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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

Letter in which Bell discusses political matters in Iraq, with particular reference to the Mosul question and ongoing border negotiations. Includes a brief mention of Bell's will.
Reference code
Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Naji, Haji
Hashimi, Yasin al-
Sa'id, Nuri al-
Askari, Ja'far al-
Suwaydi, Naji al-
Dobbs, Henry
Cornwallis, Ken
Cox, Percy
Cooke, R.S.
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Eskell, Sassoon
Saud, Abdulaziz ibn
Bowman, Humphrey
Cox, Louisa Belle
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper
Iraq ยป Baghdad

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad Feb 13 Darling Father. I may begin by saying that the edge-of-the-earthquake situation, on which I touched in my last letter, continues. The King is furious at Ismet Pasha's offer to the Arabs which he regards, and rightly, as a cleverly thrown apple of discord, and has insisted on the suppression of the Reuter message. But I expect his old papa will be so delighted at being recognized as leader of the Arab peoples that he'll jump at it, to the fury of Ibn Sa'ud, Palestine and Syria, where King Husain is not esteemed. We anticipate that Angora [Ankara (Ancyra)] will reject the treaty - but there! we don't really know the situation there, so it's no good guessing. As I've observed before, if there's a war it will take us first and our interest in therefore pardonable. Meantime Zaid is doing very well at Mosul [Mawsil, Al] and telegrams are pouring in from municipalities and other bodies rejecting the Turkish claim with passion. came down from Mosul by air on Friday 3rd - the day last mail went. To my amazement I saw him motoring down the street as I walked home from the office and correctly guessing thaat he would stay with Mr Cornwallis (whom I also correctly guessed to be playing golf at that hour) I called him by telephone to come and talk to me while he was waiting for his host. He came and presently Mr Cornwallis came too and we fell so deeply into talk that they both stayed to dinner - rather a scratch dinner hastily prepared by the cook with Marie's assistance. However we were all very happy to be together and talk of anything and everything. Mr Davidson (rejoicing in having a son, born in England) and I dined with Mr Cornwallis and on the following Sunday after which flew back to Mosul. He's a great loss to our intimate circle here and as Capt Clayton is also in the north helping Zaid to organize an irregular gendarmerie, we're rather depleted. Nuri Pasha and Colonel Borton (Sir John's second in command) came to tea that Sunday and we had a great talk about the defence of Mosul. The relations between the Arab and the British general staffs are most satisfactory. In times of stress, like the present, Sir John takes supreme command of all forces and they work together without the slightest friction. It does great credit to all concerned.
On Monday the King had a dinner party for Sir Henry - Col. Slater, Mr Cornwallis and I went together - there were various other British officials and a contingent of Cabinet ministers. Sir Henry sat on one side of the King and I on the other and I must say that it was most easy and pleasant. Sir Henry is very genial; he struggles along in Arabic till he has to drop into English when I help him out. He is of much easier commerce than Sir Percy on these occasions, and oh! the comfort it is not to have Lady Cox. She is impossible to amalgamate into any Arab society, Royal or other, because they are all so terribly eager about their own affairs and she contentedly knows just nothing about them. She has met the ministers dozens of times and continues not to have the least idea who they are. Upon my soul, I think she is the stupidest woman I've ever encountered.

I like Sir Henry and we get on very well. He is all for letting the Arabs run before they can walk which is, I think, the proper spirit though it's one which hasn't permeated every cranny of our office. We interfere far too much (between ourselves) in small details which don't matter and yet rub the Arabs up the wrong way terribly. And really the present Cabinet is doing its best and it's extremely irritating when we go hammering on about the appointment of some minor administrative official or similar trifles. I daresay we're right but it isn't worth big guns. Sir Henry has a placid habit of talking things over before he puts himself onto paper in a sharp demi-official note and many a time in talk you'll find a satisfactory compromise. In time I hope he will improve the social relations, which at the Residency are practically non-existent, largely owing to Lady Cox. That ought to be a great help too. I know myself how they drop in to lunch or tea, the Ministers, and discuss things they've got in their minds just to see how one will take them. That's the moment to give your opinion, before the project, whatever it may be, has crystallized. At present while Sir Henry is Lady Cox's guest of course he can't ask anyone to drop in, so last week I had a dinner party for him, and then unfortunately he went to bed with a feverish cold the night before and wasn't allowed by his doctor to come. That was rather a blow, but we had a pleasant evening in spite of his absence; my guests were Saiyid Muhi al Din (the Naqib's second son) Sabih Beg (now Lord Mayor of Baghdad) Dr Hanna Khaiyat, who is Director of Medical services, Mr Cooke and Mahmud Shahbandar - you remember, the rich merchant with whom we had tea at Mu'adhdham [Azamiyah, Al] in the thunderstorm. It had been a wet and disagreeable day and in the afternoon, after office, I went to call on Sasun to hear all the latest news of happenings in the Cabinet. He took me round to the 'Iraq Club - it was a Friday which is ladies' day, but no ladies ever go - and we played bridge with Yasin Pasha and Naji Suwaidi. It was amusing, only Sasun Eff plays so much better than anyone else that it can't be very amusing for him. Yesterday the usual Sunday dinner party was at my house and I asked Wing Commander MacNeece - you met him at tea at the Bowmans - as well as Mr Davidson and Mr Cornwallis. W.C. MacNeece had just spent a fortnight in Syria visiting the French military officials and brought back most interesting tales. He had also had long talks with M. de Caix. He says the French are very jumpy, more and more out of conceit with the Turks and convinced that if Mosul goes they won't be able to hold north Syria - or perhaps any part of Syria. They are engaged even now in prolonged guerrilla warfare north of Aleppo [Halab] against insurgent bands who are, they are convinced, paid by the Kamalists. They reckon that there must be as many as 6000 irregulars out against them and they rarely catch anyone for when pursued they disappear over the frontier and the French whistle for them in vain. In fact the situation on their northern frontier is infinitely worse than it is on ours, Kurds and all. De Caix, as you remember, was bitterly opposed to the Franklin Bouillon negotiations and now feels that his worst fears are realized.

It was a delicious soft spring day yesterday and I rode out - my pony has just recovered from having been blistered - and called on Ja'far Pasha's wife. Will you tell Ja'far if you see him in London, that I saw her and the children and that they are all looking very well - much better for living in the new house outside the town. Today it has poured steadily almost all day, the heaviest rain we have had this winter and very welcome though I tremble to think of the mud tomorrow. The streets were lakes this afternoon. And I had to run round with the Committee of the Salam Library and put off a performance we were going to have at the Cinema tomorrow for the benefit of the library, because we felt sure that in this mud no one would come.

And now, darling, a bit of business, as the Hon. George would have said. Firstly I haven't even made a will and I certainly should. Anyway I'll dispose of the property you speak of when the papers come, first to Maurice and next to Bertha. Secondly, here is the document about Mrs Hall and let's hope that's the end of her. And thirdly the porringer has come and caused great delight; indeed it's beautiful. But don't you think it was very officious of Lambert to send it by air mail at the cost of 15/? I feel inclined to protest but if you think I shouldn't, then fill up this blank cheque I send you and pay the whole bill.

Yes, I know Tommy Lyall. I can't think he can have written a really good book. He was a queer unbalanced creature, addicted to drugs at times, and full of spiritualism and other mental vagaries.

Feb. 15. I dined with Mr Cornwallis on the 13th to meet Capt. Kitching, Asst. Adviser at Nasiriyah [Nasiriyah, An], and Col. Dent head of military intelligence - he and I came out to this country about the same time. We had a pleasant evening and much Mesopotamian talk. And yesterday I went to tea with the King who kept me two hours. H.M. (this is very private) is horribly bothered by his old father who, it's my Bellief, has long been in relations with the Kamalist and has now swallowed the bait held out by Ismit Pasha. He is furious at Zaid's being at Mosul [Mawsil, Al] and keeps on telegraphing that he is to come back and not "make war on the Turks." Zaid is doing very well; he is not making war at all, but he is gathering people together and encouraging unity - in fact all the Kurds on our frontier are sending down deputations to welcome him. And no doubt the Turks are well aware that there's a general stiffening of opinion which is extremely salutory.
As for sending him back to Mecca [Makkah], it would be a crime. He is kept a sort of prisoner at the beck and call of his father and never allowed to go out of the house without special permission which is rarely given. That's Husain's way with his sons.

Faisal was in one of his adamantine moods - I hope he won't melt. He has sent for Zaid, nomimally to come and see him to report progress, and he says he means to let him take his choice - either to go back or to stay here and break with his father. I think Zaid would rather die than go back, but they're terrified of Husain and one never knows how far the habit of obedience to him won't lead them.

In the evening I had the Prime Minister, his brother, 'Abdul Karim, up on a visit from Basrah [Basrah, Al (Basra)], Abdul Latif Pasha Mandil (another Basrawi and Minister of Auqaf) Mr Davidson and Saiyid Husain Afnan to dinner to meet Sir Henry. It was very successful - Muhsin Beg whom I love (he's the Prime Minister) talked most interestingly of Turkish politics; he was for 13 years ADC to 'Abdul Hamid. He is so straight and genuine, Muhsin Beg, the King is very fond of him and we all have complete confidence in him.

Today, the roads having at last recovered from the rain, I rode down to Karradah and found the first apricots in flower in Haji Naji's garden. I have a bunch of flowering branches in my room now.

Sulaimani [Sulaymaniyah, As] is going very ill. Shaikh Mahmud is in close touch with the Kamalists and we're debating what to do. There's this to be said, he'll be just as much a broken reed to the Kamalists as he was to us, because he can't be anything else.

Still, as I've said before, I'm tired of being always at war, Ever your very affectionate daughter Gertrude.

Mother's letter of Jan. 17 was perfectly delightful - about the climbing fish and all.

IIIF Manifest