Surgeon General Sir William Babtie

Biography of Surgeon General Sir William Babtie

A native of Dumbarton, William Babtie was born on 7th May 1859 to Edith Mary, who came originally from Ballyadam, County Cork, and John Babtie, JP. William studied Medicine at the University of Glasgow and had a good undergraduate record, attaining 2nd class Merit Certificates in Chemistry, Materia Medica, Forensic Medicine, Midwifery and Practice of Medicine, before graduating MB in 1880. A year after graduating and after qualifying as a surgeon, he entered the Army Medical Service. By the time the Great War began he was fifty-five, the Deputy-Director General of the Service, and an honoured recipient of a Victoria Cross (VC) for gallantry in South Africa. He still had an even bigger challenge ahead of him to direct medical services in the Mediterranean theatres of war.

In South Africa he was in action at the relief of Ladysmith and subsequent operations in the Transvaal and Natal. It was at Colenso, on 15th December, 1899, that he tended to the wounded men of the 14th and 16th Batteries of the Royal Field Artillery under circumstances which called for selfless and heroic action. Major Babtie rode out to where the wounded lay unattended in heavy fire - his pony was struck three times - and, at great risk to his own safety brought medical assistance to all of them. He was awarded the Victoria Cross (VC).

Over the next decade, he went on to acquire a great deal of experience in organising and directing medical services, as Assistant Medical Officer of the Eastern Command (1906-1907), Inspector of Medical Services (1907-1910) and Deputy-Director-General of Army Services, 1910-1914). On the outbreak of war Babtie was appointed Director of Military Supplies in India, with the job of supporting British operations in Mesopotamia. The operation was not an unqualified success and there were medical shortages, which were severely criticised by the subsequent British Mesopotamia Commission, reporting in 1917, though it mainly attributed the blame to others. By that time he had moved on and served as Director of Medical Services in the Mediterranean (1915-1916), responsible for medical supplies at Gallipoli and Egypt and Salonika, again a role that attracted critics. Nonetheless his stock continued to rise - he was Mentioned in Despatches (MID), and promotion and honours were heaped on him. He became Director and later Inspector of the Medical Services at the War Office (1916-1919).

Surgeon-General Sir William Babtie received a great many honours - a Knight Commander The Most Honourable Order of the Bath (KCB), a Knight of Grace of the Order of St John of Jerusalem in England, and Honorary Surgeon to His Majesty. In 1919, his alma mater bestowed on him its own recognition of the war services of one of its most distinguished graduates in uniform when it conferred an LLD. Sir William died in 1920.

Summary

Surgeon General Sir William Babtie
Rank: Surgeon General
Regiment: Director Army Medical Service
Degree: MB KHS
Awards: Mentioned in Despatches
Comments: N/A
Note/Press Clipping: N/A
Photo ID: N/A

Sources

University of Glasgow Registry, Faculty and General Council Records

Who Was Who (London: A & C Black 1929)

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