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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

Letter in which Bell discusses military action taken against resisting tribes near Samawah by the Iraq army and the R.A.F., before describing her trip to Karbala to attend the opening of the railway extension with King Feisal and Sir Henry Dobbs.
Reference code
Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Cornwallis, Ken
Askari, Ja'far al-
Dobbs, Henry
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Bourdillon, Bernard Henry
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper
Iraq ยป Baghdad

33.315241, 44.3660671

Dec 11. Baghdad Dearest Father. I have Mother's letter of Nov 27 but nothing from you. I suppose you were too busy making speeches, bless you. We have also had the results - the Liberals are less than you reckoned. It's a confusing affair; we're all wondering what will be done. Anyway, no one will be able to do anything pernicious, whether protection or capital levy, but then will anyone be able to do anything at all?
I've made a new friend, the Director of Operations at the W.O., General Burnett Stuart, who has been out to have a look at us. I sat by him at dinner at the Air Marshal's on Thursday and told him things a General ought to know - all through dinner from beginning to end. At the last he assured me that he was very receptive, and I left him, when I went away from the party, going through the same process from Ken, who had been at the other end of the table. We certainly made a good impression for in a long interview with the King on Sunday he assured him that he would do everything he could to help us. Sir Henry counts for a great deal in this - he saw him several times - and before the General left he assured Nigel Davidson that he was immensely bitten with what we were doing. He also confirmed (to me) my firm impression that we have nothing to fear from the Turks who have years of chaos before them. I'll come back to him later.

We're doing extremely well. Our last success is some operations against persistently disobedient tribes near Samawah [Samawah, As] - I think I told you. There was nothing political in it - they just refused to obey any orders and waited in defiance to see what would happen. It happened and it was admirably organised. An 'Iraq battalion guarded the railway bridges and the aerodromes, the tribes were bombed, they came in to a man, and in the next two days the Police pulled down all their forts. Everyone has come in from far and near and yesterday Ken and the Minister of Interior went down by air and held a huge majlis laying down all the things they were to do and telling them they were now forgiven. Ken is coming to dine tonight to give me all the details. Well, last Thursday the Air Marshal had flown to Samawah, especially to see how the 'Iraq battalion had carried out the part allotted to it. We had a talk after dinner. He said "I want nothing better, and what specially struck me was their eagerness to co-operate. Every order that was given them by the Air Commodore in charge they obeyed punctually and perfectly." Good, isn't it.

I rode down on Saturday to the 'Iraq army polo and told them all what he had said. Whereat they told me that General Burnett Stuart had inspected all their Headquarters, Training School, etc and had congratulated them on everything.

On Sunday morning I went to my Ministry, to see my Museum and do a little business, such as calling on Ja'far Pasha, the P.M.; and then to the office, extraordinarily, to finish an Intelligence Report that I hadn't got through with. I had the Minister of Justice and the Qadhi of Baghdad to lunch, with Mr Pritchard, Adviser to the former - darling old turbans, I gave them a good lunch and they eat and talked heartily. They were much struck by the photograph of your portrait - the Qadhi, who is a Mosuli, had seen you in 1920; it was he who was sitting in that tent by the river bank above the town when we motored out with Mr Nalder in the afternoon. The Minister is ex-Qadhi of Mosul [Mawsil, Al] and had seen you too.

After lunch I went for a long walk through Karradah gardens, Bellow Baghdad, with Lionel Smith. They are exquisite, the gardens, at this time of year, with the ripe oranges hanging from the trees and the green barley springing under {the} golden mulberry bushes.

The Bourdillons and Col. Prescott (Chief Police Inspector and an exceedingly capable one) came to dinner and Bridge.

On Monday I got up at the crack of dawn and left by train at 7 a.m. with H.M. and H.E. and a distinguished party to see H.M. open the new extension to Karbala. I was very well suited for I travelled half the way down with General Burnett Stuart who told me the most deeply interesting things about the state of Europe and the French - he thinks they are bringing Europe to destruction and doesn't know how they are to be stopped - and the other half with the King who was in radiant spirits and immensely interested to hear what I had been hearing from the General. He is so much pleased with himself, H.M.; he knows he is behaving very well and it encourages him to do better and better. Moreover he has got the stream with him. (By the way, they finally didn't appoint to Education the man I had opposed and then given way about! It was, however, finally their own choice so it was all right.)

The new railway crosses Euphrates by the Barrage and runs through the lovely gardens that gird Karbala. We got in about noon, glorious weather and an enthusiastic reception. I send you a picture of H.M. after he had cut the ribbons across the track, waiting for the train to steam into the station. Next to him is Sir Henry, then Col. Tainsh, Director of Railways, then H.M.'s chief ADC, then me. The 'Iraq flag flies from the engine. H.M. looked extremely handsome and radiant. Then we went under a tent awning, gaily embroidered with carpets spread beneath, where the King received all the notables and shaikhs - he did it with a charming grace. So we sat down in rows, I between H.E. and the Mutasarrif on H.M.'s right hand and all the shaikhs in their brown robes and the turbanned [sic] gentleman in their black and white; and a pinched, black-visaged Shi'ah got up and made a speech about the hope of Arab union resting in the King and his family - quite good in tone though once he edged dangerously near unpleasantness when he related how H.M. had come "in an hour of darkness". "No" interrupted the new Shi'ah Minister of Education, who is an amiable old sheep, "our hours are all light, please God!" At which the orator caught himself up and passed on with "all our hours shall, please God, be light." Next a boy scout read a poem in honour of the King and at the end coupled "Long live the King" with "Long live the High Commissioner." And after another poem from a schoolboy, H.M. got up with a fine reply in thanks, his best manner, ending with a great phrase in which he expressed his assurance of success "because we walk hand in hand with the mightiest Power in the world."

Then he went off in State to make his pilgrimage to the two shrines of his ancestors - he loves worshipping at the shrines of his ancestors! - and I took Nigel Davidson and showed him about Karbala, all gay and decorated with Arab flags and palm fronds. Very nice it was. I hadn't been to Karbala since 1918. So back to the train where we were provided with an excellent lunch, and home, getting in at 6.30.

And now I'll tell you that my nice little General, Burnett Stuart, is going to telephone in Jan. to see if you're in London and ask if he may come and see you. I would love you to see him. There's a wife who is also no fool, I gather. He is quite delightful; it will be almost contrary to nature if she's nice too, but I hope for the best.

Dec. 13. [13 December 1923] Darling, that's all. The King is back from Najaf [Najaf, An] but I haven't yet seen him. Ken said that the new Minister of Interior, 'Ali Jaudat, did admirably at Samawah [Samawah, As] and did it all himself, Ken merely listening in. And the Air Officer in Command was deeply impressed. One very good bit of stage managing was that just as all the wicked shaikhs, 90 in number filed up into the presence of the Minister, some 15 snipes sailed over the Sarai with an immense din! They thought that truly their last hour was come. Goodbye dearest, the best of Xmas wishes. Your loving daughter Gertrude.

IIIF Manifest