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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
Wilson, A.T.
Balfour, Frank
Saud, Abdulaziz ibn
Haldane, Aylmer
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter plus envelope

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad Sunday May 23 Dearest Mother. I must write to you this week in order to tell you how delighted I am to hear that the play was such a success. What fun you must have had over it. I wonder if it will go on anywhere permanently.
I haven't yet had a letter from Father from India but I hope it may come this week. He ought to be nearing Port Said now, so that he'll soon be out of the heat. I rather hope he'll telegraph to me from there. I do miss him so much. When I'm out riding before breakfast and pass by the station of Baghdad East, I feel as if we must be just arriving, as we so often did, after a cup of tea out of his thermos. But I'm more and more glad to have had him here - it's a most wonderful memory and a constant pleasure to think how much he knows about us.

A.T. [Wilson] has been given a KCIE - I'm very very glad. He well deserves it and I'm so specially glad of the recognition of this work by H.M.G. I confess I wish that in giving his a knighthood they could also endow him with the manners knights are traditionally credited with.

Another very nice thing has happened this week - Fattuh has turned up, driving a man down from Aleppo [Halab]. He had a fearful journey ("Much worse" said he "than anything we did in Arabia") because the Arabs were attacking the road the whole time. This was the more monstrous because on May 5 we came to a formal agreement with them, signed and sealed, as to the frontier which was to be observed. I rather think I'll send you the story which I wrote down for information as Fattuh told it. It may be seen by anyone but not published.

I am so glad to have my dear Fattuh. He wants to go back to Aleppo as soon as we can devise a safe way to get him back. Meantime he is staying with me.

His first words when he came in were "Is His Excellency the Progenitor still with you?" I said "How did you know he had been here?" "Oh" said Fattuh "one of the bedouin in the desert told me that the Khatun was well and her Father was with her."

So I suppose it's the talk of Arabia.

The Shah is now paying us a visit - at least actually today he is making a pilgrimage to Karbala. I didn't see his arrival at Baghdad, for I hadn't anyone in particular to go with. It was a success Frank told me, as regards troops and arrangements, but there was no crowd. The Baghdadis don't take any special interest in him.

Next morning I rode out with Frank and Major Hay (down from Arbil [(Hawler)] for a night and sending many messages to Father) to Kadhimain [(Al Kazimiyah)] to see the Shah make his pilgrimage there. We started about 6, a gorgeous morning - you can't think what it's like here in the early mornings, not hot and golden clear - getting to Kadhimain about 7. We inspected the house which had been fitted up for him to hold a reception in. There I met the Shah's Master of the Ceremonies, the Wazir i Durbar, an old Persian in a very shabby, dirty black Persian coat unshaven but every inch a gentleman. I conversed with him affably in Persian - it was all he talked - while Frank did the inspecting. The Wazir-i-Durbar said the Shah was delighted with everything.

Then we rode through the bazaar to the great shrine. It was too lovely. The bazaar was all carpeted, shops and street - I don't remember every having riden over carpets before - and the shops themselves were spread inside with lengths of silks and brocades so that as you rode along you looked on either side into pools of colour. There's a small open place before the shrine. There they had set up a trumpery wooden triumphal arch at the foot of which 4 sheep were reluctantly standing. Their reluctance was well founded. They were going to be slaughtered under the front tiers [sic] of the Shah's motor as he passed. I looked through the gateway of the mosque into the sacred court - Father knows the gate. The courtyard into which we might not go was full of rows of mosque servants in green turbans with groups of divines in white or dark blue turbans and long robes - some of the latter came out to talk to me. It looked like a picture by Gentile Bellini. The Shah came up by launch. We rode down to the river where we found the mayor, Saiyid Ja'far (with whom Father had tea) and two other magnates. We waited there under palm trees - the landing stage was just opposite the Sunni town of Mu'adhdham [Azamiyah, Al]. The river ran blue and silver, the air was like liquid gold, the gardens and houses of Mu'adhdham glittered on the opposite bank, with the tall minaret of the Sunni shrine rising out of them - what a setting for a king's pilgrimage, I thought.

We saw him come up; Frank presented the mayor; then he got into his motor and drove off with his escort, Frank riding beside him. We followed and saw his reception at the opening of the bazaar. There was a good deal of clapping and shouting - the high sweet cries of the women - but there wasn't much crowd even in that Shi'ah place.

But it was a nice morning - I was glad I had gone. Major Hay came back to breakfast with me.

Gen. Hambro was going to ride with me today but he wasn't well and couldn't come, so I rode alone with the dogs. I've spent the rest of the day in my house, it being Sunday, written one of the administration chapters of my report, been very cool and comfy. It's not really a bit hot, a wonderful May.

I took Sir Aylmer to see the Naqib one morning, most successful. The Naqib was in great spirits, laughed and joked. Sir A. isn't very good at that kind of thing - he's shy. However it didn't matter for I did the talking - when the Naqib let me, which wasn't often. I had the brilliant idea of saying that Sir A. would like to go into the court of the mosque, which was looked upon as a great politeness on his part and also drew the interview to a timely close.

As soon as the Shah leaves the whole of G.H.Q. is going up to Karind [Karand] till Oct. I don't know whether the arrangement is ultimately attributable to Sir A. or to Gen. Hambro, but it's very wrong and there's a strong feeling against it both among military and civil. We have a critical 6 months ahead of us; we all ought to be on the spot, and after all Sir A. is still head of the administration - even if he doesn't know anything about it (and he doesn't) things have to be done in his name. He ought to hear them thoroughly discussed and to give any help he can - a thing which can't be done by telegraph. We have electric fans and lights, plenty of ice and good houses. No hot weather is a hardship under such conditions. And if it were a hardship, many people, including all the civil administration, have got to do it, and G.H.Q. ought to do it too. And that's what they all feel.

It's Ramadhan and everyone is fasting. I had my first Ramdadhan party last Thursday evening - 5 young Arabs came and 5 of my colleagues. We had very interesting talk about the Turkish treaty. After the Arabs had gone, towards 11, we all had a cold supper in the garden. I'm going on with these parties and I hope they'll be a success.

The storm over the Turkish treaty hasn't burst yet, but it must - not here I hope. I take it the only part of Turkey which will accept the terms is that which lies between the Bosphorus [Karadeniz Bogazi (Bosporus)] and the Enos-Media line - not a large section of the empire, but it's all we can constrain. Anatolia will remain in perpetual reBellion, would without end, as far as I can see; with most likely a wholesale massacre of Christians to advertise the sentiments of Mustafa Kamal et Cie. What Moslem India will say I don't pretend to foretell, but they certainly can't be pleased.

Meanwhile Ibn Sa'ud's Wahhabi Akhwan (the fanatical Protestants of Islam) are attacking Kuwait [Al Kuwayt] over a frontier quarrel for the settlement of which we shall certainly be responsible. It promises some fun. I've written you a very interesting letter it seems to me! Would you mind sending it on to Milly. Your daughter GLB.

Mrs Hambro's address is 22 Prince's Gardens, not 21.

Encore un détail intéressant: When the Shah was in the Kadhimain mosque yesterday he was interpolated by a well-known anti-British firebrand called Saiyid Abul Qasim, about the Anglo Persian agreement. The Shah replied with some spirit that he must be trusted to act in the best interests of Islam. Good for him - that was the end of it.

And for Father's benefit I will recite another petition story of Frank's: a gentleman who was harbourmaster at Port Sudan sent in a request that he might be granted a week's leave, as his wife was about to be delivered of a buoy.

The more you think of it, the nicer it is.

Oh would you please tell Amoore[?] when he sends me soap to do up the parcel more strongly. The last arrived in tatters and one of the 3 pieces of soap had fallen out.

IIIF Manifest