Jerusalem Remembers General Who Halted WWI

Monday, December 01, 2014 |  Charles Gardner

The World War I British officer who gave the order to lay down arms in 1918 is the subject of a year-long exhibition in Jerusalem that opened last week.

On the 50th anniversary of his death, Lt.-Gen. Sir William Dobbie’s life is being celebrated at Christ Church, an Anglican community with strong links to the family and located within the ancient walls of the Old City.

When in 1929 riots broke out in what was then part of the British Mandate of Palestine as Arabs became anxious about growing Jewish immigration, the then Brigadier Dobbie – a distant cousin of T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia fame) – successfully brought calm to the situation as he sought God’s guidance!

With very few troops and widespread disorder throughout the country, the career army officer and devout Christian was faced with a dilemma.

Rejecting outright such suggestions as placing the country under martial law or requesting RAF bombing raids on Arab villages, Dobbie turned to prayer.

It was hardly a textbook tactic but, when reinforcements arrived, he spread his men very thinly to cover as wide an area as possible, and the violence ceased in the early stages before things got out of hand.

Out of gratitude, the Jewish community of Hebron presented Dobbie with a silver Hebrew Bible.

As the staff officer on duty on November 11, 1918, Dobbie (then a Lt.-Col.) signed the telegram calling for hostilities to cease at 1100 hours. He actually fought on the front line in all three major wars of the twentieth century, starting with the Anglo-Boer war of 1899-1902. Then in April 1940 he came out of retirement and helped turn the tide of World War II as he led the defence of Malta, the most bombed place on earth.

Also covering the contributions his family have made to Israel’s welfare, the exhibition includes historic photographs, a film montage, Dobbie’s books and the silver Bible.

The general’s son, Colonel Orde Dobbie, was a member of Christ Church with his wife Flo while living in Jerusalem during the 1970s and 80s. And his grandson, Jos Johnston, has set up the exhibition.

In the foreword to his memoirs – A Very Present Help – Gen Dobbie wrote: 

“During the course of a long, varied and interesting military career I have had many tokens of God’s great goodness to me. I have seen his overruling control in my life and his guidance in my affairs… I desire to emphasise, especially to the rising generation, that it is a practical and intensely real thing to let Christ come into one’s life, and that today, as ever before, it is no vain thing to trust in the living God.”

And it was while commanding troops in the Holy Land in 1929 that he gave New Testaments to his soldiers, with the following inscription:

“You are stationed at the place where the central event in human history occurred – namely the crucifixion and death of the Son of God. You may see where this took place and you may read the details in this Book. As you do so, you cannot help being interested, but your interest will change into something far deeper when you realise that that event concerns you personally and that it was for your sake that the Son of God died on the cross here. The realisation of this fact cannot but produce a radical change in one’s life – and the study of this book will, under God’s guidance, help you to such a realisation.”

The oldest Protestant church in the Middle East, Christ Church is the headquarters in Israel of CMJ (Church’s Ministry among Jewish people), was built in 1847 to double as a chapel for the British consul, and continues to reach out to both Jew and Arab with the message of Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah.

PHOTO: General Dobbie pictured with his wife and daughter, both Sybil, in 1941 – the latter being mother to Jos, who has set up the exhibition.

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