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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her stepmother, Dame Florence Bell

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Reference code
Bell, Dame Florence Eveleen Eleanore
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Chirol, Valentine
Cox, Percy
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter plus envelope, paper
Iraq ยป Basra

30.5257657, 47.773797

Jan. 13. Basrah [Basrah, Al (Basra)] Dearest Mother. I came back to find the most delightful pile of letters from you and Father - you remember there had been no post for a long time before I went up river. If you have no time to die, as Maurice says, I wonder you have time to write me such splendid long letters. You really must not do it when you feel dreadfully run - I know what it's like to be always flying after one's work and never catching it up. Still I won't deny that I do enjoy having news from you both. I was grieved to hear of Aunt Maisie's being so out of sorts. I hope her little holiday with Father did them both good, and that they enjoyed it as much as one can enjoy things nowadays. I feel so much ashamed of having bothered you about clothes etc especially as all the trouble you've taken has been fruitless as far as I'm concerned, for nothing has arrived! but I still hope the things may be in time for next winter when I shall doubtless be glad of them. It was very kind of you to look through my bookshelves, but I don't want any books on Persia thank you and as I never seem to have time to read anything, even books on Mesopotamia are unnecessary. I have written straight to Batsford at various times for essentials and perhaps some day they will come. The failure in winter clothes makes me anxious for the summer and I've thought of a plan which will spare you trouble. I shall write long full directions (next mail) to the Ladies' Shirt Co, telling them exactly what I want in cotton gowns. But since the shop might perhaps have ceased to exist (one never knows) I shall send the letter under cover to you, and if they have by chance died out, the letter can be given to Harvey and Nichols as it stands. It's clear the only plan is to send things by post in small parcels as you did last spring. One absolutely can't be without masses of summer things in this climate as one needs a clean gown almost daily, and the constant washing destroys everything. So I'll be beforehand with my orders and perhaps Moll if she is in London would just step into the shop and see that they are carrying out my requirements reasonably. Meantime I send you a bill from Samson because I don't know whether you haven't already paid it, if you haven't would you please write them one of my cheques for it. It's provoking to see what I ought to have had! I'm going to move into a tiny suite of 2 rooms which Sir Percy has been such a dear as to allot to me in the Political Office. It will be much more convenient. What it's like plunging through winter mud to my work! and it's just as bad in the summer being far away, because one can't go backwards and forwards in the middle of the day without acute discomfort. I have two servants of my own, the Xian boy who has been with me ever since I came - he's quite a good servant, and my Belloved coffee maker at the office who has been turned over to me and is now installed as groom to the pony I've just got from the Remount Dept. So I shall be self contained. I'm busy furnishing now, no easy matter for there is practically nothing to be got, or I should say there's nothing to be got by the common run of folk, but I have a tower of strength in the angelic I.G.C. who is full of resource and produces everything with a wave of his sword, so to speak, the moment I ask for it. There really never was anybody so kind. He's a good sort, there's no other way of describing him and I don't know what I should do without him. He is so cheerful and competent. I should think his wife is just such another and I hope they'll both be here permanently after the war. She is in England now with the children. He is deeply interested in the development of the country, which is so rare in a soldier; they think of nothing but the war as a rule. And we truly are doing something behind the battlefields. I have capital material in the local reports sent up to the head office and I've just drawn up a little memorandum about administrative progress which I think ought to give satisfaction to the High and Mighty at home. (Happy to tell you that I hear my utterances receive a truly preposterous attention in London.) Just at this moment this is the only theatre of the war where things look rather bright. The new movement on the Tigris opens up great possibilities added to which we have some very important refugees, one being no less than Ibn Rashid's wazir who has quarrelled with the latter and come in to us. I'm full of hope that he may be of great use to us. There's little comfort to be found elsewhere. Domnul writes me the most gloomy letters about the Roumanian debacle and the attitude of the U.S.A. with regard to loans. I'm afraid we have a desperate pinch before us. He tells me the submarine menace is growing more and more formidable and we seem to be as far off the end as ever. The only thing that keeps one going is to have lots of work. At times I feel as if I wasn't worth my keep here and then at other times I think I'm doing a certain amount of good, but fundamentally I'm sure it's no good bothering as to whether one is or isn't useful, and the only plan is to apply oneself steadfastly to what lies before one and ask no questions. And at least there's plenty before me here. I like it, too, in spite of occasional depressions, generally caused by the sense of not knowing enough and of general inefficiency. I hope you think I'm right to stay. I don't much enjoy the prospect of another summer in Basrah and should much prefer to be at 'Amarah ['Amarah, Al] or anywhere higher up the river, but I don't think there's much likelihood of that. There are still some pleasant months before us; it doesn't begin to be hot till May. I must go to bed for I'm going to try my new pony at dawn tomorrow. Ever your very affectionate daughter Gertrude

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