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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
Cox, Percy
Cornwallis, Ken
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Philby, Harry St John
Eskell, Sassoon
Askari, Ja'far al-
Sa'id, Nuri al-
Cox, Louisa Belle
Joyce, P.C.
Haldane, Aylmer
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad June 30 Darling Father. It's being so frightfully interesting - there! there! let me begin at the beginning. Where was I? It was Monday's vernacular paper which gave the first full account of Faisal's arrival at Basrah [Basrah, Al (Basra)] and the quite admirable speech which he made at a big function they had for him. Tumbling in on this came an agent whom I had sent down to Basrah to bring me a report of the temper of his reception and gave a very glowing account of the effect made by the speech which he said inclined all hearts towards Faisal. This was cheering and in the evening Naji Suwaidi and Nuri dropped in after tea. Naji back from Basrah with a rosy tale. Then we fell a-talking of the next steps and agreed that we couldn't leave him here not knowing what his positon would be for 6 or 8 weeks till the elections were over. Somehow or other the country must be got to declare itself. Sir Percy and I had already discussed this but I didn't feel at liberty to mention the fact to my two friends, so I only gave them comforting reassurances. But I don't want Faisal to come in by a coup d'état of the extremists - we must have something much more constitutional than that. Tuesday I was busy helping the Mutasarrif to get out his invitations to a big dinner which is to be given by the Municipality tonight. In the evening I went to a library committee meeting after which Sasun Eff and I motored to the Sarai to see Faisal's lodging which was very satisfactory - big rooms in a Govt building on the river. On Wed. Faisal was to arrive at 7 a.m. Col. Joyce and I motored to the station together, going all up the big street to the upper bridge. The whole town was decorated, triumphal arches, Arab flags, and packed with people, in the street, on the housetops, everywhere. At the station immense crowds. It was very well arranged with seats for the magnates all round, and all filled with magnates. Sir Percy intilt and Sir Aylmer and a guard of honour and all. But - we learnt there had been an éboulement on the line - a telegram had been received to say he was coming in by motor and hoped to arrive at the appointed hour. We waited, we talked, we shook hands all round - at least I did - we looked at the Arab Levies, and towards 8 paf! came a message down the line to say that he was in the train after all, couldn't get through and might be there at midday! Sir Percy quickly took command. Noon at the end of June is not an hour at which you can hold a great reception out of doors. Moreover it wasn't by any means certain that he would arrive at noon. He was accordingly asked to spend the day in the train and get in at 6 p.m. And we all went home! I to the office where presently Nuri came in and assured me that the evening's reception would be better even that that of the morning. Then Haji Naji, up from Basrah 2 days before, full of delight. Thanks to the letter I had give him to Mr Cornwallis he had spoken to Faisal, and he was the king they wanted and that was all right! Darling old thing. So behold us at 5.30 again setting off to the station. This time Sasun Eff took me. The town was unBellievably more crowded than before - I scarcely thought we should get through. However we did, and arrived to find the station similarly much fuller of people. And this time the train arrived.
Sidi Faisal stood at the carriage door looking very splendid in full Arab dress, saluting the guard of honour. Sir Percy and Sir Aylmer went up to him as he got out and gave him a fine ceremonious greeting, and all the people clapped. He went down the line of the guard of honour, inspecting it, and I espied Mr Cornwallis stepping out of the carriage, looking rather glum, so I went and received him, and Lord! I was glad to see him! While we talked Sidi Faisal came back and Sir Percy began to present the Arab magnates, representatives of the Naqib etc. I hid behind Mr Cornwallis but Faisal saw me and stepped across to shake hands with me. He looked excited and anxious - you're not a king on approbation without any tension of the spirit - but it only gave his natural dignity a more human charm. Then he was lost in the crowd and Col. Joyce and I stayed talking to Mr Cornwallis who, poor dear, was so dried up with thirst that he could scarcely talk at all. But what he said was that up to now things hadn't gone well. The people were standing back, above all the Political Officers were standing back (this part isn't to be repeated!) and Mr Philby was the worst. Fortunately he was down with fever at Hillah [Hillah, Al]! So I packed Mr C. into Sasun's motor and we set off for the Maude bridge. But don't think we got there. In the first quarter of an hour we got perhaps half way and then stuck fast in the traffic. And there was Mr Cornwallis dying of thirst. We abandoned the motor and walked to Mr Garbett's house, near the Maude bridge on the left bank, and having had abundance of sodas Mr Garbett, Mr Cornwallis and I sat on the garden terrace over the river and talked for an hour.

All the way up the story they had heard was: the High Commissioner is neutral, the Khatun and Mr Garbett want Faisal and Mr Philby wants a republic, nor apparently had Mr Philby been at any special pains to conceal from Faisal an opinion which is variance from what he knows to be the policy of H.M.G. Naturally Faisal was bewildered - was the High Commissioner with him, and if so why did his officers adopt a different attitude? All the more was he bewildered because he was told with equal frequency that if the local officers would lift a finger all the people would follow their lead. Why wasn't the finger lifted if that was the official policy? We explained all that had happened and the long delay in getting the pronouncement from England, and that Sir Percy was absolutely sound and determined to carry the thing through; and with that I left them to dress for a ministerial dinner given by the Naqib for Faisal in Faisal's house! an odd arrangement. The Naqib was represented by one of the ministers; Sir Percy was there and Sir Aylmer - it was a jejune affair I fancy.

I, walking home in the dusk, was hailed by a friendly chauffeur who knew me and asked if I wanted a lift home. And it was the beflagged and beflowered car in which Faisal had driven from the station! So I next occupied it and arrived home in it, to the supifaction [sic] of my servants. The chauffeur told me that when Faisal came out of the station the crowd surged round him. He was hurried into the car and then the chauffeur saw a man in white robes with a black beard doing his level best to get in after him. Heaven inspired him with an idea that Faisal ought to go alone, so he clapped the door to and drove off. And the man - don't I know him! - was a certain Shaikh Ahmad Daud, one of the emptiest windbags in Mesopotamia, a leader of last year's reBellion released under the amnesty and now an object of universal ridicule. Fancy what a companion that would have been with whom to make a début! The chauffeur was longing to tell his tale and he found a good audience in me. "He didn't seem very sure at first" he said "and I couldn't get along. The people clung to the car and surged in between me and the escort. But when we got into the big street the police opened the way. I went very slow and he stood up in the car and the people shouted and shouted and he saluted all the time. All the way from the Maude Bridge to the Sarai - he did seem pleased!"

So that was how he came to Baghdad.

This morning on my way to the office I went to the Sarai and gave my card to Faisal's ADC. He said would I wait a moment - the Amir would like to see me; it was only a little past 7, rather early for a morning call. I waited, talking to the ADC and presently Faisal sent for me. They showed me into a big room and he came quickly across in his long white robes, took me by both hands and said "I couldn't have believed that you could have given me as much help as you have given me." So we sat down on a sofa and he told me his doubts and I comforted him and assured him that Sir Percy was absolutely with him. Then he asked me whether he should call on the Naqib - Mr Cornwallis had told us he was very reluctant to do so. "I'll make you responsible," he said. I answered that I thought he had better go, we owed the Naqib a debt of gratitude and it would make things easier for Sir Percy. He said "If Sir Percy is with me I'll go and see the ......, but if he isn't with me I should like to leave tomorrow!" Then I gave him a little advice about people, that he was to be very polite to the Mosul [Mawsil, Al] deputation, that he wasn't to allow anyone to be in his car with him, and above all that he to speak out all his mind to Sir Percy.

And as I left I saw Shaikh Ahmad Daud sitting in the ante chamber! However Faisal is not a man on whom a warning is wasted.

Mr Cornwallis came in to the office later and I told him I had called on Faisal. He said (I must tell you this because it pleased me so much) "That was quite right. All the way up he has been hearing your praise and he gave me a message for you in case he didn't see you to speak to today - I was to tell you how grateful he was." And my private spy, the man I sent to Basrah, tells me the people constantly say "Is the Khatun satisfied?"

Later in the morning in rolled Shaikh 'Ali Sulaiman of the Dulaim from Ramadi [Ramadi, Ar], the staunchest opponent whom Faisal has had. I've wrestled with him long in speech and letter. He brought the next most important Dulaim shaikh with him. Mr Cornwallis was with me and I introduced him as having come with Faisal. 'Ali Sulaiman sat down and announced that he had that minute arrived by motor from Ramadi and had come straight to me. I said "Where should you come first if not to me?" So matters being on this pleasant footing we talked of Faisal and Mr Cornwallis said very tactful things. 'Ali Sulaiman has come in to see Faisal! I took him up to Sir Percy and left him in his wise hands.

The next event was that evening's banquet in the Maude gardens. It was really beautifully done. The place, lighted with electric lights looked lovely. But I really shall have to set about getting a proper ceremonial for Faisal's court - when he has one - for they none of them have the least idea what to do next. He came in, shook hands with Sir Percy, the General, Lady Cox and me, and then relapsed onto a sofa and talked to me as the one person handy to talk to - he speaks no English and only a little French. I felt this wouldn't do at all, with everyone dying to be introduced to him, and as no one made a move I asked him if I might bring up people to him, and then brought Mrs Slater, Mrs Garbett, Mr Tod and anyone who happened to be round, till we went in to dinner. The tables were arranged in a large square; at the top table we sat like this: [seating plan: top - Sasun, Sir P., Faisal, Sir Aylmer; bottom - Mr Cornwallis, GLB, Mayor Abdul Majid Shawi, Lady Cox, Ja'far]
Faisal carried on a little conversation in French with Sir Aylmer, but mostly he and I and Sir Percy and Abdul Majid and I talked across the table. Faisal looked very happy and I felt very happy and so did Sir Percy. As for 'Abdul Majid he has fallen flat before Faisal. After the dinner 'Abdul Majid made a little speech and then a young man recited a horribly dull poem, and then got up our great poet, of whom I've often told you, Jamil Zahawi, and recited a tremendous ode in which he repeatedly alluded to Faisal as King of the Iraq and everyone clapped and cheered. And then there stepped forward into the grassy space between the tables a shi'ah in white robes and a black cloak and big black turban and chanted a poem of which I didn't understand a word. It was far too long and as I say quite unintelligible but nevertheless it was wonderful. The tall, robed figure chanting and making time with an uplifted hand, the starry darkness and the palm trees beyond the illuminated circle - it hypnotized you. But dear, dear, the evening wasn't without its funny moments - as for instance when in the middle of dinner 'Abdul Majid finding verity in his unaccustomed lemonade - he's a great toper as a rule - confided to me that he did hate the Shi'ahs! And after dinner Shaikh Ahmad Daud, the old ass, went up to Sir Aylmer and shook him warmly by the hand. Sir A. hadn't an idea who he was, but Sasun Eff, standing by explained and translated. "Well, well" said Sh. Ahmad "just this time last year we were beginning the reBellion, but I like it better this way. Yes, I would rather exchange compliments with you than bullets." I must tell you that Sh. Ahmad never exchanged any bullets, for we caught him and sent him off to languish at Henjam [Henqam].

They formed a circle under the palm trees and sat Faisal down in the middle of it - and then left him! So again I stepped into the breach and brought people up to him till Abdul Majid took the cue and began introducing people himself. But the introductions were seriously hampered by the wearisome speeches our orators would insist on making. I disappeared into the outskirts and talked to people - I must tell you that an immense tail had by now assembled - but poor Faisal when at last he shook himself free and got up to go, came to me and said "I used to do all I could to avoid speeches in Syria and I'm afraid they are going to be much worse here!" Before he went I got all the other English people and their wives introduced to him, explaining to him who each one was. And then at 11 o'clock we came away.

A terrific lot of people came to see me next day, and late in the afternoon 'Ali Sulaiman came to my house and sat down solidly. "Well" he said "you were right. I've seen him and he's the man for us." He had won 'Ali's heart, apparently, by telling him he didn't intend to move a step without Sir Percy's advice. After that I went out riding.

But it's not all smooth yet. We get reports about the lower Euphrates tribes preparing monstrous petitions in favour of a republic and of the Shi'ah 'alims and mujtahids being all against Faisal. I don't believe half of them are true but they keep one in anxiety. Today I sent for one of the principal Euphrates shaikhs - Abdul Wahid with whom you had lunch that day we went on the river from Najaf [Najaf, An]. He's a strong Sharifian and we talked the whole matter over. Before him I had had an influential little group of Baghdadis saying that we must finish the business, we couldn't wait for elections. Somehow or other Faisal must be proclaimed King. I referred them to Faisal himself, knowing that he has discussed it with Sir Percy, and told them to take Faisal's orders. In the afternoon Faisal sent for me and told me his ideas which were very sound. I also gave him a few suggestions to bring before Sir Percy. He complained bitterly of Mr Philby and I don't think Mr Philby will be able to stay. I'm very sorry, but it is his own fault. With that Faisal went off to see Sir Percy so I should think things will happen. I'm beginning to feel as if I couldn't stand it much longer! One is straining every nerve all the time to pull the matter forward, talking, persuading, writing - I find myself carrying on the argument even in my sleep. But anyway Faisal's antechamber contained a good many of the right people and it's comforting to think that he can do the talking so well himself. We've got Baghdad and I'm pretty certain we have got Mosul [Mawsil, Al]; the rest will fall into line.

Sunday July 3. [3 July 1921] I went riding early with Mr Tod - to Haji Naji's where we sat and eat a melon and excellent apricots - and directly after breakfast I returned the call of the Mosul [Mawsil, Al] deputation who had come to see me on their arrival. We sat in the courtyard of the hotel and they explained that they wanted to invite Faisal to Mosul and therefore wanted permission for the Municipality to spend what was necessary on his entertainment. I think I can get the thing arranged for them. They had been dining with Faisal the night before and seemed much pleased with him and themselves.
I've letters from Mother and you of June 1 and 2 and Heaven be praised Reuter tells us the strike is over but I'm very very anxious to know whether the terms accepted are reasonable. Ever your very affectionate daughter Gertrude

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