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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

Letter in which Bell discusses the work of Sir Percy Cox in relation to the Iraq policy, noting that he is travelling to Britain to put the case for Mosul to the Cabinet and describing the potential ramifications of an evaucation of Mosul, which would include an influx of Christian and Muslim refugees. She briefly discusses current affairs as well as giving an overview of her recent activities, including meetings with various officials such as the Prime Minister, Naji Suwaidi, and Sabih Beg, who has recently been offered the position of Mayor of Iraq. Bell describes a trip she has taken to Diwaniyah with J.M. Wilson and Major Jeffries to see the mound of Nippur, which included a meeting with Haji Mukhif, one of the leaders of the 1920 Arab Revolt. She notes that he is now a supporter of the Treaty, and makes reference to a discussion between them which relates to the destruction of his house by the British in 1920. Bell goes on to provide an account of a recent trip to Ur with Major Wilson, in which they visited an excavation by the British Museum and Pennsylvania University before travelling on to Nasiriyah the following day. She notes that the expedition staff in Ur included the younger brother of T.E. Lawrence as well as Leonard Woolley. She continues by discussing her plans to take leave in May and the suggestion that she and her Father could meet in Syria before travelling to Constantinople. She then expresses her anger at an article written by Sir Percival Phillips which she describes as "nonsense" and "harmful". She is presumably referring to an article entitled "The Englishwoman in Mesopotamia" published in The Daily Mail on December 6th 1922. Bell states, in relation to the article, that "it makes better copy to weave romances round a woman than round a man".
Reference code
Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Naji, Haji
Hashimi, Yasin al-
Cox, Percy
Dobbs, Henry
Askari, Ja'far al-
Cornwallis, Ken
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Saud, Abdulaziz ibn
Sa'id, Nuri al-
Woolley, Leonard
Bourdillon, Bernard Henry
Joyce, P.C.
Drower, E.S.
Drower, Edwin
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper
Iraq ยป Baghdad

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad Dec 16 Dearest Father. Your letter and Mother's describing your Ja'far-Philby dinner party and your talks with Sir Henry were most interesting. It was kind of you to be so nice to Ja'far - I'm most grateful. Indeed I feel that 95 is a sort of succursal of the High Commissariat and I suggest you should add to Sir P. Phillip's list your own name as honorary representative in London. It was very good of Mother to send me those abominable articles. We are furious with him. Do you know he told us categorically that he was not out for any paper, and now behold he was special correspondent to the Daily Mail! We gave him every opportunity to hear and see everything and all that he heard and saw is travestied and misrepresented. A good example of his methods is the story of the bombed shaikh who said that one wife had been spoilt. It's a very old story of the early days of 1917 when a tribe which had in fact been bombed in error sent a claim for damages on the ground that we had killed two cows and spoilt three. I saw the petition. None of the conversations he quotes were with me but Major Bourdillon tells me he recognizes one with himself, but what he said is all twisted to suit P.P.'s theme.
We hear from the S. of S. that Lord Curzon is going to oppose a firm front to the Turks on the matter of our boundaries. Lord C. appears to me to have done extremely well at Lausanne and so far the Turks have been made to toe the line. Heaven send that his successes may continue. I'm enclosing an extremely confidential memorandum of mine drawn up for Sir Percy, an appreciation of the present political situation. I've just come in from having tea with the King, and a heart to heart talk about the line he is going to take with the mujtahids. I've been encouraging him to stand up to them boldly. He and his Govt have made all the concessions they honourably can and there's nothing now but to fight it out. There are even chances that the mujtahids won't dare to face the music if the King calls the tune with sufficient decision, but no hope that he'll win them over by further concessions, short of turning down the treaty which he can't and won't contemplate. I left him expecting the Prime Minister with whom he was going to have a decisive conversation, but I don't doubt that Muhsin Beg, God preserve him, will take the line I did.

Sir Percy came back on the 11th with treaties all signed and finished in his hands. Ibn Sa'ud is coming to the 'Iraq in the Spring to visit the King under Sir Percy's auspices. Sabih Beg, ex Minister of Works who went with Sir Percy as the King's representative told me that the matter is finished, that Sir Percy was magnificent and that Ibn Sa'ud is convinced that the future of himself and his country depends on our goodwill and that he will never break with us. In point of fact the treaty is on exactly the lines that Sir Percy stipulated. I was glad to see him. It makes an immense difference having him back. You're right that no one can replace him, but I'm rather surprised at your saying that Sir Henry is not in sympathy with Arab aspirations. That was far from his former attitude. However we must talk him round.

I seem to have done singularly little of interest. I gave a nice dinner party on Sat 9th Group Capt. Hearson, who is quite delightful, Yasin Pasha and Mr Cornwallis. G.C. Hearson was most enthralling about Franco-German relations which he had studied during his months at Paris. Yasin who understands English but speaks little, was as silent as he always is. He is a very enigmatic person. After dinner we played Bridge. I've been to two or three Arab ladies' tea parties and tonight I've got an Arab dinner party about which I'll tell you tomorrow. I've also got a cold in the head, confound it. There has been no rain but it's very chilly in the mornings and I shiver in the office. On the other hand it's very pleasant in the afternoons. I had a delightful ride with Nuri yesterday and I've also been down to Karradah and had tea with Haji Naji who always enquires tenderly after you. That and having various colleagues form Arbil [(Hawler)] to lunch makes up the sum of my social doings.

Dec 18. [18 December 1922] It was an exceptionally amusing dinner party. I had Sabih Beg, ex Minister of Works, who has just been down with Sir Percy as the 'Iraq representative in the meeting with Ibn Sa'ud. Two members of the King's Household, Amin Kisbani[?] and Daud Haidari, and a member of my Library Committee, Rauf Chadirji. Also the Drowers. Sabih Beg is a great wag and told a number of funny stories, out of which I retain this one. There was a man who earned the special favour of the Almighty and requested in return that he might be allowed a glimpse of Heaven and Hell. He was taken over Heaven and thought it very nice, and then requested to be taken into Hell. They showed it to him systematically, the Hell of the Unbelievers, the Hell of this, that and the other, till finally they reached the Hell of the 'Ulama. "Is there a Hell of 'ulama?" he enquired. "Oh yes, they said "and it's full." The first thing that attracted his attention when he got there was a man plunged into the fire up to the neck with only his head sticking out. His face was horribly flushed with the heat and he was making disagreeable grimaces. "Who's that?" said the visitor. "It's the Qadhi" they replied. "Oh Qadhi," he said "why don't you get right under the fire; it's horrible to see your head sticking out like that." "I can't get down any further" said the Qadhi. "The Mufti is underneath me." They played Bridge while I talked to Daud Beg and Rauf Beg and after the Drowers left, the Arabs stayed on till near 12.
Yesterday was a disgusting Sunday. It began to rain at breakfast time and poured steadily all day. My Minister, Yasin Pasha, came to see me at 10 to discuss the Excavations Law which he wants to postpone and I don't. Then came Daud Haidari for a confidential talk about the atmosphere of the palace and the goings on of the 'ulama - I wish we could pack them all off to their special Inferno. I had had tea with the King the day before and we had discussed at length whether the time hasn't come to send them there. I {had} strongly urged that it had. I spent Sunday afternoon writing a long memorandum for Sir Percy which he wanted for the air mail, and dined with Mr Davidson, our usual Sunday dinner. But there were several extraneous people there. I had a cough and it was a horrid night, so I didn't much enjoy it. Today I attended a meeting of the Cabinet to discuss what we were going to do about the Excavations Law. The Ministers were extraordinarily welcoming and sympathetic - it really warmed my heart - and we came to a very satisfactory conclusion; we agreed that anyway we would have a provisional law and that before Yasin and I went into it he should come down with me to Mr Woolley's excavations at Ur so as to see what decent excavators are like.

It's a very different Cabinet than it was in the Naqib's day, much more businesslike. They sit all down a green baize table with 'Abdul Muhsin, the P.M. at a cross table at the head. And they talk one after the other instead of all together. Also they are not allowed to smoke, but in the middle of the meeting they have twenty minutes off for tea and cigarettes. I stayed to tea and then left. I like attending Cabinet meetings.

Dec 21. [21 December 1922] The post goes this morning so goodbye. It's beautiful weather again and we start on our expedition tomorrow. We are going to Diwaniyah [Diwaniyah, Ad] by rail and then by motor to the Euphrates. The enclosed is highly confidential! Your very loving daughter Gertrude

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