Home — a fine airy stone building in Abbassia — and often took Soldiers' and Airmen's Christian Association Bible readings there.

   But this Cairo period was not long and in December they returned by troopship to England. The boat put in at Malta and they had a short time ashore, trying to see as much as they could of Valetta in one afternoon. Did they have no premonition of coming events? Apparently not.

   In January 1926 William became G.S.O. I at the War Office. They lived quietly in a small rented house at Guildford, with one maid. He commuted to London, daily. At home they attended the nearest Brethren's meeting, and interested themselves in various local activities, including a tennis club and a choral society. They had one or two family holidays in Switzerland. They were greatly concerned with the Officers' Christian Union, going to house parties and other activities, and finding it a great help both to themselves and their family.

   It was a quiet period for them, and also in public affairs. William was indeed at the War Office for the General Strike of

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May 1926, and had much to do with the safeguarding of supplies, but in the late twenties things settled down, and there was some economic improvement and a feeling of hope. It was not till the end of 1929 that the economic blizzard burst on the world, shattering hopes and ideals and sowing the wind that would be reaped as a whirlwind ten years later.

   Internationally the scene looked bright. After the Locarno Pact of 1925 and Germany's joining of the League of Nations a year later, many people and certainly all the younger generation were seeing in such agreements, and especially the League, a shining hope for European peace such as had hardly been known since the fall of the Roman Empire. Disarmament was their watchword, and for a few years (from Locarno to the Kellogg Pact, by which 65 nations, including Germany, outlawed war) it was hoped by many, both idealists and those with mere motives of economy, that armed forces could be gradually phased out.

   Britain, however, with her wide imperial commitments could not afford to disarm too much. William, especially after his course at Greenwich, realised this very well, and was worried at the continual cutting down. At the War Office he was closely concerned with the sending of a British defence force to the International Settlement at Shanghai in 1927, and realised that international agreements needed troops (and usually British troops) to implement them. Sometimes he produced his views on the subject at home; whereupon his children and their friends implied — politely — that he was not "with it", and usually, not being interested in theoretical arguments, he left the matter alone.

   In March 1928 he was suddenly ordered to Chester, as G.S.O.I, Western Command. Sybil and he were disappointed, for Western Command was considered, at that time, something of a backwater, and if William had four years there, there was little chance of further promotion. But they accepted readily what they thought to be the Lord's will in the matter, for William never made the slightest attempt to "wangle" any posting. He felt sure that God knew what was best for him, better than he did himself, and could be trusted to put him in the best place. So, cheerfully, he went

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off to Chester, leaving Sybil to follow as soon as a house could be found.

   But she never got there, for within two months, the War Office delivered a bombshell. William had been ordered back to Cairo, as Brigadier in charge of the Cairo (infantry) Brigade — one of the three Brigades of the important Middle East Command.

Chapter X

Egypt (1928-32)

"Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt, for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.

Not fearing the wrath of the King, for he endured, as seeing Him who is invisible."

Hebrews 11:26, 27

   The Middle East, in the imperial sunset, was a thrilling place. William and Sybil had, it is true, lived in Heliopolis for a few months in 1925, but they found Cairo in 1928, with William as one of the senior British officials, very different, and they were amazed at the prestige and luxury awaiting them there.

   Cairo had indeed the advantages of both East and West. It was a fine, seemingly French town, with excellent shops, where every luxury could be bought, besides fascinating native bazaars. There were good tailors, dress-makers and hair-dressing saloons. There were excellent libraries and art galleries, there were good concerts, with artists of international repute coming out in the winter. The Cairo "season" was quite something.

   Then too there were all the thrilling interests of history, and archaeology. Sybil was interested in history, and was delighted to have what she called "layers and layers of it" — days when she shuttled between Tutankhamen or Napoleonic relics, between Fifth Dynasty pyramids or Mameluke buildings of the Turkish period.

   On the whole the climate was healthy — dry heat most of the summer with considerable drops in temperature at night, and sunny bracing winters. Cairo had an excellent modern water supply. There was also good electric power, so that there was plentiful ice and cold storage, and normal European food could be eaten, supplemented by wonderful local fruit.

   William's ancestors, used to the rigours of 19th century India, would have been amazed if they had known how easy Oriental life had become. The white man's burden was now very light.

   William was able to rent a very fine modern maisonette on Gzira island, close enough to the centre of Cairo, but away from the noise and smells and (most of) the flies. It was a stone's throw from the beautiful Gzira Sporting Club, where they could ride, play tennis and squash, or swim at any time. William had an official car, flying a blue pennant, when on duty, so that Sybil

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and their daughter, who was with them most of the time, could use their own car as they wanted. They had four Sudanese servants, who were, Sybil insisted to the end of her life, the best and most faithful they had ever had in any part of the world. They had three horses, and could, whenever they got bored with riding on Gzira, go for thrilling excursions into the desert, where only pyramids broke the skyline, or in the cultivated areas where gamooses turned water-wheels, and children sucked sugar-cane.

   William's work too was absorbing. He was now away from the Staff, and in command of men. The Cairo infantry brigade consisted of three battalions, stationed at suitable points about the city — one at Kasr-el-Nil Barracks beside the Nile, one in the Citadel, the highest defensive point in the area, and one in the modern district of Abbassia. There was also a Cavalry Brigade (rapidly being mechanised at this time) just outside Cairo at Helmieh, and another infantry Brigade on the Suez Canal at Moascar. These three Brigades, commanded by the G.O.C. (General Officer Commanding) at Cairo, constituted almost the whole of the British military defence in the Middle East, for most of the other areas were patrolled only by the R.A.F. at this time.

   It was a strange situation for Egypt was an independent country, with a King and Government and small army of her own, but yet her main defence and above all of that precious silver strip, the Suez Canal, lay in the hands of foreigners.

   It was certainly a strange position, and there was sometimes an undercurrent of unrest. It was not so long since Sir Lee Stack had been murdered, and the order was that British officers were always, in uniform or out of it, to carry revolvers. (Visitors arriving for highly sophisticated parties used to leave their guns with their hats and coats, which gave a raffish, Wild-West element to Cairo's polished, international nightlife!) William always had, in his official car, a soldier guard beside the driver. From time to time there were threats of action against the British from hotheaded students, but nothing ever came of these while the Dobbies were there and the element that incited them must have been very small. Sybil and her daughter, going freely about Cairo and often in buses or trams, were never treated with anything but

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great kindness and friendliness by the Egyptians, of whom they grew very fond.

   After their quiet life in the little house at Guildford, William and Sybil might well have been bewitched by the sudden change in their circumstances. But as always, their eyes were too much on the City "that had no need of the sun" to be dazzled by the lights of Cairo. They enjoyed many of their new circumstances, but still "all their heart was borne above" and their only aim was to serve God to the best of their ability.

   It was not easy. The razor edge on which they had walked at Aldershot was even finer, and the situation rendered even more difficult in that William's General, for much of his time in Cairo, was utterly unsympathetic, and indeed actively antagonistic to Evangelical principles. He had known William very well during the war, and had, when William left his staff, written to him saying "No one could ever be served better than I have been by you." He had appreciated William's courage, loyalty and hard work throughout danger, strain and emergency. But now, when life was easier, he was constantly irritated by the religious principles that had gone to build up these qualities, and lost no opportunity to make life difficult for his Brigadier.

   William, naturally friendly and far more sensitive than he ever appeared, found himself dreading every interview he had to have with his General. It was an unhappy situation.

   There was nothing in his work to which the General could possibly object. The Cairo Brigade was most efficiently run, and during the annual manoeuvres that took place in the desert outside Cairo, acquitted itself extremely well. There was, in fact, no reason for the antagonism except that William lacked the flashy, hard-drinking clap-trap smartness that was apparently the most necessary concomitant of military life in Egypt at that period.

   By a certain amount of retreat and compromise, William and Sybil could probably have eased the situation, as they very clearly saw. But they never thought of doing so. They kept steadily on their way, entering into what social life they conscientiously could, and avoiding it where they thought they must.

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   There was no Brethren's service in Cairo, but William sometimes went to parade services with his various regiments, to encourage the chaplains and men.

   Wherever possible they found Evangelical friends. The most obvious place in which to find such contacts was among the missionaries, of whom there were a good many in Cairo, working among Moslems, Jews or other faiths. In particular, the Dobbies became friendly with a clergyman and his wife, who were running a large Christian school for Jews and Levantines in Faggala, a poor area of Cairo. There was a Sunday service there, to which they mostly went, when not on an official Church Parade. They also became much interested in the school.

   This was a most interesting establishment, run on English lines and in English, for some 400 boys and girls of 32 different nationalities. The school was expanding so fast that it was constantly short of teachers, and Sybil, who was very artistic, used to go down to teach art, and their daughter, history.

   The school, its staff and children was a very great interest to the whole family and a refuge and change from the usual Cairo social round. A fringe benefit was that the clergyman in charge and some of his staff were very musical, so that there was a great deal of music — singing and playing.

   The English Mission College was, however, a sideline. They still felt that their main duty should be to help in the welfare — spiritual or otherwise of the garrison and their families. Sybil worked hard on the committee of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association. She also took a keen interest in wives in the regiments of the Cairo Brigade. When a new regiment arrived, she used to go round calling on all the Other Ranks' wives, from privates' to sergeant-majors'. Many were young girls straight from home, who had scarcely been away from mother before, and they were often bewildered and frightened by the heat, the expense, living conditions and quarters. Sybil, who had known and liked soldiers' wives all her life, used to listen to their troubles, try to reassure them, and especially to show them how and where they could get any help they needed. She used to attend wives' clubs and Mothers' Unions and baby clinics. She was even known to

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give talks (and she was a born teacher) on the history of Egypt and the position of the British there.

   In all this she used great tact. If the regiment had a Colonel's wife, who was active and eager and experienced in army life abroad, Sybil stood back. But often the Colonel was a bachelor, or a grass widower or with a wife who was far from strong, and in these cases Sybil was of immense help.

   William meanwhile had kept up his interest in the two societies of which he was on the committees. There was little he now could do personally in the S.A.C.A., but there were two excellent Soldiers' Homes run by the society, and he was a great help in the background in connection with buildings, legal problems, official permission for various activities and such things.

   For the Officers' Christian Union he could, and did, do more. Throughout his time in Cairo he ran a weekly Bible-reading in his home for members. There were never very many in Cairo, but the numbers varied and any member, or visiting member from abroad, could be sure of a welcome at No. 1, Sharia el Amir Fuad (the Dobbie's flat).

   Twice, however, he did more. The Union had at that time two Travelling Secretaries, both young ex-gunner officers, and William invited them each to stay with him and to some extent run a mission for the Garrison from his house.

   It must have taken great courage to do so. There was, in theory, no reason why William shouldn't invite whomever friends he liked to stay, but it was calculated to inflame the unreasoning prejudices of the General. Captain Leslie Wright, ex-R.A., stayed for ten days or so, first in April and then in October 1930, and there were a number of 0-C.U. groups, ladies' groups and young people's meetings. No notice of these activities was taken in higher quarters, but with William's promotion hanging in the balance, it was a selfless and courageous thing to do.

   The second visitor was Captain McCormack, also ex-R.A. But he came at the beginning of 1932, when the General had changed, and a far more sympathetic one was installed, who had no objection to William's vagaries. He might sometimes tease him about them, but he was friendly and pleasant, and both Sybil and

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William felt utterly different, now that the spiteful, bullying antagonism of the former regime had ceased.

   There was no objection therefore to William's taking Captain McCormack into camp with him for his annual manoeuvres, and "Mac" became a sort of auxiliary Scripture Reader. He was a man of great personality, and officers and other ranks in the desert all very much liked "the Brigadier's tame Evangelist." He took part in many meetings and entertainments for the soldiers, besides his work for the Officers' Christian Union, and his presence was a help and inspiration to many in the Cairo brigade — not least William himself and his family.

   Besides these two visitors, the Dobbies had a number of friends and relations to stay. Two of Sybil's sisters and a niece paid long visits, and several of the children's friends came. The whole family was often united in Cairo as well. Their eldest son, now Lieut. Arthur Dobbie R.E-, was posted to Abbassia at the end of 1930. He was, in fact, under his father's command. The situation might have been difficult, but worked out well and when William had to comment on and sign Arthur's confidential report, he merely wrote: "I cannot comment on this officer, as he is my son." Abbassia was on the outskirts of Cairo, so that Arthur was constantly able to come home. It was a very happy beginning to his foreign service.

   The youngest son, Orde, was still at Wellington College. Though this was before the days of air travel and free air passages for army families, the P. & O. did very cheap fares for schoolchildren, and many of them used to come out to Cairo for the holidays. In fact the boat bringing them was known as the school boat. There used to be a great many unaccompanied children on board, and they were something of a problem to the ship's staff. It is said that the Captain used to send an officer to chase the younger ones to bed, and stand at the end of the companion-way for some time to see they stayed there. The ship's doctor became shrewd at recognising symptoms when schoolboys experimented with drinks for the first time and were incapacitated. He was not sympathetic.

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   Children used to stray into all sorts of forbidden corners of the ship. Orde Dobbie and boon companion were once greeted with: "The Captain's compliments, sir, and what the 'ell do you think you're doing 'ere?" It was probably a great relief when this lively crowd was deposited safely at Port Said, but certainly the children enjoyed their journeys.

   And the British community in Egypt suddenly became younger. For a few weeks, particularly in August and at Christmas everything was subordinated to teenagers. The children had got to know each other on the "school boat" and were a happy gang before they landed, so there were constant treasure-hunts, and picnics, swimming-galas and young people's tennis tournaments, gymkhanas and cricket matches, expeditions into the desert and parties at home. Orde Dobbie came out twice a year, sometimes bringing a school friend with him, and the whole family much enjoyed these reunions.

   Another frequent visitor to 1 Sharia el Amir Fuad, was another Orde, Orde Wingate, who later became the famous Chindit leader. He was, in fact, Sybil's nephew, the son of her sister, and he usually broke his journey in Cairo to stay with his uncle and aunt on his way to and from the Sudan, where he was serving with the Sudan Defence Force.

   He was a strange and most original character and his unusual personality was already apparent. He spoke Arabic almost perfectly, and seemed to have some affinity with the Egyptians and even more with the Sudanese. The Dobbie's Sudanese servants used to go nearly mad with excitement whenever he was coming, and he was always contacting extraordinary men in the streets or anywhere else, and getting on intimate terms with them immediately.

   One day William, Sybil, their daughter and Orde Wingate were riding in the desert (he was an excellent horseman among his other talents). Orde disappeared among some sandhills, and when the others rode up, they found that he had dismounted and was deep in conversation with, and holding the arm of, a particularly dirty old Bedouin, armed with a rifle.

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   "What's happened?" said William, as he approached. "Is that fellow holding Orde up?"

   "Or" suggested Sybil, who knew her nephew, "Is Orde holding him up?"

   It appeared soon that neither was the case, Orde had somehow got into conversation with the old man, had made fast friends and was apparently engaging in some sort of brotherhood compact. He said goodbye with many oriental gestures and a flood of Arabic, mounted his horse and rejoined his uncle.

   On another occasion he was arriving at Cairo station and Arthur Dobbie and his sister went to meet him. The British army in Cairo had a theory at that time that they were allowed on to the station without platform tickets. They may or may not have had this privilege, but it was always a point of honour to avoid paying if they could. (Many of the army, and their families were very young!) The Dobbies met their cousin and as they were leaving the platform Arthur said with a laugh: "We've got on without a ticket, Orde, but I don't know if we shall manage to get off."

   When they reached the barrier, Orde gave up his ticket and murmured a few words in Arabic, to the collector, who immediately smiled, bowed low and waved the whole party through.

   When asked what he had said, Orde replied: "I just said: 'These are two very dear friends of mine.". Considering that the ticket collector did not know Orde, or his dear friends, the latter still could not see why this simple remark should have had such an effect. They chalked it up as another example of their cousin's extraordinary personality.

   But the visitors who would most have appreciated the Cairo regime could not come. William's mother and father were living quietly in Devonshire. Margaret had become badly crippled with rheumatoid arthritis, but to the end followed every activity of William with great interest and intelligence. His father and she fully understood and often prayed over all his problems, and it would have been a great interest and joy to them to come out to Cairo and see William there. But it would have been quite impossible for her to have made the journey, and in February 1929

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Margaret, the little girl who had received the faith from her dying mother and then later taught it to her son, died. She did not live to see the first really spectacular event of her son's career, for it took place in August 1929.

   Looking at William's life as a whole there are two turning points. The first was when he suddenly decided to try for the Staff College. The second time "the tide in the affairs of men" ran suddenly strongly was in 1929, at the height of an Egyptian summer, with the Nile rising and flooding, an exhausting heat laced with mosquitos over everything, and most of the British Community, including the General, home in England on leave.

   On Saturday, August 24th, William went to his office in Kasr-el-Nil Barracks as usual, and at ten o' clock the telephone rang.

Chapter XI

To Pacify the Holy Land (1929)

They build up Zion with blood, and Jerusalem with iniquity.

Micah 3:10

And men shall dwell in it, and there shall be no more utter destruction; but Jerusalem shall be safely inhabited.

Zechariah 14:11

   The call was from General Headquarters, Egypt Command, and was put through at once to William. There had been a sudden emergency in Palestine. Troops had to be sent at once, repeat at once, before half the population of Palestine had murdered the other half. The Cairo Brigade were the most accessible.

   At this time Palestine, under a British mandate, was garrisoned by the R.A.F. only. It had been considered that planes and a few armoured cars could do all that was necessary, in an apparently peaceful area. The system also prevailed in Iraq and was working well. But Iraq was not involved in communal quarrels and rivalries, and for some time past — in fact since the Balfour Declaration of 1917 — there had been in Palestine a growing hostility (and it is well known to what dimensions this has since grown!) between Jews and Arabs.

   As tension mounted, it might well have been thought necessary to increase security measures. But in the sacred name of economy, the Government was reluctant to add anything to the small R.A.F. garrison, and had also reduced the British element in the local police force from 750 to 150, so that the majority of the force was recruited locally and had strong local sympathies — mostly Arab.

   In mid-August 1929 the situation began to deteriorate. On August 14-15th, the Jews commemorated the destruction of the Temple (the Tisha Be 'Av) and expected to engage in ceremonies at the Wailing Wall, which was however part of the Moslem religious property. On August 16-17, Moslems were celebrating tile birthday of the Prophet, and would be having ceremonies near the Wall. Furthermore the 16th and 17th were a Friday and Saturday, sacred days respectively of the Moslems and Jews.

   Both sides did things to annoy the other. The Moslems began alterations which would affect Jewish access to the Wall. The Jews then staged a large and, though peaceful, illegal demonstration

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near the Wall. The Moslems staged a bigger one. The press joined in, magnifying and distorting every incident on one side or the other.

   The High Commissioner for Palestine, Sir John Chancellor, was home on leave, but Mr. Luke (afterwards Sir Harry Luke), who was in charge during his absence, fully realised the gravity of the situation. The Government did its best to keep the peace, but both sides interpreted this as weakness and partiality. An armoured car company, stationed at Amman in Trans-Jordan, was hurried up to Jerusalem, but such a force is only effective when firepower and extreme mobility are needed. It lacks the adaptability of infantry and is of less use in unsettled country.

   During the week following the demonstrations round the Wall, tempers continued to rise, and by the end of the week, violent rioting broke out around Jerusalem. It soon spread beyond the city to the many isolated little Jewish colonies. These were attacked by mobs of Arabs, looted and burned, and their inhabitants slaughtered. The situation was quite beyond the powers of either the police or the R.A.F. garrison to control. Authority sent out an urgent S.O.S. to Egypt and Malta for British forces.

   But Malta is some distance, sea transport is slower than land or air, and the lives of thousands of Jewish men, women and children now depended on how quickly troops could be hurried up from Egypt. The G.O.C. Egypt was away in England on leave, but William hastily conferred with the Brigadier i/c Administration, Brigadier Logan.

   They decided to send the South Wales Borderers, one of William's three Battalions. The large troop-carrying planes of later date were not then in existence, but fifty men were got off by air from Heliopolis (just outside Cairo) by 12.30 on August 24th. They reached Jerusalem in the evening and they found the police, who had been reinforced only by a number of English volunteers, ranging from a party of theological students who joined up to a man to English schoolboys on holiday, completely exhausted. The Arabs were on the move, the evening crops of rumours had just begun, Jerusalem was in mortal peril, when fifty South Wales Borderers swung into the city. The effect was instantaneous. The

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gathering crowds went home, the city breathed again. By 7.30 little groups of soldiers had been directed to outlying Jewish colonies, while others were kept in reserve at Police Headquarters, and went out on patrol as required.

   Captain R. G. Lochner, of the South Wales Borderers, reported as follows on his experiences that night in the Beithakarem area, which comprised a number of Jewish colonies:

   "There was a certain amount of promiscuous sniping from all over the place. Betvigan was attacked twice during the night, evidently with the intention of continuing the looting of the village; this was stopped by several bursts of Lewis Gunfire Romena and the reservoir were subjected to rifle fire from the house and orchards above Lifta, but a strong patrol dealt with this at dawn and there was no recurrence.

   Active patrolling was carried on during the night and Arab incursions into the several Jewish colonies with a view to looting was quickly dealt with and checked. Consequently, except for sniping from fairly long range from the direction of Deiryesin and Lifta, the situation was got in hand on the first night and no further Arab looting occurred in the Beit Hakaram area.

   2nd Lieut. Crewe-Read and 12 men went on a series of patrols with the Armoured Cars, one of them to Artuf, where they caught the Arabs in the process of looting the village, and dealt with them with some success."

   Meanwhile the rest of the South Wales Borderers were following by train from Cairo, and William decided to go with them so as to assess the situation on the spot. He was merely going as an observer.

   Sybil, writing to her daughter in England, described the departure:

"We drove off to the Citadel station and saw the regiment entrain, with Major Bradstock (the

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2 i/C) in command. The C.O. is, like all the world, on leave. They marched down from the Citadel with the band, Major Bradstock ahead. (One officer turned up in grey shorts and a blazer and no hat, by plane off the beach at Sidi Bishr, where he had been for two months in charge of the camp. It was funny — he lent such a Punch and Judy, spade and bucket, atmosphere to our swell "Departure for the Front!)

   It was very funny seeing the poor mules being pushed in — six Tommies, dripping with heat, in vests and khaki shorts, lugging and pushing and almost lifting them in — then all the paraphernalia, water-carts etc. all roped onto open trucks — with 5000 old images in turbans screaming and yelling and hauling. Can you see it: With the Citadel looking a dream above us and all the old riff-raff of Mohammed Ali (a rather low area below the Citadel) come up to see the fun. I wonder if the latter thought it was US evacuating Cairo."

   Sybil added that Major Bradstock told her how delighted the Battalion had been when he announced to them on parade that morning that they had been selected, out of the Brigade, to go. They cheered and cheered, before getting down to desperately hurried preparations to get themselves, with stores, mules, weapons, medical equipment, emergency rations and everything else off by train in six hours.

   The train moved off, and at Kantara picked up some men of the Green Howards and a section of Royal Engineers from the Canal Zone. Up till then the force was nominally under Group-Captain Playfair, R.A.F., who was in command in Palestine. Now the force had become so big, with other troops hurrying in from Malta, that it was a Brigadier's command. From where could the Brigadier be provided? There was one in the train en route for Palestine already, and William found himself in command, with responsibility for the lives of thousands in his hands. It says much for the good sense of Group-Captain Playfair and all the three

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Services involved that this unity of command should have been accepted by mutual agreement on the spot, before it was confirmed by authority in London.

   The crest of the Dobbie family is a cross-crosslets, and there is a tradition that some distant ancestor, probably of a French branch, was a Crusader. The story may not be true, but perhaps some drops of Crusading blood did stir in William's veins, for he approached his task of saving the Lord's compatriots, in the land hallowed by His feet, with all the devotion and zeal of a Crusader. It was a chance of service beyond his rosiest dreams, and as he travelled on, his prayers may well have fallen into the rhythm of the hundred and twenty-second Psalm:

   "I was glad when they said unto me, 'Let us go into the house of the Lord. Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem.' …..

   Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; they shall prosper that love thee.

   Peace be within thy walls and prosperity within thy palaces. For my brethren and companions sakes, I will now say 'Peace be within thee'. Because of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek thy good."

   But dreams have little part in a Staff College training and when the train reached Lydda by midday on the 25th William was faced with his first important decision. Clearly the first fifty men could not hold down the Jerusalem area permanently. They must be reinforced. On the other hand he received news that the situation in Jaffa and the rich Jewish suburb of Tel-Aviv was becoming acute. Was he to carry out the recognised Camberley principle of concentration, and from a secure centre (Jerusalem) gradually bring the whole country to order, or was he to risk dispersing his small force all over the country, in the hope of saving outlying districts? He did the latter.

   At Lydda he detached a company of the South Wales Borderers to go by train on the branch line to Tel Aviv. They arrived at 1.30, and marched straight to the main square of Jaffa, doing the last part at the double. Here they found a mob collected on which

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the police and an armoured car had already had to fire. The soldiers armed with bayonets cleared the square in one minute, an Arab who did not move fast enough and was pricked by a bayonet, being the only casualty.

   At 5p.m. reports of rioting and murder on the outskirts of Tel-Aviv were received. A party of 20 men was moved by bus to where shooting by Jews and Arabs was going on. They cleared the area, handed over some prisoners to the police, established a curfew and searched houses for arms. There was no more trouble in the area.

   By this time William had reached Jerusalem, and appeals were flooding in from Jewish colonies all over Palestine. His force was pitifully small, but he managed to get off a company of the Green Howards, who had arrived from Moascar, by train to Haifa, where once more they arrived at the fifty-ninth minute of the eleventh hour and saved the town.

   It cannot be sufficiently emphasised how unconventional William's method was. It was against all the usual rules, and might have ended in disaster. If however it should succeed, many lives would be saved. A General, like any other expert, must know all the rules from A to Z, and must then know when it is necessary to break them. These small dispersed forces might have been too small or ineffective and William alone, on his own initiative, had to decide to adopt this highly unconventional line, and not first to secure his strong base. William, who had never in his life gambled on a horse, had here to take a very risky chance. The stakes were many innocent lives, and he won.

   Major-General Sir Charles Gwynn, in his book, "Imperial Policing" describes what happened.

"The great dispersion of his force which Brigadier Dobbie had decided to be essential to bring about a rapid restoration of order and to save the scattered Jewish settlements would undoubtedly have been a source of danger if a considerable invasion had taken place. Realising, however, that rapid restoration of order in Palestine was the best way to remove the incentive that

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the Arabs outside had to intervene, he refused to be diverted from his original plan, although temptation to sacrifice outlying districts in the interests of concentration must have been considerable. Maintenance of the objective once again proved a sound principle to which the principle of concentration had for the moment to give way. One can easily catalogue the principles of war, but to decide which one must dominate a given situation is not so simple."

   Although he used this policy of dispersal, William did not, however, neglect the big towns. By August 26th the three key points and main population centres of Jerusalem, Jaffa and Haifa had been secured. Furthermore, H.M.S. Sussex and H.M.S. Barham were arriving from Malta, and were prepared to send ashore naval contingents to help. H.M.S. Courageous arrived on the 28th ferrying another Battalion (the South Staffordshire Regiment) from Malta, and more troops were arriving from Moascar.

   Nevertheless the problems were acute. Considering that in 1936 eight Battalions were unable effectively to keep the peace and that most of the settlements were small scattered villages, easily open to attack, William was desperately short of manpower. Furthermore his force lacked the mobility of present-day armies.

   In Jerusalem he firmly requisitioned all the cars and buses on which he could lay his hands, and fortunately neither of the conflicting parties had had the intelligence to damage telephone lines, so that communications could be kept up, even before a contingent of the Royal Corps of Signals arrived. Fortunately too the weather remained dry, so that mechanised transport could operate on country tracks and even across open country. By August 27th, Tuesday, the situation was mainly in hand. Only Galilee was still in danger, but a new threat was now developing from other quarters.

   Nothing succeeds like success, and the Arabs from over the frontier — from Syria, Trans-Jordan and the areas to the South

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had heard of the happy times of looting and murder in which their brethren had been engaged. They hoped to share these benefits, and by August 27th, ominous reports were coming in of concentrations and movements of Arabs over the frontiers. William had come to Jerusalem merely in aid of the civil power. It was now likely that he would have a full scale war on his hands.

   Fortunately the Trans-Jordan frontier force were able to prevent all but small bodies infiltrating from the East, and the French authorities in Syria did their best to close the Northern frontier, although it was not easy as they too were short of troops in the area. But there were enormous Arab protest demonstrations in Damascus, the Arab press in Syria was being deliberately provocative and there was some evidence that a Jehad, or Holy War, was being preached.

   The worst threat, however, was from the South. On 27th August, William received a report that a force of five thousand Bedouin in the Beer-Sheba area were on the move, bent on loot, towards Gaza. This was a large town, with a Big Jewish concentration and a British Mission Hospital, where there were English women (nurses and the wives of doctors) and children. William had not a man he could send — his entire force was stretched to the breaking point. He did what he could. He sent down a small train, with Lewis guns mounted on it, to patrol the line, and sent out some R.A.F, planes to try and locate the Bedouin and head them off.

   Presently the planes returned, having failed to locate the Bedouin, who were probably hiding up in wadis, but by evening there were various reports that they were again moving nearer Gaza. In his office in Jerusalem, from the windows of which he could see Gordon's Calvary, William, in despair, and unable to do anything more himself, prayed desperately that God would take over the situation. Though he did not know it then, in a nearby building an English doctor, unable to get back to his wife and children in Gaza, and fully aware of the situation, was praying with equal desperation.

   William slept little that night, for reports kept coming in that the Bedouin were nearing Gaza. Then, quite suddenly, he heard

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that they had changed direction and gone off into a desert area, where they spent the night. William, never, to the end of his life, knew why they had given up their hopeful expedition. But the next day H.M.S. Courageous arrived at Jaffa, and he was able to hurry a contingent of soldiers down to Gaza. A political officer managed to get in touch with the Bedouin and persuade them to withdraw. Gaza was saved.

   Writing about the incident later, William said:

   "Although I tried to find a reason for that dramatic change of direction during the night, I failed to do so. I can find no explanation other than that God did, in fact, intervene, and I am grateful to Him for having done so."

   By the 28th it was clear that the situation was much improved. William's unconventional methods had paid off for with order restored in so many areas, the Arabs over the borders decided that loot was impracticable for the moment and gave up the idea until conditions (from their point of view) should improve.

   There was, indeed, one further outbreak at Safed in the North on August 29th, in which Syrian Arabs tried to join, but it was successfully put down, although considerable damage was done to the town. After that all was quiet, 120 or so murderers were in Acre jail awaiting trial, and people in isolated homesteads and villages could breathe again.

   All was over, bar the shouting, but the shouting was considerable. Firstly the situation had to be stabilised; secondly means had to be taken to punish miscreants and make sure that no such outbreaks could occur again; and thirdly the entire future of Palestine defence-wise had to be considered. There was also to be an official commission of enquiry, who must learn exactly what had happened and why.

   William's own position was peculiar. Palestine was still ostensibly an R.A.F. area, and the Air Ministry, though agreeing when Group-Captain Playfair sent out his S.O.S. for ground troops, was most unwilling to let this situation continue a moment longer than it could help. William was in constant touch with the Air Ministry, who wanted the ground troops and Navy replaced by

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R.A.F. units as quickly as possible. Palestine was also under a High Commissioner appointed by the Colonial Office, so that it was the scene of considerable inter-departmental three-sided argument. The Navy provided a fourth element, wishing naturally that their own units could be released as soon as possible, and not kept from their own training by doing work that properly belonged to the other Services.

   William took the view that ground troops must stay, and had, on August 27th, cabled home asking that another Battalion from Malta should be sent. The Air Ministry strongly deprecated the need. On the 29th they cabled, urging William to withdraw all his scattered detachments at the very first possible moment, concentrate on the big centres and control outlying districts by aircraft and armoured cars — the exact opposite of his present very successful policy. If marauders could not be caught red-handed, said the Air Ministry, their villages should, after one warning, be bombed.

   By this time the High Commissioner, Sir John Chancellor, an ex-Sapper and known to William, had returned. He refused to contemplate the bombing of villages, and William heartily agreed, pointing out that often miscreants, though temporarily hiding in a village, did not belong to it at all. Martial law had not been proclaimed and British troops were therefore best employed in support of the police, raiding villages, picking up suspects, searching for arms and loot, and possibly burning one or two houses in which these were found.

   The Air Ministry then changed their minds completely, abandoned the idea of promiscuous bombing, and on 31st August cabled out, crying down the whole situation as much less serious than appeared.

   On September 2nd, William cabled back:

"The whole country is disaffected. Disorders or threats of disorders have occurred practically everywhere and demands for protection which cannot be ignored are still being received. The attitude of the people in Palestine is lawless in many cases and it is only the presence of our forces which

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keeps them in check. In some places, such as Haifa, Arabs are boasting openly that they will recommence outrages as soon as our control is relaxed."

   On September 3rd the Air Ministry cabled that William should send back the Fleet Air Arm planes that had come from Malta and use those of the R.A.F. William cabled back agreement next day, but rather reluctantly, pointing out that the withdrawal of H.M.S. Courageous and her planes meant also the withdrawal of her landing parties, who had been invaluable. He would have to redistribute his forces, and his mobile reserve was now one platoon.

   The Air Ministry paused for thought, and then came out with the suggestion that perhaps private cars were being used for marauders. Had William thought of that? He replied that he had, and had, in fact, rounded up one taxi firm that was running some sort of illicit service in from Trans-Jordan. Then after further profound reflection, the Air Ministry were able to point out that owing to some staffing error one of William's cables had been sent partially in cypher and partially in code. William apologised for this portentious mistake, and the exchange languished slightly.

   On September 6th, however, the Air Ministry cabled that an Air Force officer had been appointed to command all the forces in Palestine. Air-Vice-Marshal Dowding was coming out, and William would hand over to him on arrival. It seemed highly important to them that the exact hour of handover should be cabled home, as this was reiterated.

   William accepted the situation with his usual cheerful cooperation. He wrote on September 26th, to his old school friend, Major-General J. R. E. Charles, then at the War Office:

   "I was not a bit hurt by Dowding's appointment, though I would naturally have enjoyed continuing in command. I knew it was inevitable, and was only surprised that it did not come sooner. However, I had the command during the interesting time, so I have nothing to grumble at. I can quite imagine that my presence here was by no means acceptable to the Air Ministry. But whatever anyone says,

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there is no doubt that this was a soldier's job, and not an airman's — at any rate while things were happening. But now it is right that an airman should be in command, as the future defence policy has to be settled, and this country being an Air Force preserve, it is proper that the necessary advice should be tendered by an airman."

   On September 14th William had handed over a pacified Palestine and prepared to go back to his Brigade in Cairo. But the future of the country had still to be settled and he remained there until November, giving evidence before the Commission of Enquiry, and advice on the future of the country.

   He was convinced that the only hope of law and order in Palestine was the continued presence of British troops, and this was a far from popular view at home. However he set out an excellent and reasonable appreciation of the situation in letters home to the War Office, and also when he gave evidence in camera before the Commission on November 6th. His theory was that: (a) Palestine had an external and internal problem and its defence should be calculated separately from that of Trans-Jordan, (b) It should be entrusted to army rather than R.A.F. units. (c) That the normal garrison should be at least two British Battalions and some armoured cars. (d) That the bulk of the Police should be recruited outside Palestine. He was fortunate in that the Air Officer sent out should have been Air-Vice-Marshal Dowding (afterwards Lord Dowding), a man of common sense and an open mind. The latter himself asked William for a report on the future of Palestine and when William wrote it, he not only read it with interest and care, but insisted — greatly to William's surprise — on sending it home to the Air Ministry, with a covering letter of his own. It says much for both of them that their relations were so cordial, but then, as events proved some ten years later, they were both great men.

   Most of William's suggestions were, in fact, accepted, and from 1929 until the end of the Mandate, British troops were always stationed in Palestine.

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William returned to Cairo on November 12th. It had been a thrilling experience for him, for whom Palestine had continuous and sacred overtones. He had given New Testaments to the men in his Brigade containing 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 the place where this took place 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 that that event concerns you personally and that it was for your sake that the Son of God died on the Cross here. The realization 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 realization.

W. G. S. Dobbie
10th October, 1929

   Sybil had come up and stayed for a short time in September, and together they had been able to see much more of the country and meet many more of the people than in their first short visit. He had met many leaders of all sects and parties, and the Jews were particularly struck with his knowledge of the Old Testament.

   His swift actions must have saved many Jewish lives, and they recognised this with gratitude. Before he left he was presented by the Jewish community with a small silver-bound book of the Hebrew scriptures. He could not of course read it — his classical education had not included Hebrew — but there was also an engraving on it in English to the effect that it was a gift from Jewish admirers of his work in the Palestine riots of 1929, and he treasured it to the end of his life.

   He also received official letters of thanks for his work, from various sources. Sir John Chancellor wrote in appreciation to the Colonial Office, who wrote to the War Office on November 6th:

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"The High Commissioner for Palestine draws attention to the admirable services rendered by Brigadier Dobbie in bringing the active stage of the disturbances to so prompt a conclusion. The Secretary of State (for the Colonies) desires to associate himself with these remarks, and if the Army Council see no objection, he would be glad if an expression of his sincere thanks may be conveyed to Brigadier Dobbie for his valuable services."

   The Army Council saw no objection. They passed on the message and added a rider of their own:

"The Council note, with pleasure, this record of your valuable services during an extremely critical situation and I am, further, to convey to you an expression of their high appreciation of the excellent work performed by you in rapidly suppressing the dangerous disturbances in Palestine, while in command of the combined force of the three Services."

   When the Malta contingent left Haifa in September, the following telegram was sent to William:

"On reembarking, O.C. Troops, Officers and Men of Haifa Asia, wish goodbye and good luck to Brigadier Dobbie and are proud to have had the honour of serving under his command."

   There is no record of any word of thanks from the Air Ministry, but Lord Trenchard sent him a personal telegram saying:

"May I take this opportunity before you hand over to Air-Vice-Marshal Dowding, to thank you for all arduous work you have done so success fully."

Then the South Wales Borderers came back to the Citadel, the Cairo Brigade settled down to its winter training — and in the New Year's Honours for 1930 William received the C.B. Everything was over.

   But was it? In fact William, though in his humility he never realised it, had made a name for himself in many quarters. He was a marked man at the War Office. This, in effect, meant that petty

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and spiteful reports from Cairo, that he was not a hard-drinking, social type, now received little attention. What did that matter, if he could, without even imposing martial law, restore order out of anarchy, bloodshed and arson in four days? During the rising tide of trouble in Palestine in the thirties, this feat seemed more and more remarkable.

   He had become something of a legend too among the men he had commanded. Stories about him were passed round in messes and barrack-rooms. One joke, for instance, that went the round of the army, was that the Palestine affair had been a very part-time war, because the Moslems would not fight on Friday, the Jews on Saturday and Dobbie on Sunday!

   William had caught, too, the fancy of the English papers, and pictures of him and accounts of his life and activities appeared in national dailies and weeklies. He was mentioned frequently as an expert on and believer in mechanisation — the "with it" and much debated policy of the army in those days.

   The Prince Consort, Queen Victoria's husband, once said that the English people loved to have an authority they could quote — a character about whom they could spread anecdotes. These need not necessarily be authentic, provided they fitted the personality of the character in question. The mixture in William Dobbie of very modern mechanisation specialist and Christian General — sword in one hand, Bible in the other, the modern crusader defending the Holy City — caught the public fancy and that of the Press. "Truth" for instance took him under its wing and from then onwards backed him steadily.

   Admittedly journalistic fame is the most ephemeral possible, but nevertheless an image had been created in 1929 which was never quite forgotten.

   Particularly of course this was true in Evangelical circles. A thousand humble Christians, a hundred tiny Bethesda and Ebenezer Chapels, began to look up to William as a modern Joshua or Daniel, God's servant in high places, and tried to help him in the only way they could. They prayed for him.

   Many of those who prayed had never seen him, or ever did see him. For instance, in 1937, William and Sybil met a man at a

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Brethren's meeting in Malaya, who said that at his home meeting at Newport in Wales, they had known of William since the Palestine riots of 1929, and had prayed for him by name whenever they met for prayer. Neither William or Sybil had ever been to Newport, or knew anything about the Brethren there, and they were enormously pleased and touched when they learned of these prayers.

   There must have been many of which they never learned, but from those dramatic days of the late summer of 1929, they were both more and more conscious of a volume of prayer supporting them and bearing them up.

   More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of. Who can know what was wrought by these prayers?

Chapter XII

To Chatham As Commandant (1933-35)

On a hillock by the Medway, in Chatham's dirty town,
A noble pile of buildings you may see,
And it is the home of the Royal Engineers,
The place they call the S.M.E.

Old Sapper Song.

   William's command of the Cairo Brigade was due to end in midsummer 1932, and the question of his future was constantly in his thoughts. His time as Brigadier would be over, and promotion to Major-General was something of a bottle-neck. It was quite likely that his military career would end.

   Sybil, writing to one of her sisters, said at this time:

   "It has been a revelation to me to see the way Will has prepared himself for whatever God sent him. When we prayed in the morning together, he always prayed that God would see to His own glory and give him whatever He saw would make people praise God most. And he was literally prepared to be third bottle-washer in some humble little mission. I used to mention in praying that we would like promotion, but he got frightfully upset and said I had missed the point of the whole thing."

   Had he retired then he would probably have gone into some spiritual work, either at home or abroad, in any capacity. But it did not work out like that. In June 1932 he heard that he would be promoted Major-General in the next few months, and take up an appointment as Commandant of the School of Military Engineering at Chatham, in the following February.

   They were somewhat tired after four years in Egypt. Sybil had not been home at all, and William only once for a short time to see his father, though the children had come and gone a good deal. They had had local leave in Syria, Cyprus and Palestine, but four years in the Middle East, with very exacting work and constant entertaining (Sybil calculated that they had given 110 dinner parties!) is tiring, and they were both glad of the eight months pause before starting a new post at Chatham.

   The only difficulty was that, in those days, officers, kept on the strength but not employed, were put on half-pay during the

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interim. Unfortunately expenses and family commitments did not go on half-pay too, and many an officer found this system (of great and respectable antiquity, but fortunately now abolished) a great tax on his resources. William during this period was paid about £340 for seven months and had to take more than this from his savings for the half-pay period and for expenses in taking up the new appointment — a new car, extra linen and such things.

  They spent most of their interim abroad. They made first a short tour of the battlefields of World War I. William had always wanted to show them to Sybil and this was their chance. She found 'Plug Street' and the Menin Gate memorials to the unidentified dead peculiarly moving, but she also described, in a diary, standing on the remains of a chateau on Hill 63, just above 'Plug Street' wood, and seeing a wonderful rainbow encircling Messines Church. It seemed to her the eternal sign of hope, springing from untold sacrifice, but, in fact, 1932 was about the last year when such hope in Europe was not overcast by growing fear.

   After this tour they went on to Lausanne, where there was a large British community, and a flourishing Brethren's meeting. (Since their inception the Brethren had had strong connections with Switzerland). It was a pleasant and restful time, and they stayed for some months. They made long walks and excursions, skated occasionally, attended concerts, read books from the English library, had French lessons, and went over to Geneva once or twice to visit sessions of the League of Nations and try to find out what it was doing. They were not impressed by the sessions, but charitably concluded that more was being done behind the scenes than was apparent.

   Above all the tonic of a Swiss winter was exactly what they needed to restore their health and energy. Sybil, in particular, had always had great faith in Switzerland as a health resort, so in her case the improvement may have been partly psychological, but at any rate they came back to England in January 1933 well able to tackle the new posting, William having been promoted Major-General in November.

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The School of Military Engineering (now given the additional prefix of "Royal") had been established first in 1812. During the Peninsular War, Britain had no men skilled in siege works and demolitions. Sir Arthur Bryant, in his "Years of Victory", says:—

"The fortress (Badajos) provisioned for several months, was sufficiently strong to withstand anything short of a full-scale attack by experienced sappers and heavy battering guns.

And Beresford had neither. Nor had Wellington. The British army, being designed for colonial and amphibious operations, had never been equipped or trained for the elaborate business of reducing Continental fortresses …. No siege train had been sent to Portugal."

   There was indeed a Corps of Royal Military Artificers founded in 1787, officered by the older Corps of Royal Engineers, who had been trained at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, but the training had been very inadequate and after the two unsuccessful sieges of Badajos and its terrible storming, with a fantastic waste of gallant lives, Wellington sent an urgent demand for men really skilled in siege-works and demolitions.

   On April 23rd, 1812, the Prince Regent issued a warrant for:

"The instruction of our Corps of Royal Military Artificers, Sappers and Miners, as well as Junior Officers of our Corps of Royal Engineers in the duties of sapping, mining and other military field works."

The S.M.E. came into being.

   The work began at Chatham, where there was already a garrison. A fortification school was set up under Major Charles Pasley, who held the post till 1841, and whose name is commemorated in Pasley House, the present residence of the Commandant at Chatham. The first men trained at Chatham were sent out to Spain in 1813 and did extremely well in the siege and assault of San Sebastian.

   Gradually during the 19th century the work at Chatham grew. A Construction School was added in 1825 and a Survey School

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in 1833. In 1870 railway training was begun, in 1884 a submarine battalion was added, and by 1890 there was a balloon section. In 1886 telegraphy and electricity were made separate sections.

   Meanwhile in 1856 the two corps were amalgamated and named the Corps of Royal Engineers, with Chatham as its depot. All young R.E. officers from the Royal Military Academy Woolwich did their technical training there and there were constant courses for N.C.O.s and Sappers.

   During the First World War of course the work of the S.M.E. was enormously increased. 15,000 volunteers enlisted in the Corps during the first six weeks of the war, and in October 1914 the King reviewed 12,000 Sappers at Chatham. From then on there was a constant passage of young men through the S.M.E., with of course much shortened courses.

Gradually after the war Chatham was re-organised. The S.M.E. and R.E. Depot Standing Orders, 1928, defined the work as follows:—

"The technical training of all ranks of the Regular Army, T.A. and Supplementary Reserve in Military Engineering, fieldworks, bridging and in matters relating to the employment of engineers, and to the execution of works in peace and war. The tactical training of young R.E. Officers on first commission. The training of soldiers of the R.E. in required trades, and those to fill specialist engineer appointments (such as M.F.W.). The trade testing of the R.E. boys in the trades of draughtsmen (Arch) and Surveyor (cadastral and engineering) and the training of R.E. dismounted recruits, under the Commandant's supervision. The carrying out, to a limited extent, of experimental and research work in military engineering."

   Besides this formidable programme, the Commandant of the S.M.E. (a Major-General's appointment since 1919, though held by a Colonel previously) was also Commander of the Chatham Garrison, and from 1926 Inspector of Royal Engineers, responsible for keeping in touch with all the R.E. Units in England.

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   Except for nine months in 1925, William had not been with Sappers since the early part of the war. He had not been back to Chatham, the centre of the Sapper world, since 1904, when he had started his married life there. Now he was to become Commandant of the S.M.E., the most important of any Sapper job. It was no mean task for him.

   It was equally exacting for Sybil. In April 1933 they took over the Commandant's House, Brompton Barracks (now called Pasley House), an enormous quarter with 12 bedrooms, stables, a double garage (with two quarters above for a chauffeur and groom) and a big garden. William received, for the first time, an entertaining allowance, and it was clear that they would be expected to entertain on a large scale.

   Of course a staff was needed, which they were expected to find and pay themselves, but here they were fortunate. They took on a chauffeur and a gardener from their predecessor, General Pritchard, and they had an excellent cook, who had belonged to the Brethren's meeting at Woolwich and had known Sybil's family for many years. There were three other maids, local girls, one or two supernumeraries who came in to help for parties, and a soldier groom looked after William's charger, with which he was still supplied, though which, by 1933, he rarely used officially.

   Fortunately it was a very happy team. Sybil once said that she had been exceedingly lucky in having a cook who loved cooking, a gardener who loved gardening and a chauffeur who loved driving the car.

   It was as well that they had this staff, for the necessary entertaining was enormous. Their visitors' book for the period has survived, and it seems that 233 people stayed in the house in 30 months. These included a Dutch Baron (member of the Dutch O.C.U.) and wife, the Commandant of the Staff College, the leading professor of engineering at Cambridge, innumerable Generals (there were often Higher Command conferences), girl friends of young officers being put up for parties, officers and their wives coming to the area and busy house-hunting, besides many relations of their own and friends of their children.

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   These were only the people who stayed in the house. They also gave constant dinner and lunch parties, not only for the garrison, but for all the civilians around, including Mayors and Lord Lieutenants, with whom they were expected to be in touch. They gave frequent tennis parties, for the garden had an excellent court. The R.E. Drag met at least once each season in the drive of the Commandant's House, and coffee, cherry brandy and sandwiches were handed out promiscuously to riders, grooms and general hangers on. William and Sybil and any of their children or guests who wished, used to beagle with the R.E. Beagles most Saturday afternoons in the winter, and these days used often to end with gigantic teas (tea, scones and home-made cakes ad lib) at the Commandant's House.

   Young officers came through in batches, and William, wishing to get to know them, used to give supper parties for them. He usually did this when his son Orde (now a Gunner officer and stationed at Shorncliffe) and daughter were home. On one occasion an exceedingly rowdy version of musical chairs took place. For this the party scattered all over the house, which had two staircases, and when the music (a record blaring in the hall) stopped, everyone had to get back to the hall and pick up a biscuit. Gradually young officers, racing back to the hall, began to jump over the bannisters from higher and higher up the staircase, and by the end the balustrade had a decided kink. (This can still be seen, despite replacements to bannisters, at Pasley House). William surveyed the damage rather ruefully next day, but as someone pointed out, he had said he wanted to get to know the young officers, and he had certainly done so.

   They had other interests too. Sybil was musical, and took a great interest in the R.E. Band at Chatham. She supported the afternoon concerts of the string orchestra in the Mess at Brompton, and often gave lunch parties beforehand to prominent civilians. She also started a small choral society at home to which any musical Sappers and their wives could come. It was conducted by the R.E. Director of Music, Captain Jones, and was an interesting and original feature of the Dobbie regime at Brompton. Sybil, and her daughter when she was at home, also sang with the Rochester Choral Society.

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   It is perhaps necessary to stress how well this official and semi-official entertaining was done. Many people believe that a couple with a dissenting background and conscientious scruples against certain forms of entertainment, could not or would not have carried out this side of the Commandant's duties. This is not the case. They spared no time, trouble or money (considerably more than William's entertaining allowance) to do the work well. Everything was done in excellent style. They had beautiful silver (some of their own original sets and a good deal more inherited), they had engaged an experienced and competent staff and Sybil, with traditions of Gloucestershire county society behind her, and William, with a background of very high-ranking "British Indian life (his father had risen to be Accountant-General in Madras), knew well how things should be done. They had an excellent cook and at intervals sent her up to London for further lessons at a famous school of cookery. Though they were teetotal themselves, their guests were offered the right wine for every occasion.

   They realised that, at that time, Generals were expected to entertain lavishly, and so, ungrudgingly, conscientiously and most successfully they rendered to Caesar the things that were Caesar's.

   But they certainly did not forget the things that were God's. Wherever they could they helped on what they considered to be His work. Sybil gave much time to the Mothers' Union, which was strongly supported among army wives. She also ran a Bible study group in her house for them. She had done this intermittently in Egypt, and some of the same people were now stationed in the Chatham area. After Sybil's death, a lady recalled how, as a Sergeant's wife, she had come rather shyly to the Commandant's House, having known Sybil in Egypt, and how Sybil had run forward, taken her by the arm and said to the assembled party: "You must meet my dear friend Mrs. ______ " Thirty years later she recalled this welcome and the happy meetings that followed.

   There was also a Sunday School class for officers' children at the Dobbie's house. There was of course, a Sunday school at the Garrison Church, to which the children should have gone, but it was found, on enquiry, that they never did, and the padre agreed that a class at the Commandant's House might draw them in more.

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It was mostly run by their daughter and various young O.C.U. members in the area.

   The Soldier's Home, to which William had gone as a young officer, and where he had had his farewell tea before leaving for South Africa, was still in operation, and he now supported its activities wherever he could.

   He had one or two large open meetings for the O.C.U., of which he had become Vice-Chairman in 1933. At these he invited his old friend of Cairo days, "Mac", to speak. These parties included a buffet supper for some sixty people, and took a good deal of organising.

   Sybil twice entertained to tea all the women's meeting from the Brethren's Hall at Woolwich. They came down by coach for their summer outing, and the cook really excelled herself on this occasion as many of her own friends and relations were coming. Her cakes were out of this world!

   On Sundays they felt that they had to support the Garrison Church from time to time, for there were parade services in those days, and William was expected to take the salute afterwards. So they and their guests sat, very officially in the Commandant's pew, while the R.E. band played in front of them and the garrison marched in behind. But about every third week they felt free to go alone to the little meeting of the Brethren at Chattenden, the other side of the river. This was a small tin hut, and the other worshippers were all local farming people from that rural area. The contrast with the Garrison Church could scarcely have been greater, and Sybil and William found it a great rest and refreshment, a bringing back of the simple faith and worship so dear to them both. Sybil often quoted of such meetings, a hymn much sung among the Brethren:—

Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face,
Here faith can touch and handle things unseen,
Here would I grasp with firmer hand Thy grace,
And all my weariness upon Thee lean.

   But despite all the secular entertaining, and spiritual activity, William concentrated with all his powers on his official duties. He worked very hard indeed. He was holding three jobs, with three

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sets of staff. He said thoughtfully one day that he was always writing to himself, asking for permission to do something, and then refusing it to himself! The situation was not quite as absurd really — it was his various staffs who were in touch with each other — but there was a very great deal to do. As a history of the S.M.E. says of the period:

"In general the S.M.E. was a very efficiently run establishment when war came in 1939, but the Commandant himself was overloaded with responsibilities outside the S.M.E."

   Every Commandant concentrated on one of his three roles, for it was impossible to do justice to them all. During the summers William tried to concentrate on his work as Inspector of Royal Engineers. He was away for the inside of nearly every week, visiting R.E. units up and down the country, inspecting and advising. During the winters he remained at Chatham and gave all his attention to the S.M.E.

   The Government meanwhile had been basing its army training and supply problem on the directive: "No big war for ten years." In 1930 Ramsay MacDonald, Prime Minister, said that he "felt justified in looking forward to a period in which armed conflicts need not be expected." Stanley Baldwin, in November 1932 said that few of his colleagues would see another war.

   But in 1930, a few months after MacDonald's dictum, Japan invaded Manchuria and left the League of Nations, and from that moment the whole flimsy structure of collective security began to crumble. In 1933 the name of ex-Corporal Hitler began to be known in Europe, and the following year the Nazi purge, when 70 were shot without trial, showed that the jackboot was on the march again. Mussolini too was beginning the course of sabre-rattling that led finally to the Rome-Berlin alliance.

   Very reluctantly, the Government gave up its ten-year soporific attitude, and began to look to its moat — despite such opposition slogans as: "We want scholarships, not battleships."

   With the possibility of a European war within the foreseeable future, mechanisation was a burning question. Some units were already mechanised, the R.A.S.C. since 1919, but much remained

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to be done. From 1932 Major-General A. Brough, a former Sapper, was Director of Mechanisation at the War Office, and funds were at last allotted for the gradual conversion of R.E. units to mechanised establishments. It is possible that William's known interest in mechanisation was one of the reasons why he had been sent to Chatham. Be that as it may, the work went on, and was completed by 1937 — almost exactly a century since the Commandant at Chatham had reported on the first practical mechanized road vehicles. It had been a long journey, with constant delays and frustrations, but William is certainly among those who can claim credit for the fact that the R.E. units that went to war in 1939, had the additional power that comes from real mobility.

   The storm clouds continued to build up, and in 1935 came the first drops of the deluge. Mussolini invaded Abyssinia in the autumn. There was considerable alarm, for England had already antagonised him about sanctions, and it was thought possible that he would take the opportunity to attack her Middle East force, both from the north and south, and leave his friend Hitler to deal with the very small force left in England. It is doubtful if this could have happened, but there was a good deal of alarm about it, including much defeatist talk throughout the army.

   An officer, who later rose to be a Brigadier, was on a young officers' course at Chatham at this time and, many years after, described what had happened then. In a letter to one of the Dobbie family, he wrote:—

   "Your father was, I believe, the first officer of 'the old school' who saw that to lead men you had to take them into your confidence. I remember him at the time of the Abyssinian affair calling together all the officers at the S.M.E. to address them. No other General bothered to do so, and there was alarm and despondency everywhere except at the S.M.E.

   He told us not to worry unduly. He said that we must also look at Mussolini's difficulties. He showed us convincingly that they were very great and he finally said it was the duty of every British Officer to buckle to his job — which was training for war — to see that when the test did come — as it certainly would — we should all be fit for it. Everyone was much inspired. I certainly was."

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   Perhaps if national leaders had worked on the same principle of taking into their confidence those they led, the history of the next few years might have been very different.

   But William was not destined to finish the mechanisation of the Sappers, or to lead them into war. His tenure as Commandant, which should have lasted for four years, was terminated after two and a half, and he was told, in 1935, that he was to go out to Singapore at the end of the year as General Officer Commanding in Malaya. He was very sorry to leave the S.M.E., but the post was a compliment. Singapore was the centre of Britain's defences in the Far East, and the command there was of immense importance.

   As the dahlias and chrysanthemums faded in the grounds of the Commandant's house, as their cook bottled and jammed and pickled the fruit from the sunken kitchen garden and orchard — part of the fortifications of Chatham from Napoleonic days — William and Sybil began once more to pull up their roots, and get ready to make another home. It was 31 years since they had left their first home at Chatham, the little house in Mansion Row which they now passed every time they walked up to the Garrison Church, to go out to a tropical island.

   Their family were out in the world now. Their eldest son Arthur was still stationed in Egypt, and their daughter was working in Intelligence at the War Office. When his younger son, Orde received his commission in the Royal Artillery in 1933, William had himself presented him at a levee at Buckingham Palace.

   But they were a close knit family. William had been told that he might select an officer as A.D.C. to take out to Malaya with him, and he chose Orde. It is quite a common situation for a son to be A.D.C. for his father, but it takes considerable tact and tolerance on both sides for it to work comfortably. Fortunately both William and his son possessed these qualities and the relationship worked out well.

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   Meanwhile Sybil decided to go overland, spend a week in Egypt with Arthur and pick up the S.S. Carthage with William and Orde on board at Suez. And this plan she carried out, leaving Chatham a day early, seen off at Dover by her daughter and an A.D.C., and going to Marseilles direct across France. William left Chatham next day.

   He had his final lunch in Brompton Mess, where as a young 2nd Lieutenant he had first joined the Sappers. After lunch he entered his car, to be driven across the Square, where the entire Training Battalion and dozens of officers on courses at Chatham, were lined up. They broke ranks, and cheering and shouting surrounded and followed the car across the Square, through the Crimean arch, past the War Memorial and the S.M.E. headquarters, where the statue of General Gordon looks benignly down from his camel, and into the road. Then, with the Commandant's flag flying on the car for the last time, William and his son were driven to the docks, to embark in S.S. Carthage for Singapore. Farewell to the Sappers!

Chapter XIII

Commanding Singapore & Malaya (1935-39)

East and West must seek my aid
Ere the spent hull may dare the ports afar.
The second doorway of the wide world's trade
Is mine to loose or bar.

"Singapore" from Kipling's "Song of the Cities".

   The journey to Malaya was something of a headache for the Captain of the "Carthage". He had on board no less than four distinguished officers, who would be greeted with official welcomes on arrival, including bands, guards of honour and such manifestations, and it was therefore essential that the ship should arrive at exactly, repeat exactly, the right moment at each port. No doubt such ignoring of any possible vagaries of weather is nothing to the Captain of a P. & O. liner, but he did allow himself to grumble a little. He was clearly relieved when Sir David Campbell, Governor of Malta, had been deposited at Valetta, General Cassells, C.-in-C. India, with his wife and A.D.C. son at Bombay, General Dobbie, also with wife and A.D.C. son at Singapore, and General Bartholomew, G.O.C. Troops, China, with his wife at Hong Kong. He probably hoped for less distinguished passengers on his next voyage.

   Malaya at that time was one of Britain's most prosperous colonies. Singapore island had been occupied in 1819, and British influence extended over the Malayan peninsular throughout the 19th century, and as a result the area had enjoyed many years of peaceful progress. The development of tin workings, and the mushroom growth of the rubber industry had brought immense wealth to Malaya, while the geographical position of Singapore made her the centre of Far Eastern trade. There was a higher standard of living, both for Europeans and Asiatics, than anywhere in the East.

   William arrived in December 1935, and after a night or two staying with the Governor, Sir Shenton Thomas, at Government House, he moved into Flagstaff House, the residence of the G.O.C. While Sybil began to try to understand and organise a staff of seven indoor servants (Chinese), two Malay syces (chauffeurs) and three gardeners (one Chinese, two Malay), William began to look around.

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   For the first time in his life, except perhaps for a few weeks in Palestine in 1929, he would have to play a part in Politics as well as being a military leader. He had happened to arrive just as the British Government was taking notice of the Far Eastern situation, for, since the Japanese blow at Manchuria in 1931, and even more since her attack on China and withdrawal from the League of Nations in 1933, the balance of power was shifting.

   He was the second man in the area, ("His Excellency, the General Officer Commanding, Malaya") and had therefore to make recommendations involving policy and large sums of money. Throughout his time he was in constant conference with the Governor, and frequently disagreed with him on defence needs. However, basically, they respected each other and in 1938, shortly after the Munich crisis, Sir Shenton made a speech at an ex-Servicemen's dinner, at which he said:

   "It was a very great comfort to me to know that during those bad days, Major-General Dobbie was in Command. The worse the position got, the calmer the G.O.C. seemed to be.

   Had what then seemed inevitable really happened, the people of Malaya might well entrust their safety to the General."

   The garrison consisted of several British infantry battalions, with corresponding other units. There was little local military enthusiasm, but William realised that a nation's defence needs cannot be wholly met from the outside, and began to try and build up local interest. There was a very small force of European volunteers, mostly planters and businessmen. This he encouraged and enlarged as much as he could. In course of time Asiatic volunteers were also enlisted.

   He also supervised the growth of a Malay regular regiment. It was increased to battalion strength, and later expanded to two or three battalions. Another project in which he was much concerned was the formation of the Hong Kong and Singapore Artillery.

   His main interest was, however, the construction of the Singapore defences. His attitude to the question of Malayan

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defence has been stated clearly in some military histories, and perhaps a few quotations might be helpful for the record.

   Liddell Hart in his "History of the Second World War" states:

"In the 1930s various soldiers who studied the problem began to suggest that the attack might come through the back door, by way of the Malay Peninsular. It seemed the more likely because the naval base had been built on the north side of Singapore, in the narrow channel between the island and the mainland. Among the soldiers who took that view was Percival, when General Staff Officer Malaya 1936-37. It was endorsed by the then G.O.C. General Dobbie, who in 1938 began the construction of a defence line in the South of the Malay Peninsular."

   Major-General E. K. G. Sixsmith in "British Generalship in the 20th Century" says:

"Although the principle threat was from the sea, the land threat had not been discounted. In 1938 General Dobbie, the then commander, had pointed out that a natural adjunct to the seaward defences of Singapore, was the construction of formidable defences on the mainland in Johore."

   Major-General S. Woodburn Kirby in "The War Against Japan Vol. I" says:

"Malaya had an extensive coastline open to seaborne attack. In 1937 therefore the General Officer Commanding Malaya (Major-General W. G. S. Dobbie) examined the defence problem from this new angle, and carried out exercises to test the feasibility of landings from the sea. As a consequence he reported to the War Office in October that contrary to views that had been previously held, landings on the east coast of Malaya were possible during the north-east monsoon" (October to March). "In his opinion an enemy landing during the monsoon was indeed probable since bad

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visibility at that time would seriously limit air reconnaissance.

   In July 1938 General Dobbie gave a warning that an enemy landing in Johore and an attack on Singapore from the north should be regarded as the greatest potential danger, that such an attack could be carried out during the north-east monsoon and that the jungle in Johore was not in most places impassable for infantry."

   General Woodburn Kirby also mentions in more detail William's proposals for the defence of the Malayan Peninsular, and particularly of Johore.

   It is clear therefore that he realised early the possibility of Japanese penetration. This is more than many people in Singapore did at that time. As late as 1939, a Singapore paper published a letter from a Mr. A. Macnair, protesting against William's appeal for further support for the Volunteers. After objecting to "the war-mongering now enunciated universally by all nations as National Defence" he said:

"The General is outspoken enough to tell us everything but the one thing that matters — just who are going to attack us and when. And how? Is it Hitler or Mussolini or Franco or Roosevelt? Or the Siamese, the Dutch or the Japanese? Or even the local Chinese, Malays and Indians?"

   It would be interesting to know this writer's thoughts two-and-a-half years later, or indeed his fate.

   William pressed on with the defences. In speaking to the Volunteers, shortly after the mounting of a battery of fifteen-inch guns on Singapore, he said:

"Now the front door has been closed, you must take care that people can't get in at the back door."

  As the work proceeded, it meant constant wringing from the civil authorities of reluctant consent to further measures, and the Governor would often end the conversation with the remark:

"But General, you don't really expect that these defences will ever be used, do you?"

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   Shortly before he left, in June 1939, William was able to take part in a Far East International Defence Conference which took place in Singapore. Its main object was to link up, as the Japanese threat became ever more apparent, with the French in what was then Indo-China. Admiral Decoux, General Martin and Colonel de Veze, the three French defence chiefs in the Far East, conferred with high ranking British officers of all three services from China, Burma and India. Admiral Sir Percy Noble, Commander-in-Chief British Naval Forces, Far East, presided at the Conference, but William being the "host" General was very much to the fore. A joint defence scheme was hammered out.

   Of course, the total collapse of France in 1940, which resulted in the over-running of French Indo-China, was never envisaged. Who can tell how different the history of Malaya might have been had this not occurred?

   William's parish was wide, and he spent a good deal of time visiting outlying parts. With his son Orde, he was constantly on tour, staying with the volunteers at Penang, spending two or three days with the Malay regiment on manoeuvres, flying to Kuala Lumpur for an army football final, calling on local Sultans and inspecting their forces.

   He made many of these journeys by road — Orde said later that he did not think there was a single mile of main road in Malaya on which he had not travelled — or by rail in the special coach allocated to the Governor, but which the latter frequently lent him. These journeys were something of a headache for the railway staff, as the rule was that whenever the Governor or the G.O.C. were travelling, there had to be a European on the footplate, a circumstance that was not always convenient.

   Apart from these official journeys, William and Sybil spent one or two holidays at the hill station of Cameron Highlands, as a respite from the humid heat of Singapore. They were, however, very fit, and though Sybil came home once during their four years there, it was to see one of her sisters who was ill, and not on account of her own health. William never came home.

   They made three tours outside Malaya. In 1936 William was invited to Japan, as an official guest, to see the army manoeuvres.

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This was a great opportunity to visit Japan, and they much enjoyed it, though it is probable that outsiders were allowed to see little of importance in connection with the army. Certainly William was not much impressed at what he did see, so no doubt a special show was put on for the benefit of foreign visitors. Alternatively, the Japanese army must have improved greatly during the next five years.

   In 1937 they had a holiday cruise and visited Western Australia, staying a day or two at Perth, and in 1938 they went north to Bangkok and then to Saigon, where they were frequently guests of French officials. (William always liked and got on well with the French). They visited the famous ruins of Angkor and the temples of Bangkok, so that they were able, in their four years, to see a fair amount of the Far East.

   In Singapore their lives ran on much the same lines as in Egypt and Chatham. They had to entertain even more than they had previously and their guests included civilian and foreign notables besides the army.

   They kept in close touch with the various Sultans, often visiting them. They were on particularly friendly terms with the potentate nearest to Singapore, the Sultan of Johore. Once he even allowed Sybil to bring over a party of English soldiers' wives belonging to the Mothers' Union, of which she was President and his son, Prince Abu Bakr entertained them to tea at the Palace. (As he said goodbye to the coach-load, the Prince was heard to remark that he hadn't waved to girls in a bus since he was at Oxford).

   They were also in constant touch with the representatives of foreign powers in Singapore, knowing all the consuls, and often entertaining them or dining with them. A certain amount of tact was needed in these meetings. It was best not to ask the French and German Consuls together, as the war-clouds gathered over Europe, and the Chinese and Japanese consuls should never come on the same night.

   On the whole William and Sybil got on well with all these foreign contacts, though William did write to his daughter in 1938, describing a slight disagreement with the newly-appointed

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Japanese Consul-General. He said that they had been discussing the China-Japanese war, and added:

   "I touched him on the raw by suggesting the Japanese were the aggressors. He said 'Why?' and I said that if a nation invaded another nation's country, the former was usually considered the aggressor. It seems simple to me."

His daughter, rather shocked, wrote back that he shouldn't speak to representatives of friendly powers like that. It would cause an International Incident — in capital letters!

   Singapore was a junction for many sea-routes and ships were constantly coming and going. Any important army visitor passing through expected to stay with the G.O.C. and often they knew people in transit, who were very glad to be taken off a ship and given a day's change in Singapore. Many a mother, tired with coping with a young family in a ship, was overjoyed to see the G.O.C.'s car waiting on the quay, and to be invited by Sybil to bring the children and come ashore for the day. They would be whisked up to Flagstaff House, to be greeted by a smiling amah (Sybil's Chinese maid who had formerly been a nanny), who would look after the children and do any outstanding washing, while mother had a rest in a cool room under a whirring fan, or sat in a green garden.

   Foreign warships used to come into Singapore from time to time, and much giving and returning of hospitality then went on. A German ship arrived not very long before the beginning of the war, and the officers and crew behaved very correctly and very charmingly. It was Kiel in 1914 once again.

   Orde, as A.D.C., kept a book labelled on the outside "Be kind to — " This contained the names of people, at first unknown to William or Sybil, to whom they had been asked by friends or relations to show kindness. They were constantly receiving letters — "My nephew is coming out to work at a Singapore bank — my daughter's school friend is marrying a young officer in your area — my husband's cousin is coming out to nurse at the hospital — my niece's brother-in-law is teaching at the University — please befriend them." William and Sybil did do their best to be kind

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to these protégés. They never ignored such requests, and always got in touch with the newcomers, and invited them to Flagstaff House. Some of course became real friends.

   Naturally, William received the names of any O.C.U. members coming out. There was an O.C.U. Bible reading (supper included) every Sunday at his home, and all members stationed in the command, or passing through, were sure of a welcome.

   Besides having constant visitors to stay, William and Sybil also gave many parties. They had about two dinner parties every three weeks, and they were large ones. Their dining room could seat about 16 guests when they first came out, and later, when a new and better Flagstaff House had been built, some 24. They also gave lunch parties, and sometimes evening picnics by launch out to some of the islands. They had a large party for children every year, and many tennis afternoons.

   Certain old-fashioned rules were kept at Flagstaff House. For instance any bride — a girl married less than six months — always had to sit in the place of honour on her host's right. It was also indicated that ladies coming to parties must wear stockings. It was, of course, known that William would never stand for any sign of over-drinking, and though drinks were served as expected, guests were pretty careful. When, as sometimes happened, there was a party for young people, with games and supper, nothing more intoxicating than fruit-cup and beer appeared, but it would seem, from testimonies received since those days, that many young people were glad to be let off the usual heavy drinking, and these parties were a success.

   Sybil, being much concerned with activities among service wives, often had committee meetings and parties at Flagstaff House in connection with the Mothers' Union and other organisations.

   They both worked very hard with all this, but William felt that as he received an allowance for the purpose, he must not stint entertaining. In fact, as at Chatham, he probably spent considerably more than the allowance.

   They had little leisure, but they enjoyed what they had. William began collecting moths — there are some very fine ones in Malaya

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— and he also had a good camera and took photographs. Sybil used often to go sketching with a friend. They dined out a great deal, and William used often to attend guest nights at the various regimental messes. He was very fond of billiard-fives, and would play it with great energy, not to say violence. He was an honorary member of all the local clubs, and would sometimes go to Tanglin or out to the swimming-club to bathe and read the English papers. For exercise he mostly played tennis.

   The four years they spent in Singapore were times of immense strain in Europe as war grew nearer. Singapore, however, seemed remote from such difficulties, and in any case William's eyes were turned eastward. In March 1938 he wrote to his daughter in England:

   "We are much interested in the news from Austria. It looks serious enough in all conscience. In fact Germany and Italy are both in a very troublesome and dangerous mood. May God overrule. At the moment the Far East situation seems to have eased somewhat so far as we are concerned."

But the gathering European storm did affect William in that there was a considerable re-organisation of the army to try and meet it.

   Hore-Belisha made many reforms, and amongst other things he worked to bring down the age of senior officers. William had been told, in writing, that he would probably be promoted after his tour in Singapore, but these new regulations made him two years too old. He would have to retire at the end of his time there.

   Many other Generals, his contemporaries, were affected at the same time. One of them wrote bitterly to him about "the youth and beauty chorus now running the War Office" but William took it with his usual cheerfulness. Complete trust in God's leadings had always kept him and Sybil remarkably free from any worry about the future, and now that his army career was, through no fault of his own, coming to an end, he accepted it without regret or bitterness. As soon as he heard the news he wrote to his daughter:

   "Don't think that I am distressed about it. I am not at all. God has some purpose for us, some plan by which He wants us to serve Him in some way or other, and I am looking forward with genuine interest to see how His plans unfold."

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   A little later he wrote:

   "I am sure that when God shuts one door, and closes a chapter in one's life, He will open another which may lead to one's real life work. Moses did not begin his till he was 80, and I am eagerly looking forward to learn what mine is to be."

   Because they accepted the situation so readily, the last year passed happily. Their son, Orde, was married to the niece of the Commodore in Singapore, and the wedding reception was the first function to be held at the new Flagstaff House. Their daughter, Sybil, came out from England for their last six months. Their first grandchild, Arthur's son Ian, was born at Camberley, where Arthur was studying at the Staff College.

   At the end of June 1939 they made a farewell trip through Malaya, William visiting with particular interest the many small groups of Volunteers for whom he had done so much. They had their last farewell parties in Singapore, and began to pack up to leave. On July 28th they embarked on the P.O. "Chitral" for England.

   They had a tumultuous send-off. There was a guard of honour to be inspected, a band played on the quay, and friends kept trooping up the gangway to say goodbye, bringing them last presents of flowers and fruit and sweets and lace and silk and Malayan curios. Orde managed to borrow a plane and circled round the ship. (He was staying on a little longer with the new General). Their daughter and daughter-in-law escorted them a little distance in a speed-boat. They leaned over the side and waved, the band played "Auld Lang Syne" and the ship drew away from the quay. Gradually the familiar outline of Singapore disappeared and, alone at last, they turned westwards towards retirement and an England sliding down the last of the slope that would lead her into war. But they were not disturbed, for they had each other, and they had God.

   William's time in Malaya was one of steady quiet work, of Christian faithfulness and military duty. There is nothing very

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spectacular to record, but perhaps the time is best summed up by a quotation from a Book "The War in Malaya" by General Percival, who had been his Chief-of-Staff and knew him very well. He says:

   "We were a happy team at H.Q. Malaya Command. Dobbie was a delightful man to work for. Although the directing hand was always there he never interfered unnecessarily with our work but was readily approachable whenever we needed a decision. There were some who wondered how his religious activities would be received by the people of Malaya, but they very soon got their answer. The straight forwardness and simplicity of his character, based on his strong religious beliefs, very soon won for him the respect and even affection of all right-thinking people, as indeed they always will. Moreover, he was tireless in his efforts to promote harmony and a cooperative spirit between those who were in any way responsible for the defence and security of the country."

Chapter XIV

Retirement & Recall

Another year! — another deadly blow!
Another mighty Empire overthrown.
And We are left, or shall be left, alone;
The last that dare to struggle with the Foe.
Tis well! from this day forward we shall know
That in ourselves our safety must be sought;
That by our own right hands it must be wrought;
That we must stand unpropped or be laid low.


   William and Sybil arrived in England at the end of August 1939, and the next few months were the most frustrating of their lives. Nothing could have been more maddening for William, straight from the responsibilities of Singapore, than to find himself unemployed in an England at war. Furthermore, their son Arthur was in a unit just being mobilised, his young wife and baby son evacuated to her parents in the North, and all their relatives deeply engrossed in call-up, evacuation or war work. William, on the day he landed, went to the War Office and offered himself in any capacity, but there seemed nothing for him to do, though they said he could, no doubt, later replace someone going abroad.

   They stayed in a hotel in Kensington, and on Sunday morning, September 3rd, knew that there would be an announcement of the declaration of war that day. Writing to her daughter, Sybil said:

   "We were at a tiny little meeting in Kensington for the Breaking of Bread. We had had great doubts whether we should go to it, or not, as we knew war would be declared at 11 a.m. However we went. It was all most dramatic and 'Covenanting' for just after the Bread and Wine had been passed round, and we were singing "When I survey the wondrous cross", a knock came to the door and one of the Brethren went to answer it. We only heard a whispered conversation and then the Brother came back and said: "We are asked by the Police to break up this meeting and go quietly home. We are at war with Germany." He didn't add that there was an air raid in progress and all the hooters on the river were proclaiming it — which I had thought to be a sort of war proclamation. When we got out, (after the collection and prayer) the road was deserted, and all buses stopped.

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We were met by an excited special, who rushed at us and asked us where we were going. We said "Home". So he said "Are you sure?" as if we were drunks ("Do you know where you live?" sort of business). When we said we were quite sure he let us go on. Otherwise he would have dragged us into Kensington Town Hall. One other met us and advised us to go home quickly. However, before we got in, the "All Clear" had sounded. It turned out to be a false alarm, but was useful as a rehearsal."

   It was indeed. But if coming events were throwing their shadows before, such shadows were very faint. There seemed at the time nothing for William to do. He wrote to his daughter a few weeks later: "It is now four weeks since war was declared. I have not been called up and the war is still going on! It is not for me to draw a connection between these two events!" His daughter saw through the humour to the great sense of frustration behind it, and wrote in reply that General Hindenburg had done his greatest work after his retirement, and that no doubt her father would too. She did not, in fact, really believe this but was trying to cheer him up. How wrong she was!

   His son Orde wrote at the same time: "I am waiting with the deepest interest to see what great work God has got for you, as He has closed your army career, for the time being at any rate. There must be some very great work that He wishes you to do, whether in public life or in a purely Christian sphere."

   But the winter of the phoney war went on, and nothing happened. No one seemed to need a Major-General, who had been retired from the Service for nine days before the war. William and Sybil prayed much, and waited patiently. At last, at the end of March, 1940, it seemed likely that William would be offered a post. It was not one that he would have chosen, but he would gladly have accepted it, or indeed any other job in which he could serve his country. Then to his bitter disappointment, this fell through, and he was back to Square One.

   In April, Sybil went down to Eastbourne to help at a children's holiday house-party, run by the Officers' Christian Union,

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and William remained in London. On Monday, April 15th, he went and had lunch at his club. He had just finished his meal, when he received a message that Sir Edmund Ironside, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, also lunching at the Club, would like to see him. Sir Edmund greeted him, and then posed the question:

"Dobbie, will you go to Malta?"

William did not hesitate; he just replied:

"Certainly. In what capacity?"

Sir Edmund's reply came as a complete surprise:

"As Governor and Commander-in-Chief."

   He then explained that the present Governor, Sir Charles Bonham-Carter was very ill, and they wanted to send out a substitute at once. As Governor and Commander-in-Chief, he would be supreme, both in Service and civilian affairs, but his powers would be distributed into specialist lines. He would have, immediately under him, a very senior officer of the Colonial Service as Lieutenant-Governor, and also a Vice-Admiral, a Major-General and an Air-Vice Marshal commanding the various services. These were the most senior English officials. Much of the rest of the hierarchy, in various departments, would be mainly Maltese. William would be promoted Lieutenant-General as he took up his appointment.

   Sir Edmund left, and a few minutes later the Military Secretary rang up and asked William to go and see him. He confirmed the appointment, and William went home, his mind in a whirl, and telephoned to Sybil, who came hastily back from Eastbourne. They had a week in which to make their preparations, hurriedly buying suitable clothes, sorting out what they wanted to take with them, and leaving everything else in store. Then they were hustled off by plane.

   They left England on Saturday 27th April, and went via Bordeaux and Marseilles to Tunis, where they spent the night. The journey was easy, for France was still an ally and Italy still neutral. Early on the Sunday morning they landed in Malta. Sir Charles Bonham-Carter was too ill to move, and he and Lady Bonham-Carter were still at San Anton Palace, the official residence

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of the Governors of Malta, so that after a day or two there, William and Sybil went to live in Valetta Palace, known as "The Palace" because it was in the capital, and the former home of the Grand Masters of the Order of St. John.

   Neither of them had been to Malta before, except for the few hours visit when the troopship had called there. They did not know very much about it, but they started with open minds and began to look round at once. With the war situation as it was, time, they knew, was short.

   The island of Malta is 17 miles long and about 9 miles across at its broadest. The sister island of Gozo to the north is a little smaller and far less densely populated. There is also the small islet of Comino in between. The total area of the whole archipelago is 121 square miles.

   Malta's importance throughout history has depended not on her size, her raw materials, her industries or her minerals, but solely on two things — her geographical position and her possession of magnificent harbours. She is the natural point, the spearhead for an attack between Africa and Europe. Her people have served many masters — Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Arabs and Normans. She became part of the possessions of the houses of Hohenstaufen, Anjou and Aragon. From 1530 to 1798, the islands were held by the Order of St. John, as a base for continuous operations against the Turks, and the siege of 1565, when the Knights held Malta against incredible Turkish assaults, saved south Europe from a further Moslem advance.

   Britain, after driving out the French conquerors in 1800, took over the islands, and their possession was confirmed by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. It became a British naval base, large fleets being accommodated in its two great harbours.

   Malta, more than most places, shows the stamp of her history. The capital is Valetta, called after Jean de la Valette, the French Knight who led the defence in 1565. It was built shortly after the siege. Money poured into the coffers of the Knights, by grateful Europe, saved from the Turkish menace, and Valetta was a model of modern town construction — sixteenth century type. There are great stone buildings, with beautiful carved facades built as

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"auberges" or barracks for the different groups of Knights.

   The Palace was a dream in white stone, with a beautiful marble staircase, a great banqueting hall and a throne room: its ceilings were painted, and its floors mosaic, and its armoury still contained the best collection of 16th and 17th century armour in Europe. Its walls were adorned with portraits of Grand Masters, or frescoes of the siege.

   The Palace had now become the seat of government. The Governor's office had been the Grand Master's bedroom, and the room next door, with a wonderful vaulted ceiling, where now the Military Secretary did his work, had been the private chapel. It was in this building, redolent with history, and breathing the spirit of past battles, that William and Sybil found themselves ensconced.

   Valetta is on a tongue of land between the two harbours, and from the tower of the Palace there was a clear view of both. Merchant or warships or submarines could be seen, frequent ferries crossed from side to side, and small dhaigsas or Maltese rowing boats, darted to and fro. Across the Grand Harbour could be seen the cranes and masts and installations of the dockyard, and all round the watersides of both harbours buildings clustered thickly. The towns round the waterside were almost continuous — Bighi, Vittoriosa, Cospicua, Senglea, Marsa, Floriana, Msida, Gzira, Sliema, St. Julians — a conglomeration of buildings and people, almost all connected in some way with the dockyard and the harbours, and all terribly easy of location and vulnerable to air attack.

   The Governor's normal home, San Anton, was in the village of Lija, some five miles inland from Valetta. It was a magnificent white stone structure, built by the Grand Master Anthony de Paula early in the 17th century. It was surrounded by gardens, some open to the public and some private, with extensive orange orchards, vegetable gardens, ornamental water and a swimming pool.

   The white carved stone of the Governor's palaces is reproduced all over the island. The Maltese are artists in stone, and their carved pillars and porticos, their coats of arms carved over doorways, their graceful fountains and their statues, are the most characteristic features of island architecture.

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   This white stone, uncarved, is again reproduced everywhere. The soil is shallow, and much of the land hilly, so that stone walls and terraces appear on all sides. When, during the war, it was decided to camouflage soldiers' tin hats, so that a column could not easily be recognised from the air, they were painted in large uneven white blobs to simulate a stone wall. The same was done with trucks and guns, and the camouflage officer was nicknamed "Stonewall Jackson."

   Inland from the Valetta area the land rises slightly till it reaches the high point of Mdina, (or Notabile or Citta Vecchia), the old capital of the island. It is a fortified city, and was the centre of the government before the Knights came. There are early Christian relics there, and signs of the Aragon period too. Probably St. Paul's friend, Publius "the chief man of the island" had his home there.

   In other areas, there are Neolithic remains, including temples, and there are also some Punic relics.

   If in their buildings and ruins of buildings, her conquerors have left their mark on Malta, the characteristics of her people show their origin even more. The Maltese are certainly a people. They have their own language, but it is impossible to name a Maltese type. Basically perhaps they are Semitic — that is if the islands were first seriously colonised from Carthage. Their language is slightly akin to Arabic, and probably Punic in origin. But many Maltese are indistinguishable from South Italians. There is also a good deal of English blood in the islands now. Many Maltese have blue eyes — not the familiar Nordic blue, but of a startling brilliance. Are such eyes Circassian, via Circassian slaves in the old slave-trading days, or are they possibly Visigothic?

   The regime, however that has had most to do with the character of Malta is that of the Knights of St. John. This body, aristocratic and international, consisted of men who were both soldiers and monks. They were intensely devout, and for more than 350 years they kept up a permanent war with the Turks, of which the 1565 siege is only one incident, albeit the most glorious. The Maltese inherited this devotion. They are said to be more Catholic than the Pope! The influence of the Church in the island

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is almost mediaeval in its completeness. The hierarchy, from the Archbishop to the youngest parish priest, carries enormous weight. Education and medicine are almost entirely in the hands of the Church. No one could rule Malta who got on bad terms with it.

   Every village, however poor, has its great stone church. Convents and monasteries and shrines abound. Every holiday is connected with a Saint's Day, and there are all sorts of strange customs, linking individual villages with some religious festival.

   But the people inherit from their Knights not only the Catholic faith, but also their valour. The Maltese helped heroically in 1565. They rebelled against the French in 1798, and with the co-operation of the British, turned them out. Since the British came, the Royal Malta Artillery has played its part in the defence of the island and has old and honourable traditions, while many individual Maltese have served in the Navy. During the war, of course, new units were formed.

   Apart however from any definite military exploits, the tradition of a war, a holy war, lies deep within the people. There is a 16th century Cypriot ballad, once sung all around the Mediterranean:

"Malta of gold, Malta of silver, Malta of precious metal we shall never take you!"

And from her ramparts a voice replied:

"I am she who has decimated the galleys of the Turk, And all the warriors of Constantinople and Galata!"

There are inherited memories among the Maltese of wars and sieges and they are a brave people.

   Such was the island and the people where William and Sybil now found their lot cast.

   Their first few weeks in Malta coincided with almost the most fateful event in the history of England. It became clear that British intervention in Norway was a lost cause, and on May 10th, Belgium and Holland were invaded, and within a few days the battle for France began. It soon became likely that Italy, which had sat on the fence till then, was likely to enter the war immediately on what appeared to be the winning side. If this were to happen Malta would be less than 100 miles from enemy territory.

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   On November 11th 1935, Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Sir John Salmond, writing in the "Evening Standard", said:

"Malta, under air bombardment which it is possible to bring from hostile shore-bases, would be in ruins in 48 hours."

   During the Italian crisis, in 1935, no attempt had been contemplated to use Malta as a base for operations against Italy. Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Sir Edward Ellington, acting as Chairman at a lecture by William on Malta on 21st October 1942, at the Royal United Services Institute, said:

   "I was at the Air Ministry in 1935, at the time of the Sanctions, and considerable pressure was brought to bear on the Ministry at that time to put reinforcements into Malta. There was then only one aerodrome in Malta and another under construction, and there was not any big area in which to develop the defence. We therefore came to the conclusion that to put anything but very limited resources there would be a waste, and that even the Italian Air Force, if it was determined, could put the island out of action from the air point of view."

   Since those days aircraft had become faster and more powerful. In 1940 the papers talked openly of the unlikelihood of holding Malta should the Italians enter the war. William's prospects were not rosy.

   He had, he knew, a very short time to get ready. The dangers were fourfold. The first and most obvious was, of course, promiscuous bombing from the air, which might cause terrible material damage, and completely demoralise the civilian population. The second was an airborne invasion. The third was an attack from the sea, whereby warships in the Grand Harbour might be destroyed at their moorings. The fourth was a long slow war of attrition and starvation.

   William wasted no time. He went all over the island and assessed his resources. He realised from the beginning that the Maltese were brave and loyal, but that they were a simple people, used to

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being led, and that it was essential to gain their confidence. He set out do this. He went everywhere and met as many people as possible.

   He realised that to a people, many of whom were illiterate, the radio was of vital importance. He began therefore to broadcast fairly often himself, telling the people the latest war news and taking them into his confidence as to what was happening. There was a public re-diffusion centre in every village in Malta, and in the hot evenings the people would gather and listen to His Excellency the Governor, telling them facts, quelling rumours, imparting instructions and above all giving them confidence. He spoke simply, as one of themselves, telling them the truth. He said:

"In Malta, we want truth and facts, not rumours. Even when the truth is unpalatable, we prefer to face it like men."

   These broadcasts were, of course, entirely his own compositions. Having written them, he naturally had them typed by a clerk, but he consulted no one in their matter. They came direct from his own brain and his own heart to the people. His hold over the Maltese dates from these broadcasts, the first being on May 10th 1940, less than a fortnight after his arrival.

   He asked for volunteers to make a Home Guard, to deal with possible parachutists. The response was overwhelming. He told the people not to move to evacuation areas until instructed. They stayed, until he gave the word on May 29th. He gave them exact instructions what to do in air raids — to stay in their houses, which were mostly stone-built and strong, until necessary shelters were built. If caught out of doors they were to go to the many little pill-boxes which he was rapidly having built along the roads. He gave detailed instructions for the digging of slit trenches. He appealed for economy everywhere, and the avoidance of hoarding.

   Above all, he mentioned in every broadcast his reliance on the help of God, and the villagers crossed themselves, and felt that their Governor was one with them.

   But the morale of the civilian population was only one problem. William had, at the beginning, four British infantry

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battalions and one Maltese. None was up to strength. There were no, but no, fighter planes. There were some beach posts and a certain number of anti-aircraft guns, mostly manned by the Royal Malta Artillery. There were the defences of the harbour, which were in fairly good shape, but protection of other vital installations was rudimentary.

   With this meagre equipment, William had to hold the island until reenforcements could reach him from Egypt. And in the desperate war situation of May 1940, it was problematical when this would be. He dispersed his forces where they would be of most use, and wondered where he could get some, any, aircraft.

   Air-Vice Marshal Maynard, searching around in the dockyard, found, left behind in packing cases, four fighter aircraft, Gloster Gladiators. These had been kept to be towing-targets as practice for the anti-aircraft gunners. No other role had been envisaged, but now they were all Malta had against Mussolini's Regia Aeronautica, and (probably) reinforcements from the Luftwaffe. They were hastily uncrated, and by "cannibalising" the fourth plane, three were made ready to take the air. Six young members of the R.A.F., with no previous experience, learned to handle them.

   William's work so far, had been much what any experienced soldier might have carried out in the circumstances. He had done all he could with the resources at his disposal to prepare for an attack — probably airborne — and widespread bombing.

   But William was, all his life, an incurable optimist. He had no intention, if he could help it, of dying heroically, sword in hand, as the last crumbling defences of Malta fell before an overwhelming attack. He intended to hold the fortress, and moreover, to make it play an important offensive role in the war. He was, of course, conscious of its isolated position, but he was clear-headed and hopeful enough to see the possibilities of the situation. Later he said:

   "Malta is essentially an offensive base from which to attack the enemy ….. From it the enemy's vital supply lines to Africa can be attacked and it constitutes an ever-present threat to Sicily and Italy …… It is an important link for aircraft between the United Kingdom and Egypt."

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   In 1943 he wrote in an article in the "R.E. Journal":

   "Malta's raison d'être was, and is, and always will be offensive rather than defensive. Its very geographical position makes that clear. It is but 60 miles from Sicily and 1,000 miles from the nearest British territory, and is directly on the life line on which the Italian forces in Libya depend for their very existence. So long as we hold Malta, and are able to operate from it against that life line, we can exercise a very far-reaching influence on the course of any operations in North Africa ….. Its proximity to Italy and Sicily make it an ever potential threat to the Fascist regime, a fact which is not overlooked by Mussolini and his advisers, and which no doubt is viewed with some concern."

   William realised that, if Malta were to harass Axis communications, the dockyard and harbours must be defended. A dockyard Defence Battery, manned by volunteer dockyard labourers, converted into Gunners, but still dressed in dungarees and carpet slippers, was formed. (Out of the 5,000 volunteers for this role, the authorities had something of a headache to select only the 400 needed.) Every effort was made to defend the airfields, in the hope that Faith, Hope and Charity (the nicknames of the three Gladiators that constituted Malta's air defence) would soon be joined by more aggressive comrades.

   Malta would, in fact, be a vital naval and airbase, an unsinkable aircraft carrier moored at the base of Italy (as she was later described), and an enormous asset to the war effort — if she could be held. And William was not concerned with "ifs".

   Perhaps it was this pugnacious and cheerful optimism that constituted his greatness in the fateful summer of 1940. There was no heroic death-wish in Malta. He assumed that in the end, Britain would win the war. There could be no other outcome, and somehow he managed to instil his feeling not only into a bewildered civilian population, but also into the garrison. His Order for the Day, when France fell, read as follows:—

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   "The decision of H.M.G. to fight on until our enemies are defeated will be heard with the greatest satisfaction by all ranks of the Garrison of Malta. It may be that hard times lie ahead of us, but I know that however hard they may be, 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 then, in reliance on Him to do their duty unflinchingly."

   This missive was, incidentally, sent home to the War Office. It arrived on a day when things were at their very worst, when nothing but bad news was coming in, and this message, breathing courage and hope and confidence from Malta, had an immediate and cheering effect throughout the building.

   William's cheerfulness during that fateful month of May was the more wonderful in that he had his own anxieties at the time. His eldest son, Arthur, was with the B.E.F. in France, and they had no news of him as the army fell back to the Channel ports. Writing to his daughter in Singapore, he said, on May 30th:

   "Arthur is of course incessantly in our thoughts, and we confidently commit him to God who has promised to be with His children in such circumstances. I have had much encouragement from Isaiah 43. 1,2, and with its "Fear Nots" and wonderful promises."

   Sybil, writing on the same day, said:

  "Sometimes I feel extraordinarily close to Arthur. I have such a charming, laughing photo of him on my dressing table, and whenever I look at it, it seems as if he spoke to me out of the picture and said: "I'm all right, Mum." It is all right with him, we know, whatever comes.

I know Arthur is working 24 hours out of the 24 and relying on Father's prayers, for he hasn't time for his own. And Father and I pray three and

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four times a day (which is about as often as we meet alone)."

   A few days later they received a cable that Arthur had got back to England (via Dunkirk), and that cloud lifted.

   By May 25th, they had settled in San Anton Palace, Sir Charles and Lady Bonham-Carter having been flown home. The position was odd, because there was some possibility of their returning, if Sir Charles' health improved. William therefore, with all the anxiety and responsibility of the fortress on his hands from the day he landed, was still only known as "The Officer Administering the Government", and this was his position for quite a long time.

   Sybil had immediately to put things onto a proper war footing at San Anton. The household consisted of nineteen servants, headed by a Scottish butler. There were soon several families of officers (English and Maltese), who were evacuated from potentially dangerous areas. There was also an English A.D.C. and there were constant visitors, official and unofficial. It was a formidable task to organise this household with wartime economy, and yet to keep up reasonable dignity and style (which the Maltese appreciated) and also impart confidence in the event of danger.

   Writing to her daughter, Sybil said:

   "The cook is a funny old bent French-looking chef, though he is Maltese. He comes up every morning when Gordon (the butler) has interviewed me, and I tell him what Gordon and I think suitable, and the quantities. Whereupon he buys just three times as much as we have ordered. He looks like the kind of chef that Marie Antoinette interviewed, and I should think he is nearly as extravagant."

   Later on, when the bombing had begun, Sybil wrote to her daughter, that she had done one very brave thing. She had sacked the chef! This act of valour was apparently essential if San Anton Palace were to be brought onto a war footing. (Incidentally the chef had a pension from previous employment in the Navy, and

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owned property in the island, so he was not being turned out to starve as the war began.)

   Sybil had also of course to see that the gardens at San Anton were used to the best advantage. There was a large vegetable and fruit garden, and an enormous orange and lemon orchard, and food production must be considered. But the garden was an enormous joy to Sybil; she was very fond of flowers, and after a harassing day organising servants and evacuees, coping with committees and war-time organisations, in the midst of her own anxieties too, the beauty and peace of San Anton Gardens, together with the skill and loyalty of the very charming Maltese head gardener and his staff, provided the happiest and most restful element of her life.

   As soon as they moved to San Anton, William began a custom that lasted throughout his time in Malta, and became very widely known. Every evening after dinner, when his guests and evacuees were gathered in the drawing-room, he offered a short extempore prayer for the war situation and Malta. Many of his guests were Catholics; others were not used to public prayer from anyone but a clergyman, and no one had to stay if he did not wish to do so — this was made clear. But no one ever did in fact refuse to stay, and this little ceremony became a well-known part of life at San Anton, and a great source of strength to many who stayed there. Maltese, in particular, once they got over the surprise of a layman, and the British governor at that, praying publicly enormously appreciated these prayers.

   May turned into June. The war situation steadily worsened, and the Italians continued their tub-thumping and sabre-rattling. They made fearful suggestions and worse hints of what they would do to Malta in the event of war. They claimed that they would overrun it within a few days — and then? William was not of course remotely concerned by their pretensions and threats (there was never anyone less affected by propaganda, whether by wireless, newspapers or any other medium), but he was anxious about the effect Italian broadcasts and rumours might have on the Maltese, many of them illiterate, and not in a position to judge the war clearly. He therefore gave them clear cut

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facts about the war situation in his broadcasts, and dealt severely with rumour-mongers, even imprisoning some. He also interned, several possible Italian sympathisers, including Sir Arturo Merceica the Chief Justice, a cleric, and the leader of the so-called Nationalist party. He rounded up Italian citizens, including some cabaret young ladies, who were later repatriated to Italy.

   William made a broadcast on June 10th, ending with the words:

   "May God help us each one to do our duty unstintingly, and may He give us His help".

At the very moment when he was speaking, the Italian declaration of war was announced. He, and indeed all Malta, went to bed that night with no idea what the next days would bring.

   He was sleeping well. When, as had happened during the previous few nights, messages had been brought personally to his room, or he was raised by the telephone by his bed, he was instantly aroused and clear-headed, but he was not lying awake worrying. He had written to his daughter a few days before:—

   "Don't be anxious about us, whatever happens. Psalm 34. 7 is still true and "the Lord reigneth". We are learning a lot in God's school, and the result will be, I hope, in peaceable fruits of righteousness. This is a time when all Christians must acknowledge God as never before, so that the eyes of the nation may be turned to Him in whom alone is our help."

   Did he feel that night, as he went to bed, that all his life had been leading up to that point, and that he was walking with destiny? Probably not, but he knew he was walking with God.

Chapter XV

Malta Under Seige

In that enormous silence, tiny and unafraid,
Comes up along a winding road the noise of the Crusade.


   It did not take long for the war to come to Malta. It arrived in fact at 6a.m. on the morning of June 11th, with the sirens sounding for the first raid. Everyone was tense and excited, ran down into the nearest cellar or shelter, and waited for the All Clear. When it sounded everyone emerged, until the siren wailed again, and the whole proceedings started once more. As there were about ten raids the first day, life was somewhat spasmodic. By about the fourth raid Sybil got bored, announced she was going to have her lunch whatever happened (it had just been brought in) and ignored any further warnings. William had, of course, seemed unconscious of any raids (he probably was) and had been into Valetta and round about the countryside as usual. This set the line for their next two years.

   Here, at the beginning of this account of his days in Malta, mention should be made of William's most conspicuous characteristic — astonishing personal courage. It was not a quality that appeared in spectacular flashes. It was there all the time, as much part of him and as characteristic as his blue eyes. He neither courted nor avoided danger. He was just unconscious of it and ignored it. Whether bombs were falling around, or whether they were not, he went where he wanted, and did what he liked.

   Usually during a raid he liked to know what was happening. It was essential to know. He therefore went as near as he could to watch. If he could get onto a high tower in the middle of a target zone, he did — not from bravado, but because it helped him to see. All very logical!

   There is a story about him that went all round Malta with admiring chuckles later in the war. He was on an airfield that was being bombed, heavily bombed. There was no cover, but there were a few small stone pens, used for sheltering aircraft. An anxious Staff Officer pointed these out. They were not much, but better than nothing. Rather to his surprise, William agreed at

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once, and they went over to the pens. But instead of lying down inside, William climbed onto the wall and stood there. He then turned to his Staff Officer, with a beaming smile, and proclaimed delightedly: "You're absolutely right! One can see better from here."

   No raids were allowed to interfere with his activities or even social engagements. Nothing was ever cancelled because of raids. He went to no shelters. He was out and about.

   This sort of courage (or foolhardiness) pays off well, but only as long as it is successful. Had he been killed, as he so very easily might have been, everyone would have said it was entirely his own fault, and he should never have taken such risks. He would have been eternally cited as the commander who threw away his own life completely unnecessarily. And Malta would have been the loser.

   But he was not killed. He survived, and the Maltese began to think he led a charmed life. They whispered that nothing could touch him. Many years later one of his staff wrote to Sybil:

   "I could tell of the strange feeling of safety when the General was in San Anton, and of that even stranger feeling of fear when he went out to his work. And I could tell of the certainty in the hearts of everybody that no harm could possibly befall him."

   Courage is an infectious thing, perhaps the most infectious of all fine qualities. William's courage rubbed off on everyone with whom he came in contact. Sybil showed the same lofty contempt for high explosives, and the staff at San Anton caught the spirit, so that visitors began to regard the Palace as a safe haven. It was not, of course, any more than any other part of the island, but it felt so. Exhausted submariners or young R.A.F. pilots used to come to spend their leave there, and feel that the raids somehow didn't matter. They felt away from the war at San Anton. It was purely an illusion, but what a fortunate one!

   There was an officer on William's staff, at the very beginning. He was young and inexperienced and had never been under fire before. He was by no means certain how he was expected to

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behave, and even less how he would feel. In one of the very first raids he, and another young man, both in the same fluid state of mind, went to William to warn him of a raid, as they were not certain if he had heard the siren. William was writing at his desk. One of the boys said:

   "There's a raid on, Sir. We didn't know if you knew."

   "Yes, I know" said William and went on writing. Then he looked up again and added:

   "I must finish what I am doing first, but I think we shall find that the best place to see from will be such-and-such a roof. If you go along there, I will be up in a moment, but I must just finish this page first."

   He returned to his writing and the boys looked at each other. Oh, that was the way they were expected to react, was it? That was the right line to take. They said no word but mounted to the roof, to be joined a few minutes later by William.

   The boy who told the story said that from then onwards, he never minded raids. William, who seemed completely oblivious of the fact that there could be any danger in them, who regarded them merely with a careless interest, had put him right for life, when, in his youth and inexperience, he was looking for guidance. There was a young Lance Corporal, a clerk, whose nerves were badly shattered by constant raiding. He was sent to work for a short time in William's office in Valetta Palace. This was a target area if ever there was one, but within a few days, after he had been immediately beside William during a very heavy raid, he had completely recovered.

   It is not too much to say — and it has never been sufficiently stressed in any book about the siege — that William's personal courage permeated the island. Much has been said about his faith or determination, but neither would have availed without his obvious and utter fearlessness.

   It is a truism now that the Maltese are a steadfast and courageous people, but it was not so well known then. The authorities in England were by no means certain how they would react under

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bombardment. But William assumed that they would be brave, stimulating of course a wealth of courage already there, and also giving them an example to follow.

   In a broadcast on June 15th, 1940, a few days after the raids began, he said:—

   "I want to express my admiration of the way the people of Malta have carried themselves in the very trying circumstances which they have had to face. It was splendid, and was exactly in keeping with what I knew they would do. A people who can face danger and difficulty with such courage, will certainly win through with the help of God to a victorious conclusion."

  As time went on, a tradition of Maltese courage grew up. The whole Commonwealth were proud of Malta, and had faith in her people, but at the beginning it was William's own courage, and his faith in them, and his steady hopefulness that drew out their own courage.

   He went about wherever the bombing was heaviest. He talked to the injured and visited them in the hospital, as did Sybil too. He arranged welfare services, organising them in village groups under regional Protection Officers, who knew the local people and conditions. His broadcasts included instructions on such mundane details as the need for cleanliness in shelters, or the danger of drawing too much cash out of the Post Office. (He mentioned that £500 had been lost in a bombed house, and urged the point). He gave clear facts of the progress of the war, giving both the numbers of planes destroyed, but also not glossing over casualties — some 23 civilians and 7 soldiers were killed the first day. He kept strictly to the truth.

   It soon became clear how very fond of him the people were becoming. The sight of him, tall and upright and unafraid, steadied them and gave them confidence whenever he appeared. One Sunday, a few weeks after the war began he was getting into the car at San Anton to go to church, when he became aware that a big crowd had collected, and were gathering round the car and cheering. Perplexed he turned to Sybil, and asked her what she

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thought this was all about, and when she said that she thought it was just a spontaneous demonstration of affection and loyalty, he looked amazed. He had not realised how completely he was winning the confidence of the people as a whole.

   This was true throughout his time in Malta. Whatever intrigues and plots there were against him, "the common people heard him gladly." Many years later one of the most beautiful wreaths at his funeral was just signed "From the People of Malta" and a letter from the then Prime Minister of the island began: "The whole of Malta mourns the passing of their great war-time defender." In those early days of the war the ordinary people of Malta gave him their confidence and it never wavered.

   Most of the drama and excitement of those early days was of course centred on the raids, the gallant fight of the three little planes, "Faith", "Hope" and "Charity", the occasional destruction of enemy planes, (William announced in a broadcast that five had been destroyed in the first five days) and of course the devastation and casualties. But in fact the raids were the least of his worries. The very real threat of invasion came first.

   It is one of the great perplexities of the Second World War that Malta was never invaded. The Italians had been breathing out threatenings and slaughter for some weeks before they declared war, and furthermore a plan for the invasion of Malta had been drawn up before the war (it is detailed in the Official History of the Italian Navy). It depended on surprise, before help could come from Alexandria, and should therefore have been tried at once, if at all. Later, on April 2nd, 1942, the German military attaché reported that the Italian High Command recognised "the gross error committed in not starting the war with the conquest of Malta."

   William, in an article in the "R.E. Journal" March-December 1943 said:

   "It is therefore clear that the state of our defences when Italy went to war was such as to invite attack. It was certainly a reasonable thing to expect, when one realized that our weakness must have been known to the enemy.

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(It must be remembered that Italian commercial planes had been coming to the island till shortly before the war).

   The expectation was also fortified by the attitude of the Italians themselves. Both before they entered the war and for some time afterwards they were boasting loudly and confidently that they would overrun Malta in a few days. …. They must have known the importance to them of the elimination of Malta and that its continued possession by the British would inevitably be a continued menace to their well-being. Why then did they not attack it?

   Perhaps the bold face shown by the garrison and people of Malta was a disquieting factor. Perhaps they thought we must be stronger than they had imagined. Perhaps they were somewhat distrustful of their powers to pull off a successful combined operation against opposition. Perhaps they thought they could achieve the same result by easier methods. …

   No more serious miscalculation could have been made. It was fundamental and vital. Through it (if our surmise is correct) they abstained from assaulting the fortress at a time when conditions were very much in their favour. That opportunity (if it existed) has gone, and gone for good. With it perhaps also went their chance of a victorious Mediterranean policy, with all the far reaching implications of such a development."

   William was perfectly aware all along of the possibilities of invasion (airborne and/or seaborne) and the desperate weakness of his defences at the beginning. Malta was a sitting duck, and he was soldier enough to know it.

   He gave what orders for defence that he could, he lost no opportunity to hit back at raiders, and he prayed. Every morning, early, long before breakfast-time, he sat in his study, reading the Bible and praying over the problems, foreseen and unforeseen that the day would bring him.

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He did not pray alone. The steady volume of prayer that had gone up for him since his days in Palestine, was immensely increased now. One of Sybil's sisters later wrote to her: "You are the most prayed-for people in the English speaking world". Their son wrote that happening to give a lift to a pedestrian in Yorkshire, he heard of an unknown little village chapel where mention was made of Malta and its Governor at every prayer meeting. He added: "My name gives me a warm welcome in all Christian circles". His wife wrote later: "The heavier the raids get on Malta, the harder people pray for you all over the world."

   He did not pray alone. All Malta was praying, led by their most Catholic Archbishop and their ultra-Protestant Governor. It was a strange alliance, and this constant trust and affection and cooperation that William received from the Church authorities in Malta is not the least of his achievements there.

   His Grace, Monsignor Maurus Caruana, Archbishop-Bishop of Malta was as devout a Catholic as William was a Plymouth Brother. Their forms of service could hardly, within the Christian church, have been further apart. Nevertheless they both recognised devotion and faith when they saw it, and between them there grew up a friendship and respect that was immensely beneficial to Malta. But it says much for the control, self-discipline and tact on both sides that such was possible.

   Father Edgar W. Salomone, parish priest of Mgarr, writing to William a farewell letter when he left in May 1942 said:

   "You may not know how His Grace our Archbishop invariably spoke of you to us during our plenary meeting as Parish Priests of this island.

   I remember the first time we met — a few days after your arrival and H.G. told us how fortunate Malta is in having at the helm an upright and "truly religious man"; such it rarely has ever had before — and similar confirmation of this we heard from H.G. only the other week when we met."

Two years of steady and unswerving support from the Archbishop!

   Sybil too heard (at second-hand) that the Archbishop, speaking to a gathering of priests, told them that the Governor was a saint,

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in the real sense of the word. Major Francis Gerard, an English Catholic officer, confirms this verdict in his book "Malta Magnificent."

   He records that one day he was having tea with the Archbishop and the conversation turned on sanctity. The Archbishop said, in effect:

   "All my life I have read, in the Lives of the Saints and elsewhere of that queer look which was observed to come over the faces of certain saints when speaking of God. It has been described as a mystic radiance which seemed to light up their countenances from within. I, myself, have met it but once in a long lifetime. That was in the present Governor."

   Whatever opposition William encountered in Malta, it was never from the Church.

   Time passed, and this volume of prayer was answered, for the invasion attempt had not been made. As each golden day of the Mediterranean summer passed, it became more apparent that the Italians would first try to achieve their aim by promiscuous raiding. But every day even this became less and less effective.

   There had been no shelters as such in the island when William took over, though there were of course old caves and tunnels that could be adapted. He left no stone unturned (literally) to increase shelter accommodation, including small wayside blockhouses (shades of his South African days!) for those caught on the roads.

   Malta settled solidly down to a wartime regime. Most of the evacuees came back to their homes, schools were re-opened and life proceeded fairly normally. There was some social life, though a very strict petrol ration made transport difficult. Horses and bicycles were much in demand.

   Meanwhile it became clear that the authorities in England were beginning to alter their views of the island. It appeared that the 1935 appreciation of the situation might have been wrong after all. Perhaps Malta and the Maltese, under what Churchill, in

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Parliament, described as "their remarkable and resolute Governor" could actually hold out, and what a help to the British war effort the island could be! Malta was an unexpected asset, a fringe benefit they had not anticipated. She must be enabled to play her part.

   More planes were brought into the island, to replace the three that had done such valiant service at the beginning. Five hurricanes were hurried in via France and Tunis, just before France fell and twelve more were flown in in August. Three Glen-Martin 'Maryland' reconnaissance planes presently arrived, and their long distance flights over the Mediterranean made possible later the successful battle of Taranto.

   Reinforcements of men appeared in September, and October, and in November a large convoy arrived having come round the Cape. More guns and ammunition arrived, and the Malta antiaircraft barrage became daily more formidable.

   William's determination that the island could and would hit back, was to be fulfilled.

Chapter XVI

Author's Recollections

Sword and buckler by thy side,
Rest on the shore of battle-tide,
Which, like the ever-hungry sea,
Howls round this isle.

"Merrie England"

   It is now that I, the author, William's only daughter, called Sybil like my mother, can no longer remain in the shadows. Up till this point I have told the story as impersonally as I could, for I am telling my father's story, and have no wish to tell my own, which can be of little interest. But the Malta story is different.

   From October 1940 I was living at home at San Anton and working in my father's office, often taking down and typing his most confidential despatches, watching him lock the only carbon copy I had made in his own safe, and helping him seal up the top copy for instant despatch to England or Egypt. Outside the office too, I was constantly with him, whether we were watching raids from the roof of Valetta Palace, sailing in the harbour in my little boat "Water Baby", visiting bombed areas or entertaining "D.Vs" at San Anton. I doubt if there is anyone now living who was so closely associated with his work in Malta as I was, and though my own part is quite unimportant, I feel that for this period I can reveal my father better if I tell the story as I saw it.

   I have, incidentally, an excellent precedent in the work of an earlier author, St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles! He writes in the first person, when he has detailed and personal knowledge of St. Paul and his activities, (including his experiences in Malta) and in the third person at other times.

   I arrived in Malta from Singapore in 1940 in the October convoy. My father and mother had both written urging me to come, and he had said he wanted me for intelligence work, in the Defence Security Office, a job on the lines in which I had been trained in England. I managed therefore in September to fly to Egypt, by merely booking a passage on a civil plane. Once there I was conscious both of the long hand of the Governor of Malta pulling me in, and the Middle East authorities (much disliking the presence of unattached women in their war-time zones) pushing me out. As a result I got onto a merchant ship (mostly carrying

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ammunition), and, suitably chaperoned by two English nursing sisters coming to Imtarfa hospital, arrived in Malta on Friday, October 11th, 1940.

   Ours was one of the least exciting convoys, and beyond a slight brush with a submarine, which our escort destroyed with depth charges, and a near miss with a floating mine, we had a most peaceful trip. The Italian planes had tried twice to bomb us, but owing to low-lying mist and cloud (most unusual at that time of year) had failed to find us.

   I shall never forget my arrival. One by one the six merchant ships and their very large naval escort entered the Grand Harbour of Valetta. I became aware as we came in that all the moles and wharves round the harbour were black with people, waving and cheering, and I really understood for the first time that I was coming to a besieged island, and I could sense the immense relief and joy of the people when a convoy arrived. I felt my heart warm (and it has never cooled) to the Maltese people as they stood patiently in the rain and mist, ignoring the possibility of raids, waving to the ships that had broken through the blockade to bring them food and ammunition. And they were warm-hearted, for when they saw three women on board our ship, we got an extra cheer!

   I had not, of course, been able to tell my parents when I should arrive — convoy sailings were very /Repeat very/ secret — and I rather wondered what I should do next. The essential thing seemed to be to get ashore and find a telephone and announce myself. But while I was cogitating, I suddenly saw a small launch, flying a Union Jack, coming out across the water to us, and in it a figure in uniform that I recognised. Of course, I should have understood that the Governor would know from the beginning what passengers were on board the convoy, and had been following its every move with much interest, anxiety and prayer. He had, incidentally, not told my mother that I was on board until that very morning, to save her worry. But I did not think of anything intelligent then. I only knew that my father was coming out to meet me, and once more I was home.

   So much for my arrival. I lived at San Anton and did what I

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could to help the war effort in various ways, but there was a holdup in my job, as it appeared that the Maltese would not approve of the Governor's daughter working, even in war-time. So that fell through, but presently I drifted into a rather vague position in my father's office, taking the place of a lance-corporal who had gone sick, and the Maltese either did not realise for a long time that I was there or, if they did, thought it more suitable. Anyhow from January 1941 I was in a highly confidential position in the centre of things, acting as my father's secretary when he needed one, or doing any other outstanding office job.

   At San Anton Palace I found my father and mother settled down to their war-time way of life. Their influx of evacuees had left during September, but they were never, but never, without visitors. Malta was a staging-post for planes going to the Middle East, and our Visitors' Book reads like a war-time "Who's Who". Air-Marshal Brooke-Popham was staying with them on the day that Italy declared war, and other leading statesmen, or Service chiefs, flew in and out of Malta like Yo-Yos. Frequently no one knew who the visitors would be until they had arrived, and an A.D.C. had met them at the airfield and brought them back to San Anton. They were just announced by cable as "one or more distinguished visitors". If my father knew their identity beforehand he kept his council. He could be very poker-faced when he liked. My mother rarely knew. I remember her coming into my room early on the second morning after my arrival, saying that I had better get up quickly as Mr. Anthony Eden had just arrived, bringing a message from the King, and would be wanting breakfast at once. She had had no idea beforehand who was coming.

   San Anton was a large building, but when these distinguished visitors arrived in big parties, it was something of a feat to accommodate them all, and the situation was rendered no easier by the fact that no one could tell when they would leave. It would depend on weather and bombs. Such situations were always occurring and our harassed staff were heard to refer to a "plague of D.Vs."

   Besides these outsiders, we were constantly entertaining people from the island. Some of these we had known before. My

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mother, for example, was delighted to find a girl friend of her early youth, now the wife of the English head doctor at one of the hospitals. She and her husband frequently stayed at San Anton. There were several young people, friends of my brothers or myself and now serving in the island. There was a senior Sapper Brigadier, and his wife, whom we had known well at Chatham, and a padre whose wedding we had attended in Cairo, my father giving away the bride. The Services are a small world, and it was not surprising how often old friends would turn up.

   But old friends fill only a small part of our Visitors' Book. My parents felt it their duty to invite as many people as they could, especially those who were under strain and would appreciate a change and rest at San Anton. Officers from the submarines used to come in between voyages, and R.A.F. pilots on leave. There was an arrangement with the R.A.F. units that they should send young men needing a holiday. These usually came in pairs, and spent days playing tennis, swimming in our swimming pool, riding (horses could sometimes be borrowed), or lounging round the garden eating oranges or grapes. To several of these lads it was the last holiday they ever had. The expectation of life of a pilot or submariner was not long, and several times within a few weeks of a visit to San Anton one died in the skies above, or the seas around Malta.

   One of my mother's sadly frequent duties was to write to relatives of men killed, and she wrote to one bereaved mother, giving as happy an account as she could of the son's days at San Anton. The mother wrote back most gratefully, saying that she had heard no other details, and that it had been a great comfort to learn that he had found friends in Malta, and had had a very happy last leave there.

   Two pilots, very young, stayed together at San Anton, and being fond of music, did a great deal of singing round the grand piano there. When they left they gave us a present of a book of community songs, in which they had both signed their names. Within a few weeks they both died, but I still have the book with the two signatures, a pathetic little memorial to two short and gallant lives.

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   My father was, of course, still a member of the Officers' Christian Union Committee, and he took an interest in any members there were in the island. They were always invited to stay at San Anton, when they could get leave, and though a regular Bible reading, such as there had been in Singapore or Chatham was not impossible, because of distances and petrol rationing, yet there was nearly always a small Bible study session on Sundays at San Anton for anyone who liked to come. Sometimes there were only ourselves. At other times there were more.

   Many letters of thanks for hospitality were of course received. One English lady wrote to my mother:

   "You freely share your advantages with all and sundry, giving endless pleasure to everyone. You possess the happy gift of making your guests feel at home in your house …..

   For all these things and a great deal more besides I offer you and His Excellency my sincerest thanks. I have come away from your home, feeling like a giant refreshed."

   But perhaps the best idea of San Anton in the siege may be given in a poem written by an English Colonel after a visit:

                      San Anton

I have enjoyed a week of peace and rest,
A term of happiness and sweet content
In an enchanted palace where the best
Knights of old, doffing their armament
Of helm and halberd for velvet's softer charms

Have walked untroubled by the clash of arms.
I have wandered in a garden where the trees
Planted of yore now give a grateful shade
A leafy pleasaunce where the birds and bees
And I — found quietude that made
For us a sense of confidence complete
And quiet calm that renders life so sweet.

I have absorbed the gentleness and grace
The dignity and kindness of this place

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And of its inmates, who, with vision sure
Maintain its hospitable fame secure,
Acquired such happiness that I would fain
Thank from my heart its gracious chatelaine.

   Beside these constant visitors there was an English A.D.C. living with us permanently and my father's senior Staff Officer, Colonel Ralston the Military Secretary, often stayed with us for weeks together, as did his Military Assistant Major FitzRoy Fyers. The Maltese A.D.C.s Major E. Salomone and Colonel Victor Micallef came and went a great deal, but they were both married, with homes of their own, so they did not live with us.

   Despite the war it was a cheerful and happy household. I can still remember much laughter and joking, constant music (piano, cello, singing) light-hearted games of "racing demon" or "rummy" in the evenings, or if the party were very young and frivolous, "murder" or "sardines". There were idyllic afternoons of tennis on a court surrounded by orange-trees (many pauses for refreshment) or swimming in the deep pool overhung by grapevines.

   My mother gave a permanent invitation to anyone of an artistic turn of mind to come and sketch in San Anton gardens on Thursday afternoons. She enjoyed these sessions, and objected when an A.D.C. referred to Thursday as "the day the painters come!" She pointed out indignantly that no one had a ladder or a bucket and that there is a subtle distinction between an artist and a painter.

   Any description of life in Malta during the first few months of the war must verge on the schizophrenic. Life was happy, if restricted, though the raids were a constant background, and behind them the fear of invasion. It became the cult at San Anton to treat the raids with great frivolity, but, in recollection, it seems to me that my father himself bore the weight so completely and cheerfully, that it rested lightly on those around him. Yet every beach-post and anti-aircraft gun was his ultimate responsibility, and he was ceaselessly aware of their needs. What wonder if, when my friends and I were laughing and joking, his smile would be abstracted, as though his thoughts were elsewhere. No doubt they were.

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   He was very busy, and except for occasional games of tennis, had little time for anything but his official duties. He spent the mornings in the office at Valetta, interviewing the dozens of different people who wanted to see him on every conceivable subject. His staff, including myself, were amazed at how completely he could turn his attention from one request to another.

   The visitors were as varied as their requests. The Prior of the Dominicans would come about some supplies for a monastery. An officer in charge of Boy Scouts would want some policy clarified. The Colonel of an English regiment would come to discuss the siting of a beach-post, or a Maltese officer with some query about an A.A. site. The Manager of the N.A.A.F.I. would want to talk about supplies. There were of course constant requests for the speeding up of shelter-building or excavation. Everyone was sure that if only he could speak to the Governor the thing would be done at once. No one seemed to take in the terrible shortage of power tools and of skilled labour, and how carefully both were being allocated.

   Many requests had, of course, to be passed on to other service departments, or to the office of the Lieutenant-Governor, but my father did listen, with astonishing patience and complete concentration to these thousand diverse problems.

   His room in Valetta Palace had been the bedroom of the Grand Master of the Knights. It was not very large, and had a beautiful painted ceiling, showing the Virgin Mary, so placed as to appear to look down in blessing on this exceedingly Protestant Governor as he sat at his desk. There was a large anti-room outside, where his two A.D.C.s, one English and one Maltese, used to sit and receive callers, bringing them in one by one to see my father.

   On the other side of his room was another one, where sat his Military Secretary, and beyond that another room for his two or three soldier clerks and myself. Colonel Ralston was in constant touch with War Headquarters by telephone, and when there was a raid, which there was most mornings, he had to find out the "plot" and inform the Palace. The minimum number of planes was usually known, and my father would be told:

"Ten plus, or Twenty plus or whatever, coming over Sir."

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   If the raid were bad my father would ignore his queue of suppliants and go out to see the damage, but during the first few months of the war this was rarely so.

   At the end of the morning he would leave Valetta and go back to San Anton to lunch, and afterwards he would go around the island on constant visits to barracks, shelters, beach-posts, schools or anywhere else where he was needed. Often he took my mother or me on these visits, because petrol was strictly rationed and only to be used on official duty, so that we had little chance of seeing the island unless we went with him. I had a bicycle, which was the envy of my friends, and got about a certain amount, but transport was a constant problem for the Palace as for everyone else.

   Later in the day he frequently interviewed people at San Anton, or read reports. He had little time to himself.

   Apart from the tennis, or an occasional card-game in the evening (he was an expert at "racing demon"!) his only other relaxation was the reading of thrillers. He had always had a taste for detective fiction, and certainly it helped him now. The Garrison Library was just opposite Valetta Palace, but he never had time to go across and choose a book. He would send his A.D.C. over for the purpose, and the young man used to wander round asking us all anxiously:

   "Do you think H.E. has read 'The Corpse on the Mat' or would he rather have 'Death in the Bus'? Or what about 'The Blood-stained Blade'?"

   My father's taste for such literature is surprising at first sight, but not really so in fact. Detective stories are said to be the weakness of a great mind, and the effort to solve these ridiculous situations, missing no clues, was the one thing that enabled him to relax and, for a short time, forget the very real and terrible problems surrounding him. He liked crosswords for the same reason and was very good at them.

   And so the first months of the war passed, and Malta looked to their Governor, listened to his words and settled down with amazing cheerfulness and even content to a war-time regime.

Chapter XVII

Malta Retaliates

So will we guard us now
As sooner shall they drink the ocean dry
Than conquer Malta, or endanger us.
So march away, and let due praise be given,
Neither to Fate nor Fortune, but to Heaven.

"Jew of Malta"

   As soon as the island was reinforced, in the late summer of 1940, she began to make herself felt in the war. There was a Fleet Air Arm base at Hal Far from which torpedo-bombers operated with good success, and from the bomber base at Luqa, planes began to seek out convoys going from Italian and Sicilian ports to Africa. And, above all, submarines could now creep in and out, and it became clear that, though the fleet might be based on Alexandria, Malta alone, less than 100 miles from Sicily and nearly in the middle of the narrow seas, was the greatest and most constant danger to the Axis North African campaign.

   At the end of December Admiral Cunningham arrived in the Warspite amid a wild welcome from the crowds, who felt the old days were returning when there was a battleship once more in the Grand Harbour. He had several conferences with Sir Wilbraham Ford (Admiral in charge of the Dockyard) and with my father, whom he described as "another fine man and a tower of strength", and they discussed the supply situation and above all the offensive role of Malta. My father's attitude was consistently that Malta's raison d'être was, and is, and always will be offensive rather than defensive.

   It is difficult, particularly when air battles are involved for an attacker to gauge his success. Often some indignant counterattack by the enemy is his only indication. This was often the case in Malta. Neither my father nor the other Service authorities in Malta realised how well they were doing until in January 1941, the Germans sent one of their best air units, Fliegerkorps X to Sicily, with instructions to attack the bases at Malta and Alexandria; things then began to happen, fast.

   On January 10th we were playing tennis at San Anton, my father, myself, an A.D.C. and one of the civil government staff. The tennis court is in the middle of the orange orchard, and the latter was looking at its best in the clear winter sunshine — a glory

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of golden balls shining like lamps amid the dark leaves. Everything was very peaceful, and no one taking the game too seriously, when suddenly there was the sound of distant gunfire. It would have been ignored — scarcely a day passed without such a sound — but for two facts. Firstly there had been no air-raid warning, the usual preliminary, and secondly the sound was somewhat different from the usual anti-aircraft fire. (People in Malta would have found it difficult to define such a difference, but living in a continual barrage as one did, one was very conscious of the slightest variants in plane noises, gunfire or bombing.)

   The game stopped. Were coast-defence guns getting in to action? Could it be an invasion? Or was there a sea battle in progress somewhere close to Malta? We paused and listened, and then my father called to us to finish the game. Someone made a joke about the modern Drake, and we did finish it.

   My father seemed the most unconcerned of the party, but he did not linger, as we did, to eat oranges or tangerines — the usual end to a tennis session at San Anton. He hurried indoors and telephoned to find out what was happening. No one seemed to know at first, so he went into Valetta, and it was presently known that the aircraft carrier Illustrious, which had been causing havoc among the Italian fleet, being largely responsible for the success at Taranto, and now shepherding in a convoy from the west, had been furiously attacked by the dive-bombers based on Sicily. She had been terribly damaged and was limping into Malta. Her firing back at her assailants during the last attacks was the sound that had echoed among the orange trees of San Anton.

   After her period of comparative quiet, all Malta sprang into action. It was known that the Illustrious had had very bad casualties, and an S.O.S. went round the Service hospitals, while ambulances lined up on the quay. A berth was prepared for the damaged ship, and dockyard experts were called in to consider immediate repairs. A warning went out to anti-aircraft and civil defence services, for further raids on the ship might be expected.

   They came. Within a few days German dive-bombers came to the island for the first time, and made two devastating attacks upon the ship at its berth, and one on Luqa airfield. It was a

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blitzkrieg indeed, and Malta suffered terribly.

   My father kept steadily on his way. He was in constant consultation with the dockyard experts. My mother and he went round the hospitals visiting the Illustrious wounded — mostly terrible cases of burns. True to his policy that offence is the best means of defence, he sent out planes to attack Sicilian air bases, and every gun in Malta loosed off at the assailants, whenever they appeared.

   I, who saw those dive-bombing attacks on the harbour will never forget them — the planes dropping like hawks on their prey, the incredible noise of the harbour barrage, sometimes duels with fighters, the gasp from thousands of watchers as planes crashed and went up in a roar of flame, the clouds of dust from the splintered houses, the rainbow spray from the harbour, the crippled ship still firing back, — the heroism, the fear, the hatred, the triumph, the horror, — so many conflicting emotions.

   Despite the desperate efforts of the Germans, in which they lost at least fifty planes, the Illustrious had not been further seriously damaged in Malta, and by January 23rd, the very skilled dockyard men had got her ready to go. That evening she steamed out of the harbour, making 24 knots and cheered to the echo by all the ships as she passed, and the crowds around the harbour. My father was on one of the bastions watching her go, and he came back to San Anton that night looking as if the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders. They were broad, and his courage steadfast, but it had been a time of desperate anxiety.

   The War Cabinet sent him a message of thanks, and he replied saying: "By God's help, Malta will not weaken." He also broadcast to the people his own appreciation of their courage and endurance, ending: "All will be well, so put your trust in God and carry on."

   The submarine base in Malta continued its work, and my father's succinct order was "Stop all supplies from Italy to Tripoli." By February 3rd, Admiral Raeder, speaking personally to Hitler, demanded "a radical solution" of the problem of Malta. But already Russia was beckoning like a will-o'-the-wisp before

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the eyes of the dictator, and he said the attack should be shelved till after the Russian campaign (which did not begin in any case for several months more). So though heavy German raids on Malta continued, once more the invasion was put off. The Italian radio contented itself by announcing that the Illustrious had been sunk and lay at the bottom of the Grand Harbour.

   My father, however, was by no means certain that invasion would not be attempted. On February 4th he broadcast to the people, and after giving an account of evacuation problems and the way that both the Government and the Malta Relief Fund were coping, (he mentioned that the King and Queen had contributed to the Fund), he went on to warn the people that the war might be stepped up. He said that the crisis, if it came, would not last long, but people were to stay put and obey orders. He reported on the progress of the shelters, and said that stone-workers were being conscripted and that the dockyard was producing power tools.

   In February he took the opportunity to speak to all the priests of the island. Knowing their influence, he was glad to do so. The occasion was the very ancient Candlemas ceremony, when all the Parish priests came into Valetta to present the Governor with a candle. They all crowded into the throne room, and each priest was announced by his district. He handed his candle to my father, who passed it on to his English A.D.C., who passed it on to a Palace servant. My Mother sat in a gilded chair, with a canopy and the Royal arms, throughout the presentation, and when it was over, my father stood on the steps of the throne and made a short speech to the priests. He urged them to impress it on their people that this was a war for the freedom of religion and said how much he realised the influence they wielded. The party ended with what an A.D.C. described as "a hell of a spread" of coffee and drinks and sandwiches and cakes in the state dining-room. The candles were later distributed to various places, the small Catholic chapel at San Anton receiving four.

   I watched the performance from the minstrels' gallery. I was thrilled by it, but could not but reflect on what an anachronism the whole thing was against the background of modern war. But

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my father realised what a bad effect it had on morale to cut off old customs unnecessarily. It was his steady policy to have "business as usual" for as long as he could. It must be remembered too, that for many priests, simple elderly men working in distant and backward parishes, this was the great day of their year — a visit to Valetta and entertainment at the Palace — and they would have been most bitterly disappointed had it been cancelled or even if the "hell of a spread" had been reduced, as it had to be the next year.

   It was, I think, in the Spring of 1941 that we had also a rather memorable lunch party in Valetta Palace. It had been planned for some time, and most of the notable people of the island, English and Maltese, were coming, and my father decided that it would be very bad for morale to cancel it. So the party took place. Everybody came, and sat down in the banqueting hall of the Grand Masters, began lunch and made polite conversation. A raid started — and Valetta Palace was very near the harbour, and also, with its tall tower, a very conspicuous target. Everyone ignored the sounds building up and went steadily on with lunch, the servants serving the dishes and the guests helping themselves without a tremor. There are some enormous and very valuable and excessively heavy chandeliers in the banqueting hall, and these began to sway slowly to and fro. Everyone must have known that if they came down they would kill anyone underneath, and probably bring down half the ceiling too. No one mentioned them, or any other indecent subjects such as raids or danger or bombs, and my mother at one side of the table and my father at the other smiled and talked cheerfully with their guests.

   Gradually the raid subsided — it did not develop into one of the worst — and by the time coffee was being served, the "Raiders Past" was sounding. Was Malta, under my father's leadership, very brave, or utterly idiotic? It's anyone's guess.

   But such entertainments were, of course, a very tiny part of my father's life. The war must be carried on and Malta must play her part. It was at the end of February that he called me into his office one day and made me take down and type a

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broadcast for him. I remember it, because it was a momentous one. He was, in fact, announcing conscription for all the manpower of the island.

   There had been some talk of this before, but rumours were rife, and he wanted to take the people into his confidence about it. He began by discussing the general war situation, pointing out that though Italy was suffering severe defeats in North Africa, this in some ways made the situation worse, as it might increase German intervention in the Mediterranean. It took time to train troops, and in order to bring the Maltese units up to strength, it was essential to bring in conscription at once. He was never afraid of shouldering responsibility and he said, at this point:

   "These are the reasons why conscription is being introduced. I have ordered it in order to enable me to carry out my responsibility for the security of these islands. It is my doing and I take full responsibility for it, since in my considered opinion it is necessary. The policy has not been pressed on me by any body or party in Malta, although I believe the principle is approved and welcomed by the vast majority of the people."

   He then outlined the terms of conscription. It would only be for service in Malta, though men could volunteer, if they wished, to serve elsewhere. There would be a Hardships' Committee to consider particular cases, and anyone could appeal to this committee, without fear of being penalised whatever the final outcome. Above all there would be a dependants' allowance. The family is a close-knit unit in Malta and many young men were supporting parents, sisters, grandparents or other relatives in a way that is rare in England, so this question was essential.

   The first call-ups would be for the fighting services, but conscription of man-power for other essential services would follow as soon as it could be organised.

   The broadcast ended on a confident note. My father said:

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   "I am sure the people of Malta will rise to the occasion as they have already done in the past, and will do their best to ensure that the measure is brought into effect as smoothly, as rapidly and as effectively as possible. I, on my part, and those working with me will do our utmost to safeguard the interests of individuals and to minimise hardship and inconvenience.

   But after all, there is only one thing that really matters. We must beat the enemy. With God's help we will do it, but we must do our part."

   Considering what an unpopular measure conscription always is — the question for instance nearly split Australia in half in 1917 and to some extent in the Second War — and that it was a completely new idea in Malta, it is remarkable how smoothly it went. There were of course a certain number of appeals against it: many petitions were sent direct to my father, and though he could only pass them on to the Hardships Committee, he used to read them first. The best that I remember was from one man who said that though he was only 46, and in fairly good health, he preferred to spend most of his time in bed. He was supported by his son of nineteen, who, it appeared, worked about sixteen hours a day, and he demanded that the boy should be exempted from conscription. My father and I laughed over this, and hoped that the Hardships Committee would get the son into the army as soon as possible for a rest!

   But such cases were the exception rather than the rule. Most of the appeals involved genuine hardship, and on the whole the people accepted conscription with steady courage and endurance.

   It was towards the middle of March 1941 that my father received his K.C.B., and also was confirmed in his appointment. Until then he had only been "The Officer Administering the Government", but it had long been clear that Sir Charles Bonham-Carter's health would not allow of his return, and the fact was now recognised officially. It made, of course, no difference to my father's work in Malta, but it was a relief to have the situation clarified, and the K.C.B. showed that his work was being appreciated. It was also received with much rejoicing in Malta. A flood of letters poured in from all over the island, and a selection from them may be of interest:

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   From the Vice-Admiral, Malta, Sir Wilbraham Ford:

   "Please accept the very sincere and hearty congratulations of myself and all officers and ratings under my Command on the honour conferred on you. We all feel that no one has deserved such recognition better than our Governor and Commander-in-Chief in Malta and we are proud to serve under him."

   From Father Kerr McClement, headmaster of St. Edward's College, a leading boys' school in Malta:

   "May I on behalf of the College and of myself, offer Your Excellency our most sincere congratulation on your knighthood. If I may say so, I do this, not as a formality, but as a genuine expression of affection towards one whom we regard as a very personal friend to whom we are enormously indebted."

   From Lady Mifsud, wife of a leading politician:

   "As you realise, I hope, the people of this little island have great esteem and appreciation of your work for them, and of course we are on that list."

   From Mrs. Evelyn Nichols, an English officer's wife:

   "I was overjoyed to read in today's paper the announcement of your promotion to K.C.B. If I may say so, I feel that everybody here will be equally pleased, as we in Malta very well know all you have done, and what an inspiration you have been to everyone in these very trying times."

   From the Valetta Council:

   "I hasten to offer you my sincere congratulation for your well-merited promotion to the Knighthood, and in so doing I am sure to voice the sentiments of the Maltese people in general and of the working classes in particular."

   From the Prior of the Dominicans in Valetta:

"We all pray God for Your preservation, so that under Your inspiring leadership we may be led to a victorious end of this horrible war."

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   From Mr. O. C. Mavity, supervisor of shelter construction:

   "That I should join with the many in the Empire who will hasten to offer their good wishes for the long continuance of a career so honourably passed in the public service is a privilege I feel you would not deny to me, who is proud to sign himself, Your obedient servant"

   From Rev. Hugh Purves and the congregation of St. Andrew's Church of Scotland, Valetta:

   "The resolute confidence which animates, not only the armed Services, but also the whole civilian population of these islands is, in large measure, due to the high-minded leadership you have shown during these dark days."

   From Mr. William Wickham and the British Institute in Malta:

   "I should like to add how very much the members and staff of the Institute have appreciated your interest in our work here and the continuous encouragement which you have given us."

   From the Censor's Office, Valetta:

   "The Deputy Chief Censor and his Staff take this opportunity of reaffirming their steadfast desire to do their utmost to give Your Excellency their loyal and efficient service."

   From Cdr. R. Jackson, R.A.N. (Temporarily in Egypt on a mission to put forward Malta's needs to the British authorities):

   "The sincerity with which I offer my congratulations, Sir, can be judged by the fact that nothing has given me so much personal pleasure since I have worked in Malta. It forms an opportunity for me to say how great an honour I have felt it to serve you, and how proud I am to work under your leadership."

   From Sister Alice de St. Camille, superintendent of an old people's home in Hamrun:

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   "It is a real joy for us, that the noble work done by Your Excellency for the protection and welfare of Malta has been recognised, and appreciated. We thank God for the aid and direction he has given you in all Your decisions, and we ask Him to continue this aid, and bless and protect you always."

   From the General Secretary, Anglo-Maltese League:

   "Your Excellency's attitude is a source of great encouragement to the People of Malta in meeting the tribulations and misery which the enemy succeeds, occasionally, in inflicting upon them, and of which they have never had the slightest experience before the entry of Italy on the side of our enemies placed Malta in the front line.

   The People of Malta have shown on every conceivable occasion their appreciation of all that Your Excellency has undertaken and is undertaking for the better defence of these Islands, for mitigating the sufferings of the inhabitants and for making this page of Malta's history one of the brightest."

   From Brother S. Bruno, Director of Stella Maris College:

   "If Malta has performed great deeds during the past months and made all the world wonder at and admire her courage in the face of brutal and savage air attacks, and if the life of the Island has carried on normally in spite of enormous difficulties, it is largely due to the wise and experienced leadership of Your Excellency."

   From Brother Lambert and the Christian Brothers of Cotton-era:

   "We earnestly and most fervently pray Almighty God to bless and grant your Excellency Divine Light to direct You in all You take in hand."

   My mother was of course sometimes mentioned individually, besides the usual official mention.

   From the Rector and General Council of the Royal University of Malta:

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   "The General Council in expressing its admiration of the merits which earned for Your Excellency this high distinction desires to extend its felicitation to Lady Dobbie whose interest in the welfare of the population of these Islands during the present emergency is likewise very much appreciated."

   This is only a very small selection from these letters, all of which my father answered, and which he kept, but they reveal the spirit of Malta in those days.

   Other letters presently filtered in from outside.

   By cable from Lord Moyne in England:

   "My warmest congratulation on the honour which H.M. Government has been pleased to confer upon you. Resolution shown by Malta in the face of enemy attack has aroused the admiration of the whole Empire. We are deeply grateful to you and to all who have followed your inspiring example."

   From Lord Wavell in Cairo:

   "I am told that the B.B.C. announced that you had been made a K.C.B. My very best congratulation on a very well deserved honour. I am afraid that Malta has had rather a doing lately, but you have made the Huns pay for it. Any thing you can do to stop the Bosche and Itis putting more troops into Tripoli will be much appreciated."

   From a Baptist minister in Australia, who had never met him:

   "I have a secret hope that should we survive the perils of war, and should the Lord tarry, I may have the joy of meeting with you face to face. Meanwhile, as a Chaplain of our Home Army, and as a Brother-in-Christ "looking for that Blessed Hope", I uphold you in constant prayer."

   From an old friend of his Woolwich Academy days:

   "The courage of the inhabitants under your guidance and example sets a fine pattern for the rest of us to copy. You and they have our deep admiration."

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   Perhaps this selection of letters may be summed up in one from Captain Allen Perry of the Soldier's and Airmen's Christian Association. He said:

   "I remember when you told me of your appointment to Malta. I suggested that it was a 'plum' to my mind, and your reply, 'Yes, but I'll need much prayer.' Well, you have certainly been the subject for that, not by a few only, but I should imagine by almost the whole body of believers worldwide, seeing that your domain has been and still is so much in the public eye."

Chapter XVIII

Mediterranean Summer

"The Lord is on our side, but I beseech you to consider powder and shot for our great ordnance."

English preacher, Armada Year 1588.

   The spring and early summer of 1941 were a time of considerable anxiety in Malta. On January 21st, Mr. Churchill had written to Lord Ismay:

   "The first duty of the A.O.C.-in-C., Middle East is none the less to sustain the resistance of Malta by a proper flow of fighter reinforcements"

and this was carried out as far as possible. Nevertheless the heavy attacks went on, and the damage was considerable.

   Every day on our way into Valetta we had to stop and look at bomb damage of the previous night — often very heart-rending. Admittedly the loss of life was not heavy, thanks to the steadily increasing number of rock shelters, but it is no light misfortune to lose one's house and almost all one's possessions at a stroke, especially in a community that is poor and has little behind it. I was humbled and astonished at how bravely and cheerfully many people took this situation. I remember an old lady coming up to my father and saying: "I don't mind, Your Excellency. They can take all I have as long as we beat them. We will beat them, won't we?" What does one say to that?

   Our days in the office were constantly interrupted by heavy raids. My father usually watched them from the tower of Valetta Palace, hurrying up the shadowy spiral staircase into the Malta sunshine to see a flight of planes, surrounded by the white puffs of the harbour barrage, fleeing across the brilliant sky, while fountains of spray shot up from the water as the bombs dropped. He was usually pursued by an anxious A.D.C. calling out: "Here's your tin hat, Sir." Once when I had not got mine, I borrowed a helmet from a figure in armour, feeling sure that the original owner of the suit would have lent it gladly, and, no doubt, commended warmly the fight Malta was putting up.

   It was clear that the Germans were making an all-out effort to eliminate Malta by any means short of invasion, and that this

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was in preparation for some other Mediterranean skulduggery. At the end of March Mr. Anthony Eden and Sir John Dill were staying with us on their way back from the Middle East, when suddenly the news broke that Jugo-Slavia had revolted against the Germans. I shall never forget the schoolboy jubilation with which Mr. Eden greeted the news, and hurried away to Athens at once. Within a few days the Germans were at war with Greece and Jugo-Slavia, and within a few weeks these were lost, and the storm-centre transferred to Crete. By the end of May Crete had fallen, and it seemed likely that Malta would be the next on the invasion list.

   My father thought it well might be so, and he prepared accordingly. A New Zealand officer, who had been throughout the Cretan campaign, stayed with us for some weeks to give help in defence problems, and my father's broadcasts made no secret of the possibility of invasion. But he generated his own quiet confidence in the situation. On June 6th, 1941, he said:

   "You ask me is Malta likely to be invaded. I reply that I cannot say whether it will be, but it is quite possible that the enemy will make the attempt. The people of England have been facing that possibility for nearly a year now, and it is quite possible that it may materialize. In Malta we have to face the same possibility, and I am quite sure the people of Malta will continue to face it in the same spirit as the people of England. We have to brace ourselves for a great and supreme effort, which perhaps will be required of us.

   So let us, one and all, face up to this boldly and confidently, and let each make his or her contribution unstintingly and uncomplainingly. I will again repeat the advice of a great leader in olden days. "Trust in God and keep your powder dry."

   He added that the Lieutenant-Governor would be coming on the air shortly to give detailed instructions, as far as they could be given, on such points as food supplies, and that a pamphlet was being issued on what to do in case of invasion. He also

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pointed out the difficulties of getting convoys into Malta in the circumstances, announced a further cut in the petrol ration and said that Malta must just hold on till help could come.

   Every day at that time he was out seeing beach-posts and coast defence guns. There were small enclaves of troops in all the distant points of the island. They had had little to do, except to train, so far, but it was probably on them that the safety of the island would depend, and he was in constant touch with them.

   Meanwhile he assessed the situation in a report to England and on June 6th, 1941 received the following reply:

   Prime Minister to Governor of Malta:

"I am entirely in agreement with your general outlook. The War Office will deal in detail with all your points. It does not seem that an attack on Malta is likely within the next two or three weeks. Meanwhile other events of importance will be decided, enabling or compelling a new view to be taken. You may be sure we regard Malta as one of the master-keys of the British Empire. We are sure that you are the man to hold it, and we will do everything in human power to give you the means."

   We waited, not knowing of course that the Germans had had such heavy losses among their airborne forces in Crete that a further invasion was impossible for some time. We just waited.

   Then suddenly the heavy raids ceased. No more German planes appeared in the sky, and a glorious rumour began to circulate that a farewell party had been given in Sicily by the Regia Aeronautica to their German comrades. This probably came through an allusion on the Italian radio, and may or may not have been true, but it gave us fresh hope. In mid-June Germany went to war with Russia, and all her war effort was turned eastwards. The Mediterranean was saved.

   The six months that followed were something of a respite and change. With all German attention focussed on Russia, the Mediterranean war was merely kept "ticking over" and Malta benefitted. Admittedly raids went on, but they were something of a routine, and did little damage. An Italian reconnaissance

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plane used to come over punctually every morning to see what ships were in the harbour (if he could), but he did no harm and we became quite used to "Steamboat Bill" as he was called. Other raids were not serious.

   The Italians were, of course, hoping to take over the island when and if they could, and they did not wish to inflict heavier material damage than was necessary. The Germans had no such inhibitions, so that life in Malta varied according to whether the Regia Aeronautica or the Luftwaffe were in Sicily. No wonder an old lady in a shelter, during a bad German raid, was heard to pray fervently: "Oh, Holy Mother, send over the Italians."

   Malta settled down to a fairly placid summer. My father continued to press forward with shelter building, and with the training of the forces, but one of the enemies he had now to combat was boredom and consequent slackness. The men at the beach-posts, in distant and lonely parts of the island had to be kept constantly occupied. They were encouraged to grow vegetables and keep poultry in their spare time, and many of them became so keen on their tiny farms that, as one anxious officer said to me, he feared that in the event of invasion they would demand that hostilities should cease when it was time to feed the hens.

   My father, mother and I went out to inspect these little farms, and there was a fruit and vegetable show, judged, I think, by our head gardener. At another time the same enterprising English regiment, most of whose men were out in small detachments, organised a pet show for beach-post live-stock. Its terms of reference were wide. Prizes were given for such exhibits as "the cat with the longest tail" or "the dog with the kindest face." (The latter committed something of a social gaffe by trying to bite my father, who was awarding him the prize!)

   To provide interest in Valetta my father tried to revive a little pre-war pageantry. It was, of course, impossible to have anything like a military "tattoo" but it was decided to "beat retreat" in the Palace Square, and make something of an occasion of it. We gave a party for it in the Palace, and every open space and window and roof-top surrounding the square was crowded,

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as people jostled to see and hear the pipers of the Royal Irish Fusiliers perform their complicated manoeuvres.

   At the same time a weekly ceremonial Changing of the Guard was started outside the Auberge de Castille, the headquarters of the gunners of the island. The Commander, Royal Artillery thought that this was an incentive to smartness, and also drew attention to the Gunners (English and Maltese) and their vital work.

   Convoys got in in May, June and September, 32 out of 34 supply ships arriving safely, and more reinforcements poured into the island — submarines, planes and men. Malta was once more on the offensive, and the toll of Rommel's convoys mounted. It was 7% in June, 17% in July, 25% in August, 40% in September, 63% in October and 77% in November.

   Obviously, even in July, we were annoying the enemy, and it was in that month that their only invasion attempt took place — a number of E. boats attacking the Grand Harbour. Not for nothing had the gunners trained and waited. It happened that most of the coast defences in that area were manned by Maltese, who had had to watch the devastation of their homes, and to suffer casualties among their friends and families. This was their first, and as it turned out their only chance to get at the enemy.

   They took it, and the on-coming E. boats and one-man torpedoes found Malta's defences very much awake and very ready. The fire was deadly accurate and not a single boat got back to tell the tale.

   It was a great success story, and gave us all considerable confidence. My father was particularly pleased, because, as a rehearsal for invasion, the enemy could not have done worse. Clearly it put the possibility of invasion very much further off, and the longer it was put off the less chance it would have, because of the steady improvement in the island's defences and the strength of the garrison.

   From time to time we had Italian or German prisoners in Malta. They were mostly wounded, and were being tended in hospital. My father used regularly to visit the Service Hospitals. On one occasion two Italians, who knew a little English, or more

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probably found a Maltese who spoke Italian, ascertained who he was, and on his next visit greeted him with cordial and most magnificent Fascist salutes. He was decidedly surprised, but touched, and he stopped and spoke a few words to them. When he had gone, one of them said, with something like envy in his voice, that we had indeed a man to command us in Malta.

   Happy is the nation that has no history. All Malta's work was in alien seas or skies at that time, and, as I saw it, there is little to tell about that Mediterranean summer. We were all able to relax slightly. My father played tennis most afternoons, or sometimes came sailing with me in "Water Baby."

   Occasionally he even found time to go to the cinema, when a convoy had happened to bring in a film he liked. I must admit to sharing his love of lurid thrillers (which my mother did not like), and one day he and I decided we would sneak off quietly after work and go and see "The Return of the Invisible Man." Unfortunately the news got out. There was a crowd round the cinema, the manager was waiting to greet us and usher us to the best seats, and all the audience knew we were there and rose to their feet as we came in. Our little excursion could not have been more public, and we felt slightly ashamed at the general exposure of our taste in films.

   My parents continued regularly to entertain, where necessary, but of course the food could not be pretentious. A menu for a lunch party in Valetta Palace in 1941 has survived, and it is far from exotic — spinach soup, fish soufflé, chicken pilau, coffee bavourine and cheese.

   We wanted always to entertain the men from the convoys, to whom we were so greatly indebted, and as long as we could we used to ask them in. There were always parties at San Anton, with tennis and swimming, for the young cadets off the ships, and other entertainments for the older men.

   My mother went steadily on with various forms of welfare work. She was on the Ladies' Hospital Visiting Committee, and was constantly visiting hospitals, civilian or Service, ascertaining their needs and doing all she could to procure any extras they wanted. She and I, together with a number of Maltese girls and

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women, also did a home-nursing and first aid course. I remember that when the examination was imminent, she became very nervous that she would fail, which would have been disgraceful for the Governor's wife, who was supposed to be setting an example to the women of Malta! However, she passed, and so did I, to our great relief. I still have our certificates, bearing in one corner, the Malta cross of St. John.

   She was also Commandant of the local V.A.D. (Voluntary Aid Detachment), and was, in fact, very deeply engrossed in their work and problems.

   Early in the Autumn she organized an art exhibition in Valetta. There were classes for every kind of drawing or painting — landscapes, figures, pen and ink, woodcuts, still life and design — and there were classes for children. There was a large number of very small prizes — 5s., 3s. and 2s.6d. — as it was thought that such an arrangement would be more encouraging than a few large ones, and everyone, no matter how little tuition he or she had had, was encouraged to send in entries. Service men, both English and Maltese, particularly those at lonely posts on whose hands time hung heavily, sent in many excellent pictures.

   Nothing of a cultural nature had been attempted since the war began, and people were so pleased to have something of the sort again that they flocked to the Armoury of Valetta Palace to see the exhibition. It had not been intended to be a commercial venture — the tiny entrance fee had been mostly to keep out idlers — but after all the prizes had been provided, there was quite a good sum to be given to the hospitals.

   We continued to be a staging-post between England and the Middle East. Throughout that summer San Anton was visited by such people as Oliver Littleton, General Auchinleck, Air-Vice-Marshal Coningham, General Wavell, General Arthur-Smith, Admiral Dreyer, General Brett of the American Forces, Sir Walter Monckton, General Skiorski of Poland and Victor Cazalet M.P. They generally were impatient to get on to their own spheres in the Middle or Far East, but they mostly took at least a cursory interest in the problems of Malta, and were shown over the defences.

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   Most of them were too much preoccupied to notice much about us and our difficulties, but some did. I remember with gratitude Victor Cazalet. He was very musical and played our grand piano at San Anton a great deal, and he must have noticed that we were very short of music. (We had not been able to bring much in with us, and there was none in the house). When he next came through, a few months later, he brought us a present of a number of books of music, selections from the classics. We were deeply touched that he should have remembered our shortage, and taken the trouble to buy and bring the books.

   The summer passed, and everything seemed to be going well. So unchallenged was Malta's position that a small force of surface ships, two cruisers and two destroyers, known as "Force K" arrived in October and added to the havoc among Rommel's supply ships.

   In November 1941, Count Ciano wrote in his diary:—

"Since 19th September, we had given up trying to get convoys through to Libya; every attempt had been very costly, and the losses suffered by our merchant marine had reached such proportions as to discourage any further experiments. Tonight we tried it again. Libya needs materials, arms, fuel, more and more every day. And a convoy of ships left, accompanied by two ten-thousand ton cruisers and ten destroyers, because it was known that at Malta the British had two battleships intended to act as wolves among the sheep. (No doubt he means Force K). An engagement occurred the results of which are inexplicable. All, I mean all our ships were sunk and one or maybe two or three destroyers."

   Later, on November 24th Force K destroyed two vital oil transports, desperately needed in North Africa. As a result of all this activity from Malta, Rommel was constantly short of what he needed and by mid-December the Eighth Army had driven his forces almost out of East Libya.

   As early as August 1941, the German War Staffs, setting out

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the objects to be pursued after a Russian defeat, had put as first priority:

   "In order to permit the passage of necessary transports, attacks by the German Air Force on Malta should be resumed."

   In September Admiral Doenitz said: "Malta must be destroyed." So at the end of the year Marshal Kesselring, and some 600 frontline German planes were sent down to Sicily to get on with the job. Our summer was over.

Chapter XIX

Maltese Winter

"There is more cause of danger from disunion
among ourselves than by anything from our enemies."
"It matters not who is our Commander-in-Chief if God be so."

Oliver Cromwell,
Speech to the Council of Officers,
23rd March, 1649.

   Early in December 1941 the war took on a new aspect, with the entry of Japan and America. It is probable that the Germans, with memories of the last war, now realised that time was no longer on their side. They must try to force a decision before full American strength could be used against them. In March 1918 they had loosed the biggest offensive possible against the Western Front, and very nearly succeeded. In 1941 they decided that, as a first priority, the Mediterranean and North African wars must be settled as soon as possible, and to do this effectively Malta must be eliminated. (Rommel's 77% loss in November was the crowning point).

   We in Malta realised in December that the raids were being stepped up. My own diary, an accurate though brief record, speaks of them constantly from the end of December, whereas during the summer I hardly ever mention them.

   My father went steadily on his way. He gave two broadcasts in December. On the 17th, after a general view of the world-wide situation, he mentioned the constant small nuisance raids Malta was undergoing. He added:

   "It is possible that the enemy, who has failed to weaken the determination of the people of Malta by heavy attacks, has adopted this new method in the fond hope that it will produce results which he has failed to achieve hitherto. He hopes that he may so work on the nerves of the people of Malta that he may weaken their determination and break their spirit. If that is his intention, he is foredoomed to complete and utter failure, and I can leave it to the people of Malta to show how far he is from understanding them. We will not only not allow ourselves to be rattled, but we will strain every nerve to make our best contribution, individually and collectively, to hasten the day of complete and final victory."

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He added that things were going well in Libya, and that it was gratifying to consider that the forces based on Malta had been able to make some contribution to this.

   But on December 18th much of the British Mediterranean fleet was destroyed by Italian submarines off Egypt, and at the same time our "Force K" was badly damaged. The situation had worsened at a stroke.

   On Christmas Eve my father gave another broadcast, urging constant vigilance because Malta, because of her past successes, must expect retaliation. He said:

   "My object in speaking to you this evening is firstly to wish all the people of Malta a happy Christmas. This should be a season of peace and goodwill, and though there are some who have deprived us of peace, and who show us the reverse of goodwill, yet we will remember among ourselves those unchanging verities of which Christmas speaks and for which it stands.

   We are placed in circumstances which require us to be ever-watchful and which forbid us to relax our efforts for one moment. We have, so to speak, to go to the Feast with our weapons handy, and with our vigilance maintained.

   So let all uneasiness be banished from our midst, and let determination take its place. Let us go about our business calmly and confidently and put our very best into our work. Let us endure cheerfully the discomforts and difficulties we may still have to meet, knowing that we are making a real and a great contribution to victory. With this background we can still have a happy Christmas, and can look forward in dependence on Almighty God, to great things in the coming year."

   Christmas came, and was much less care-free than last year. It was clear that convoys would now only get in with difficulty and that food and fuel must be carefully husbanded. Many cherished customs had to be abandoned, including the traditional

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Midnight Mass. The Archbishop gave a dispensation for it to be celebrated earlier because of lighting, curfew, black-out and transport difficulties. The famous Malta bells were silent.

   There were few parties except for children. My father and mother were anxious that they should have some celebration. We first gave a party for all the children of our own servants (about 30) at San Anton and then a very large party in Valetta Palace for some 150 English and Maltese children, on January 3rd, 1942. The date had been fixed some time before, invitations sent out and arrangements made. So it went on and I have never forgotten it.

   A raid began as soon as our guests had assembled and the harbour barrage got into action very soon, so that the walls of the Palace were shaking as children played "Follow My Leader" up and down the marble passages and round the figures of armoured knights. They sat in the great hall to watch a conjuror, and had tea in the armoury, and then went back for a cartoon film. Rarely has Mickey Mouse performed his antics in such a setting, but he had a succès fou.

   The party took place at the time when Prince Peter of Greece and Randolph Churchill and Victor Cazalet and General Sikorski were staying with us, and they looked in on the revels, to find my father (in uniform) ragging, against a background of a deafening bombardment, with children to whom familiarity with danger had bred contempt. Someone wrote up the scene for an English paper, and we were rather proud that even our children in Malta could impress outsiders.

   My mother and the Hospital Visiting Committee did their utmost too, to see that everyone in hospital for Christmas, many of them air-raid victims, had some small present. She broadcast an appeal to that effect, and managed so that everyone got something — a few cigarettes or a little tobacco for a man, a bright-coloured handkerchief for a woman, a scrap-book and an orange for a child. Money and possessions were scarce, and many of these tiny gifts represented real sacrifice on the part of someone.

   Some members of the R.A.F. had got up a pantomime, and they invited 800 of the poorest children to be their guests at a performance in the Manoel Theatre, Valetta, followed by a

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distribution of oranges, almost our only luxury now. Certain English regiments also gave small parties for local children.

   We ourselves had one or two lonely characters to stay over Christmas. Food, of course, was short, but the Palace was, according to tradition, beautifully decorated with flowers and greenery. The many people living in shelters had made the same effort to decorate their rock homes with flowers and coloured paper, and it was in such surroundings that Malta listened in the afternoon of Christmas Day to the King's speech, and realised her honourable position in the Empire.

   There were no raids on Christmas Day, but from then onwards the heat was definitely on. It was now that my father's steady and unceasing effort to provide shelters, was proving successful and effective. By May 1941 minimum shelter space — two square feet — had been provided for 165,900 people, and there was an efficient shelter service in the harbour area, where about 18,000 persons slept regularly. Many of the dockyard workshops, and the army and R.A.F. headquarters had moved underground. The work went on continually. I was once, earlier, out with my father seeing to shelter construction in a village. It was going slowly and the man in charge said, in excuse: "But, Your Excellency, there have been no bad raids lately." He received very short shrift.

   What power tools there were, and skilled miners, had been very carefully allocated or directed, and constant encouragement had been given to people to excavate their own shelters where they could. (Maltese rock is soft when first cut and can be easily worked, but hardens later — God's gift to the island as they said at the time.)

   This constant attention to shelters had been a policy very near my father's heart, and as a result, the terrible attacks of the first months of 1942 involved far less loss of life than might have been expected. Up to November 1941 only 344 civilians had been killed, and from then to May 1942, 800 died. But when it is remembered that by November 1941, 2,552 dwellings had been destroyed or severely damaged, and that after that things got far worse (11,450 in April 1942 alone), the loss of life is remarkably low.

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But in other respects the situation was very bad. The naval losses in December, the sudden Axis victory in North Africa and the increasing war in the Far East, so that no reinforcements could be sent to the Mediterranean, effectively isolated Malta. For some time she was out of reach of help and had to carry on alone.

   On January 3rd, Vice-Admiral Sir Wilbraham Ford wrote to Sir Andrew Cunningham:—

   "I've given up counting the number of raids we are getting. At the time of writing, 4p.m., we have had exactly seven bombing raids since 9a.m., quite apart from a month of all night efforts. The enemy is definitely trying to neutralise Malta's effort, and, I hate to say, is gradually doing so."

   My father carried on, refusing to be panicked by rumours and alarms. There was an invasion scare in January, but nothing came of it. Later the Italians issued a blood-curdling pronouncement on their wireless that, as Malta could not apparently be taken by air or sea, they would have to try "other methods". There were therefore rumours circulating about gas attack, or bacteriological warfare or mysterious new "secret weapons" soon to come against us.

   On one occasion, several people were talking on those lines at San Anton, and the atmosphere was becoming tense. My father, whose mind was clearly elsewhere, was taking little notice of the conversation, till a lady turned to him and anxiously asked his opinion. "Oh, let 'em all come!" he said contemptuously, and suddenly the air cleared, and the whole discussion seemed to have become futile. He was certainly a steadying person to be with in danger!

   It was at this time that, taking into account the precarious situation of the island, and the necessity of eliminating possible Quislings, he decided to deport a number of political detainees. These, the most notable of whom was Sir Arturo Mercieca the Chief Justice, had been in very easy captivity since the beginning of the war, with the approval of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, but in February 1942, they were deported to

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Uganda in one of the last convoys able to leave Malta for some time. This was an unpopular step, and had to be taken on my father's sole responsibility. He was not afraid of responsibility, and he took it, but it weighed heavily on him. It also indicates that there was a danger of quisling activity in Malta.

   As that terrible winter and spring advanced, he was conscious of some measure of disunion. Malta was an island of strong political feelings, and there were frequent quarrels between political parties. Twice during the 1930s the constitution of the island (a form of self-government) was suspended because of friction among the leaders.

   My father had always set his face against any sort of junta running the island, and very firmly opposed party intrigues. As Francis Gerard says in his "Malta Magnificent":

"Under Dobbie the Maltese knew that there would be no favouritism, that all might expect a square deal and that with him there would be no fear of any "palace clique" running the show. In point of fact, when certain, shall we say, vested interests attempted to influence him, they found themselves looking into a pair of very bleak blue eyes and heard the Governor return them an uncompromising 'No' ".

   This attitude, which had endeared him so much to Malta as a whole, had made him some enemies, and it was this disunion, growing of course more apparent as the situation worsened, which he so greatly feared. A popular phrase at this time in the island was that Malta stood squarely on four legs — the three fighting Services and the civilian population. What if one should crack?

   One day he and I were discussing the raids and possible invasion, and suddenly he sighed and said:

   "I'm not worried about what the enemy can do, or what comes from outside. We can cope with that. It's what goes on inside that is far more worrying."

   Thence his determination to deport known or likely quislings.

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   His next broadcast was on February 9th. It was not an easy one to give, for his war review had to include the debacle in the Far East and the serious setback in North Africa. And he made no attempt to minimise the gravity of the situation. He said:

   "I hope you know that I have never allowed myself to live in a fool's paradise, and I have never encouraged you to do so. I believe with all my heart in facing facts, even when they are unpalatable, and in refusing to have anything to do with that insidious and deadly poison, wishful thinking. We members of the British Empire have never been afraid to face facts, even unpleasant ones, and I am quite sure that Malta is no whit behind the rest of the Empire in this respect."

   But he tried also to point out some hopeful aspects, notably the German failures on the Russian front and the growing support from America. As always he emphasised the difficulties which faced the enemy too (a thing frequently forgotten), and though he had to call on his people for "grim determination and fortitude to stand up to the attacks unflinchingly" he ended on his habitual and steady note of hope and courage and faith.

   During February and March the shadows grew blacker. Valetta Palace was bombed on February 13th, but the damage was not heavy. San Anton was ringed round with bombs on the 22nd. My mother was, at the time, having her usual Sunday tea-party with our guard. She always did this for the young British soldiers on duty at San Anton, as long as we could possibly find enough food for even a simple tea. On this occasion the meal was over, and they were engaging in amicable conversation, when there was a sudden whistle of bombs very near. Instinctively the whole decorous party, including my mother, dived under the large table and all met there! There was then a shattering explosion and everyone thought the Palace had been hit, but in fact four bombs had landed just outside the gate, and when my mother and her guests emerged from their table and went out to investigate, preparing to offer first aid or any other possible help, they found there was nothing to do. San Anton had merely suffered the loss of some glass.

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   When one remembers what a conspicuous target it was, with its tall trees, the only ones in the island, visible from great distances, it is most surprising how it escaped so often, thus adding to the legend that my father led a charmed life.

   We were having eight or ten raids a day, but he let nothing interfere with his routine, constantly out and about. He gave a lecture at this time about the 1914-18 war, at the British Institute in Valetta, refusing to give up an engagement. Even when the red flag flew over Valetta (signal that a big attack was expected on the harbour) he went to no shelter. He was constantly down in the ships, particularly when a convoy came in. He visited the blitzed airfields daily.

   At San Anton my mother carried on, trying to organise a staff trained in lavish housekeeping to desperate economies. She gave away all the fruit and vegetables she possibly could from San Anton gardens (100 dozen oranges to hospitals and orphanages in one week). When a visiting "D.V." brought my father a present of a bottle of very fine brandy, he immediately sent it down to a hospital.

   The weather was cold, but there was almost no fuel to heat our large stone palace. My father, my mother, the A.D.C. and myself used to huddle in coats over the one very small fire we were able to have sometimes for an hour or two in the evenings. We were usually joined by our cat, Maurice, and there was some competition to nurse him, because he was warm.

   Maurice, whom we had rescued as a stray in the garden, was fond of us all, but most attached to my father. He used to sit on the corner of his desk as he worked, and he spent much time in his study. During this period my father was ill for a few days, and it was a glorious time for Maurice, being near him all day and able to lie on a bed with him in it! The stream of official visitors who came to consult the Governor (he had no respite even for illness) must have been amused to find him in bed, with his cat purring at the end. Maurice, like his master, ignored all raids, and seemed quite undisturbed by their noise. Perhaps my father's courage rubbed off even on his cat!

   We continued to put up (and feed as best we could) distinguished

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visitors en route eastwards, but we were also at this time taking in bombed-out people. The saddest case, and one which haunts me still, was a young English officer and his wife. They had had a child of two, and in an early raid on March 15th they sent him, and his Maltese nurse and the cook, down to their shelter, which was supposed to be of reinforced concrete. They themselves stayed in their house. A bomb came down and hit the shelter, but they had no reason to fear much damage. When, however, they hurried down and opened its door, they were met by piles of rubble. The contractor had substituted rubble for concrete, and the shelter had collapsed. The three inside were all killed; the nurse was found leaning over the child, obviously trying to the last to protect him.

   My father heard of this case after church on Sunday. He went at once to investigate, spoke to the two bereaved Maltese families, and brought the broken-hearted young couple, the wife three or four months pregnant, back to San Anton. They stayed with us until she could be flown out to Egypt, and of all the bombed-out people we took in, I remember them with most sorrow.

   One reason why the raids were now so bad was that we were desperately short of fighter planes. Eighteen Spitfires and a few Beaufighters for night defence were brought in on March 4th, but the mortality in both planes, and, sadly, in their crews, was very heavy and they did not last long. There were rarely more than 15 fighters serviceable in the mornings and these dropped often to one or two by nightfall. When the Italian radio once claimed that they had destroyed 15 Spitfires in one day, the R.A.F. laughed grimly. There had not been more than 9 airborne throughout the day. With constant raids of up to 100 bombers, no target could therefore have much protection, and though the A.A. gunners did wonders, nothing could take the place completely of adequate fighters. When on March 23rd a convoy struggled in with supplies, there could be little shield for it, and much of it was destroyed in harbour.

   The struggle to unload what remained went on. I have a record in my diary for April 3rd, of going with my father to see British troops of the Cheshire Regiment unloading from a damaged

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ship, swimming about in a filthy mess of oil and water in a flooded hold, steering barrels to the side while others winched them out. I saw this by day, but they had been doing it at night too, and did not stop and take cover for any raids.

   My father's broadcast on March 30th was, as usual, inspiring and courageous, but certainly even he could not be unduly optimistic about the situation. He could only call for further endurance. He said:—

   "We have had our ups as well as downs. We have been sorely tried — but not crushed; we are perplexed and perhaps wearied — but not discouraged, nor are we one whit less fit to face whatever still lies in front of us than we were a month or two ago. Rather the reverse. We have been through the fire and find that we can take it, as we have all along known that we could, and the experience we have gained will stand us in good stead in the days to come ……………..

   These and other misfortunes have not weakened the grim determination to see this thing through, whatever the cost may be and to persevere until by God's help we have won through."

He used the simile that the Axis powers were trying to slam the door of the Mediterranean in the face of the Allies, and that Malta was the toe that had been thrust forward to prevent this. He added, with a masterly understatement:

   "The position of the toe is not very easy — it is apt to produce elements of discomfort …………..

   The door must not be shut. We must at all costs keep it open, and when I say that, I know I have the whole of the people of Malta behind me. It must be kept open and with God's help, it most certainly will be."

   April came in, but scarcely the Lady April, bringing the daffodils. She brought, in fact, 6,700 tons of bombs — more than three times the total of the previous month, which had been bad enough. But I am not writing a history of the crucifixion at that

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time of Malta on the Nazi crooked cross. Many books have done that, and besides, a perhaps merciful amnesia has to some extent blotted the worst from my memory. I have my diaries, but they are brief and factual and give few details.

   I have isolated little vignettes in my mind. There is the terrible bombing of Easter week, beginning with Easter Sunday, April 5th, 1942. I remember on April 7th the wedding of an English girl, Leslie Campbell, a friend of mine, to a young English officer. It took place in St. Paul's Anglican Cathedral, Valetta, despite constant raiding, and the wedding party managed to get back to Lija, beside San Anton, for a reception. But during this function the worst dive-bombing Valetta was ever to know, began. My father, my mother and I stood on the tower of San Anton and watched as Valetta disappeared in clouds of smoke and dust. When the raid was over, we had to watch agonised as the smoke cleared to see if any of the three high towers — the Palace, the Auberge de Castille and St. Paul's Cathedral — were standing. Amazingly they still were, but the Castille was a shell, the Palace badly damaged and the Cathedral rendered so unsafe that Leslie's wedding was the last service there for a long time.

   I remember the heroism of the crew of H.M.S. Penelope, which had been left behind damaged, when what remained of the rest of Force K was withdrawn. She was Number One Target, but somehow the Maltese dockyard men and her own crew continued her repairs, until, though her captain was wounded and her gunnery officer killed, she somehow managed to slip out and save another ship for the navy.

   I remember clouds of black smoke from a burning oil-ship. They floated far inland, blotting out the sun and darkening whole areas. It was a sinister and alarming sight.

   I remember days when we had no electricity and no piped water because the power station had been bombed, existing on buckets of water from our swimming pool and going to bed early to make our few candles last as long as possible. My father had intended to give a broadcast towards the end of April, but it had to be cancelled because the electricity was off that day.

   I remember long periods when there were no fighter planes

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and the gunners alone had to fight off enormous raids of over a hundred at a time. I remember standing with my father on a roof, watching an isolated gun-post being attacked, ringed round with bombs. One felt that nothing could live through that inferno of dust and flame and explosions. Then suddenly we saw that the gunners had not gone to ground, that flashes were still coming from the gun, which was hitting furiously back at its assailants. My father cried out to one of his staff:—

   "Note that gun. Find out which it is, and who is responsible. I must congratulate them specially."

   Many gunners, English and Maltese, were killed and wounded during those terrible months, but, untiring and undismayed, they did their work and by their courage and skill saved the island, bringing down at least a hundred planes in April alone.

   I remember still the desperate anxiety that ammunition, already rationed, would run out. When one saw and heard the harbour and airfields barrages one felt no supply could last such a pace. And what would happen then?

   I remember going into Valetta on April 8th and 9th to try and see what could be salvaged at the Palace. Much of the Government wing was so badly damaged, that my father decided that his office must be moved out to San Anton, and housed there as best it could. We packed up our files and records and typewriters in a lorry and came out to San Anton, together with my father's staff, three soldier clerks and, of course, me. Deeply appreciating as I did the knightly traditions of Valetta Palace, I found the damage, and our enforced exodus, tragic.

   Above all, I remember the food shortage — the rigid rationing and gradual disappearance of cheese, butter, sugar and such things. I remember afternoon tea of dry bread (a little) and radishes, of lunches and dinners of little but vegetables, served in the stately, beautiful rooms of San Anton, with gleaming silver, and footmen in the Governor's livery handing round the meagre dishes. As an A.D.C. said cheerfully, we should soon be eating grass, but it would no doubt be served in the best style. I remember when, as occasionally happened, I got an egg for breakfast, anxiously saving most of it for my canaries, who having

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fledglings at the time were supposed to be fed on hard boiled eggs. Lieutenant John Armstrong, Royal Corps of Signals, a young English officer who received the M.B.E. for his services in Malta, wrote to his father in the spring of 1942:

"You learn a new sort of economy here at present. The old ideas of profit and loss or 'can I afford it?' or even 'How much?' which one has held since childhood fall into their place. It is now a case of what is available, the question of profit or mere pecuniary value ceases to have much importance. Rather strange that most of us who have spent our days so far thinking so much of the financial background of existence, should now find a way of life that meant so much to our ancestors two or three thousand years ago. The eternal question 'What shall we eat? What shall we drink? And wherewithal shall we be clothed?' and I suppose the wherewithal to defend ourselves against our enemies. But perhaps you have to live in Malta to understand what I mean."

   So Malta went on from day to day, in want and in danger, yet still bearing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things. I think few people realised the sensation the defence of the island was causing in the outside world. Certainly my father did not. He, like everyone else, was absorbed in the day to day duties of his position, answering a thousand questions, making a thousand decisions, feeling a thousand anxieties, facing a thousand possibilities. In any case he never worried much what anyone thought about his work. He just did it.

   It came therefore as much a surprise to him as to the rest of the island, when in mid-April he received a special communication from home, which was immediately published in the papers and announced on the wireless. It was from the King of England, in his own handwriting, and read:

Buckingham Palace.

The Governor, Malta.

To honour her brave people I award the George Cross to the Island Fortress of Malta to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history.

April 15th, 1942. George R.I.

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   It was a wonderful gesture, in that never before (or indeed since) has a medal been awarded by Britain to a whole community. It revealed as nothing else had, how much Malta's sacrifice was appreciated and valued, and made it clear that every effort would be made to support and help her in the months ahead.

   On April 17th my father broadcast to the people, (the electricity happened to be working that day). After some general observations he said:

   "And now we have to prove ourselves worthy of the honour conferred on us. We cannot live on past achievements. We have to continue to deserve the honour. Its receipt imposes fresh obligations and responsibilities on us, which I am sure we will readily accept. Whatever are the difficulties which still lie ahead of us, they must be faced and overcome in a spirit worthy of a community which is the first recipient of the George Cross. Whatever sacrifices whether individual or collective we may be called to make — well, we will make them readily. Whatever service may be required of us will be readily and gladly given. It is no small thing to enjoy the proud position in which Malta now finds itself. We must live worthy of this exceedingly high calling.

   The safety and well-being of this fortress rests, under God, on four supports. These are the three fighting services and the civil population. Each one of these is essential to the well-being of the others and each one depends on the other three, and cannot do without them. As we are all co-recipients of the great honour bestowed on us by the King, let us also ensure that we are really and truly cooperative, and strive to make this cooperation more and more complete and effective. Let each community see how they can help the others (as I am sure they already try to do). Our recent experiences may have shown us how we can make

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improvements in this matter. Let us seek to find out what we can do, and then do it with all our might. Let all workers of all sorts show their appreciation of the King's action by increasing their output and giving their very best. Let all who have been feeling the burden of life take fresh courage, and accept without complaining the hardships unavoidably imposed by the difficult times. Let all self-seeking be abandoned, as being unworthy of those whom the King has delighted to honour in this way and let us all give everything we have to maintain the security and integrity of this fortress against the worst which the enemy can do.

   I believe very definitely that if we face up to our problems in this way, and if we humbly seek and depend on the help of Almighty God, we will in his own good time (and perhaps at no very distant date) emerge victoriously from our present difficulties and reach the calm waters of our 'desired haven' ".

   It was one of the greatest moments of my father's life, the crown of what Francis Gerard in "Malta Magnificent" calls "the grand inflexibility of Dobbie's leadership."

   It was 87 years since his grandmother Isabella had died with her baby son in India, died in faith not having received the promise. It was forty years to the month since his mother had written to him as he lay so dangerously ill in Ermelo Hospital in South Africa, that there would be much for him to do in life and that God would make him ready for it. Now the wheel had come in full circle, for God, who had been training him since as a fourteen-year-old schoolboy he had offered Him his life and powers, had enabled him to do a very great work, and had set on it the seal of unique recognition.

Chapter XX

Return From Malta G.C.

The pulse of war and passion of wonder,
The heavens that murmur, the sounds that shine
The stars that sing and the loves that thunder,
The music burning at heart like wine.
An armed archangel whose hands raise up
All senses mixed in the spirit's cup
Till flesh and spirit are molten in sunder —
These things are over, and no more mine.


   It was a few weeks later, early in May, that we left Malta. My father had had exactly two years there, two of the most exhausting years possible and he was far from well. So Lord Gort was appointed to take over.

   For security reasons he was not allowed to broadcast beforehand to the people, but he left behind a farewell message, which was read over the wireless and as soon as he arrived in England he was allowed to broadcast, so that they would hear his farewell in his own voice, that voice that had so often steadied them before. He ended his speech with the words:—

   "It has been an immense privilege to me to have been associated with such a people in such eventful times, and I am profoundly thankful that it fell to my lot to be with you.

   As regards the future I have every confidence, and I am convinced that God will in due course bring us through our present difficulties to victory and peace. There will be much hard fighting to be undergone before that time arrives. There may be hard times and difficult times to pass through for Malta as well as other parts of the Empire — but I know that a people and a garrison which have shown such outstanding qualities during two long years of strain will not weaken, but will endure with the same indomitable spirit. Behind this spirit and sustaining it, is I know a real trust in Almighty God. The people of Malta have faith in Him, as I have myself — he will see us through."

   We left Malta at midnight on May 7th, 1942, by the same flying boat that was bringing in Lord Gort. My father and he had a long talk, in the blacked-out R.A.F. mess, beside the sea-plane base at Kalafrana. Lord Gort was, in fact, bringing with him the actual George Cross, awarded three weeks before, but my father,

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strictly practical and concerned only with essentials, did not think of asking to see it. He wished later that he had, for in fact, he never did see it, though I have done so.

   It was a noisy ave atque vale for German planes were taking a hand in the proceedings, bombs were whistling down at intervals, and there was a pretty rowdy and spectacular barrage, and searchlights. A German plane was caught in one of the latter, just as a launch was taking us out to the flying-boat. There was a furious burst of firing, and the plane jettisoned its bombs. I felt as we got into our plane that Malta was keeping it up to the last.

   We passed Pantellaria and the danger area in the dark, but as we neared Gibraltar my father seemed restless and kept peering out of the windows. Then, gladly, he called me to come and look out. Below us I saw a convoy, a large British convoy, proceeding eastwards. He of course knew, though I did not then, that the convoy was bringing reinforcements of Spitfires to Malta, and had been watching for it throughout the journey.

   It arrived a day or two later, and the Spitfires immediately, but immediately, took the air, shattering the German attacking force. It was the first fighter force that Malta had had for a long time, and took the Luftwaffe by surprise. They lost heavily, and the severe raiding ceased. People wrote to us in England saying: "If only you had seen it! German planes were falling out of the sky all round." I wish my father had seen it, for, as far as raids were concerned, he left Malta when the night was darkest and the dawn nearest.

   He was welcomed with great kindness at Gibraltar, was taken all over the defences, and took the salute at a march-past of the garrison. He was of course much interested in the Rock and its defences, but, as he said to me, it was such a very different problem from Malta in that all the civilians had been evacuated.

   My own brief diary makes no comment on Gibraltar, except one sentence, but that is significant. I wrote "There is heaps to eat here after Malta." Nothing else.

   We spent two days there, staying at Government House, and were then flown on to England in a bomber. We arrived on Sunday, May 10th, landing at an airfield in Cornwall, and after

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breakfast (fried eggs and bacon, I remember it still) in an R.A.F. mess, we went on to London.

   As we approached London, I found myself thinking with anxiety about our next move. I could see that my father and mother were both very tired — he was looking ill and haggard — and I wondered how we would get ourselves and our luggage (not a great deal, but rather much to handle ourselves) to a hotel. Though I had not been in England since the war began, I knew petrol was short — and my mind was geared to Malta standards of shortage. But I wondered if, in the circumstances, and as it was a Sunday when public transport would be difficult, they would let us have a taxi or a car. Would that be too much to ask?

   The plane came down and we looked out. A large crowd was waiting, and as we taxied to a halt, I realised that my brother Arthur and his wife were there, and other relations. There were other people I did not know, and many with cameras and notebooks. It suddenly dawned on me that not only had our family been contacted, but that we were receiving an official welcome. It left me gasping.

   It was equally surprising to my father. He had really had no idea how famous his defence of Malta had become. We had not, of late, seen many English papers, and he had been so occupied with the everyday details of the siege — casualties, shortages, raids, — that its effect on the outside world had passed him by. The George Cross had of course been a wonderful recognition, but it had been official. He had no inkling at all how widespread was the interest, not only in Malta, but in himself as well.

   The steps were let down and the door opened. Almost shyly he got out, and Viscount Cranborne, Secretary for the Colonies, hurried forward to welcome him and say how pleased they were to have him safely home. He was followed by the First Sea Lord, Sir Dudley Pound, the Adjutant-General Sir Ronald Adams, Air-Marshal A. G. R. Garrod of the Air Council and Sir George Gater, Permanent Under-Secretary, Colonial Office. Lastly my brother Arthur stepped forward with the smartest salute of his career. Someone presented my mother with a bouquet. Then reporters closed in on us, and a battery of cameras got into action.

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   It was completely bewildering, and to no one more than the cause of it all, my father, headlined next day in many papers as "The Hero of Malta". He answered questions, he posed for photographs, but he looked puzzled and other-whither. Arthur took us up to London for a family lunch and my anxiety about the journey proved completely groundless — we could have had as many cars as we wanted. Then we went down to Camberley to Arthur's house, and more reporters and photographers arrived.

   It was not till late in the evening that my father had some time to himself, and he walked with Arthur up to the house of his friend Captain Godfrey Buxton, where there happened to be a prayer meeting in progress. They slipped in almost unobserved, and few people knew he was there until a tired voice offered a prayer for the besieged island of Malta.

   The next day he went to London and had a long conference with the Prime Minister. He was also received by the King, who first gave him the official accolade for his knighthood, and then awarded him the G.C.M.G. My mother had, incidentally, received admission a few weeks earlier, into the Order of St. John as a Commander (Sister).

   The following day my father had a press conference, and the assembled journalists did the unusual thing of rising to their feet and cheering as he came in. He also made a broadcast on the English radio, besides his message to Malta.

   We arrived home on the Sunday. My brother Orde, with his wife and baby son got over from Northern Ireland, so we were a united family once more — for the first time since 1935, and, as it turned out, for almost the last time ever. I remember just one hilarious evening when we all listened to a highly-coloured broadcast, mentioning us at some length and inaccuracy, amid much facetious comment from my brothers. Then by Wednesday my father was becoming really ill, and by Friday they had hurried him into the Cambridge Hospital, Aldershot for an operation. There were complications and for a time he was very ill indeed, his life in danger. The long strain had worn him down more than any of us realised.

   I used to visit him in hospital and, as I sat with him, he often

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seemed absent-minded and I knew that his thoughts were in Malta. He was kept in close touch with the news from there, and I saw the failure of the June convoy reflected in his troubled eyes. I think it was not till the Santa Maria convoy got in in August — or that part of it that had survived its terrible ordeal — that he began fully to recover.

   Later he went down to the Isle of Wight for a period of convalescence, and then he and my mother came back and settled into Bailey's Hotel, South Kensington, till they could look around them. By that time he had recovered his health, but was never afterwards quite what he had been. I don't think he ever played tennis, or sailed or swam again.

   While he was in hospital there was little that my mother and I could do for him, except to cope with his enormous correspondence as best we could. Letters had been pouring in since we arrived. They were from every kind of person, known and unknown to us.

   One peer wrote, very kindly, and said that as no doubt we were tired, he would be delighted to lend us his house on one of the Hebridean islands where we could have a completely undisturbed rest. Other (personal) friends wrote offering us hospitality.

   There was a pathetic letter, badly written and spelt, from a woman whose son had been killed in Malta, asking if we had any details. Of course we had not, and could only refer to the usual authorities, but I remember crying as I typed the answer.

   An unknown young man, asking for my father's autograph, wrote:—

"Your truly heroic resistance has made an everlasting impression in our hearts, but I am sure your own personal courage and bravery have been a source of encouragement to your people."

   Another autograph-seeker, serving in the R.A.F., said:

"All the world loves a hero, especially if it's British. And we have in you a true Wellington and Marlborough."

   There were several poems on Malta and its Governor — mostly very bad poetry, but kindly meant and highly gratifying. There

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were dozens of letters asking my father to speak or lecture or write on his experiences.

   I kept one file clearly marked "Letters from Lunatics". I suppose some individuals spend much of their time writing completely incomprehensible letters to people in the public eye, but we had not encountered them before, and found it bewildering. I don't think I attempted to answer these letters. For one thing, I could not understand them. But I answered as many normal letters as possible without troubling my father. I even plagiarised, and produced "A Message from General Dobbie" once or twice, which he did not see till later, but which he did not repudiate! As a good secretary, I knew his style and his wishes very well.

   Perhaps it would be of interest here to give some official estimates of my father's achievements, by including a selection of the Press comments that appeared at this time. The Press indeed had taken him to their hearts, and from the many cuttings of the period it is difficult to choose the most interesting. The Times, May 11th and 13th, 1942.

   "Malta's brave defender."

   "The island garrison which Sir William Dobbie has led with inspired and inspiring resolution."

Daily Telegraph, May llth, 1942.

   "Hero of Malta Returns."

   From a leading article "Dobbie of Malta."

   "Britain welcomes home General Sir William Dobbie who arrived in this country from Malta yesterday at the conclusion of a period of service which will live in the history of British arms.

   Malta's garrison and people are resolved as ever 'that the fortress shall stand, a Christian barrier, as it did 377 years ago'. He used these words lately and they hold a clue to the character of this great soldier, fortified as it is by deep religious conviction like that of another hero of the Royal Engineers — Gordon of Khartoum. All accounts agree that the holding of Malta has been a triumph of personal inspiration; the leader who shared all the peril, and

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was foremost in the work of rescue under air-bombardment, fed that flame of courage which has won for the island the honour of the George Cross. At 63, General Dobbie has handed over to Lord Gort a command in which the influence of a noble example will be at work as long as the assault upon Malta may last."

Daily Express, May 9th, 1942.

   "Let us give General Dobbie a real rousing imaginative welcome the very day he sets foot in England from gallant Malta. Let him be shown to the people, so that they can applaud him, and through him, the glorious men and women of Malta."

Spectator, 15th May, 1942.

   "Lieut-General Sir William Dobbie has been the organiser of a defence that has already had a profound influence on the history of the war. His leadership and personality have sustained the splendid morale both of the men in the forces and the civilians."

Observer, 10th May, 1942.

   From a "Profile of Dobbie of Malta."

   "Under bombing heavier than that endured by any other community, Malta holds on. Why? There are no ties of blood with Britain. Religion could be a barrier. Cultural contacts — we should say it with shame — have been all too few. The secret lies not in policy but personality — the personality of one man.

   Shaggy eyebrows, shaggy moustache, grey eyes, gentle and kindly with that paradoxical gentleness of the professional soldier — no affectation of authority — such is the outward aspect of Lieutenant-General Sir William Dobbie. At a first meeting one might even miss the quality of the man — the iron resolution, the inner calm. It is curious

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how exactly, in temperament, he fits the classical definition of greatness in a military commander — Wavell's definition 'robustness and ability to stand the shocks of war', Voltaire's praise of Marlborough: 'calm courage in the midst of tumult' and 'serenity of soul in the face of danger'.

   What is the secret of the 'serenity of soul' which Dobbie has inspired in the people of Malta? It springs first of all from his deep religious convictions.

   Now the island is to lose its leader. He is 63. He has borne the responsibility and trial of constant attack for months on end. We may surmise that the spirit has not flinched, but that 'Brother Ass' the bodily support, can no longer stand the strain. Yet even when he has gone, for his islanders — and for all the world — he will still be 'Dobbie of Malta.' The spirit of resistance will still be his."

Time & Tide, 16th May, 1942.

   "It is not difficult to understand the affection of the Maltese, 'more British than the King and more Catholic than the Pope 'as they describe themselves, for General Dobbie. 'From the beginning' he said 'I let it be known that I also feared God and trusted him'; but the bond between the Governor and his people was not only that of lively devotion at the opposite extremities of Christian worship. The strong, kindly, wholly unaffected character which stands out from General Dobbie's face at the first glance must have stood out much more clearly and most gratefully to his little island community after two years of common trials.

   His own stories, designed to illustrate the courage or the misfortunes of the Maltese, also throw a certain light upon himself. 'A man whose house had just been destroyed came up to me'

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'A woman who was collecting what remained of her possessions said ………..' Not only did they like to come up to him to tell him things, but he was there to be told. And best of all I liked his first-hand illustration of the size of the bombs dropped: 'I was watching the raid and I saw a bomb hit this particular church, but the dome did not collapse. When I got there I saw, lying in the middle of the floor, a two-thousand-pounder, un-exploded."

Daily Mail, 11th May, 1942.

   From "The Hero of Malta."

   "Dobbie of Malta, one of the war's great heroes, and the man who has led that gallant island through the longest and most terrible blitz in the history of air warfare."

Manchester Guardian, 12th May, 1942.

   "Malta, from which General Dobbie returns bringing great honour with him."

Church Times, 15th May, 1942.

   "The heroic defender of an heroic island."

British Weekly, 14th May, 1942.

   "Malta has had more than 2,000 enemy raids, and the splendid steadfastness of the people and the security of the island have been due largely to the example and the ability of the Governor, Lieut-General Sir W. G. S. Dobbie.

   In Malta, General Dobbie has been a friend of the people, where it is said, his reputation for simple piety has been equalled only by his courage and resource."

Daily Dispatch, 9th May, 1942.

   "No tribute can be too high to pay to our troops and the Maltese or to their leader, General Dobbie ………… He returns to Britain to find awaiting him our unstinted gratitude to and admiration for a soldier who has fought magnificently,

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not only with weapons, but also with the flaming, invincible sword of faith — faith in those he led, in his cause and in God."

Patriot, 14th May, 1942.

   "There is no defence in this war which can rank with that of Malta under General Dobbie, whose leadership has been a marvellous inspiration, not only to his men, but to the valiant and sorely tried Maltese."

Everybody's, 16th May, 1942.

   "The Maltese are a deeply religious people — in General Dobbie they have found the valiant and God-fearing leader they need."

Glasgow Herald, 11th May, 1942.

   "General Dobbie's farewell message to Malta and his glowing tribute on his arrival in Britain yesterday are rich testimony to the beleaguered garrison and civil population and, incidentally to his own noble example. In a community relatively so small the personality of the Commander-in-Chief must be a powerful influence …………. It is small wonder if his spirit is shared by the battered island community, that its endurance has wrung admiration even from the enemy.

   General Dobbie's achievement has been valuable and spectacular from both the moral and military aspects. The military value of Malta's resistance can be precisely assessed. It has presented a barrier to large-scale, unopposed Axis reinforcement of the North African front. Without Malta to serve as submarine and air base for patrol forces in the Sicilian Channel, the course of events in the Middle East might have been altered to our disadvantage."

Glasgow Daily Record and Mail, 9th May, 1942.

   "General Dobbie has been called a 'Modern Gordon', and perhaps we might do worse than

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look to his deep religious convictions and his unfailing practice of them in his daily life for the secret of the inspiration which he was able to impart to all who, with himself, have borne Malta's ordeal. In his way, this Christian soldier is surely typical of the whole spirit behind our crusade against evil in this great war."

   This paper also on May 12th published two photos, one taken before the war and the other that day, and pointed out the contrast:

"Two years of life on the most bombed spot on earth has left their mark on the features of Dobbie of Malta."

They were right. He was looking very ill.

   On May 11th there was even a tribute from the Germans on their radio, though not to my father personally:

"Malta gives us trouble and will give us more trouble. The enemy does not give up Malta. This fortress is too vital for the future of the British Empire. It takes skill and luck to escape the enemy A.A. guns. It wants dash and cunning to cope with enemy fighters."

   On June 16th, 1942 his successor as Governor of Malta, Lord Gort, sent a telegram which read:

   "Council of the Royal University of Malta proposes conferring on you the degree of Doctor of Law Honoris Causa."

This was later conferred by proxy, thus adding an honorary doctorate to William's many other honours.

   There were, of course, tributes from individuals too:

Churchill on May 10th, 1942.

   "General Dobbie, for nearly two years the heroic defender of Malta."

Attlee in the House of Commons, May 19th, 1942.

   "All credit was due to the people of Malta and to their gallant Governor, General Sir William Dobbie."

This was greeted with cheers from the House.

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Mr. Ernest Thurtle, Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Information:

   "A great, indomitable Cromwellian leader."

Sir Harold Nicholson in his diary for May 11th, 1942. Referring to anti-British feeling in the United States, he adds:

   "The problem is largely one of proper boasting. Why did we not boost Dobbie and Malta as the Americans created the Bataan-McArthur legend?"

From the "Daily Sketch" correspondence column, 22nd May, 1942.

   "I want to thank you for every word you have printed regarding General W. Dobbie's love, faith and trust in God.

   No word from any source has so encouraged, cheered and strengthened me — and multitudes of others — as your several references to this fact. It should encourage leaders to emulate Sir William Dobbie.

Worthing. (Sgd.) N. Pritt."

   I would like finally to include a generous tribute, a little later, from my father's successor, that brave man, Viscount Gort V.C. Speaking at the opening of a session of the Malta Council of Government, on November 2nd, 1943, he said:

   "Malta, and I, who succeeded him, both owe much to Sir William Dobbie. It was he who organised this Fortress for war; it was his foresight which produced the shelters; it was under his administration that the foundations were laid of the great civil organisation which was destined to carry the Siege through to a successful conclusion; we who followed in his footsteps, had only to continue along the trail which he had blazed. A fearless and devout leader, his belief in the destiny of Malta and in the ultimate triumph of the United Nations never faltered. When his health finally broke down, Malta lost a Governor whose paramount interest had been to serve this Fortress and the Maltese people whom he loved so well.

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   It was under Sir William's inspiring leadership that Malta was awarded the George Cross by His Majesty the King and today, the name of Malta is honoured everywhere as a symbol of heroic faith and resistance."

   Thirty years, at least a generation, have passed. The wounds of war are healed and "now, in the place of slaughter, are cots and sheepfolds seen." The Second Siege of Malta is almost as much a part of history as the first. But for those who endured it the glory and the inspiration cannot be completely forgotten. And for me this inspiration is personified by my father.

   It would be valueless for someone like myself to try and make any assessment of his whole work. Though my own feeling, especially since I have seen some of the enemy comments, is that Malta turned the scale of the Mediterranean and North African war, and was therefore an essential concomitant in the final victory. I am no military historian. I may be wrong. I can only record with certainty the inspiration and source of courage and faith that my father was to me, as the bombs fell and starvation's grisly shape grew nearer.

   People have often asked me if my experiences in the siege had any lasting effects, physical or psychological. I can only reply that there were absolutely none*, and I am sure that the same was true of my mother. But I think that this was because my father bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, as he did for many others in the island. I heard of a workman crossing by the Sliema ferry after a ghastly night's bombardment, who said simply:

   "If we do as H.E. tells us and trust in God, all will be well."

Those were exactly my sentiments. He did the worrying for us all.

   This inspiration did not cease for me in May 1942. Throughout my life, when occasions demanding courage, moral or physical, have arisen, I have felt behind me — Dobbie of Malta, and have tried to recall again the lesson that seemed so clear as I stood beside him in a hundred bombardments, that with faith in God

*Editor's note: My mother did in fact tell me that, after the food shortages in the siege, she sometimes found herself overwhelmed by the abundance of food in shops.

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and the courage that God will give His servants, one can face anything. St. Paul puts it very clearly:

   "I have strength for anything through Him who gives me power."

   My father was the most wonderful exponent of this principle that I have ever known, and I cannot forget it, any more than I can forget him, "the hero of Malta" who loved me and taught me.

   During the Thirty Years War, in the 17th century, a certain Colonel Robert Monro served in a Scottish regiment, under that renowned Christian soldier, King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. A generation later Monro wrote his memoirs. Describing the battle of Breitenfeld, in which he had fought in 1631, he said:

   "The word given was 'God with us'. A little short speech made by His Majesty, being in order of battaile, we marched towards the enemie ……. O would to God I had once such a Leader again to fight such another day in this old quarrell! And though I died standing, I should be persuaded I died well."

I understand just how he felt.

Chapter XXI


Yet much remains
To conquer still;
Peace hath her victories
No less renown'd than War.
New foes arise
Threatening to bind our souls with secular chains.


   My parents came to London in the Autumn of 1942, and settled in Bailey's Hotel, Gloucester Road. By that time I was doing a job, and living in a flat with a friend, and shortly afterwards I was married, so I was no longer daughter-at-home or my father's office-girl. But my flat was near the hotel, and as my husband was immediately ordered abroad, I remained there, and I went on seeing my parents almost daily until I left for India in 1946.

   While my father was at the convalescent home at the Isle of Wight, my mother had asked him one day:

   "What if you could choose, would you really like, above anything else, to do next?"

He had thought for a moment and then said, slowly:

   "I should really like to go around the country, telling as many people as I possibly could, about God."

   It was perhaps a surprising ambition for a retired General, K.C.B., and G.C.M.G., a Bailif Grand Cross of St. John and something of a national figure, but God gave him his wish. He became, in effect, a missionary, and one who probably influenced very many more people than he would have done had he heard the missionary call early in life. Immediately he was recovered and living in London, he found himself in constant demand to speak here, there and everywhere. And he accepted all the invitations he possibly could, using every opportunity to give testimony to the love and faithfulness of God.

   He regarded this work as a real duty and mission and he kept a careful record of all the places to which he went. He had two maps, one of London and its suburbs and one of the British Isles, and he marked the places in red to which he had been. These are astonishing maps, and include such distant spots as Truro, Perth and Londonderry.

   He spoke at university towns including Oxford and Cambridge,

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at such industrial centres as Manchester and Birmingham, at county towns like Lincoln and Norwich and Salisbury, at many small villages whose names are scarcely known outside their counties. He went to individual firms, as for instance when he opened a special "Wings for Victory" Week at the H.M.V. factory outside London. He spoke at the Bank of England, at St. Thomas' Hospital, at St. Dunstan's, to a Civil Service Christian Union. He spoke at schools — Wellington College where his son Orde had been, and Wadhurst College for Girls and Clapham Secondary School. He spoke in Cathedrals — Canterbury and Ripon and Southwark. He made two tours of Scotland and one of Northern Ireland. These last ones were semi-official, and he was received by the local dignitaries. A newspaper photograph of 4th February, 1943, even shows him driving the locomotive "Malta" out of Euston Station after renaming it "Malta G.C."

   The subjects of his many addresses varied. They might have been part of a production drive, or a talk on Malta for general interest, or a technical discussion of the problems of the siege in army centres. Or some church or chapel or mission might have asked him for a plain gospel address. But however he started, he always, mindful of his determination to do so, gave honour to God and pointed to His love and His help as the secret of living. One lady, with no religious background, who went to one of his meetings out of curiosity, said:

   "I thought it was just going to be a talk on the siege of Malta, but he spoke about Christ as though he had had tea with Him yesterday."

   Generally he was received with great enthusiasm, but sometimes the atmosphere was less friendly. There was one meeting in a large industrial town, where, though the hall was full, there was a critical feeling. But he began his speech by saying, in effect:

   "Some of you may have friends or relations serving in Malta, in one of the Services, or perhaps in some other capacity. News is very hard to come by with the blockade, and you may be anxious for information. If this is so, do come and see me after the meeting, and if I can help you, I will. Of

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course, the chances that I should know anything about your friend, are small, but it is just possible that I might, and I will certainly do anything I can to help."

   The man who reported this later, said the whole feeling of the audience suddenly changed, and just by this touch of human sympathy, he carried them with him the whole way.

   In his methodical way he kept not only maps of his visits, but also a record of how many people he had addressed in each place, as far as he could estimate them. He kept this up till the end of 1944, and the numbers, as it seemed to him, had then reached almost 369,000. That is, well over a third of a million people in the British Isles had heard of his God through his lips. My mother also spoke at a good many places, and accompanied him on some of his tours, so that if her meetings were included the numbers would probably reach half a million.

   Besides this, he wrote a book, A Very Present Help, describing some of his religious experiences in the army, with of course, a good deal about Malta. He wrote easily and very clearly — his classical education had left him with a remarkable knowledge of words, their uses and meanings — and the book sold well. It was translated into several languages. He also wrote articles in many Christian papers, so that his message went far and wide.

   Early in 1945 my mother and he went further afield. The Moody Institute of Chicago, a large Christian organisation, founded by the American Evangelist, D. L. Moody, had invited them earlier to come on a sponsored tour to the United States and Canada, but shipping and passages were difficult, and it was not till early in 1945 that they were able to go.

   They were away for five months, and were in fact in California when peace in Europe was announced. The war had indeed taken them a long way from the little meeting in Kensington where, on September 3rd, 1939, they had heard the first siren.

   Their tour was wonderful. America and Canada took them to their hearts, and their meetings were enormously well attended. As the President of the Moody Institute wrote to them, after a time:

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"If you and Lady Dobbie has had any question as to how Americans are receiving your message, I should like to tell you frankly and honestly that, in the estimation of everyone you are both "tops" ……………

You both have won the hearts of all of us here, and I am yet to meet one single person who has even heard a rumour of any kind of disappointment in your public utterances or your conduct and conversation".

   They spoke to Congressmen in Washington, and lunched with Mrs. Roosevelt at the White House (the President was away), and another day with the British Ambassador, Lord Halifax. In Canada, at Ottawa, the Governor-General, the Prime Minister and many government officials attended my father's main meeting. My mother, writing to her sister, said:

   "Hundreds were turned away and the papers were lyrical about Will. God has blessed his witness beyond our dreams!"

   His estimate of numbers addressed during the tour was 147,000, but of course this could not include the people who heard his broadcasts, or those who were reading his book, which was selling widely in America.

   They arrived back in England in June, in the "Queen Mary", and went back to Bailey's Hotel, but there was still one more tour for them before they settled down finally. This was to Australia. Hearing of the success of the American and Canadian tour, the Australian Inter-Varsity Fellowship of Evangelical Unions and their President Dr. Howard Mowll, Archbishop of Sydney, had written and asked them to come to the antipodes on a similar visit. They accepted, and in December 1945 left England again for the longest journey of their lives.

   In January they stopped at Durban for a few days — my father's first visit to South Africa since he left it as a subaltern in 1902. He was welcomed by a telegram from the Prime Minister, General Jan Smuts, against whom he had once fought. What long and useful lives both had had since those days!

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   My parents reached Wellington on February 6th, 1946, and spent six weeks in New Zealand. Then they went on to Australia, and made an extensive tour, basing themselves first on Sydney, and then on Melbourne, then on Brisbane, then on Adelaide and finally on Perth. A list of their meetings would be monotonous. As in America they included every type of listener from 12,000 in the Stadium at Sydney, to fifty prefects from senior schools in Perth. The Maltese community in Australia was very much in evidence everywhere, for with the ending of the siege and then the war, many Maltese had been able to emigrate, and they greeted their ex-Governor with great affection and enthusiasm. But for those who wish to hear more, is it not written in the Book "I.V.F. Invites a General" by Paul White, the official account of the tour?

   It is perhaps appropriate to say here, that my parents never received any sort of payment for these tours, and though the expenses were paid, they themselves often contributed towards them. The Moody Institute wanted, too, to make them a present of a thousand pounds, and this they firmly refused.

   One cannot, of course, estimate the spiritual result of the tours, but perhaps it could be epitomised in the words of an Australian boy, overheard talking to a friend after one of the big youth rallies at which my father spoke. "Gee", he said "I'll never say it's sissy to be a Christian again after hearing him!"

   But the war had now been over for a year, and the siege of Malta was receding into history. My father was wise enough to realise this, and though he did have one more tour — in Norway the following year, when the King and Crown Prince attended one of his lectures, and entertained him to dinner afterwards — he realised that this phase of his work was nearly over. In his farewell letter to the Australian committee he said:

   "We have just had the final meeting of the tour, the Youth Meeting in the Capitol Theatre here. I was praying much beforehand that, as it was to be the last, it might be the best. It certainly was a happy one. The place was packed and they listened very well. But I am sad tonight as I face the fact

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that this chapter in our life is closed. It has been a very happy one for me, and I have been very conscious of the tremendous privilege accorded to me in addressing all these thousands of people, who were so ready to listen. I feel, and so does my wife, that this form of service is finished, and that God must have some other form in store for us."

   My mother said much the same, adding that they did not know what God had for them in the future. All their married lives, she added, they had never had to agonise in prayer over the next move — the Army made the moves for them. Now they had to make a decision — a new experience for them — but they knew the Lord would make plain the path, and she commended the Lord's guidance to young people starting on the Christian path.

   They came back to England, and early in 1947 finally settled down. They got a flat in Kensington. It was roomy as London flats go, and they were able to entertain their children and grandchildren. They felt that, with a son and son-in-law both in the army and coming and going, and with other relations in the Home Counties, London would be the best centre for seeing their family.

   Perhaps, at this point should be mentioned the great sorrow that they had suffered in June 1944, when my elder brother, Arthur was killed in Italy. I did not mention it earlier, so as not to interrupt the sequence of the account of their work, but it had, in fact, been a terrible blow. Arthur was serving with a Sapper unit in the advance up Italy, and was killed, almost instantaneously, by mortar fire. The boy born in Bermuda, and dedicated to God among the friendly dark faces there, lies under Italian skies in the military cemetery at Orvietto. He left a young widow, and a son, Ian, of five years old.

   My parents bore it with simple courage and trust in God's faithfulness, but it left a very deep mark. My father said little, but felt so much. There is a text in the book of Zechariah, describing overwhelming sorrow, "as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn", and he never ceased, silently, to mourn Arthur. My mother, of course, did too, but people expect it more from a mother, and my father's grief was so silent, that few realised its depths.

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   One of the reasons, then, that they wanted to settle down, with a home of their own, was so that they could see something of their daughter-in-law and Ian, and give them any help they could. And this worked out as they hoped, for a very close relationship grew up between Ian and his grandfather.

   89 Coleherne Court was their last home, the last and the one in which they were far the longest. Their life was quiet and happy. My father continued to serve on a number of Christian Committees. He was President of the Officers' Christian Union, and the Seamen's Christian Friend Society, and several other organisations. He was Vice-President of the National Young Life Campaign and the Evangelical Alliance and the Y.M.C.A. He wrote another book, "Active Service with Christ."

   My mother helped with the women's meeting at the local Brethren's assembly, and also ran a most successful Sunday School for the many children living in Coleherne Court.

   Their home, was, as they had hoped, a centre for all the family. Someone was always staying, and grandchildren were constantly being met from school, fed generously, escorted across London and despatched to Germany or Singapore or Gibraltar or distant parts of England as required. They themselves twice visited Germany, firstly on a visit to my brother Orde and his family, and secondly to my husband and me.

   The sunset was long, happy and peaceful. It was not till 1961 that the shadows began to fall. That summer they had been staying with us in Ripon, and had then gone on to Harrogate, so that my mother, who was suffering from rheumatism and had an Edwardian faith in the efficacy of "taking the waters" could attend the Spa there. I had been over to visit them, and as I was getting into the car to go home, my father said:

   "I suppose you will be needing your lights soon! It's getting dark."

   I looked around. It was a brilliantly sunny, clear Yorkshire day, and four o'clock on an August afternoon. Suddenly I felt a cold finger touch my heart, but as calmly as I could, I replied:

   "Well, not quite yet. I don't think lighting-up time is till about 8.30".

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He noticed nothing, and just said casually:

   "Oh, not till then, is it?"

   I said goodbye, got into the car and drove off, a great fear filling my mind.

   I was not mistaken. He went back to London, visited an eye specialist and was told he was suffering from glaucoma. It was not possible to operate, and they could only keep the disease at bay by constant care and drops in the eyes. He was never able to see clearly again to read. At the same time his hearing was failing, though otherwise he was very well.

   Shortly after the visit to Harrogate, my mother had a fall, from which she never fully recovered. She was ill for some months, and as always, he was her constant companion, able to lift her and help her to the end. She died in October 1962, and the mainspring of his life was broken. But faith remained.

   He stayed on in his flat, tenderly cared for by my brother Orde and his wife Florence, who had been living there for some time before my mother's death. He never complained of his semi-blindness, saying that he was sure God would let him have all the sight he needed. He used to get himself about the district very intelligently, a tall upright old man with a white stick, knowing the area and the building well. As he came up in the lift, I used to notice that his groping fingers never pressed the wrong button.

   He went on attending the Brethren's meeting on Sunday, and he also often went to weekday meetings there. Friends used to say they wondered why he liked going, when he could not see the people clearly or hear distinctly what was said, but we knew that he liked just being among Christians, the simple Christians of a Brethren's assembly such as he had known and loved all his life.

   During the summer of 1964, Malta was to become independent. He received a special invitation from the Maltese government to go out for the ceremonies, but, after much thought, he declined. He felt that his blindness would prevent his recognising people, and that this might cause offence. Incidentally, when a Maltese officer, a former A.D.C., heard this, he was full of regret, and said:

   "I wish he had come. I'd have been his A.D.C. again and looked after him. I'd have seen everything was all right."

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But though he did not go, he was able to compose a message, which was published in "The Times of Malta" on September 21st, asking God's blessing on the island's future, — the last words of Dobbie of Malta.

   Though my father did not feel able to go, four of us went — my brother Orde, his son Robert, my husband and myself. Indeed my father rang me up and said he would like to give me the price of my ticket there. It was the last present he ever gave me, for while we were in Malta, on the very day when all the bells and fireworks were celebrating the "coming of age" of the island, which owed him so much, he had a stroke. It was a strange coincidence. Could there have been any feeling of a parent, whose child was now launched in life and no longer needed him, so that now he might go "Home"? Who am I to speculate?

   He never fully recovered consciousness, and when we got back from Malta, it was clear that he could not live. It seemed as though he did not want to — like dying Cromwell, he was "in haste to be gone".

   He once said:

   "Vital and uninterrupted contact with our Heavenly Father is the most wonderful thing in the world".

   Through war and danger, through fame and success, through bereavement, through blindness and old age that contact was never broken. Through faith he had endured "as seeing Him who is invisible" and he could not but welcome the moment when faith would be lost in sight and his blind eyes open to see the King in His beauty. He died on October 3rd, 1964.

   Florence and I were holding his hands as he entered the river, but whose hands helped him out on the further bank? Were they my mother's, pretty as when he had first put a ring on the fourth finger sixty years before? Or were they other Hands, stronger and scarred? Who can tell, for mortal eyes could follow him no further, nor could mortal ears catch any echo as all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.

Editor's Note

   When my mother died in 1973 she left the manuscript for this book. She was expecting a publisher to make alterations, and it is possible that she too would have wished to revise some parts of the final text. In preparing it for publication I have at several points regretted that I did not have a chance to discuss it with her while she was alive. However, I have not felt it right to make significant changes, so this is her book, as she originally wrote it, with only minor alterations and corrections by myself.

   This is the story of William Dobbie, and therefore rightly demonstrates his remarkable character as an individual. However, the book shows, and William too was aware, how much his family background influenced his life, and he in his turn has had a profound influence on his descendants.

   The family has had many service connections, and both William's sons held commissions as regular officers in the British Army, as now do three of his four grandsons. It is perhaps interesting to note that the Dobbie family's connection with the Indian sub-continent has also continued. William's daughter served there with her husband after the War, and his fourth grandson is currently in a diplomatic post in Sri Lanka (Ceylon).

   William and Sybil found their first visit to Palestine very moving, and in particular being able to stand at Gordon's Calvary and in the little garden nearby with the tomb in which Christ may have been laid. Both a son and a grandson have lived and worked in that garden, and all William's direct descendants and their wives and husbands have visited it.

   However, the most important thing of all to William Dobbie was his walk with Jesus Christ, and in this too he was a link between his believing forebears and his believing descendants. All his three children, his five grandchildren and their wives and husbands have followed him in trusting Christ. In his testimony for "Admirals & Generals" (six testimonies to personal faith by British

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ranking officers published in the late 1930s for the U.S. Army), he wrote:

   "I have been asked to give my testimony to the saving and keeping power of God in Christ. This I gladly do for His Glory. I have had the inestimable privilege of coming from Christian stock for several generations. What this has meant to me is more than I can compute. My parents brought me up in the nurture and fear of the Lord, and I can never be sufficiently grateful to them for their influence and prayers."

   We, his descendants, are equally aware of and grateful for his influence and prayers.

Jos Johnston
June 1978

Books Consulted

Short Note on the Author

   Sybil Dobbie, only daughter of Sir William, was born at 11 The Paragon, Blackheath. She was educated at Roedean from 1924 to 1926. After working for a time in military intelligence, she joined her parents in Pasley House, where her father was Commandant from 1933 to 1935. She was also with her parents in Singapore for their last year there. Sybil stayed on in 1939 working in the censorship office, when they returned home, but in 1940 she was asked by her father to join his staff as his Confidential Secretary, on his appointment as Governor of Malta. She shared with them nearly 2,000 air raids on that island between 1940 and 1942.

   When they returned to England, Sybil joined the staff of the corresponding editor of the Daily Telegraph. In December 1943 Sybil married Major Percy Johnston of the Royal Artillery, and they had one son, Jocelyn (Jos). In 1965 she and her husband bought a house in Mansion Row, just two doors from the house where her parents had lived more than 40 years before.

   Sybil taught History at Fort Pitt School for Girls, and also at Gads Hill School, Higham, up to the time of her death from a heart attack on 27 June 1973.

   Sybil's first book, 'Grace under Malta', was published in 1944, and gave her own account of the World War II Siege of that island.

Beginning in November of 2014 until October 2015, there is a special exhibit on the life of General Sir William Dobbie at Christ Church Jerusalem. The following photos were taken at the opening of the exhibit and provided by Jos Johnston to this webmaster. The exhibit bears the name of this book. Please visit their Facebook page.

General William Dobbie, circa 1935

All rights reserved. Used by permission of the Dobbie family. No portion of this online edition of Faith and Fortitude may be reproduced in any form or by any means, except for brief quotations for the purpose of review, comment, or scholarship, without written permission of the copyright holder.

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