Request a high resolution copy

Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

Private letter in which Bell writes of the possibility of war between Iraq and Turkey, discussing the respective preliminary mobilisation of troops by each country, noting the arrival of four Turkish battalions near the Iraqi border and a parade of British troops going to Mosul. She adds that Zaid is travelling to Mosul, and will present colours to the Iraq cavalry at Tall Afar before attending a gathering of tribal chiefs in Hatra with Captain Clayton. She also describes King Faisal's anxiety in relation to the prospect of war, noting that he has asked if the British intend to stay in the event of conflict, and that he has stated that he would accept a plebiscite on the condition that it be presided over by a neutral power, with armed forces on both sides withdrawn, and that it extend to Arab districts held by the Turks. Bell reports the shooting of Major Jeffries of Diwaniyah and notes that A.T. Wilson and his wife are currently staying with Lady Cox, whilst also discussing her work in relation to the ongoing excavation at Ur, on which she has written reports, and on the Oxford University Expedition to Kish. She adds that she was promised several members of staff to undertake work at Kish, but has instead been sent one archaeologist, Mackay, noting that she has telegraphed the Archaeological Joint Committee for advice on how to proceed. Bell then continues by describing a trip with Major Gillan and Sir Henry Dobbs to Kadhimain to meet with the mayor, Saiyid Ja'far, before discussing Zaid's positive reception in Mosul. She notes that the Iraqi Cabinet has sent a telegram to the League of Nations, stating that the government would fight for Mosul if necessary.
Reference code
Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Naji, Haji
Hashimi, Yasin al-
Dobbs, Henry
Cox, Percy
Wilson, J.M.
Wilson, A.T.
Cooke, R.S.
Cornwallis, Ken
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Kenyon, Frederic G.
Balfour, Arthur
Cox, Louisa Belle
Joyce, P.C.
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper
Iraq ยป Baghdad

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad Jan. 30. Private Darling Father. We're feeling like one who lives on the edge of a seismic zone and wonders whether his house stands outside the area of disturbance or not. Are we to be invader or are we not? that's what we don't know. And if invaded are we to be left to our own resources? we don't know that either. News of the arrival of four Turkish battalions with trimmings at Jazirat ibn 'Umar near our frontier reached us on Sunday 21st. For some months an increase of force had been expected and all the plans for defence, if you can call it defence, were ready. On Tuesday morning I went to a parade of British troops which was going up to Mosul [Mawsil, Al] on Thursday - a most encouraging spectacle as to quality if only the quantity had been quadrupled, Sir Henry and I agreed as we came away. We've sent up all we've got, the 'Iraq Army takes over lines of communication and organizes an irregular gendarmerie between Euphrates and Tigris, under Arab officers to support the 'Iraq cavalry which are already out in that direction. If the Turks don't send down another Army Corps or two we're all right, if they do - why, then we're not. In spite of Ismet Pasha's boasts they show no keenness to begin the attack. Their idea is to force the local tribes to go in first, but the tribes in their turn are extremely reluctant to yield to pressure. There it is; if the Turks are bluffing we're bluffing to match; if they're in earnest we hold a losing hand. Zaid went to Mosul on Sunday 28. I rode up to the Palace in the afternoon to say goodbye to him and had a little talk with him. He will present colours to the 'Iraq cavalry at Tall 'Afar and then go down to Hatra [Hadr, Al] to be present at a gathering of tribal chiefs and organize the gendarmerie. Capt Clayton joins him tonight and between them I don't doubt they'll do well. Zaid has plenty of determination and Capt Clayton a full allowance of wisdom and discretion. Zaid is besides a darling boy with the most attractive courteous manners and a blind devotion to his brother, the King. Today H.M. summoned me to tea; he was very gallant and courageous, but naturally anxious to know whether at the last resort we were prepared to defend the country, or whether we meant to leave it to him. He told me that if necessary he would accept a plebiscite, on condition that it should extend also to predominantly Arab districts now held by the Turks, such as Nisibin [Nusaybin (Nisibis)] and Mardin, and that on both sides armed forces should be withdrawn while a neutral Power presided over the plebiscite. But he would ask us also to strengthen his hand by renouncing the mandate, and basing our position on the treaty alone. If this proposal was not accepted, if British troops were in danger in Mosul (as I don't disguise from you that in my opinion they well may be) and or if we withdrew and left the Arabs to defend themselves, he would go himself to the frontier and spend his life in the last stand. And upon my soul I should ask nothing better than to go with him. What would you have? Seven years I've been at this job of setting up an Arab State. If we fail it's little consolation to me personally that other generations may succeed, as I believe they must. However - let us turn our eyes from such regrettable possibilities, as Lord Balfour said in 1919, in a minute now almost famous. A rather hectic atmosphere has pervaded my office - people tumbling in to give information of letters received from the Turks or their agents, of correspondence between mujtahids, Kamalists and Bolshevists, of projected fatwahs and similar stuff pertaining to the Criminal Investigation Dept. That stalwart, Ali Sulaiman, summoned in by the King, spends a good deal of time with me, seeking assurance (which I can readily give) that nothing is being done without our approval. To add unnecessarily to our difficulties, Major Jeffries of Diwaniyah [Diwaniyah, Ad] was shot at by a party of marauders whom he had the bad luck to intercept when they were setting out on a raid, and was wounded in both feet. He is in hospital here, minus a couple of toes, at a time when we can ill spare a man as competent as he is. A large number of the shaikhs of the district have followed him up [to] Baghdad, to enquire after his health, and they also spend a considerable time in my office or my house. I had a tea party of ladies and a dinner party of notables last week but owing to many preoccupations this week has so far been a blank. I've been rather busy with archaeology. First I had long reports about Ur to write for my Minister and for the local papers and next I've had to tackle the Oxford University expedition to Kish. I was promised a field worker and an epigraphist and on that agreed to ask my Minister for a concession, and lo and behold one solitary man turns up to conduct excavation on this large and most important mound. His name is Mackay. Do you remember when we were on our way from 'Amman to Haifa, just after we had crossed the Jordan, at a place called Baisan we heard that excavations were going on and I collected one of the excavators and talked to him in the station? That was Mr Mackay. I haven't personally a very good opinion of him as an archaeologist and anyway I feel convinced that no one, however good can undertake singlehanded so big a work as the excavation of Kish, so I've held up the concession and telegraphed for the advice of the Joint Committee which is the highest archaeological authority at home - for convenience I'm a member of it. Sir F. Kenyon, Chief Librarian of the British Museum, is the President of it - I forget if you know him - yes, I think you do. Most of the Committee are personal friends of mine and I can depend on them to help me. Mr Mackay came to lunch on Sunday to meet my Minister (Yasin Pasha) and Major J.M. Wilson - also Sabih Beg, the ex-Minister who is always of easy commerce. And talking of Wilsons, A.T. is here with his wife, staying with Lady Cox. I'm much taken by Lady Wilson. She is a delicate, distinguished looking creature, with a gentle and rather shy reserve which is most attractive. They are lunching with me next Friday, after the mail goes out - a fortnightly epoch! Beyond that there's little to report - our usual Sunday dinners, on the 21st with me, Mr Davidson, Mr Cornwallis and Capt Clayton and a great talk on subsidiary agreements, i.e. the agreements supplementary to the treaty. They deal with financial, military and advisory assistance to the 'Iraq and bristle with difficulties. On the 28th Mr Cornwallis and I dined with Mr Davidson and Col. Slater and Mr Cooke, who all live together. A propos of the Slaters, I think I've already said that I think there's little to choose between them. Marie tells me the most horrifilant tales (derived from chauffeurs!) of her goings on when she was here, but I need not say that I don't repeat them. It's a matter of complete indifference to me how she went on, but from what I've observed I'll undertake to say that Col. Slater went on too whenever he had the opportunity. I rode down to Karradah last week and had tea with Haji Naji which was very soothing. My pony is lame but Sir Percy has put his polo ponies at my disposal during his absence, bless him, so that I never want for a moment. And as Sir Percy's groom is in love with Marie (fortunately she won't have him) he is always eager to oblige! Feb. 1. [1 February 1923] Yesterday Major Gillan (I don't think you know him - he's local adviser at Baghdad) and I took Sir Henry to Kadhimain [(Al Kazimiyah)] where we had tea with the Mayor, Saiyid Ja'far - you remember we had tea with him in his garden. Saiyid Ja'far is a stout fellow. He has stood by his friendship for us through thick and thin - it's largely been thin - and being a Shi'ah he has had a good deal of trouble with the 'ulama. But he has come out top. He is so much liked and respected in the town for his generosity and uprightness that when the first municipal election was held last year, he was returned by a large majority as mayor, the post he had held by appointment from us ever since the Occupation. Sir Henry is very nice and outgoing on these occasions. He knows a little Arabic and is busy learning more. Zaid, I hear, had an excellent reception at Mosul [Mawsil, Al]. It's quite possible that the Turkish threat will go a long way to making a nation of us. There is talk of deputations from Mosul to inform the King that they won't be cut off from the 'Iraq. On Sunday the Cabinet had an extraordinary meeting and sent a telegram to the League of Nations protesting that the 'Iraq Govt would fight for Mosul if necessary. I have very interesting letters from you and Mother ending about Jan 10, describing the Xmas party. It's very thrilling about Pauline's drawing. Isn't it delightful to see the next generation putting out its flowers. She ought to have an enchanting time at S. Kensington and I love to think of her growing into an artist. Also I'm so glad that Mildred is such a charming creature. I agree with Mother that it's difficult to imagine having a grande passion for Horace, bless him, but let's be thankful Mildred doesn't think so. It has been cold with rainy intervals and today it has been blowing and raining. Nevertheless I'm dining with the Joyces tonight to meet the Wilsons. No, I never got a bill for bulbs or seeds. I didn't order any seeds this year and the bulbs (Roman Hyacinths) weren't good. However they are in flower, though rather stumpy and are a great stop gap at this time of year when there's nothing else. I plant them into china bowls and make graceful little presents to the King, for instance, the A.V.M. (Air Vice Marshal!) and Lady Cox. I wonder if you have see Sir Percy. Ever dearest your very affectionate daughter Gertrude.

IIIF Manifest