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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

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Reference code
Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Naji, Haji
Askari, Ja'far al-
Cox, Percy
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Philby, Harry St John
Cox, Louisa Belle
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper
Iraq ยป Baghdad

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad Dec 25 Darling Father. I have letters from you and Mother dated Nov 18 both giving the excellent news of the success of Elsa's operation. I am so very glad and so much relieved. Also I love to hear of you having the sweet Marjory Hambro to dinner. I've missed her very much this winter. The General is off next week - I'm sorry for he is a human being and though I haven't seen much of him I feel he's a friend. I wish they were both going to be here for as you know I'm rather friendless. I don't care enough about people to take trouble about them and naturally enough they don't trouble about me - why should they? Also all their amusements bore me to tears and I don't join in them, the result is that except for the people I'm working with I see no one. Nevertheless I gave a European dinner party this week, two doctors, man and wife (CampBell Mackie by name) pleasant people and she very handsome; a colleague, Major Goldsmith, back from 2 year's sick leave (he had consumption and I fear isn't right yet) General Stewart, C.G.S, and Mr Stewart Morgan of the A.P.O.C. a clever little man. We had rather a good talk after dinner about Bolshevism and such like topics, everyone cutting in and taking a share in the way a hostess always likes.
By the way I must tell you a silly story, to understand which you must learn a little Turkish. There's an amusing idiom in Turkish by which you say "such like" by repeating the original word only changing its initial letter to M. If I had been writing, suppose, in Turkish I should have said on the last page Bolshevism Molshevism. We got recently an account of a conversation between the Sharif and an Arab of these parts - the latter told us the story. The Sharif was fuming against all and sundry: "Who" he cried is this Kokus Mokus and this Philby Milby?" Sir Percy was delighted.

I'm writing to you this Xmas day not only because it seems a suitable way of spending part of Xmas Day - bless you, dearest family, since I can't spend it with you - but also because I'm going to Ramadi [Ramadi, Ar] tomorrow for a few days' air and excercise [sic]. Capt Clayton and I are going together to stay with Major Yetts. I like Capt Clayton, but being the solitary bird I am, I rather wish I was going alone, so as to have a lonely motor journey over a road that's full of associations of other journeys which I like to think of to myself. However I shan't be able to do that and when we're at Ramadi we shall be a very nice party, for we all agree in what we think about this country and Major Yetts is particularly charming and intelligent.

I've been feeling a good deal lately how much the Arabs here who are our friends want us to give them a lead. They constantly come to me, not only for advice on immediate conduct, but in order to ask about the future: "But what do you think, Khatun?" And several have been urging on me and other British officers whom they know well and trust that when we hold the elections we must see to it that the right kind of people are elected. Otherwise the Assembly might be composed of all sorts of tub-thumpers who will do and say the wildest things. We must use our influence, this is what is said to me, to be sure that we shall have a majority of sensible responsible men. And then they ask me again anxiously what I think would be best for the country. I always tell them that any kind of Arab authority which they wish to set up will be acceptable to us, but they want to know what, and it's difficult to answer. I feel quite clear in my own mind that there is only one workable solution, a son of the Sharif and for choice Faisal; very very much the first choice. But I can't well say that, or at least not all of it, because it would be necessary to square the French and that could ony be done by the people at home. There are, I secretly fancy, indications that they are considering it. Something about conferences with Faisal appeared in the Times and we had by telegraph an official dementi which was to my mind too eager to carry conviction! However they need not bother as far as we are concerned for it would suit us well. I only hope my suspicions are correct. I had a heart to heart with Sir Percy about it yesterday - the more I have to do with him the more I delight in his wisdom and breadth of view. There's not a suspicion of prejudice in his mind.

I haven't any doubt that what would suit us best and avoid an infinity of complications would be for the home Govt to offer the job to Faisal before we hold any elections at all, but I can't think they'll have the courage to do so. If only they would let us give the country a lead, however, we might manage the elections without much difficulty but I do fear them, just as my anxious counsellors fear them, if we just call on the country to choose without giving them any indication as to what they had best choose. They are uncertain and perplexed; they know that they can't form a judgement, added to which there's the invariable Oriental tendency to put the responsibility of decisions on some one else. And it is the responsibility which a mandatory power must, to my mind, be prepared to accept.

I rule out Talib; he's impossible. If we were to stoop to trying to get the country to accept him we shouldn't succeed. The Naqib would do very well if he were 20 years younger - but there! he isn't. So my conclusion is as I've stated and I should like to be allowed to say so.

Sir Percy gave me an interesting confirmation from a neutral but particularly good source; we have here at this moment the Persian prince, Firuz Mirza, a very able little man who has held office as Minister for Foreign Affairs at Tehran [(Teheran)]. He has been in Europe a year and is now on his way back to Persia. He was educated in France, speaks French like a Frenchman and has a European mentality - rather decadent at that I should say. It's therefore a little comic that being here he has to make the pilgrimage to the Shi'ah shrines. A good deal of fuss is made about him, naturally, by the Shi'ah divines, who are mostly Persian, and when he went to Kadhimain [(Al Kazimiyah)] there was a big reception - no, I'm wrong, it didn't happen to be in his honour; it was the mourning gathering for the Premier Mujtahid, the Shaikh al Shari'ah, who has done the only good thing he ever did, namely died. They seem to have discussed the political situation with Firuz very comprehensively and what they said so he reported, was that the only scheme that would be acceptable to the country was a son of the Sharif as Amir.

I went in to the Coxes after breakfast today and arranged the flowers (which I also supplied) for their dinner party tonight, to which I'm going. Then I spent an hour or two in my office, packing up, for we're moving over to Sir Percy's Secretariat offices, on the other side of the river above the Maude bridge. I'm very sorry to leave my little office which has the echoes of all Baghdad in it since the winter of 1917, and was besides so conveniently near my house. I came back home to lunch and then sat in my verandah - for it was sunny and at last mild, wrote to Domnul and began this letter to you. At 4 Capt Clayton and picked me up and we all went to a children's party at the Tods - a gorgeous tea and a Xmas tree (it was an oragnge tree covered with fruit) and then wild games till 6.30; a huge success with the dear Tods as presiding angels. There were about 20 children, English, Circassians, Jews and Christians of Baghdad and Arabs; they all played and romped as if they had been born and bred in the same nurseries. The BaBell curse and all the other curses that make for separation don't affect Ring a Roses and Musical Chairs. We've just got back and now I must dress and go to dine with Their Exes.

Goodbye dearest - did I tell you how very interesting I thought your Contemp. article "You clever" as Ja'far Pasha would say. Ever your very affectionate daughter Gertrude.

I've a wonderful letter from Domnul, but you'll see his views in his Times articles. I've been given 4 turkeys and 1 goose for Xmas! My garden is like a farm yard for they all came alive.

Everyone is constantly sending you messages. Haji Naji questioned me closely as to what he could send you as a present. I could think of nothing but dates.

IIIF Manifest