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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
Sa'id, Nuri al-
Suwaydi, Naji al-
Cox, Percy
Wilson, A.T.
Cooke, R.S.
Cornwallis, Ken
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Eskell, Sassoon
Saud, Abdulaziz ibn
Allenby, Edmund
Cox, Louisa Belle
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad June 2 Confidential but show Elsa and Domnul Darling Father. Your perfectly delightful letter from Cairo reached me punctually by the next airmail, ie a fortnight after it was written. Yes, there wasn't one moment of our fortnight in Palestine that was not perfect. Everything helped - the lovely country and the nice people, but they were only the setting of the picture, which was you. There's no doubt that being with you is the most enjoyable thing known. Haven't you got your niche in the East! I was immensely impressed and interested by your talk with Faris Nimr. It all helps, you know, in the carrying on of relations. Egypt seems bad enough at present, but I can't help thinking that matters will ultimately right themselves, even there. You did have a well spent day in Cairo, what with the Congreves and the Allenbys and all. After Nimr, or with him, the Allenbys are the people my heart goes out to. I love both of them. And now I look forward to hearing of your Paris experiences. Though your letter came in punctually, half the airmail was delayed - the two Vicars [i.e. Vickers] Vernons had 5 nights in the desert, getting off the track and being obliged to come down with engine trouble and then being lost owing to their wireless going wrong! However they have safely arrived and I've heard of their experiences from Lord Apsley, who shared them. We are putting the right spirit into that young man and you may expect du nouveau in the Morning Post. Other travellers less fortunate that I were Mr Ledew (you remember he breakfasted with us at Beyrut [Beyrouth (Beirut)]) and his friend Major Powell. They came from Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Sham, Damas)] by camel. The French absolutely refused to let them travel by Palmyra [Tadmur] and Dair [Dayr az Zawr], on the ground that they could not guarantee their safety among the tribes, but the British Consul put them into touch with a caravan coming straight across the desert to Hit [(Is)] - my road in 1911 - and they concluded that the English knew much more about Arabs and tribes than the French. This conviction had already been borne in on them in Damascus where the French were still patrolling the street daily with soldiers and in deadly fear of a rising. Said Major Powell "They are in up to the neck." He believes that Gouraud is pressing for more troops and thinks that if he does there will be a sharp conflict in France, for Gouraud only got his budget through by personal application and to ask for any further expenditure would create a flutter. Major Powell proved to be very a [sic] intelligent observer; Mr Cornwallis and I made it our business to give him matter for observation here and I think he has got hold of the Arab question by the right end. Whatever you may say, that is not the French end, unquestionably. Last airmail brought us further amazing details from Mr Palmer, the Consul at Damascus. There are sure to be developments in Syria, though what form they will take I don't know. Mr Crane, says Major Powell, is furious at the sentences inflicted on those who came to protest to him and is going to air his views in the U.S.A. Not that America will raise a finger to help, but it will keep the French in anxiety which is just what suits the Syrians. You can't, as the Arab papers rightly say, run a mandate on 36,000 troops - that is military occupation. Now I'll tell you our tale for the last week - an interesting comment on the above. Sunday 28th was the first day of the Feast of Bairam, one of the great days of the Moslem year - it ends the Ramadhan fast. You spend it in paying visits. I went early to the Naqib whom I found surrounded by Ministers and notables and very cheerful. I met Mr Cooke and Mr Davidson there and we went in together to various sons and brothers of the Naqib's family. By that time I was due to meet the High Commissioner for the King's levee - our hour was 8.45. It was very well done, no crowd, everyone came at his appointed time and went straight in to audience. We stayed about 10 minutes and left to make room for the G.H.Q. party. I then made the round of the ministers, finding most of them at home; a few notables geographically situated I sandwiched in and got home about 11. Mr Cornwallis and the two Americans lunched. Just before they came the Minister of Interior telephoned to tell me that a group of extremists were planning a big demonstration against the mandate for the afternoon. The King had ordered it to be stopped and did I know where Mr Cornwallis was? With that Mr C. came in and I left him to deal with the Minister. At 5, Mr Cooke and I went out on another round of visits and got through some 10 notables, or more. There was a good deal of talk about the attempted demonstration and very plain speaking as to how this kind of thing could not be tolerated. Some blamed the King for encouraging it, some said Nuri Pasha had taken the lead - in short the town was full of gossip. Next morning Mr Cooke and I paid visits for about 3 hours and heard the same kind of talk, rather more so. Delegates had been chosen by the organizer of the demonstration to interview the King - what were these delegates? Whom did they think they were representing? etc etc. I went to the office, told Sir Percy anything he did not know and found that he was in touch with Mr Cornwallis and the King, but wasn't very certain what part the latter was playing. Mr Cooke and I then lunched with Fakhri Jamil who was very critical of Nuri and uncertain of the King's attitude. At 5 Mr Davidson, Mr Cooke and I went to tea with Saiyid Ja'far - your old friend the Mayor of Kadhimain [(Al Kazimiyah)] to congratulate him on the 'Id. We took Mr Ledew with us and had a most pleasant party. I was still doubtful as to what exactly had happened. Gossip of the most lurid kind kept flowing into the office next day. I wanted to get hold of Nuri and hear the true tale but everyone was still holiday making. Fortunately at tea time Capt Clayton and dropped in to ask me to dine with them - Nuri being the other guest. I accepted with enthusiasm and we spent the evening together from 7.30 till 12.30 in the most intimate talk. Incidentally Nuri told us the whole story of Sunday and Monday - I will enclose for your private eye that bit of my fortnightly report. Everyone, as you'll see, behaved remarkably well, from the King downwards. But you'll admit that we are in a strong position when all we have to do when we want to know what's happening is to go and ask the actors in the drama what they've done! It was a horrible day, that Tuesday of the 'Id. A south wind which scorched you and even at night was extremely hot. It has been better since but summer has set in and you can't mistake it. Yesterday there were races to which I went rather late in the afternoon, sat in the King's box and had a most cheerful talk with him. He was rather pleased with himself and I hastened to assure him that he had every reason for gratification. The extremist papers have been outrageous, describing the Sunday business as an immense popular demonstration; two of them have got themselves I hope within the clutches of the law and are going to be prosecuted. But the good little moderate paper has upped this morning and smitten one of his extremist colleagues hip and thigh. I think in the present temper of the public he will gain a considerable amount of kudos. And the gratifying thing is that we did not inspire him to do it. Sunday 4. [4 June 1922] I've had a tremendous day. Upon my soul, the emotional experiences one goes through at present in the 'Iraq are very nearly past Bellieving, if they didn't happen to be true. However I'll begin at the beginning. On Friday evening Mr Cooke and I (he is invaluable on these occasions) dined with one of the notables of Baghdad, 'Abdul Latif Thanayan, you don't know him. His nephew 'Abdullah, an intelligent young lawyer was the only other guest. The Thanayans belong to that group whose line of thought is that Arabs are worth nothing at all and Arab Govt never will come to anything. I almost think they are more tiresome that the others who think they can do everything themselves from the word go. We had an immense talk lasting till 11.30 during which I brought forward the stock arguments (which I used to M. de Caix) that we weren't going to make a first class govt because such a thing did not exist in the world, but we were going to succeed in setting up an Arab govt which would work reasonably well. I got my way before the end of the evening and left them, temporarily at least, in a better frame of mind. On Sat. being the King's Birthday, Mr Cooke, Marie and I went at 5.30 to a parade of British troops in the new cantonments at Hamaidi half way to the Diyala [(Sirwan)]. We picked up Haji Naji on the way and took him with us, to his immense delight. I must say the tax-payer would have been pleased with the review also, for there were practically no troops at all! two British and one Indian battalion were all he could muster. On the other hand there was a magnificent display of aircraft. They flew past in squadrons, quite low and looked perfectly splendid. After which they played games in the air, rolling over and over and doing other unBellievable things. The King and his staff were there, with Sir Percy and Gen. Fraser taking the salute. I got back to the office about 9 and half an hour later came in Shaikh Ali Sulaiman straight from Ramadi [Ramadi, Ar]. He is paramount Shaikh of Dulaim and one of the most remarkable people in 'Iraq. He had been fearfully perturbed by the rascally newspapers which had reported that the King had assured the delegates (save the mark!) that the British Govt had been informed of the refusal of the nation to accept the mandate. What was the King doing? Were they all going to the dogs etc etc. I replied that it was just newspaper lies and he had better go straight to the King and ask him - I also gave him one or two tips as to the line his questions should take. In the afternoon the High Commissioner gave a garden party for the King's birthday. I had prepared the Arab list - all officials and notables quite apart from their political opinions. They all came - it was superb. The party was very well done - trust Lady Cox for that! - and we hobnobbed with most of the people who led the reBellion two years ago. Sir Percy told me to look after the King and wallahi I did it well! First of all I took him round all the groups of Arab officials and notables. He made the circle, saying the right thing to everyone - he plays his part. Then we got him established in a corner of the lawn and I brought up all the wives of Advisors, so far as I could catch them, and gave each one a short audience with him. Also the new French consul and his wife, the eldest son of the Naqib and any one else whom I thought he ought to speak to. After it was over Mr Cornwallis and I went away together and had a long talk on his terrace on the river. I told him I was very unhappy over the King's indecisive attitude, his refusal to contradict the statements in the extremist press and the backing he was giving to the most ignoble extremists. He agreed and said he had fought with him and was feeling himself bitterly disillusioned. One of the points that causes us the greatest uneasiness is the King's acceptance of all the vicious gossip about Major Yetts, now Advisor at Nasiriyah [Nasiriyah, An] and to our certain knowledge the best provincial officer we've got. The King has made a series of egregious errors in that Division which Major Yetts has pointed out, quite rightly. Major Yetts has greater knowledge of the tribes and influence over them than anyone I know, and the rogues whom he has quite properly dislodged all go to the King and tell him that he is working against the Arab Govt. The despairing thing is that the King listens to them. This morning I rode with Nuri Pasha at dawn and on the way to Karradah told him all I thought about the situation. Nuri was very comforting, and - he himself an extremist of the deepest dye - told me that they were all determined to work with us. We breakfasted with Haji Naji where we met Mr Cooke, the darling old Haji serving us under the mulberry trees with delicious roasted fish, sour curds and fruit. Nuri was riding an enchanting Arab mare and was much pleased with himself. We had much talk on the way back - he is a real human being and one of the people I like best here. After I had washed and dressed there tumbled in Naji Shaukat, who is one of the younger notables, an able man, a moderate and extremely anxious about the way things are going. He said that men of his group never got the ear of the King, which is more or less true, that they could not endure his association with worthless extremists who passed as nationalists and that he was convinced that in spite of empty talk the country was determined that its salvation lay in union with us. I then had Naji Suwaidi - also an advanced Nationalist of the Naji Shaukat type - and Sasun Eff, with Mr Cornwallis to lunch to meet Lord Apsley who was much impressed by the views of the two 'Iraqis and by the terms they were on with us. Finally at 4.30 I went to tea with the King, by invitation, determined to tell him once and for all what was in my mind. I wish I could give you a picture of it - the big, empty, shaded room with the electric fans whirring (it's pretty hot); the King dressed in white robes with a fine white linen kerchief bound round his head, the emotional atmosphere of which he with his acute perception was fully conscious. For I personally was playing my last card and I told him so. I began by asking him whether he believed in my personal devotion and sincerity to him. He said he could not doubt it because he knew what I had done for him last year. I said in that case I could speak with perfect freedom and that I was extremely unhappy; I had formed a beautiful and gracious image and I saw it melting before my eyes. Before every noble outline had been obliterated, I preferred to go; in spite of my love for the Arab nation and my sense of responsibility for its future, I did not think I could bear to see the evaporation of the dream which had guided me. Day by day that dream became more c...escent. I saw him whom I had believed to be moved only by the highest principles, a victim to every form of malicious {gossip} rumour; he listened to men who during the war had betrayed to the Turks Arabs who had served the British and tomorrow when we left and the Turks returned would betray to them men who had served Faisal. I took up the Nasiriyah business and told him that he had been wrong from first to last in all that he had done there. As for Major Yetts, in the days when I had upheld the Arab cause against AT Wilson there had been only 3 people on my side, Major Yetts, and Captain Clayton. But for them I did not think that I could have held out. I foresaw that his evil suspicions would force Major Yetts to resign and on that day I should resign also because I would not wait until the villains in whom he put his trust inevitably blackened me in his eyes. I preferred to go before the snow image which I had created and to which I had given allegiance melted before my eyes. On this theme we had a terrific discussion - during which he kissed my hand at intervals, which is is [sic] very disconcerting! He said that it was his task to reassure the extreme nationalists and that we had consistently refused to recognize them. I replied that that was far from the case. We repudiated, as he should, those who were merely out for their own interests, but every single one who was genuinely working for national government we had not only accepted but welcomed. If we could not work with them we were not worth one salt, but in fact we could and did work with them. One of the leaders of the revolt of 1920, Ja'far Abu Timman, was now a Minister. We in general and I in particular were on terms of intimacy with him; it was quite inconceivable that we should not find a modus vivendi if only the King would lend his support. In the end I got from him permission to publish an official contradiction of the newspaper reports, (it still remains to get it through!) and when on leaving I attempted to kiss his hand he warmly embraced me! This was after we had discussed with complete agreement the question of the Mecca [Makkah] Hajj which is appallingly serious. Ibn Sa'ud who is at daggers drawn with Faisal's father, King Husain, has at our request prevented his subjects from making the pilgrimage for the last 3 years. He declares, probably rightly, that he cannot restrain them another year but it's more than likely, given the influx of thousands of Najd [(Nejd)] pilgrims and the complete idiocy of Husain that there will be a terrific upheaval. How we are to prevent it I do not yet know. Faisal declares that if we can't take any steps he will have to leave everything and go back to the Hijaz to die in the defence of his family and women folk. From our point of view if the pilgrmiage were to end in a free fight, which is quite possible, it would justify everything that the Indian Moslems have said about the necessity of Turkish control over the Hijaz and incidentally over other Arab countries. The King and I devised various expedients which I'm going to present to Sir Percy tomorrow. I'm still sous le coup of this {emotional} interview. Faisal is one of the most loveable of human beings but he is amazingly lacking in strength of character. With the highest ideals, he will trip every moment over the meanest obstacle - he has hitched his wagon to the stars, but with such a long rope that it gets entangled in every thicket. You can't do anything with him except by immense personal sympathy - it isn't difficult to give it to him, but one must remember that he veers with every breath. I've left him tonight convinced that my own desire is to serve him; tomorrow he will be full of doubts. But at the bottom of his mind, with many deviations from the course, he trusts us and believes that one or two of us - Mr Cornwallis and I and Capt Clayton for instance - would go to the stake for him and that's the strongest hold we have with him. That wasn't the end of the day. After dinner 'Ali Sulaiman came in to see me, full of excitement over a heart to heart talk he had had with the King in the morning - to be followed by another tomorrow. Might he come in and see Sir Percy afterwards? and what did I think of it all? I praised and encouraged him, promised him an interview with H.E. and told him the King only needed backing to take what was absolutely the right course. He went away I think comforted and ready to go ahead with his interview tomorrow. And for my part I was comforted also, for if the King takes the advice of men like 'Ali he can't go far wrong. Oh darling, isn't the human equation immensely interesting and wonderful. I feel as if I and all of us were playing the most magical tunes on their heart strings, drawn taut by the desperate case in which they find themselves. Can they suceed [sic] in setting up a reasonable government; can they save themselves from chaos? Their one cry is "Help us!" And one sits there, in their eyes an epitome of human knowledge and feeling oneself so very far from filling the bill! Poor children of Adam, they and we! I'm not sure (but perhaps that's because of my sex) that the emotional link between us isn't the better part of wisdom, but I wish I had a little more real wisdom to offer. However, Sir Percy has plenty. June 6. [6 June 1922] The drama develops. 'Ali only came into the office on Monday morning, and told Sir Percy and me that he and the King had arranged that if a favourable answer came from London concerning the various modifications proposed in the terms of the treaty, the King would go straight ahead and deal faithfully with the extremists; if the answer were not wholly favourable he should call on 'Ali to summon round him men of 'Ali's way of thinking and force the extremists to accept our terms. Before the end of the morning we heard that the 5 so-called Delegates of the Nation had sent Rs 1500 worth of telegrams to every crowned head, parliament and leading paper in Europe and America proclaiming that they never would accept a mandate in any form. These had all been held up by the censor and the King was to be asked whether he proposed to stop them. I lunched with Mr Cornwallis, heard that the King had already gone back on one of the things I had urged him to do and thought I might possibly have convinced him to do! It was in connection with his support of a perfectly worthless rogue who posed as a Nationalist. H.M. had put off giving him an answer till he heard whether his proposals with regard to the treaty were accepted. At night I gave a dinner party - , Capt Clayton and 3 Arabs. These last were Ismail Saffar, a very nice and moderate man recently returned from Syria. He is in bad odour at the Palace where I fancy he is considered too pro-British, and under the influence of his entourage the King has not yet ratified his appointment (made by the Council and a very popular move) as Inspector General of Police. The other two were Rustam Haidar, chief Secretary of Faisal's diwan - I like him but he doesn't count for much; he is a Ba'albeki - and Safwat Pasha, a Syrian, for 25 years an instructor at the Military School at C'ple [Istanbul (Constantinople)] and incidentally the King's tutor. He arrived while I was away and has been appointed Controller of the King's household. He is a dear but not much use to the King, I should say. A Syrian, he knows nothing of the 'Iraq and can't give advice of any value. He and Rustam stayed till past 12 and for the last hour urged on us the necessity of stopping the Najd [(Nejd)] pilgrimage, a thing which, as we pointed out, we do not think that man or God can do. Husain now says that if the Najd pilgrims come he will retire to Jeddah [Jiddah (Jedda)]! I should think that would make an outburst inevitable - Husain will see that it takes place. Today we hear that the King is still "reasoning" with the Delegates about their telegrams - which are still reposing in a strong box in the office! The fact that they have been sent - or think they have been sent - as well as the text have been published in all the local papers today. The King is therefore in a tight place. He has got either to let them go or to say that he has ordered them to be stopped. Mrs Davidson, Mr Cooke and I went to tea in Kadhimain [(Al Kazimiyah)] with a nice old party called 'Abdul Husain Chalabi. He is supposed to be an extremist but keeps up the most cordial intimacy with us. Extremist be damned! the whole thing is nonsense. Anyhow I loose [sic] no opportunity of advertising my connection with him. Oh the King, the King! if only he would be more firm! He is missing the opportunity of a lifetime - but what can one do? June 8. [8 June 1922] Darling, I continue to pass through days of the most thrilling interest. Last night I dined with Mr Cornwallis to meet Yasin Pasha and other Arabs. It was most delightful. We didn't talk politics much but sparred with Yasin about his having been chosen a delegate of the people, all of which he took in excellent part. After they had all gone Mr C. told me that Yasin had confided to him that he thought the situation here hopeless and regretted that he had come back. He found to his surprise everyone out against us. We agreed that he was getting his information from a very small circle of Baghdad extremists and this morning I sent for Naji Suwaidi and asked for his help. I told him I thought Yasin's attitude was of importance and if Naji agreed with us that his impression was incorrect, in that he gravely overestimated the strength of the oppositon to us, would he go and tell him so. Naji replied that he entirely agreed with me and would undertake to do all that was possible with Yasin - a good stroke, Sir Percy was much pleased. Today the vernacular press was full of Lord Apsley. Gratitude for the part the Morning Post had played in the Palestinian question and hope that he would now direct his attention to that of Iraq. The Leaders of the people will meet the Lord (it sounds almost Biblical) and expound to him the position, in which no doubt he will be deeply interested. At 5 I took the Lord to tea with the King. I told all that was in the papers and he replied that he was to meet all the extremists tomorrow at Kadhimain [(Al Kazimiyah)]. I gave him the lie of the land and I've no doubt he will do extremely well. For in conversation with the King he was quite admirable - I'm free to confess that I translated like an angel! Ja'far Pasha was there, Sabih Beg (Minister of Public Works) and Rustam Haidar. We talked over the whole mandate question with complete amity. Lord A. developed the reasons for which we had to have recourse to a mandate - a means of obtaining the consent of the Powers to our treaty, of persuading the British nation that we had accepted a responsibility and were bound to fulfill it etc. The King asked whether he saw any objection to a combined protest on the part of ourselves and the Arabs to the League of Nations against the mandatory relation once the treaty was an accomplished fact. Lord A said, on the contrary, the Morning Post would do all it could to help us, but they must get the treaty through first, otherwise all our enemies in Europe would declare that the Arab nation did not want us. The King enthusiastically agreed and I added that it was a programme in which we must be able to count on their help. "I hope you feel certain of that" said Sabih Beg. "I'm far from certain" I replied "either of yours or the King's". At which the King was much entertained and said "The truth is we lack courage." VoilÖ parler! At the end Lord Apsley, who really is a diplomat of the highest order, said that now he wanted to come to something really serious. They all pricked their ears - Yes, he said, a thing of real importance - when are you going to have a polo team? They were all delighted. Ja'far assured him eagerly that the 'Iraq Army was getting a team together, while the King said he understood that in political negotiation golf was more useful - but on second thoughts he did not think he could bear to play golf with Mr Lloyd George. On that we took our leave, and I'll wager that a very pleasant impression remained behind us. It was one of the most useful talks I've ever heard at the palace and I'm infinitely grateful to Lord Apsley for the skill with which he conducted it. I confided to him that I had been a very good interpreter to which he replied that the Mufti of Jerusalem [(El Quds esh Sherif, Yerushalayim)] had told him that he had never heard better Arabic than mine on the lips of a foreigner. I was gratified by this. Altogether I feel happier. The King has agreed to the permanent stopping of the telegrams above mentioned and when the five asses hired a motor, and hurried the telegrams off to Persia for despatch from there, he told them that they would do the utmost harm. And they have refrained. Lord Apsley is going to be entertained at Kadhimain tomorrow by all the extremists - I feel I can entirely trust him to deal faithfully, and also fairly, with them. It's in the house where I went to tea two days ago. On the way home we met Sir Theodore Fraser and were invited to cold drinks on his terrace where we spent an agreeable half hour. He is a very charming person. And I finished by going to dinner with Sasun and his brother and finding that I had gone on the wrong day! However I stayed to dinner en famille which was in fact much nicer than a party. Also I got home early for which, as it has been a very hot and heavy day, to say nothing of the excitement, I'm grateful for I'm really sleepy. Good night darling - you see I couldn't have come home, could I? Your most loving daughter Gertrude. I may mention that you nearly lost me yesterday. I took an extremely severe toss off my pony, a pure volutary I cut, for no reason but just thoughtlessness. Except an immense bruise, I'm none the worse.

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