Letters

10 March 1917

From/To: Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

[10 March 1917] Basrah [Basrah, Al (Basra)] March 10. Dearest Father. We have been going ahead here, have we not! We are now hourly awaiting the news of our entrance into Baghdad. I had a letter from Sir Percy today, from the front, full of exultation and confidence. I do hope I may be called up there before very long. It's a wonderful thing to be at the top of the war after all these months of marking time, and say what you will it's the first big success of the war and I think it is going to have varied and remarkable consequences. I've heard, too, from Richard and from Col. Wanchope of the Black Watch - my friends are very kind in sharing their satisfaction with me. They have done wonderfully well; it's a real achievement. And that's the end of the German dream of domination in the Near East - Berlin - Baghdad and all the rest. Their place is not going to be in this sun; it would have been if they had let well alone and not tried to force the pace by war. We had, in my opinion, for all practical purposes resigned this country to them; they knew it well enough - Meissner told me so 3 years ago in veiled terms at Baghdad. Now they're out of it forever I hope, and they have no one but themselves to thank. I don't doubt it's to the advantage of the country that they should be out. We shall, I trust, make it a great centre of Arab civilization and prosperity; they were bent on a Turco-Prussian steam roller which would have flattened out, if it could, all national qualities and characteristics. And now we've got to keep the other ideal well before us; that will be my job partly, I hope, and I never lose sight of it.

Dearest may I bother you with something? The enclosed is from Miss Childe Pemberton and it's about Thorn, you remember, a former maid of Aunt Mary's whose husband died in Baghdad. Miss C.P. and I are joint trustees for her in a little sum of money which Miss Lynch and Uncle Frank gave her. Can't Mother sign the blessed papers since she has power to sign my cheques? and if so could you tell the tiresome woman to send them to her? The post has been kind this week - I've had 2 letters from Mother, Jan. 24 and 31. The hospital does sound an uproarious success in all senses - I laugh to think of a fully qualified head waiter being waited on by Mrs Dale etc.

I had one foot in the grave for 5 days with a shocking cold in the head - it's now better and I'm riding again before breakfast which is the nicest thing I do in the day. The weather is delicious, hot sun and cool north wind and the spring is upon us - I never saw anything so beautiful as the kingfishers, flocks of them whistling through the palm gardens, two kinds, a big and a little blue kind, and I rather think a third brown, but I haven't been able quite to spot him yet.

I have been seeing something of a very charming General Lubbock, Mr Percy's brother. He is building our railways, and when he isn't flying up and down them he sometimes comes to tea with me. The I.G.C. is up river busy taking Baghdad and I miss the dear creature. Oh Father I must tell you a story - it's not however at all typical of his conversation! - which he once related to me in a burst of confidence; it's so funny. You know he was the man who invented the registration of horses; well, at the outbreak of war (he being at the W.O.) he was besieged by indignant people saying why the devil were their horses taken - that was far from what they had expected. Among them came a respectable old country parson from Norfolk cruelly hurt because his daughter's pony had gone with the rest and she could have no more riding excercise [sic]. At this General MacMunn, deep in mobilization, exploded. "My dear Sir" said he "you're very fortunate not to find a Uhlan in your daughter's bed." "What did he say?" I enquired with deep interest. "He never said a word" replied General M. "He took up his hat and fled. " Don't you think it's a sweet picture! Ever your affectionate daughter Gertrude

I don't think you had better show this letter to Mother! She'll think I'm going to the dogs or gone there.

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