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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
Hashimi, Yasin al-
Sa'id, Nuri al-
Askari, Ja'far al-
Suwaydi, Naji al-
Cox, Percy
Wilson, A.T.
Philby, Harry St John
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper

33.315241, 44.3660671

Sunday Jan. 30. Dearest Father. This week has been rich in letters for it has brought me two mails with letters from you and Mother of Dec 22 and 29 describing your Xmas party which sounds very delightful. Do you know this is the eighth Xmas I've been away - 1913 Arabia, 1914 Boulogne, 1915 Egypt, 1916 Basrah [Basrah, Al (Basra)], and all the rest Baghdad. Extraordinary isn't it. Except for the letters it has not been a nice week, alternate rain and frost - 3 nights of hard frost with a cutting north wind by day, horrid. We were all going out for the day to Daltawah, north of Ba'qubah today, but it rained hard in the night and the world is a sea of mud again. However it's mild at last and I rather hope the cold is over for this winter. We've had enough of it.
Frank isn't coming back, for which I am very sorry - and sorrier still to find that he is very sore about it. I think he has no reason for any feeling of that kind and I have written to him explaining what happened. There was no question ever of his getting an advisorship to a Ministry; he was offered the local advisorship at Basrah because Sir Percy thought he would be specially good at dealing with the British authorities, Port, military and so forth. I think that was true and as Basrah has exactly the same status as Baghdad I thought the offer a reasonable one. I personally wished Sir Percy would have taken him as his own Political Secretary, but I felt convinced that was never on the horizon. Sir Percy is an odd creature: there are people he feels he can work with directly and people about whom he hasn't that feeling. Frank is one of the latter, I can't possibly say why. But a man must choose his personal secretariat to suit himself and no one has a right to complain if he isn't chosen.

What you told me as to AT [Wilson]'s views on his own future (expressed at the luncheon party) was very interesting. I read the passage, somewhat expurgated, to Sir Percy and said to him that under no circumstances would I remain in the same service with A.T. From an impersonal view I thought he was far too bent on running things his own way to be a suitable man to conduct our relations with Asia which must be essentially advisory and based on the possibility of establishing sympathy and confidence - in fact we must be ready to do as Sir Percy himself is doing, namely to sit by and let them make mistakes, in the hope that they'll learn from them. From a personal point of view I didn't trust AT and I could not work with him. So that's that. I think it would be very unwise to give him a place in the new Dept at home, whatever it's to be called. He is very able and an excellent man of business, but his political outlook is not sufficiently wide or generous. Also he is branded, by himself, in the eyes of Arab nationalists who are the people we must pull together with if we are to do any good. As far as it is ever possible to put one's finger on a definite point in the path of human affairs and say that it was the turning point, I put mine on the interview which AT had in Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Sham, Damas)] in May 1919 when he was on his way back from London to Baghdad, with Yasin Pasha, Nuri Suwaidi and Nuri Sa'id - I don't remember whether Ja'far was there. They laid before him their views as to the future of Mesopotamia - quite reasonable views, well within the programme we are now following - and he told them brutally that it was all moonshine, that they must work on municipal councils before they could hope to take command, and things of that nature. A British officer who was present told me the tale and said that the Arabs after a little fell silent and left AT talking. Tant bien que mal they were at that time running the whole of the military and civil administration in Syria - that they weren't running it better was mainly due to the fact that we had been unable to give them, by reason of French susceptibilites, the advisors they had asked for; it was preposterous to tell these Major Generals (Yasin had been a great deal too many for our generalship in the spring of 1918) and trained administrators - trained indeed in an oriental school but knowing both their job and their limitations - that they must be content to run municipal councils. From that day they despaired of ever getting native institutions in Mesopotamia, and Yasin, being the violent, active creature that he was, urged on the Mesopotamian League, of which he was the leading spirit, to the intensified anti-British propaganda it from that date adopted. It was this propaganda which was the sole and only cause of the stirring up of revolt here. For the primary movers were actuated by the pure spirit of nationalism. It's true they had to add to it pan-Islamism before they could stir the mass, true again that the tribes wouldn't have come out but for the hope of loot and the prospect of paying no taxes; but none of these passions and prejudices would have been mobilized if the Nationalists had not called them to arms. And it is because he outraged Nationalist feeling, underestimated the strength of it and wholly misunderstood it ("I regard the Mesopotamian League as negligeable [sic]" he telegraphed in the summer of 1919) that AT stands convicted of one of the greatest errors of policy which we have committed in Asia - an error so great that it now lies on the toss of a halfpenny whether we can retrieve it.

Ja'far has heard from Nuri Suwaidi who is at last coming back - very valiant of him with his old father, silly old man, a fugitive and an outlaw. Nuri Pasha Sa'id is also on his way. These are the people, these and their like, who may help us to reconquer the confidence of the Nationalists. Sir Percy meets them with his great reputation for the wise handling of eastern problems; I meet them as a convinced Nationalist, for reasons based on British as well as Arab interests, and from first to last they know I've held this view; Mr Philby is at exactly the same standpoint - where does AT's record place him?

On Friday afternoon we had an agricultural function. The Agricultural Dept gave an exhibition of motor traction ploughs and harrows near the mouth of the Diyalah [Diyala (Sirwan)]. I went with the Tods (he is the agent for some of the machines) in a huge motor char à banc - he has recently brought out a few of these. We took Ja'far Pasha and Rashid al Khojah, Mutasarrif of Baghdad, and many others. There was a great gathering of landowners, from the sons of the Naqib to Haji Naji, and all were immensely impressed. Mr Tod thinks, however, that though many would like to buy machines, they are held back by the doubtful future of the country, the uncertainty as to whether law and order will be preserved. After the exhibition we had tea and speeches. It was a very successful function, bitter cold but sunny - it isn't in accordance with the reputation of Baghdad, is it, to see everyone in a thick fur coat. I dined that night with the manager of the APOC, Mr Stewart Morgan, a queer little fish, clever, but - well, I don't know. He has one or more Persian wives: they don't appear and it isn't a matter which concerns me. I dined, speaking of fur coats, dressed in mine and sat in it all the evening. Absurd isn't it.

No. 2 is going home and he thinks of taking a job with a firm of cotton growers and coming out here again. He will certainly come and see you - don't forget his name; it's Drummond, and you'll know him by his having only one arm. Major Norbury is also going home on leave. I don't know whether he will come out again. He did excellently through the Kufah [Kufah, Al] siege and got a DSO for it, but I doubt if he is good enough as an administrator.

Herbert's book has come and looks beautiful - also In the Mountains; thank you very much. I think I've got another set of the precious stamps - anyhow you shall have the ordinary ones.

Monday Feb 1. [1 February 1921] No, alas, I can't find that set of stamps, but anyhow I'll send you the others. Here is a very touching letter from the mother of Capt. Mann which you may like to read and burn. It rained like wild yesterday afternoon and up to the middle of the morning today. The mud is terrific. Colonel Nalder is down and paid me a long visit yesterday. He is a capital person, competent, reasonable and of excellent judgement. Your very loving daughter Gertrude

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