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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
Suwaydi, Naji al-
Cox, Percy
Wilson, J.M.
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Philby, Harry St John
Balfour, Arthur
Cox, Louisa Belle
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad May 22 Darling Father. I have letters from you and Mother dated Ap 19, just before Mollie's wedding. The coal strike doesn't seem much nearer an end now than it did then. It seems to me to be little short of a miracle that the country can stand this immensely long stoppage of everything. Why aren't you all starving? Perhaps you are but we're not told. That's what worries me. However, as Mr Balfour would say, we must turn our eyes from these distressing possibilities. I feel a fraud when I read that Mother has prepared special drawers for my diary letters - and there aren't any diary letters! The fact is I anticipated that things would happen much more quickly and that there would be much more to say. But they haven't happened. They are, I may say, just beginning now for the telegrams from Mecca [Makkah], of which I told you last week, are making an appreciable effect. People are inclined to think - and it's a point of view of which the receivers of the telegrams are not slow to avail themselves - that they are more or less inspired by HMG or at any rate imply a leaning in a Sharifian direction on the part of HMG. As a matter of fact the leaning, as you know, is actually true but the telegrams are not an indication of it. They are merely the natural result of our saying that a son of the Sharif would be regarded as a suitable candidate and consequently might be approached as to whether he would stand. And this is what I point out when I'm asked to interpret them. Nevertheless I notice, not without amusement, that the Ashraf of Baghdad are very busy packing up their trunks with a view to transferring them to the other side of the fence. Hitherto they have been more Naqibian than otherwise but they are now saying that if Faisal comes under our mandate no doubt all will be well - anything would be well so long as Sir Percy directs and controls. Naji Suwaidi has drawn up and submitted to me a programme for a moderate Sharifian party - Sharifian under our mandate - which I showed and explained to Sir Percy who thought it all right. I'm very grateful to Naji for keeping me so closely in touch as it enables me to see that there's no misunderstanding between his group and Sir Percy. I've found Naji very sensible and capable, as well as very patient under the prolonged delay. All this promises well for the future. The Amir of the Rabi'ah tribe, a young Shi'ah who is a member of the Council of Ministers, came in anxiously this week to ask what line we wished him to take - I've no doubt he had been pressed to join Naji's party; he always comes to me for advice. I said between the Naqib and Faisal we expressed no preference. He then begged me to give me advice privately since he had always shown himself so particularly desirous of being guided by us. I said he knew as well as I did the qualifications of either candidate. The Naqib was born and bred in the Iraq and they all knew him, on the other hand he was an old man and had no first hand knowledge of the outer world. Faisal was not an 'Iraqi but he was a man in the prime of life - with much experience of politics in other countries, "Oh" said the Amir "I don't think anything of the cry of Iraq for the Iraqis; Iraq for the Arabs is good enough." I said I thought that seemed reasonable and I've no doubt he went out and joined Naji's party! So far I think one can fairly go within the four corners of neutrality. They do hate taking responsibility; what they would all like best is that we should decide and then if things go wrong we're to blame! but over and above that, it is confusing for them that last year the Sharif and his sons were apparently anathema to the powers that were here, while this year they are well regarded. The Slaters dined with me one night last week and with them the Barneses, Mr Edmonds and Major Marshall. Mr Barnes is APOC. His mother is wife of Sir George Barnes and sister of Sidney Buxton. I don't make much of this couple. Major Marshall is Advisor at Kirkuk, a nice man. Mr Edmonds is an old friend. He was in our service and I saw a lot of him in the Basrah [Basrah, Al (Basra)] year after which he went to Persia and is now going home on leave. I hope he will come to us when he returns. His last post has been Kaswin [Qazvin]. He is very interesting about Persian affairs. Persia has gone completely dry - all import of wine is forbidden, I think partly because Saiyid Zia al Din, the P.M. is anxious to unite and strengthen Islam against Bolshevism. He is himself a free thinker but he wants every weapon he can get to fortify himself against Russia. He has also forbidden the imporation [sic] of silk on the ground that it's a luxury and Persia is too poor for luxuries. (Since wine and silk are commodities supplied by France, the French are very angry and think it's our doing, which it isn't.) On the whole things seem to be going well and the great hope is that the new govt will be able to maintain itself. Next night I dined with the Coxes - a farewell dinner to Sir Edgar - Philbys, Garbetts, Slaters and others of the administration were the party. It was very friendly and pleasant - no, there was one exception to those qualifications; I find Mrs Philby quite markedly stand off and even rude. I've taken a good deal of trouble to be friends with her, as he was a friend since Basrah days, but it doesn't seem to be any good and I don't think I'll bother any more. What's the matter with her I can't imagine. It's conceivable after all, that she just doesn't like me! I see very little of Mr Philby these days, but when I do see him he is quite pleasant. Mr Garbett, who is the chief man in Sir Percy's office is the person I come up against most. He is most agreeable to work with as far as I'm concerned - we get on excellently. We're debating what we can do to strengthen the foundations of Ctesiphon so as to save that great facade wall. There's no immediate prospect of its falling but it has a very marked list outwards. We have dug some holes down to the foundations and I went out early on Saturday morning with Major Wilson (the architect, you remember) to look at them. We took breakfast with us - it was a very nice expedition. He proposes to put a big wad of concrete against the foundations underground and I'm afraid we shall have to slope it off against the wall for about 10 ft of its height above ground, which won't be pretty but ought to make the wall as safe as we can make it. This morning we had a breakfast party at Haji Naji's. The Coxes came and a lot of other people. It had rained hard in the night and was deliciously cool and fresh. We breakfasted in the apricot gardens. It's most amazing having rain so late in the year - we haven't had any heat yet, indeed I've never used a punkah so far. But the rain has done a good deal of harm; the crops were being harvested and have been spoilt before they could be got in. It's sad to see them all blackened. I went to tea with Mme Mina 'Abbud, do you remember the old Christian woman you and I had tea with? She asked much after you. And by the bye, Père Anastase, who was with us that day at tea, has gone off to England on a 6 months' holiday. I've given him several letters of introduction and I daresay he'll turn up some day at Sloane St. I didn't give him a letter to you, as you met him here. He is a Lebanese and talks French very well. He is like a monk in Chaucer - I think Mother would be amused to see him once if he calls. Sir Edgar has kindly taken home some stone martin skins for me. Will you please send them to Nowakovsky to keep for me. They are done up in sealed tins but he had better open them and dress the furs. If I'm too poor after the coal strike I can always sell them for more than I gave for them. Anyway I don't want them made up now. What a dull letter I seem to have written! Ever your very affectionate daughter Gertrude I've filled in all the names I know in the photograph.

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