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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

Letter spanning several days in which Bell provides an update on her recent activities and discusses the ongoing political and economic situation in Iraq, particularly as it relates to border negotiations and the Mosul question. Bell also comments upon the death of Lord Carnarvon, as well as providing an update on the recent floods in Iraq and the creation of the trans-desert motor route, to be constructed by the Nairn Transport Company.
Reference code
Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Naji, Haji
Dobbs, Henry
Cox, Percy
Wilson, J.M.
Herzfeld, Ernst
Cornwallis, Ken
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper
Iraq ยป Baghdad

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad Ap. 10. Dearest Father. I've telegraphed to you saying that I should prefer to go by Constantinople [Istanbul] - I hope we shall be able to manage that. I think I shall almost certainly come by air but if I didn't I should motor straight across to Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Sham, Damas)]. I shall be able to telegraph that {for} definitely before you leave England. Also I've sent 3 little parcels of clothes to myself c/o Ernest to await arrival, so as to have more to wear then I had last time. We're sure to go to Jerusalem [(El Quds esh Sherif, Yerushalayim)] anyway, aren't we, and we can pick them up. You need not, of course bring them to 'Amman or to Damascus, in case we met there.
Thank you a thousand times for all the trouble you took about the King's furniture. He is delighted with the pictures. Major Wilson and I are going to have a great talk with him tomorrow and decide what he shall order. Paul's photographs aren't priced so that though we like them very much we're afraid they may be too expensive. It was immensely good of you.

Sir Percy arrived safely on the 31st. Next day, being Sunday, he came in with Sir Henry and told me all his tale. We're satisfied; he thinks Parliament will agree to the scheme of the Cabinet Committee and that we can pull through on that though the economic conditions will be very difficult for the first few years. It's also settled that I should come back in Sept. I hate going away while the thing is still so much in the melting pot, but apart from my wish to see my family, I don't think I ought to stay a fourth summer on end and I shall come back more competent, we'll hope to carry on the job. Indeed it's not improbable that there'll be something of a pause during the summer and that it won't be till the early autumn that we shall be plunged into elections and other controversies.

We've been having some interesting times with the German archaeologist Dr Herzfeld. The J.M. Wilsons dined with me to meet him and last Sunday we went out to look at some ancient mounds and learnt quite a lot about the pottery on them. He has gone up now to Samarra to do a job for us (Archaeological Dept). Sir Percy had him to lunch and everyone has been very kind to him; I think he is much touched by the welcome he has been given. For my part I've loved being with a learned German again.

Talking of archaeologists, isn't it terrible about Lord Carnarvon. And so extraordinarily tiresome that people should be given opportunity to say it's a curse! I shouldn't wonder if lots of asses in England think it is - a reflection which has made me less sniffy about a miracle that's just been happening here, a holy picture in the Chaldaean church which has taken to winking, no doubt with the aid of the Chaldaean fathers. And everyone, Moslem and Christian, except me, has been rushing to see it. Upon my soul I believe they would do the same in England. It was quite refreshing to have a different attitude towards Unknown revealed by the brother of my gardener. Haji Marzuq, walking through the bazaar with a sheaf of rupee notes in his pocket, intending to change them into Turkish gold (they all do that when they want to horde and there's lots of gold in the bazaar, mostly from Syria) was robbed of his whole store. It represented the savings of a year and he ws justly furious with the organization of the universe in general and observed that he wished he had a stick long enough to beat God with. This was {considered} pronounced to be impious by his family but it's nevertheless Haji Marzuq's considered opinion as to how to {grapple with} tackle the Almighty.

Oh I'll tell you about the Damascus motor road. Shaikh Muhammad Bassam, an old and valued friend of mine in Damascus, is starting a direct line of motors straight across the desert - Damascus to Baghdad in two days. Sporting of him isn't it. He has been across himself two or three times and last week brought over a whole party - the English consul in Damascus, Mr Palmer, the British military liason officer from Beyrout [Beyrouth (Beirut)] - you remember him, Major Macallum, we dined with him - and four female tourists. Three of the female tourists belonged to Major Macallum, or were under his wing, and one to Mr Palmer and they quarrelled dreadfully en route, the two parties did, and wouldn't speak to one another when they got here. I carefully avoided enquiring into the cause but I thought Mr Palmer's lady class B and the other three very nice. The preposterous part of it was that we naturally knew nothing about the quarrel and Sir Percy, equally naturally, asked the whole party to lunch at one and the same time. They were only here two days so there wasn't anyway much choice of times. Then I found out the awful circumstances of the case and we had a moment of horror. However they all came; we had carefully distributed them so that no member of one party sat by any member of the other and it went off quite well. The ostriches are a great resource; you go and see them after lunch. An excellent social asset is an ostrich, believe me.

The floods have gone down, but it will be months before the desert east of Bagahdad is dry. It is still a great sea of muddy water. They are digging a great cut into the Diyala [(Sirwan)] to drain it off. Mr Thomson and I rode down to tea with Haji Naji on Sunday and found that he hadn't suffered much. He has a double dyke and the second one had held good but they had some days of great anxiety.

If you can remember would you be so very kind as to order from Callaghan and bring out for me a pair of distance eyeglasses, pince nez. I ordered a pair, very carefully saying distance and the tiresome man sent me reading glasses. He has both prescriptions - if that's what you call it - dating from 1919.

Ap. 11. [11 April 1923] I've seen the King and on a separate page you'll find the result of our deliberations. There's an order for both parties so I hope they'll feel they were not put to needless trouble. We had a terrific day yesterday beginning with a great rush of work in the office, then at 12.30 an enormous lunch given by the 'Iraq Army in the Maude Garden - H.M., H.E. and staff including me, the A.V.M. and all other distinguished persons. There were sports afterwards but I got away early, following H.M., who had commissioned Major Wilson and me to come at 3.30 and talk about the furniture. After that he had a tennis party - I stayed to tea and came back with Mr Cornwallis and an hour later we dined with Mr Thomson - Mr Cornwallis, Mr Davidson, Air Commodore Charlton and I. Air Commodore Charlton is the new second in command of the RAF, a charming person. He has just come from the U.S.A. where he has been for two years attached to the embassy. He is extremely eager to know all there is to know about the 'Iraq, intelligent and merry and a great addition to our world here.
We are overwhelmed by farewell entertainments to Sir Percy - he, poor dear, even more overwhelmed by our attentions. Thank heaven Ramadhan begins next week and with it Arab festivities will cease. I'm writing before breakfast and here's Marie with news of my bath.

Ap. 12. [12 April 1923] There was to be a tea given by the municipality to Sir Percy today, and then there rose a terrific storm with the river in fury, wind and rain and dust - you remember what it can be like - so the whole thing was put off till tomorrow.
I had a most interesting talk this morning with a holy man from Kurdistan - Shaikh Hasan. I had met him in 1921 when we made great friends and he came to discuss a solution of the Kurdish problem. Ridiculous as it may sound, I believe if he and I and the King were left alone at the job, with Sir Henry and Mr Cornwallis to advise, we could get the thing settled satisfactorily. But there! it's out of the question - there are too many cooks at this broth. Anyway, he's going to see Sir Henry on Monday and we'll see what happens.

Meantime the King (this is very secret) has been trying to get hold of the Shi'ah divines - very mistakenly and against the advice of all his best friends, including his Prime Minister. They have played a deeper game than he knows how to do and this morning a fatwah forbidding the defence of the 'Iraq against the Turks was posted up in the Kadhimain [(Al Kazimiyah)] mosque. We had heard rumours and denials about it for about a fortnight past. A copy was brought in to me early this morning and I think the Criminal Investigation Dept had it at the same time. I haven't any doubt that it's genuine. The question is now what should the 'Iraq Govt do? I've just been talking to Mr Cornwallis about it. He thinks they ought to deport the Mujtahids who are signatory to the fatwah to Persia - they are all Persian subjects. On the whole I'm inclined to believe that they will have to take this step or go under, but it's a very serious decision. If only the King would have left things alone and ignored the mujtahids! Even now I wonder if he'll acknowledge himself defeated. With Ramadhan close upon us, and the religious excitement it induces - well, we have a difficult road to travel. The next few days may be rather momentous.

This weather perhaps makes me feel rather nerves-on-edge, but there's no doubt that the atmosphere is laden with many worse things than dust. Ever dearest your very affectionate daughter Gertrude.

I believe they are going to change the airmail from {Friday} Saturday to {Thursday Friday} Thursday, in which case I should arrive at 'Amman or Ziza [Jiza] on the 10th. I'll telegraph when I know for certain. But in that case wouldn't it be better for me to come to Jerusalem [(El Quds esh Sherif, Yerushalayim)] on the 11th? I shall hate not seeing you directly I arrive but if they insist on changing the airmail what can be done? I'm afraid I could not get to Jerusalem on the 10th which is what I should like. With whom are we going to stay in Jerusalem? I might perhaps come through to Ramleh [Ramla (Ramle)] (in Palestine) on the 10th.

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