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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
Richmond, Herbert
Philby, Harry St John
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter plus envelope, paper
Iraq ยป Baghdad

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad June 22 Dearest Mother. Your letter of May 1 is the last I have received. I am delighted to hear that Herbert has got such an excellent ship - he has waited long enough for it. That my two sisters should both have measles, poor darlings, I call nothing short of ridiculous. I hope Elsa won't be any the worse for it. Do you mind my writing in pencil? The ink dries up so fast that I can't keep pace with it. In my office the inkstands are filled daily but in my home I haven't a handy supply and I always write my home letters in the evening in my own house. You can't think how nice it is, my garden residence. I very often have people to dinner - nearly every night this last week. Last night I had a darling old Colonel Nemens Shakespear, a relative of the Arabian Capt. Shakespear; the night before, Mr Philby, before him Mr Bullard (both colleagues) and before that Major Saxton, a very charming young man on the staff of ther G.O.C. Baghdad - he was on my ship when I went out to Egypt a year and a half ago. It's a very nice way of spending the evening, for when one has been working all day one doesn't much want to go on writing or reading, though I do sometimes write of an evening when I'm pressed.
Ramadhan began last night and everyone is fasting. We keep Ramadhan in state here with big guns at sunset and an hour before dawn. I was wakened today by the latter - it's to warn people that they must hasten with their last possible meal. And as I lay wondering over it all, I was aware of a bright light through my garden - I sleep on the roof of my central summer house - and looked up to see a blazing palm leaf fire in the still hot air near my gardener's house. It was his wife cooking the last meal which must be eaten before it is light enough to distinguish a white thread from a black. Strange, isn't it, to be so much in the heart of it all - strange and delightful, for I love it. I wonder what inheritance from Cumbrian farmers can have developed unexpectedly into so compelling an at-home-ness with the East? It has become to me more than a second home now; it's a new life, a new possibility of carrying on existence. Only I'm afraid my personal perspective is rapidly melting. I'm so flattered, so absurdly overestimated by my chiefs here and in England, by my colleagues, and of course the Arabs - please when you see how egregious I'm growing do call me sharply to attention! It's immensely difficult to preserve the values.

This week the Russian news is better - I begin to hope that the calamity of a separate peace may be avoided. We feel the effects of their inactivity on our Persian front here, but I expect they have been felt much more severely on the French front where the advance seems to have been stopped by the bringing up of German reinforcements. I can't believe we shall really be in danger here; the Turks have such an overwhelming task before them if they are to launch a formidable attack.

When I remember Basrah [Basrah, Al (Basra)] and the awful heat of last June I wonder how we could bear it. We are having a wonderful summer here, almost always a wind, some movement in the air. I don't say it's not hot, but it has never yet been unendurably hot. It will be in August I expect, but after Basrah everything seems temperate.

Did I announce to you the good arrival of a stylographic pen? a long time ago. Thank you so much. No more muslin gowns! I've telegraphed to Basrah to make enquiry - to the post office, confound them. Ever your affectionate daughter Gertrude

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