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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her stepmother, Dame Florence Bell

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Bell, Dame Florence Eveleen Eleanore
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
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1 letter plus envelope, paper

50.725231, 1.613334

Jan 1. 1915. Boulogne Dearest Mother. A happier New Year! what else can I wish you? Diana and I caught ourselves wondering last night whether the next 31 of Dec. would find us still sitting at our desks here. We saw the New Year in after all - it happened this way. Yesterday morning there debouch├ęd in our office Mr Cazalet, who is working with Fabian Ware's unit at the front. It has been arranged - an excellent plan - that we are to keep them carefully supplied with our enquiries and they are to hand over to us all the information they may collect about missing officers, identification of graves etc. We have been longing to get this properly started and for the last week I have spent every evening up to 7.30 getting their full list ready for them - it's rather different from the one we use, for many people about whom we can find out no more here might be heard of at the front. Mr Cazalet brought a tangled bundle of letters and lists from which he had been working, to compare with ours and be pulled straight for him. We had 24 hours for the work before he returned to the front. It was just like a fairy story, only we hadn't the ants and the bees to help us - a mountain of work. I polished off the day's jobs - fortunately rather light that day - and in the middle of the afternoon turned to it. Diana ran out, got a great ledger and proceeded to make it into an indexed ledger which we couldn't find here, none big enough. We had two hours off, from 7 to 9 and dined with Mr Crum Ewing who has come out to look for a missing son - dead, I much fear - Mr Malcolm had sent him to us. At 9 we went back to the office. By 9.30 everything was sorted out and I began to fill in the ledger, Diana, keeping me supplied. We could not have done it if I had not prepared all that was possible beforehand. At midnight we broke off for a few minutes, wished each other a better year and eat some chocolates. At 1 AM a young man of our acquaintance, seeing our lights burning, came up to know if he could help us. But he could not and we sent him away with thanks. By 2 AM we were within an hour or two of the end so we came home to bed. I was back at 8.15, prepared the ordinary day's work, shortened it a little - the rest will stand over for tomorrow - got through my part with the men when they came in and leaving Diana to clear up the rest, returned, to the ledger. By 12.30 it was finished, with just an hour to spare and I took it to Mr Cazalet. It had been an exciting race, but we won it, and now this really important thing is set going, and what is more, I hope the Fabian Ware people will realize that are ready to do anything to help them. At any rate Mr Cazalet was grateful - and if you had seen his materials before we touched them, you wouldn't be surprised that he should have been pleased. There now remains a card index of names to make for him, but we have a week for that; he will get it when he is next down here. That done, we took a half holiday. Mr Durell lent us the office motor and we drove out to Le Touquet, 20 miles away. It was streaming, but we loved getting into the country and seeing the wet golden brown willows by the streams and the pine woods in the sand dunes. We had been asked to take some parcels to the doctors in the Duchess of Westminster's hospital and when we had delivered them, they showed us all over. It's a beautiful place. She was away I'm glad to say. On our way back we went round by Hardelot by a narrow road through woods, and presently met two huge English army transport traction engines. They could not leave the road, we could not pass, and twice running did we have to take a plunge into the mud by the roadside and be dragged out again with ropes and chains by the traction engine after it had passed. I began to understand the difficulties of ........ in this weather. It was dark when we reached Hardelot; we stopped to ask our way at a house which proved to be the Seccunderabad hospital. After some talk with an Englishman who appeared in the doorway, our chauffeur came back and said that he had told him we were out sightseeing and suggested that he should invite us to tea. We hopped out and were received with open arms by English and Indian doctors alike - the visiting of hospitals without permits is strictly forbidden, you must know - and there and then we were taken in to tea, all the staff dropping in one by one. We apologized for our intrusion but they said pathetically that so few people came out to visit them. After tea they took us all round, and there were the Sikhs and the Gurkhas, the Jats and the Afridis sitting crosslegged on their beds and playing cards, and the cooks preparing Hindu and Muhammadan dinners over separate fires, and the good smell of ghee and musty aromatic East pervading the whole. They have no women in the Indian hospitals and the doctors have no trained orderlies, but just any useless man at the front sent back to be sweeper and waiter. And they are lonely, these Indian medical people. They don't know the English the AMC and no one comes to see them. Every man had the King's Xmas card pinned up above his bed, and Princess Mary's box of spices lying on the table beneath it. We who never go anywhere or see anything - we have no time - felt this jaunt, ending with an unpremeditated visit to India, to be the wildest dissipation. But it was truly very interesting. We have invited the P.M.O. to tea with us.
Lord Elphinstone passed through this week on his way home. He arrived very late and came round to our hotel after dinner. We invited him into my bedroom, and sat talking till 11.30, for we had much to discuss. He is so nice to work with. And one night we had Miss Theresa Buxton to dine - she is a daughter of Edward North, a large, plain, humourous, human creature. We invited our Round Table man, Mr Dove, to dinner to meet her and spent a sociable evening. We sound quite gay after all, but it's only about once a fortnight that we break out into a dinner party. It greases the wheels of the office - though indeed they run smoothly - to see our men sometimes unofficially. They are very nice and do all we can to help us. I'm so sleepy I must go to bed. Your affectionate daughter Gertrude

I'm afraid the man Mrs Terry wrote about is certainly dead. We had news of him, very bad news - I sent it to his parents poor things.

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