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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

Letter in which Bell discusses her recent activities, including her latest visit to the Assembly with Ken Cornwallis and Major Pulley, and their subsequent meeting with the President, as well as her attendance of a garden party held by Sir Henry Dobbs, with the King and the Assembly deputies. She also notes that she has attended the farewell meals of J.M. Wilson and Sir John Salmond, and that she has travelled with King Faisal, Ken Cornwallis and Shia'ah tribal deputies to Karbala, to hear a number of speeches including one which supported the inclusion of Mosul in Iraq. Bell provides an overview of ongoing discussion and work relating to the Treaty?, and adds that she and J.M. Wilson met with the King to get his approval for the coat of arms, which Wilson has designed.
Reference code
Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Cornwallis, Ken
Suwaydi, Naji al-
Askari, Ja'far al-
Dobbs, Esme
Dobbs, Henry
Wilson, J.M.
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Clayton, Iltyd
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper

33.315241, 44.3660671

April 9. Baghdad Darling Father. I wish I had begun this letter earlier - there's so much to say. But I haven't, so here goes.
Directly after I had finished the post last Thursday, I went to the Assembly and found sitting in the Stranger's Box, the American correspondent, Mr Ryan. My hat they do talk and they do loafer at the Assembly! They laboriously got through a resolution to verify the election of each member and then they were so much exhausted that they decided to have a quarter of an hour's rest. By this time Ken had arrived, so he and I and Major Pulley  went to see the President in his room. It was just like being in a real lobby, I assure you, as we worked our way through all the members standing about on the upper galleries above the stairs. We found the President surrounded, but he bustled out and took us into another room, fairly empty, where he told us he was going to let the Vice President, Daud al Haidari, preside at the next part of the sitting and that the work before the house was the election of a Committee to study the treaty and report. I spent an amusing quarter of an hour talking to many of my friends and then went back to the Box.

Daud Haidari presided very well and with great dignity. After much talk they decided that every Division should elect among themselves a member of the Committee and present his name to the house. Knowing that they would do no more (and they didn't) I then left.

In the afternoon the High Commissioner gave a garden party to all the Deputies and everyone else. It was supposed to begin at 4, but I went at 3.30 and bien m'en[?] I pris, for I found a number of the shaikhs firmly established in sofas and armchairs, which they never quitted during the whole afternoon. That's their idea of a party - to sit tight with their immediate friends. However, they couldn't all do it for it was impossible to seat 300 people, so when the chairs and sofas were all full, the rest had to stand about and circulate under the trees. Never has such a party been given in Baghdad. The Dobbses were perfect hosts, the King came at 5 and everyone played up. Soon after 6, when I was beginning to feel as if I were telescoping where I stood, it broke up.

On Friday there was a big farewell luncheon in Kadhimain [(Al Kazimiyah)] to J.M. Wilson who is going in leave and needs it. (By the way he will come to see you - he's the most delightful person and I like his wife very much too, so I know that you will be kind to them.) It was an immense affair; Ken and I went together. The lunch was quite excellent Arab food. When it was over we motored out to the garden of 'Abdul Husain Chalabi, ex-Minister of Education, and walked about under the flowering orange trees. Some stayed there to tea, some didn't - Ken and I were among the latter, for I wanted to go and see Iltyd Clayton, still laid up with para-typhoid, poor dear.

That evening there was a farewell dinner to Sir John Salmond at the Palace to which we all went. I wore my diamond tiara, Mother, and I sat between Zaid and Bernard so that I was well placed. The King made a charming and heartfelt little speech, but he looked very tired - he is working like a nigger with the Deputies - and after dinner he called me up to him and I sat by him for the rest of the evening, metaphorically holding his hand. And then as Ken and I motored back, about 11 o'clock, the guns began to boom and we realized that some malencontreux person had contrived to see the new moon and that the month of Ramadhan had begun 24 hours earlier than it was expected.

That was so, but it didn't much affect our proceedings next day. At 6.30 Ken and I were at the station, prepared to travel in the Royal train to Karbala. We installed ourselves in a compartment, proposing to finish our night's rest, but no. In half an hour the train stopped and we were summoned to His Majesty's carriage. There we found Zaid and Sabih Beg (whose family you visited in C'ple [Istanbul (Constantinople)].) Sabih Beg, on these occasions, is worth his weight in gold, which is saying a great deal. He kept up a quite continuous flow of talk, both interesting and entertaining. At the next stop, Ja'far joined us and behold the poor darling was fasting and couldn't join in the good lunch with which the King provided us and in which he shared. Sabih confessed that he had never fasted in his life - he doesn't look as if he had.

We got to Karbala at 10.30 and found a crowd at the station. H.M. was most enthusiastically received and we all went into a tent and listened to speeches - one of them a fervent declaration that Mosul [Mawsil, Al] was part of the 'Iraq, to which H.M. replied suitably. The Shi'ah tribal deputies whom we had brought with us all smoked and drank sherbet - Shi'ahs are much less rigid about the keeping of the fast than Sunnis and they reckoned themselves to be on a journey.

This over, we hustled into motors, Ken and I and Col. Tainsh (Railways, and such a good soul) together - we were the only Europeans there - and motored through dust and a high hot wind, just like summer, for an hour and a quarter down the Najaf [Najaf, An] road. We alighted in an arid wilderness where the King lifted the first spadeful of sand of the new canal which is to supply Najaf with water. It was much feared that the hastily improvised spade would buckle, but it didn't. The proceedings then became comic rather than serious. Everyone siezed a spade and dug out a little sand, while I photographed. At the end we found that the deputation from Najaf had brought out lunch which was served to us sitting in our cars.

So we motored back to Karbala, and while the King went to make a pilgrimage in the two mosques, we repaired to the bazaar where I bought shoes with turned up toes, yellow, red and blue. They make the nicest shoes in Karbala.

On the return journey Ken and I were (thankfully) left alone in our carriage, where we read and slept. We got in at 7.

On Sunday I went to my Museum where I met Surma Khanum, aunt of the Assyrian Patriarch, Mar Shim'un, and a most intelligent woman, and showed her over.

She also came to lunch. I had Lionel and Mr Ryan and Ja'far came in at the desert. There followed a very good talk. Mr Ryan asked Ja'far whether the Assembly would pass the Treaty. Ja'far replied staunchly that he had 85% of the deputies with him. Mr Ryan, then asked me what my Govt would do if they didn't pass it. I said I thought we should probably leave the country and Ja'far chipped in with "of course you would - that's what you should do. Make the best terms you could with the Turks and leave us to die." Mr Ryan was much impressed, evidently, by Ja'far's loyalty and outspokenness.

After they left I had Rauf Chadirji, at Ja'far's request, and battled with him over the Subsidiary Agreements. He said he had conscientious objections to agreeing to them and I pointed out that he must consider whether his conscientious objections to handing over the country to the Turks weren't greater. It wasn't a very satisfactory talk, but I think the King has since won him over.

Then I went to see Iltyd and tell him the news, and came back to interview Naji Suwaidi, also at Ja'far's request, but he didn't in fact come till the next morning when we had a very encouraging conversation.

I had a dinner and Bridge party, Ken, Dr Sinderson and Major Wilkins (Police) - very amusing.

We are now enjoying the blessed peace induced by Ramadhan - no more official parties, at any rate. Unofficially, however, I dined with the Dobbses on Monday to meet what Esme Dobbs calls the Norton Griffiths outfit. Sir John Norton Griffiths is a concession hunter and like one in a book; and Lady Norton Griffiths is the concession hunter's wife. She is elderly, handsome and wears gigantic strings of false pearls, evidently false - I daresay the real ones are stored in the bank while she travels. With them is Sir George Hamilton who put in the electric light at Rounton and was rather hurt because I didn't remember him at all - Marie does, I'm happy to say. One doesn't, I think necessarily remember the electric light man, does one. The party is completed by one Col. Gabriel, a Jew once employed in Palestine - he resigned because he's a strong anti Zionist, or perhaps he was sent away. I've asked them all to dine tomorrow, with Col. Slater, Ken and Sabih Beg to meet them. And I shall be glad when it's over.

Oh but I must tell you, we had begun the day sadly by saying goodbye to Sir John Salmond. He left at 7 a.m. by air for Aleppo [Halab] and he is going home by rail to C'ple. He will come and see you and you will find him perhaps the most charming person in the world. He is a very great man as well and will possibly - I think certainly - succeed Sir Hugh Trenchard. We all went out to the aerodrome to see him fly away and we all felt miserable.

On Tuesday Sir Henry flew away too, for a ten days' tour in the north - Kirkuk, Arbil [(Hawler)], Mosul. The morning was enlivened by the receipt of a telegram. It was addressed "Gertrude Bell, Baghdad" - that was all right so far. But when I opened it, I read the following (I will transcribe it verbatim) "If advisable please tell Sayce of my marriage this week. Florrie." Now I couldn't - how could I? - know whether it were advisable to tell Professor Sayce about the faithless Florrie, so I telephoned to the faithful Mrs Traquair who is staying with him at the hospital in order to look after him, and asked her (not exactly in these words) to break the news to him. But Esme Dobbs and I agreed at lunch that much funnier things happen at Baghdad than in London. "What I always feel" she observed, "is that the worst of England is that it's so dull."

At 4.30, J.M. and I went to the Palace to get the King's approval for the coats of arms which J.M. has designed. They are very interesting - make him show them to you. We found the darling King sitting with Yasin and Naji, Rauf and others, all with the text of the Treaty spread out before them while he explained it to them. Into this crucial party we broke with our coats of arms and interrupted the proceedings for about a quarter of an hour. I hear that they were very satisfactory, but he looks worn out. He had Yasin again in the evening - I believe he has brought him into line.

On the way home we went to see Iltyd Clayton, and incidentally saw Mrs Traquair, but I didn't dare to ask her how Professor Sayce had borne the news about Florrie. He is better, Prof. Sayce, and it's clearly established that he caught typhoid in Syria and that we are not responsible.

And today a very nice flying officer came to lunch at the Residency, Mr Anson. He is stationed at Kirkuk, and had brought down a letter from Sir Henry complaining that he had been sent away without a black tie. Bad staff work, I call it. I laid a plot with Mr Anson to induce the A.V.M. to reoccupy Sulaimani [Sulaymaniyah, As], and then to go and stay there with Mr Anson for a fortnight in the summer. I am really going to try what I can do with the A.V.M. about Sulaimani. It's high time we finished that silly business.

Shaikh 'Addai - the beloved shaikh who goes shooting with us - came in during the morning to tell me what was happening. He is on the committee which has been appointed by the Assembly to report on the treaty. Another member is 'Abdul Wahid with whom we lunched, do you remember, the day we went down the river from Najaf. He was the leading figure in the rebellion of 1920 and from first to last he has been consistently against us. Today he said to the Committee: "We fought the English, we shed our blood, and now we are asked to hand ourselves over to them like slaves by this treaty." It was an interesting revelation, though not a surprising one. I sent it at once, deeply confidentially, by special messenger to Ken. For the King trusts 'Abdul Wahid and thinks that he is faithful to his orders. He is, I think, one of the few men in the country who is really hostile.

I rode out in the afternoon to see the Arab polo and told Zaid about 'Abdul Wahid - Zaid takes a remarkably sane view of all such matters. I then went to see Iltyd whom I found much better, and finally before dinner Ken and I went to see a most entertaining cinema featuring King Husain at 'Amman. I'm becoming a perfect cinema fiend now that there are so many topical films.

I got your letter of March 26 with your piece about the coal trade, and Sir G. Gibbs' criticism. It's not for me to say, but I don't agree with him and I'm sorry you didn't publish it. It seems to me to be very good.

Very interesting about Wembly, and it must have been a business getting Elsa off! Ever your very devoted daughter Gertrude

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