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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-
Suwaydi, Naji al-
Cox, Percy
Cornwallis, Ken
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Philby, Harry St John
Cox, Louisa Belle
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad June 19 Dearest Father. There have been 2 mails this week bringing you letters of May 11 and 18 but oddly enough nothing from Mother. It's just an accident or she may have been unusually busy. I return you the memo about my income tax filled in to the best of my ability. As far as I know the India Office was still paying us up to Ap 4 but possibly the last month of the financial year may have been on the charge of the Middle Eastern Dept of the Colonial Office. The letter of Lord Ashfield in the Times is an excellent and timely contribution to the controversy. Ultimately the arguments he uses must prevail because they are facts from which you can't escape. The whole question is whether people will recognize and bow to them in time, or will wait till disaster forces the recognition of them. Isn't that it? I gather from Reuters that the immediate struggle is coming to an end. What you say about the supineness of the public is very curious, but at any rate there has been nothing which looks like social upheaval or class bitterness.
We here are now launched on our perilous way. On Monday my old friend the Mayor, Abdul Majid Shawi - we had tea with him just before you left, you remember - came to my office and said that since Faisal was coming it was up to the Notables of Baghdad to make a proper reception for him and not to leave it all to the young extremists - of whom the notables are very jealous. Faisal was a famous Arab - the son of a king and must be treated as such. I said I thought that view perfectly proper; he as Mayor of the town, should make the arrangements. There followed him Naji Suwaidi, who is the leading man of the younger group, and I begged him to take advantage of Abdul Majid's attitude and let the older men assume the lead because they were the people to conciliate. He promised to do so but I don't think the relations work out quite happily. It's a matter which needs very careful watching and any help one can discreetly give it. The younger men have frequented my office this week. We had to settle on a temporary flag - I suppose the Constituent Assembly will have the final word there - and then there was the difficult question as to where Faisal should be lodged. If only we had got the official communiqué from home earlier everything would have been much easier. We should have been able to give a more decided lead to the people and a more decided warning to our own officers. As it was our friends here of the Abdul Majid type were always trying to find out what the British Govt really wanted and we couldn't in plain words tell them, while our officers were advocating, tacitly or openly, that the final decision as to the sovereign should be put off for a term of years, or that we should begin with a republic so as to let the country find itself - neither of which propositions would the home Govt take on. The Govt is right I think because the country won't find itself till we give it a lead, postponement only means continual discontent on the part of the Nationalists and resulting intrigue, and as for a republic we've not reached the stage of political equilibrium at which we could contemplate with equanimity the periodical upheaval of a presidential election. It's true however that we're gently pushing the country into a Nationalist path which at this moment it doesn't view with much favour. The point of view of the Naqib and his group must be sympathetically considered. Their argument is that they witnessed the young extremists make a mess of Syria and they don't want a repetition of those events here. They disapproved of the reBellion last year and now they see the very men who organized it all pardoned under the amnesty and presumably coming back with Faisal to boast that in the end they have won and to take the top places. That's their openly expressed fear and it's a thing we must do our utmost not to allow. I believe Faisal is statesman enough to realize that he must capture and rely upon the older more steady going people while at the same time not chilling overmuch the enthusiasm of his more ardent supporters.

Well, to continue my tale. Time was, as Miss Thomson used to say, fierce. Here was Faisal arriving at Basrah [Basrah, Al (Basra)] on the 23rd and we still without any communiqué from home. We had actually never said officially that he was arriving. But his partisans were growing naturally impatient and anxious to get busy; Sir Percy realized this and unofficially approved the project presented through me - in my capacity as the Nabi 'Isa, you understand - that they should summon the town to a big meeting on Friday, 6 days before Faisal's arrival. As soon as the invitations were out, in the name of Naji Suwaidi, bishops and others dropped in to my office to sound me as to whether they ought to go. "Oh yes" said I "why not? the meeting has the approval of H.E." On Thursday afternoon the Naqib, like the old gentleman he is, made a sound move. He informed the Council of Ministers that Faisal was coming and that they must make preparations to receive him properly and see that he was suitably lodged. Thereupon they appointed a reception committee of 5 ministers, including 'Abdul Majid and Ja'far Pasha. I had been out riding after tea and on the way home I met Saiyid Husain 'Afnan, the Secretary to the Council, who stopped me and told me this excellent news. I rode on much cheered and when I got home found a letter from Sir Percy enclosing the long-expected communiqué which he told me to get through to Ja'far or Naji Suwaidi before the meeting which was to take place at 8 next morning. By good luck Ja'far with his wife and sister were dining so I translated the communiqué to them and gave it to Ja'far for the meeting. They were all delighted with it and indeed it was just what we wanted.

Next day Suwaidi and the Mutasarrif, Rashid Beg, came to my office after the meeting to report. It had been a great success, everyone had been present and 60 people had been chosen to go down to Basrah to welcome Faisal - would I kindly make arrangements with the railway. There remained the question of his lodging here which they proposed to solve by putting him into some rooms in the Sarai (the Government offices) which were now under repair. They included the old Turkish Council chamber and seemed to be quite suitable, if they could be got ready in time. Public Works declared at first that it could not be done. Ja'far telephoned to me in despair on Sat. morning; I telephoned to Public Works, made suggestions for covering bare walls with hangings and finally the thing was arranged.

In the evening I went to the Naqib, whom I found receiving the report of the Reception Committee. Directly I got in he showed me a telegram which had just come to him from King Husain couched in very suitable terms and announcing that he was sending his son Faisal to him. I wasn't as much surprised as I might have been for we had urgently telegraphed in the beginning of the week to say that Husain must send some message of this kind to the Naqib. The Naqib then read me his reply drafted by Saiyid Husain. "What?" he said "what?" peering at it; and then took a pen and cut out some of the honorifics which Saiyid Husain had thought fit to prefix to the King's name. However he left quite enough and we all expressed our approval.

This morning, being Sunday, Mr Tod and I rode before breakfast to Haji Naji whom we found sitting with an old Saiyid of Karradah who is rather a friend of mine. Haji Naji presently drew me aside and told me he thought of going with the party to Basrah only he was rather afraid of being lost in the ruck. I said I would give him a letter of introduction to Mr Cornwallis who is coming with Faisal so that he might be treated with consideration. This entirely satisfied him and we returned to the summer house to eat the excellent apricots and apples which he set before us. Finally I sent for 'Abdul Majid Shawi and Fakhri Jamil and had a long heart to heart talk with them - they are both on the Naqib's Reception Committee. They seem quite happy so I hope things are going well. They've just left.

By the way I must tell you that on Friday morning Haji Naji also came to my office after the meeting and as good luck would have it your clippers arrived just at that moment. So we opened and admired them and Haji Naji observed conversationally to the others there "Whenever her Father goes to London he sends me a present." He was very much delighted and the fact that the gift was made before others was all to the good.

Fakhri Jamil begs me to say to you that he sent you his photograph but you haven't sent him yours in return!

In the middle of all these absorbing events, I went to a ball given by the Philbys at the Club. I didn't dance but I sat out in the garden and talked to lots of people. I was passably amused but I felt too full of other things to be able to give much attention to balls. It's a perfect mania here, balls. I never go, but they dance at the Club 3 or 4 times a week. It's accursed, I think. Men who are as hard worked as our officials can't sit up till one or two in the morning and be in their offices at 7 or 8. It's the wives that do it, confound them. They take no sort of interest in what's going on, know no Arabic and see no Arabs. They create an exclusive (though it's also a very second rate) English society quite cut off from the life of the town. I now begin to understand why British Govt has come to grief in India where our women do just the same thing. Mr Philby told me that he was worn out. He is also rather on edge because he is very anti-Sharifian and has taken H.M.G.'s policy ill. I told him I wasn't going to let any politics make a difference to our friendship and he was delightful on that head. But it's no good for a Govt servant to be in opposition to official policy and he has done some harm by openly advocating a republic. Sir Percy has now stopped him but he can't be expected to put his back into the job and the Sharifians all look on him as an adversary. It's a great pity.

His wife is one of the worst of the ball goers, and you'll scarcely believe it but Lady Cox goes to every one and dances all night - with yon figure! She is giving a ball this week to which I shall have to go.

This afternoon I've got to call on the wife of the Persian heir-apparent - they are on their way through to Europe, glad to escape the coming storm in Persia I should think. I know her, she is a pretty little lady brought up in Brussels [Bruxelles]. And after tea I'm going down river by launch with Mr Tod and a party, to swim. We take dinner with us and eat it on the way back - he provides the drinks and I the food. Ever Belloved family your very affectionate daughter Gertrude

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