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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

Letter in which Bell discusses British and European politics before providing an update on her own activities, including several dinner parties and an official function to unveil a statue of Sir Stanley Maude in Baghdad, at which King Feisal, Sir Henry Dobbs and the Iraqi parliamentary Cabinet were present.
Reference code
Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Cornwallis, Ken
Dobbs, Henry
Dobbs, Esme
Wilson, J.M.
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Saud, Abdulaziz ibn
Askari, Ja'far al-
Cox, Louisa Belle
Cox, Percy
Joyce, P.C.
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper
Iraq ยป Baghdad

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad Dec 5 Darling Father. I've written to Mother but I had to make it only business so that she might send it to Mr Evans. So that I didn't say that I was most grateful to her for sending me cooking pots and wine glasses, nor commiserate with her on the badness of her cook - so unlike mine! - nor congratulate her on her taste in the drama. I rather hope Pauline will come home though as Mother says it must have been splendid to go through a siege. Pauline never did think much of Communists if my memory doesn't fail me.
Now your letter of the 22nd. I think you were abundantly right not to stand for the City. It really wasn't worth the trouble. When I think of your brilliant series of speeches last time, so good tempered, so convincing and all so difficult in that blindly hostile atmosphere. It was a fearfully uphill job - you have done it once and that's enough. Let some one else talk to the City - it won't listen.

I'm very much interested by your forecast of the elections, but that will be a hopeless parliament, won't it. Liberals and Labour would I suppose combine against protection and about nothing else, though I see the Labour leaders are weakening as to a capital levy. They might combine on putting pressure on France - the prospects there look rather more hopeful according to the latest Reuters. If America comes in it should be possible to get something done. I had a long letter from Lord Robert about the European situation - not hopeful, but the later news is better.

These are my doings: I had an Arab dinner party on Friday in honour of an old father of turbans, Ibrahim Eff. al Haidari. He belongs to a big family of Kurdish origin settled in Bd, but he hasn't been here for 25 years. He was Shaikh al Islam for two years after the armistice but he hasn't a cent and no hope of favour from the Kamalists though they didn't like his coming back a bit. They wanted him to stay and call himself deputy for Mosul [Mawsil, Al]. I did a good deal to facilitate his return. I had Saiyid Muhi al Din, the Naqib's second son to meet him, and Major Longrigg and 'Abdul Rahman Pasha Haidari with whom for the moment he's staying. He tells me that Mustafa Kamal intends to have himself elected by the Angora [Ankara (Ancyra)] Assembly which would be a real lark and would probably end in a number of little Khalifs one of whom would perhaps be that old rogue King Husain. (The accounts of his Govt are almost incredible, and as Mr Bullard observes, Lord Headley's evidence is of as much value as that of a farm labourer, who has spent a drunken day at a fair, on the observance by the manager of the show of the Childrens' Employment Act, 1903.) Ibrahim Eff told the King - but he naturally wished to please - that there was certain to be a revolution in Turkey in the next few months and even that the generals, whom M.K. had turned out as possible rivals, intended to come to Mosul and organize an attack on Van! I scarcely think that's likely, nor could we permit it of course.

Dec. 6. [6 December 1923] I was having tea with H.M. that afternoon; it was the loveliest oriental scene. He was sitting in his garden near a fountain in full Arab dress, the white and gold of the Mecca [Makkah] princes. And by him, sitting on the stone lip of the fountain, were three of the great chiefs of the desert. Nuri al Sha'lan, grim and scowling, with his red kaffiyah drawn up over his mouth and chin as he wears it; 'Ajil al Yawar, 6 ft 4 of huge body, long fine hands holding a chain of amber and his face illumined with his slow, sweet smile; 'Ali Sulaiman, the sturdy peasant shaikh whose word runs from Fallujah [Fallujah, Al] along all Euphrates to the frontier. Everywhere round them, tossed over the fountain edge, lying in swathes in the garden beds, gold and orange marigolds - waves and waves of them, with the white and yellow of chrysanthemums above them, echoing the King's white and gold. And the low sun sending long soft beams between the willow bushes and the palms, brushing the gold and the orange, the white and yellow into a brighter glow. - Such a talk we had too, of the desert and its secular strife. Nuri was trying to persuade the King to recapture Jof [Jawf, Al (Al Jauf)] for him, held now by Ibn Sa'ud. The King who has no reason to love Nuri, for he follows any hand that pays him, was delicately mocking him: "Whose subject are you Nuri? when you want a passport do you go to the French or to Sidi 'Abdullah or to whom? or is your camel your passport or your sword and lance?" Nuri couldn't meet him; his face grew blacker and he drew the red kerchief closer round his mouth. 'Ajil smiled more sweetly and I laughed, for we both knew Nuri's antecedents.

On Sunday I went out shooting with H.M. Ken Cornwallis took me and the King brought Zaid and an A.D.C. and one of the great Dulaim shaikhs. We started at 7 and motored to Mahmudiyah [Mahmudiyah, Al], half way to Hillah [Hillah, Al], and then left handed into the desert till we came to a reed grown marsh. And all day, if you'll believe me, did we tramp up and down through it, ankle deep, knee deep in mud and water and reeds. Snipe they shot, we got 50 couple. It doesn't sound a nice way of spending the time but it was in fact delicious. The local shaikh came out with us and his little son, more suitably clad then we for the business, in a white cotton shirt to his thighs and a red kerchief; his gun was almost as big as he. "Abdullah shoots well, wallah!" said the tribesmen proudly, but I didn't see him do it. The King provided a sumptuous lunch, after which we returned to our marsh for a couple of hours; then back to the cars to change into dry clothes and discuss our exploits over shandy gaff and sandwiches till the sky grew threatening and a few drops of rain drove us home after dark. I had Ken and Capt Clayton and Dr Sinderson, a dear creature (do you remember his wife was with the Coxes at Athens [Athinai]?) to dinner and Bridge. A nice day.

It did rain a little in the night and it grew blacker and blacker all Monday. We were in agonies, for the unveiling of the Maude statue was fixed for Tuesday. I had a dinner party on the Monday night - a new American consul, namens Randolph, and the retiring one, Mr and Mrs Morgan (he is J.M. Wilson's assistant and very charming; she is nice too) and Lionel Smith who has just come back to my joy. He's Advisor to Education. When they left it was raining hard.

And next day a miracle happened; the clouds melted away, the sun shone out, the mud dried up and it was the most glorious weather conceivable.

We had the most successful function. But I'll tell you a comic incident. We had asked Saiyid Mahmud, the Naqib's eldest son, to represent him and given him a place in the front row with the King and H.E. and the Cabinet and other magnates such as me. But he sent back word that he was sorry he was ill. My next selection for the honour was the second son, Saiyid Muhi al Din. He was ill too! an infectious malady clearly. It was Tuesday morning - Bernard sent for me in despair - what should we do? an empty place in the front row was unthinkable. I went with decision for Saiyid 'Abdullah, the Naqib's brother, but I took the precaution of sending the Nawab, our political secretary, to inquire after his health. Saiyid 'Abdullah was remarkably well, and so was his other brother, Saiyid Ahmad, and they were both coming what's more. And, related the Nawab, "Fard nas!" said Saiyid 'Abdullah, with a gesture of repudiation - an almost untranslatable Baghdadism; the nearest I can get to it is "What a crew!" His nephews, i.e.

I know the reason. They're afraid their Indian followers will think they're worshipping idols. But I think they might have faced the music for once, especially as the Naqib has a special veneration for the memory of General Maude - the Lord knows why.

However we all said the right thing and Sir Henry made an admirable speech - Ja'far, who was sitting next me kept murmuring "Beautiful - beautiful" - but just as much for the glorious dirge on the pipes as for Sir Henry's eloquence. Then they all laid wreaths, Sir Henry and dear Zaid for the King and the A.M. and all the British units and the towns of Basrah [Basrah, Al (Basra)] and Baghdad, till the white crysanthemums and palm fronds covered the steps.

When that was over Sir Henry held an investiture and then gave a garden party - the statues is just outside the Residency gates and it's a fine and simple thing. The garden party was delightful - never has there been so cordial an atmosphere.

Yesterday we rested on our laurels and in the evening I gave a dinner party for Sir Henry and Lady Dobbs and the Joyces, just back, Col. Slater (do you see his ex-wife is going to marry Col. Borton?) and Squadron Leader Peck, a young man at AHQ to whom I've lost my heart. It was an excellent dinner party, I may say. They were all as nice as possible.

I must stop - the post goes in an hour and I haven't time to tell you how the Shi'ah Minister of Finance came and opened his heart to me about the appointment to the Ministry of Education, and how (he being a persuasive fellow) I changed my mind from left to right and went to Sir Henry to unpersuade him of the conviction carried by my former arguments, at least till he had heard what Haji Muhsin had to say. They had a long talk yesterday and I understand that H.E. has fallen to the Minister's beguiling as I did, and God knows best. But I think we're right to give in when they come to us so frankly for after all it's their funeral. Goodbye my dearest. Ever your very affectionate daughter Gertrude.

IIIF Manifest