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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

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Reference code
Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Hashimi, Yasin al-
Suwaydi, Naji al-
Cox, Percy
Saud, Abdulaziz ibn
Cornwallis, Ken
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Churchill, Winston
Saud, Abdulaziz ibn
Askari, Ja'far al-
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper

33.315241, 44.3660671

Dec 4. Baghdad Dearest Father. We are all sorrowing today for the death of Major Marshall. I think I told you that he came back from leave and instantly developed a terrible goitre. They operated on him while I was at Mosul [Mawsil, Al] and when I got back I found him looking wonderfully well and intent on going to Kirkuk, where he was Adviser, in a day or two. Then suddenly the wound began to go wrong, swelling and troubles in the throat appeared and his doctors said he must be flown back to England for treatment. He was wonderfully brave about it, but naturally very anxious as to what it might prove to be. So were we. One used to skirt round the menace and talk to him only of what he would do when he came back. It was however worse than any of us knew. Last Friday, the 1st, he had a terrible haemorrhage. I telephoned on Sunday to the hospital to ask if he would like to see me and got an enthusiastic answer. Half an hour later he had another haemorrhage and I could not see him; this morning he died and we have been this afternoon at his funeral. He was very much loved both by the natives and by his own colleagues, adored by the young men who served under him - one of them, Capt. Lyon had flown down this morning from Arbil [(Hawler)] and was at the funeral. He was brave and good and simple; I should think he had no enemy in the world nor anyone who didn't think kindly of him. I am very very sorry he is dead. If he has gone to face some great mystery, it will bewilder him horribly, but he knew so well how to pull straight the little tangles of everyday life. They were never, I should think, very big tangles to him - the mortal coil wasn't complex with compelling emotions. When death confronted him he was puzzled, but unafraid. It came to him in the end benevolently - a long unconsciousness and then no more.
Otherwise it has been a fortnight of few events. Sir Percy is still away with Ibn Sa'ud; we expect him back this week. On Sunday 26th I was sitting in my house writing articles for our new library review, when I was interrupted by one of the King's Chamberlains, Daud Haidari, a very nice creature and a great friend of mine. He came to pour out his heart - he wasn't happy about the Court atmosphere. He feared the old state of things was returning. Incidentally he told me - and it made me laugh - that when the Cabinet fell, Rustam Haidar, the chief secretary of the King's Diwan, had observed that it really was a fortunate circumstance that the Khatun should be away at Mosul at the time. There would be no obdurately independent opinion brought to bear on the King in the selection of new Ministers! It's a sentiment, I need not tell you, which does the High Commissioner and Mr Cornwallis less than justice.

After lunch Mr C. and I went for a long walk to talk things over and came to the conclusion that Daud Beg was unnecessarily alarmed. As a matter of fact I have been kept closely in touch by the King, his ministers and the agents they were employing of all they've been doing and I've thought it very good. You know the Shi'ah 'ulama issued fatwahs forbidding any Moslem to take part in the elections for the Constituent Assembly on the ground that they were being run by the accursed English for their own ends. The King was determined to stand by his treaty but he considered it well to give the 'ulama an opportunity of extricating themselves from the mess they had made. He was wisely guided by his Prime Minister, Muhsin Beg al Sa'dun, who is one of the most loyal and genuine people in the 'Iraq. Muhsin Beg refused to go and see the 'ulama himself, lest they should think themselves of primary importance, but he authorized Naji Suwaidi (Interior) and Yasin Pasha (Works) to pay some polite calls in Kadhimain [(Al Kazimiyah)], in company with the Shi'ah minister, Abdul Husain Chalabi (he is rather a friend of mine and paid me a visit last week to tell me all about it.) Muhsin Beg strictly enjoined his colleagues not to embark on politics but when Shaikh Mahdi al Khalisi, who is the arch vilain [sic] of the piece and the instigator of the fatwahs, broached the subject of the ministerial programme, which includes a very definite pronouncement about preventing interference in the election, Naji Beg replied boldly that they intended to adhere to every word of it. The conversation appears then to have languished but it was renewed last Thrusday and the upshot is the Shaikh Mahdi has agreed to withdraw the fatwahs if his brothers in Najaf [Najaf, An] and Karbala will do the same. Muhsin Beg then entrusted one Muhsin Shallash, a Shi'ah banker of Najaf and a sound man, to use his powers of persuasion on those very holy men. Haji Muhsin Shallash came in to see me before he went and asked me to assure the High Commissioner that he had accepted the role assigned to him because he thought it was in the best interest both of the 'Iraq and the British Govts. I took it upon myself to answer that I knew H.E. would approve and indeed I feel sure he would. We have both known Haji Muhsin ever since 1917 and we have never had any reason to doubt his good sense and moderation. I had the whole story from the King on Saturday when I went to tea with him, and on Sunday the Prime Minister and Naji Beg lunched with me and I congratulated them and wished them well. After that Mr Cornwallis and I went out riding and agreed that it was all very satisfactory. And so we dined happily, our usual Sunday dinner, with Mr Davidson. Capt Clayton, the fourth of the party is away in Mosul.

Muhsin Beg Sa'dun is a member of the great tribal family of the Muntafiq - you remember all the problem about the Sa'dun landlords? (I'm afraid, by the way, that Muhsin Beg's views on land settlement are unregenerate.) He was educated at C'ple [Istanbul (Constantinople)] and was for 13 years an ADC to 'Abdul Hamid. A man of about 37, I should think; very dark skinned - he must have some slave ancestors as is not uncommon even in the best tribal families. He has very serviceable wits and if they're not perhaps as nimble as wits are apt to be in this country that's partly because he is so vigourously upright. He wouldn't, even if he could indulge in intrigue and when he is taken in by others, as he sometimes is, it makes him very angry. He enjoys to an exceptional degree the confidence of his sovereign who openly says that what he likes about Muhsin is that he clearly tells him when he is wrong. At the same time the P.M. is not an Oriental for nothing and I fancy he knows the psychological moment at which to make such observations to his royal master, to whom he is really devoted. I've a great respect and admiration for him - not diminished by the fact that he has always been perfectly delightful to me. In fact I think he knows how to handle me just as well as he handles the King! But he does it, so far as I can see, by being perfectly frank and expecting the same of me.

Do you know - à propos of nothing at all - that I've been four times mentioned in despatches for my valuable and distinguished services in the field! It came to me as a surprise - indeed it is singularly preposterous - when I counted up the documents in order to fill up a Colonial Office form. I hadn't realized there were so many. Apparently one of the fields I distinguished myself in was Palestine for I was mentioned by Sir Reginald Wingate. I didn't know the poor gentleman was a lunatic.

Talking of lunatics, Muhsin Beg was badly let in over the choice of a Minister of Justice. In order to keep out the obviously right mine[?], my adored friend the Qadhi of Mosul (who was considered by some, including I fear H.M., to be too conspicuously pro-British) Yasin proposed a certain half-wit, also of Mosul, Amin Beg al 'Umari. Muhsin Beg impetuously telegraphed to him and Mosul held its sides in derisive laughter. Amin Beg arrived, was duly found to be a half wit and was bustled back, with a Hijaz order, second class, to compensate him for the deplacement. He was sufficiently feeble of intellect to be delighted, though somewhat astonished. Since when the Ministry of Justice remains unfilled.

I dined last week with Col. Vincent and four other soldiers - rather nice and refreshing to drop into an entirely different atmosphere. And then I dined with the Air Vice Marshall - again all soldiers and air except Mrs Bourdillon. We enjoyed it very much, the A.V.M. is charming and after dinner I talked to their Quartermaster General, Group Captain Hearson who is one of the most intelligent people I've met for a long time. I shall quickly ask him to dinner. He is quite young and he has just come from Paris when he has been Air Adviser to the Council of Ambassadors. I must say the Air Ministry has been at pains to send the best men here. Air people have something of the same vividness that sailors have, and like sailors they are not ashamed of being interested in their job and their surroundings. The A.V.M.'s ADC is a certain Flight Lt Jones - tush, I forget his second name; it's something like Jones, perhaps Williams. Anyhow Jones - knows Arthur Godman of whom he speaks with bated breath. The A.V.M. says I may always fly to places if I want to, provided there's an aeroplane going there. Very gratifying. But I think I should be frozen at this time of year. It has suddenly turned cold after a very little rain - there has been lots at Mosul but it hasn't reached us.

Do you see that Mrs Slater is divorcing Mr Slater? I thought his manner rather strange when I asked him after her and next day a writ appeared in the office. So then I knew why. I should think she might have done it any time since they were married and I should guess that she has some reason for doing it now. But I take only a languid interest in the matter.

Well, we've got our Duke. He doesn't speak with such a decisive voice as Winston Churchill but he is very sympathetic though quite firm on finance which is as it should be. The poor 'Iraq Govt is now racking its brains as to how it shall economize another 100 lakhs a year. But if we get peace with Turkey we shall be too happy to mind. I hope you saw Ja'far, by the way.

Isn't it a shocking affair the way the Greeks behave to their ex-ministers?

Your last letter was that of Nov 15 - understamped darling Father, but well worth the few annas it cost. Only it causes delay in delivery. In your next letter I hope you'll tell me what you think of election results.

I sent you by post the yearly report to the S. of S. - a very silly sort of Xmas present. I wrote all the first general chapter and the next on administration; then the chapters on refugees and foreign relations. The other bits came from the respective departments. Mr Slater's financial chapter is interesting, and Mr Davidson's judicial chapter. It was a tidy job putting it all together, but interesting.

Dec 7. [7 December 1922] Sir Percy is still dallying in the Persian Gulf, not without profit, however, for he has got the Najd [(Nejd)]-'Iraq treaty ratified which Ibn Sa'ud had refused to do. I knew I.S. would come round directly Sir Percy put the matter to him, but what an amazing influence has my chief!
The post goes tomorrow! dearest, a very happy Xmas and all good things. The love of your children is always with you and I can't think that any of them can love you more than your daughter Gertrude

Dec 8. [8 December 1922] I open my letter to say I've just got your amazing and delightful letter about Horace - just in time to catch this mail with congratulations. Thank you so much for telegraphing.

IIIF Manifest