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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

Letter in which Bell discusses ongoing border negotiations and the Mosul question, noting the potential for British air strikes in response to resistance in Sulaimani by Kurdish leader Sheikh Mahmud Barzanji, as well as her visit to divide archaeological finds at Ur. She also notes Sir Percy Cox's visit to her parents and requests furniture catalogues from London, on behalf of King Feisal.
Reference code
Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Naji, Haji
Sa'id, Nuri al-
Dobbs, Henry
Cox, Louisa Belle
Cox, Percy
Wilson, J.M.
Cooke, R.S.
Cornwallis, Ken
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Woolley, Leonard
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper

33.315241, 44.3660671

March 1. Dearest Father. First of all to answer your letter of Feb 7 and Mother's. I'm so glad you have fêted Sir Percy and that Mother liked him. He wrote to Lady Cox that my family had all been particularly kind to him. He seems to have been very genial, a sure sign that he was enjoying himself. I expect, as he has been delayed, that you have seen him again. As to plans - yes, I could be in Palestine by May 12. I should [think] they will probably let me fly; if not I should motor to Aleppo [Halab] or possibly straight across the desert to Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Sham, Damas)], in which case we could meet there. But I can't let you know my exact route till later. Anyhow the dates fit. All this on the understanding that we don't have war with the Turks!
Next, will you please do something for me. The King, with whom I've just been having tea, is in perplexity as to how to furnish a big room in the little palace that has just been built - a reception room. It's an awkward shape for it was meant for a dining room - 170 places long by about 70 wide with a monumental fireplace on one of the long sides. I've suggested that it must be somehow broken up in furnishing it and that he ought to make a central sitting place in the middle, opposite the fireplace, with 3 big handsome sofas, the middle one the most imposing. This way: [sketch] (I've rather exaggerated the size of the sofas in proportion to the room.) The central one might have a high back or something throne-like. In this dusty country it's better to have furniture rather simple in pattern as otherwise it's so difficult to clean and we think that if we had some good drawings or pictures we could make it here. So could you perhaps send us a selection of catalogues or drawings from some of the best London shops by next air mail? We could get chairs and tables out of them too and make something that would do for the present. When next he goes to London, if he's richer, he can buy some more. Would this be a trouble to you?

I've been out of Baghdad a good deal this fortnight, but otherwise I haven't done much. I went to the races on the 24th - they have a powerful lot of races here - where I met the King and Zaid, the latter having flown down from Mosul [Mawsil, Al] to see H.M. He is doing very well at Mosul and particularly all the frontier Kurds are flocking in to him with assurances of loyalty. The fact is that the Arab Govt has lacked prestige; the Turkish Wali was a much bigger man than the Arab Mutasarrif; he was further from the capital and he administered a larger area. The presence of a prince of the royal house has gone far to restore the balance, to say nothing of the fact that the moving up of additional troops has inspired confidence. I think myself that if we only leave Zaid alone, he and the northern Kurds will come to a very comfortable arrangement. Very likely we mayn't clearly understand it but they will all think it perfectly obvious and satisfactory. The fault we make is that we will persist in asking them to make arrangements our way which never suits them. Then if the Mosul outskirts and Arbil [(Hawler)] were in his hand, I would let Zaid tackle Sulaimani [Sulaymaniyah, As] where things are at present going very ill. Shaikh Mahmud is in close touch with the Turks and is making preparations for a tribal attack on Kirkuk. But fortunately he has got a lot of his own relations and tribes against him. He has been sent an ultimatum which expires today. I fear if he doesn't hand over the Govt to local notables and clear out of Sulaimani town as he has been ordered to do, we shall have to bomb it. Air warfare is so horribly ruthless but when your ground forces have been reduced to a skeleton what are you to do?

On the 25th Mr Davidson and I dined with Mr Cornwallis; Nuri Pasha was there too, just flown down from Mosul and we had a great talk over the possibilities there. Next evening the Salam Library gave an entertainment in one of the cinemas, with the object of making money. We made about Rs 2000 - not at all bad. I sold Rs 600 worth of tickets myself. Lady Cox and Sir Henry came; J.M. Wilson sang (he has a glorious voice) and Mrs Bovill, a Russian played very well on a very bad piano. Then we had choruses of boy scouts and two cinema films - Lord! how despairingly bad and silly a cinema is!

Next day I went to Ur with Major Wilson. They are closing down for the season and we had to go in person and divide the finds between the diggers and the 'Iraq. I must say I thought it rather a corvée. It's as far as from London to Marseilles [Marseille] and one doesn't often go to Marseilles for 12 hours. However, we did it in comfort. We got to Ur at 7 a.m., walked up to the mound and found Mr Woolley on the diggings. We looked round at what they had laid bare since we were last there and then went to breakfast. It took us the whole day to do the division but it was extremely interesting and Mr Woolley was an angel. We had to claim the best things for ourselves but we did our best to make it up to him and I don't think he was very much dissatisfied. We for our part were well pleased. The best object is a hideous Sumerian statue of a King of Lagash, about 3 ft high but headless. It has a long inscription across the shoulder in which they have read the King's name, but it will go back to London to be completely decyphered [sic] and then return to us. We got through about 5.30, motored back to the station, dined and caught the evening train, arriving at Hillah [Hillah, Al] at 7 next morning. There we stayed with the Longriggs and spent morning and afternoon at Babylon making up our minds what we should do with the mass of things the Germans left in the house there. They are legally the property of the 'Iraq and we have finally decided to ask the British Museum to lend us Mr Smith (now here for the Ur excavations) to sort out and arrange them, giving the British Museum a part in return for his services.

I spent a couple of hours next morning calling on the Mutasarrif and one or two others, among them Saiyid Mhd 'Ali Qazwini, who sent you many messages. Then we caught the midday train and got back to Baghdad at 5, which, amazing as it sounds, was the hour at which we were due.

On Sunday I rode after lunch to Karradah where all the apricot trees are in flower and found Haji Naji entertaining the Residency party who had brought out their lunch. Sir Henry, who is busily learning Arabic, was talking hard to Haji Naji, grammar in hand, to the great delight of hs interlocutor - he is most genial and pleasant, I must say. We three strolled off under the wonderful trees leaving Lady Cox and the others to sit still, which is Lady C.'s conception of enjoyment. Haji Naji, very eager to show off his English, pointed to a little donkey and said to me "Ask me what that is in English." I obediently did so and he replied "Donk."

On Monday I had a dinner party - Mrs Bovill, Major Noel and the Longriggs, who happened to be up from Hillah, and Captain Jardine, a pleasant little man in Interior. It was very agreeable and Major Noel asked us all to a Russian concert which he was getting up next day. I went, taking Mr Cornwallis and it was nice but far too long. It lasted from 9.30 to 1!

That is all my doings except that yesterday Mr Smith (of the British Museum) Mr Cooke and Sir Henry lunched with me and Mr Cooke and I personally conducted the other two over the town and showed them what we have of sights. After which I went to tea with the King who was sitting in the new garden he is making near the palace. He is very much delighted with it and it is indeed going to be most attractive. Ever dearest your very affectionate daughter Gertrude.

Fattuh came down last week from Aleppo [Halab] to see, I think, if there was any business doing here. He says that there is complete stagnation in North Syria and that everyone is longing for the return of the Turks in order to get rid of the French. How they are hated!

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