Request a high resolution copy

Letter from Gertrude Bell to her stepmother, Dame Florence Bell

There is currently no summary available for this item.
Reference code
Bell, Dame Florence Eveleen Eleanore
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Cox, Percy
Lawrence, T.E.
Dobbs, Henry
Ramsay, W.M.
Chirol, Valentine
Herbert, Aubrey Molyneux
Baring, Evelyn
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter plus envelope, paper

30.5257657, 47.773797

G.H.Q. Basrah [Basrah, Al (Basra)]. Ap 27 Dearest Mother. I missed the mail last week for I was out for a night at a little place on the edge of the desert called Zubair [Zubayr, Az] and when I came in I found that the confounded post had gone a day earlier than usual. So there it was. I've had no letters for nearly 3 weeks, except one from Lord Cromer last mail, forwarded by you. Your handwriting on the envelope was something but I shall be thankful if a rather more circumstantial communication turns up this week. It's possible that my post may have gone up the river since I see you addressed Lord C.'s letter c/o the A.C. and he is at the front. But I've registered my name at the post office to prevent any accidents of that kind. Nothing happens and nothing seems likely to happen at Kut [Kut, Al (Kut al Imara)] - it's a desperate business, Heaven knows how it will end. Meantime I have been having some very interesting work and as long as it goes on, I shall remain. One is up against the raw material here, which one is not in Egypt, and it is really worth while doing all these first hand things. I don't mind the heat - there has been nothing to speak of so far, the thermometre [sic] seldom about 90°, and I rather like it. But I wish I had some clothes; my things are beginning to drop to pieces; I wonder if you are sending me out any, and if they will ever arrive! I think I shall write to Domnul in Bombay for some cotton skirts and some shirts. One wears almost nothing, fortunately; still it's all the more essential that that nothing should not be in holes. I have written to Mrs Shaw in Karachi and asked her to send me on anything that may come to me from home, Inshallah! I generally get up nowadays about 5.30 or 6 and when I haven't got to mend my clothes, bother them, I go out riding through the palm gardens and have half an hour's gallop in the desert which is very delicious. Then back to a bath and breakfast and across the road to G.H.Q. by 8.30, I work there till about 5.30 with half an hour off for lunch, after which, if I haven't been out in the morning I go for a little walk, but it's getting rather too hot to walk comfortably much before sunset. Then I read a little or do some work which I have brought in with me, have another bath, dine at a quarter to 9 and go to bed. The days pass like lightning. Last week I went out for a night to Zubair. It's the funniest little desert place, something like Hail, 9 miles from Basrah. The road was all under water and mud - Euphrates floods - till we reached the high edge of the real desert about a mile from the town. We have a political officer there, Captain Marrs, very nice and intelligent. I was put up at the post office in room with a mud floor furnished with my own camp bed and chair and bath and a table lent by Captain Marrs, but the shaikh of the town insisted on entertaining me and we went in to him for all our meals and unlimited gossip about the desert with which he is always in the closest touch since the caravans come in to Zubair. He lent us some horses in the afternoon and we rode out to Shaibah [Shu'aiba (Ash Shuaybah] where we have a small cavalry post. The officers took us round the battlefield, or part of it, and we galloped back to Zubair at sunset. After diner I paid a visit to the shaikh's harem. In the morning I photographed the town, lunched with the shaikh and drove back here. It was so nice to get above water level for a bit - in Basrah we live in a swamp and the number of mosquitoes is really remarkable. Yesterday there came to see me a young man called Captain Young. He is doing political work here and is stationed a few miles up the river. He is a cousin of all those other Youngs and was with George Trevelyan in Serbia. He is doing very well here and is full of interest in his work. I am going to ride out to breakfast with him on Sunday to see some of his people - Arab people. Neither Aubrey nor the Admiral nor Mr Lawrence have come back - they go up river and disappear. I long for someone I know to come down so that I may hear what is happening for we get very little news. But I fear there is very little to tell. My friend Mr Dobbs, the Revenue Commissioner, has been away in India for 3 weeks' leave. He comes back tomorrow and I shall be very glad to see him. Sir Percy Cox  is up river - I miss him too for I often did odds and ends of work for him. I'm very very glad I came here; it has been infinitely worth it.
I wonder how Maurice is. I'm much afraid he may be going back to France next month and the old anxiety will begin again. Oh I wonder how all my dear family is and wish for news. One falls into a kind of coma when one is so far away and wakes up with a jump at intervals. I shall leave this letter open till after the mail has come in.

Ap. 29. [29 April 1916] I've just got your letter of March 23 and Father's of March 28. I fear his of March 23 went down in the Sussex - and also, I suspect, the clothes you sent me! Better luck next time. I am going to try and get an Indian tailor to sew me together some cotton shirts and skirts. With a temperature of 96° (which it was yesterday) they are essential. I don't mind it, but at the same time it is like a perpetual Turkish bath, there's no denying it.
I am so very sorry about Sir W. Ramsay. If Father sees him again will he please give him messages of sympathy and esteem from me - to him and to her. I liked them both so very much. I was also much obliged to Father for his very interesting statistics about the falling mark, and for the article on the Mesop. campaign in the Economist. I fear the latter is nothing short of the truth, but the blames needs a good deal of distribution. I don't hold a brief for the Govt. of India, but it is only fair to remember that K. [Kitchener] drained India white of troops and of all military requirements, including hospitals and doctors, at the beginning of the war, that the campaign was forced on them from England, and that when it developed into a very serious matter - far too big a matter for India to handle if she had had command of all her resources - neither troops, nor artillery, nor hospital units nor flying corps, nor anything were sent back in time to be of use. And what was perhaps still more serious was that all their best generals had gone to France or Gallipoli [Gelibolu] and many of them never to return. That accounts for more than I need comment on.

Politically, too, we rushed into the business with our usual disregard for a comprehensive political scheme. We treated Mesop. as if it were an isolated unit, instead of which it is part of Arabia, its politics indissolubly connected with the great and far reaching Arab question, which presents indeed, different facets as you regard it from different aspects, and is yet always and always one and the same indivisible block. The coordinating of Arabian politics and the creation of an Arabian policy should have been done at home - it could only have been done successfully at home. There was no one to do it, no one who had ever thought of it, and it was left to our people in Egypt to thrash out, in the face of strenuous opposition from India and London, some sort of wide scheme, which will, I am persuaded, ultimately form the basis of our relations with the Arabs. And up to this moment, the battle against the ignorance and indifference of the people at home is waging - and is not yet won. The Milton sonnet is so often in my mind - there's no one to lead. Swollen with wind and the rank mists we draw -

Well that's enough of politics. But when people talk of our muddling through it throws me into a passion. Muddle through! why yes, so we do - wading through blood and tears that need never have been shed. Ever your very affectionate daughter Gertrude

IIIF Manifest