Surgeon Major William Babtie
VC (1899) KCB KCMG (1916) LLD MB (Glas 1880)
7 May 1859 [Dumbarton] – 11 Sep 1920 [Knocke Belgium]
Eldest son of John Babtie, Provost and JP of Dumbarton.
Graduated from the University of Glasgow, taking his MB and LRCP LRCS in 1880.
30 July 1881 Surgeon-Captain.
2 Jan 1883 Embarked for India on the Troop ship Crocodile.
Medical Officer to "O" Battery 4 Brigade Royal Artillery.
1885 Returned to England.
May 1887 Staff–Surgeon, Fort William, vice Surgeon–Major R.H. Gardner MD, Medical Staff, transferred to Dum-Dum.
30 July 1893 Surgeon-Major.
Malta 23 Feb 1895 Arrived from England.
Officer in charge of Staff and Dependents Valletta.
Resident at Valletta Union Club.
Malta 10 Sep 1895 To England on leave.
Malta 2 July 1896 To England on leave.
Officer in charge of Staff and Dependents Valletta.
Resident at Morrello Hotel Strada Forni.
Malta 1897 Officer in charge of Citta Vecchia Station Hospital and Sanatorium for soldier's wives and children.
Resident at 24 Strada Bastione Mdina.
Malta 5 Apr 1897 Left for Crete. Senior Medical Officer during the insurrection of 1897.
Commander-in-Chief Malta stated that Babtie: "Was one of the very best medical officers I have ever met. He is much respected and very popular".
31 Mar 1897–19 Apr 1898 Senior Medical officer Crete. "Amongst other duties he was entrusted with the cleaning up of Candia, in the face of an apathetic or actively hostile and fanatical population. The promptitude, efficiency and success of his methods at once arrested the attention of his chiefs and from that date he became a marked man. For his services in Crete he was awarded the CMG, an honour in those days rarely given to officers of his seniority. Henceforward his talents became more and more in request for posts requiring administrative and executive capacity. His powers rapidly ripened and he showed that he had not only the imagination to conceive, but also the ability to present his ideas in convincing form and the resourcefulness and driving power necessary for their adequate execution".1
20 June 1899 Appointed an Ordinary Member 3rd Class or Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in recognition for his services in Crete (6 Apr 1897 to 7 Feb 1898).
11 Oct 1899–31 May 1902 Anglo–Boer War.
Oct 1899–Nov 1900 Served in South Africa as staff officer to the principal medical officer with the Natal Army. "There he once more made his mark and was of inestimable worth to his chief in carrying through the numerous emergent measures rendered necessary by the vicissitudes of the campaign. Here also his ideas as to many pressing reforms required in the organisation of the medical service crystallised. It was at Colenso that he gave proof of that daring initiative and high physical courage which were amongst his characteristics; physical courage matched by the moral courage he subsequently displayed on many occasions".1 He was present at the relief of Ladysmith, including action at Colenso and the subsequent operations in Natal and the Eastern Transvaal.
20 Apr 1900 Awarded the Victoria Cross.
At Colenso on 15 December 1899, the wounded of the 14th and 66th Batteries Royal Field Artillery, were lying in an advanced donga close in the rear of the guns without any medical officer to attend to them, and when a message was sent back asking for assistance, Major Babtie rode up under heavy fire, his pony being hit three times. When he arrived at the donga, where the wounded were lying in sheltered corners, he attended to them all, going from place to place exposed to the heavy fire which greeted anyone who showed himself. Later on in the day Major Babtie went out with Captain Congreve to bring in Lieutenant Roberts, Lord Robert's son, who was lying mortally wounded on the veldt, after a gallant attempt to save the guns. This, also under heavy fire.
29 Nov 1900 Lieutenant Colonel (Special promotion for service in South Africa).
1 June 1901–1 June 1906 Assistant Director, afterwards Assistant Director General Army Medical Services War Office. After the war, Babtie was appointed to head a new branch of the AMD which oversaw the affairs of the officer personnel of the medical services.
After his term at the War Office, Babtie was for a time in command of the Royal Herbert Hospital Woolwich.
5 Sep 1903 At the Cathedral, Westminster, married Edith Mary Hayes, widow of Major P. A. Hayes AMS, and daughter of W Barry of Ballyadam County Cork.
12 Mar 1907 Colonel.
12 Mar 1907–5 Mar 1910 On 24 February 1904, the Esher Committee on the war in South Africa, recommended the establishment of an Inspector General of the Forces. In 1907, an Inspector of Medical Services was placed on the staff of the Inspector General of the Forces, and tasked to report on the efficiency, training, and readiness of the medical services for war. In 1909, the IMS was transferred from the staff of the Inspector General of the Force to the Adjutant General at the War Office.
Babtie became the first Inspector of Medical Services, an office which carried him to the furthest posts, outside India, of the British Army abroad and gave him a comprehensive view of the medical service as it then existed at home and abroad. In this appointment he was able to do much to level up the efficiency of outlying stations and the first-hand knowledge it gave him was of material help when he returned to Headquarters as Deputy Director General in 1910.
1910–1914 Deputy Director General Army Medical Services with temporary rank of Surgeon General.
11 Dec 1911 Surgeon-General.
14 June 1912 Elected Member of the Civil Division of the Third Class or Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath.
22 Mar 1914–5 June 1915 Director Medical Services in India, reaching that country three months before the outbreak of war. Babtie had the triple task of supplying the medical arrangements for the largest overseas army that the UK had ever sent abroad, of arranging for the medical services for an expedition to Mesopotamia to cover the Persian oil wells, and of maintaining in India a sufficient medical cadre to carry on the military medical service in that country.
16 June 1914 Honorary Surgeon to the king.
15 June 1915–10 Mar 1916 Principal Director Army Medical Services Mediterranean during the operations in Gallipoli, Salonica, and Egypt.
The Mesopotamia Commission, regarded him, as DMS India, partly responsible for the breakdown of medical arrangements in the operations for the relief of Kut.
General Babtie's case was referred to the Army Council, who, after full consideration of all the facts, decided that the explanation he had been called upon to offer was satisfactory in all respects, and that his services should not be lost to the army.
18 Mar 1916–28 Feb 1918 Director General Army Medical Services War Office with the rank of Lieutenant General.
1 Mar 1918–6 May 1919 Inspector of Medical Services.
7 May 1919 Retired. Granted the Honorary rank of Lt General. He had always shown himself a keen admirer of and helpful friend to the Nursing Service, a sympathy which was recognized by his appointment to a seat on the Nursing Board after his retirement.
11 Sep 1920 Died in Belgium while on holiday. His remains were brought back to England and an inquest established death by natural causes. He was buried at Stoke Cemetery, Stoughton, Guildford. Up to his death Babtie was bringing up to date and revising Col Johnston's "Roll of the Medical Services 1727-1898", in the original preparation of which he had taken a share.
There was no officer who possessed so extensive and deep a knowledge of the history of the Army Medical Service from its beginnings and of its relations to the Army as a whole; a knowledge which had been acquired by long and exhaustive study and which was coupled with an ardent love of his service and a strong desire to assist to the utmost of his power in its legitimate evolution. No labour to that end was too great, no detail too minute. He combined with his untiring industry the faculty of turning his knowledge to account and there are few of the advances of modern years in the organisation and equipment of the Corps in which he could not claim a conspicuous share. His mind was not wedded to the past; but the past showed him pitfalls to avoid and often gave him the signpost for the future, pointing the way to the accomplishment of reforms seemingly beset with great difficulties. The highest ideals were ever his incentive in all he undertook. To do, not only well, but the best, was his constant endeavour and success crowned his efforts, without impairing his innate modesty.1
- Entry No: 6880. Johnston W. Roll of Commissioned Offices in the Medical Service of the British Army. Vol 1 (20 June 1727-23 June 1898), Aberdeen (1917).
- Malta Army and Navy directory at the Malta Chronicle office Nov 1895.
- Succession Books Vol XVI, Returns of statement of service of RAMC Officers.
- Naval and Military Medical Services Brit Med J (1887), 1244 (Published 4 June, 1887).
- Starling P H, The Medical Victoria Crosses J Roy Army Med Corps, 154 (4): 255-256.
- Obituary Br Med J (1920) 1920, 494, (Published 25 September 1920).
- 1Obituary Corps News J Roy Army Med Corps (1920), xxxv; 5: (85-87 Nov 1920).