Who's Who - Sir William Babtie

Sir William Babtie Sir William Babtie (1859-1920) was responsible for British medical provision on the Mesopotamian Front, for while role he later came under fire for the campaign's initial inadequacy of medical supplies.

Babtie entered the First World War with a distinguished record, having served in the South African War of 1899-1902 and won the Victoria Cross for his bravery in assisting wounded soldiers while under fire at Colenso.

Subsequently entering the Army Medical Service following his qualification as a surgeon he rose to become its Assistant Director-General in 1901.  When general war broke out in Europe in August 1914 Babtie was appointed Director of Medical Supplies in India.  He was given a brief of providing medical support to British operations in Mesopotamia, initially under General Barrett and then Sir John Nixon.

Partly owing to the overly aggressive forward strategy adopted by Nixon early in the campaign, which manifestly overstretched British supply lines, and in part due to his own failings, medical provision to the campaign effectively collapsed.  Thousands of soldiers fell prey to disease and illness rather than to enemy action; many died.

The British Mesopotamia Commission's report in 1917 clearly condemned Nixon for his part in the campaign's calamities at Kut-al-Amara, but also failed to entirely exonerate Babtie from criticism of his own role in ongoing medical shortages.  Babtie had however by then moved on and had served as Principal Director of Medical Services in the Mediterranean, a post he held from June 1915 to 1916.  He was therefore responsible for medical supplies on Gallipoli and in Egypt and Salonika; once again his role attracted adverse criticism.

By the time the Mesopotamia Commission finally produced its report Babtie was already Director of Medical Supplies at the War Office in London; he had also been knighted.  The following year brought further promotion, to Inspector of Medical Services and a further honour (he was created KCB).

Following the armistice Babtie was chairman of the Babtie Committee on Reorganisation of the Army Medical Service.

He died in 1920.

Stormtroopers comprised specially trained German assault troops used in 1918.

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