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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

Letter in which Bell recounts her recent activities, including a summons to meet with the King, a trip to the Iraq Museum in Baghdad with Ken Cornwallis and Professor Sayce, and a meeting with Daud Beg Haidari, a Kurdish deputiy of the Assembly, who conveys the support of the Kurdish officials for the Treaty. Bell also discusses matters relating to the Iraqi Cabinet, noting her displeasure with the recommendation that King Faisal ask Yasin Beg to form a Cabinet. She provides an update the following date, noting that Beg has refused, and emphasising her commitment to Iraq and the High Commissioner's Office.
Reference code
Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Cornwallis, Ken
Naji, Haji
Hashimi, Yasin al-
Sa'id, Nuri al-
Dobbs, Henry
Cox, Percy
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Askari, Ja'far al-
Drower, Edwin
Clayton, Iltyd
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper
Iraq ยป Baghdad

33.315241, 44.3660671

April 29. Baghdad. Darling. We're having a difficult time. I think the inevitable logic of facts will carry us through, but for the moment it's not easy. On Thursday after I had finished the mail, I went to the Assembly at Sir Henry's request. Nothing happened. They had been headed off all the things they had thought of doing, all bad, and it ended in their discussing vapidly whether bye elections should be held and deciding that they should.
{Friday was a day of talk} In the evening I dined alone and had dined early - by luck - when at 8 p.m. came a telephone message to say the King wanted me. I motored up to the Palace - he sent me a car - the little Palace in the garden. It has a strange look in Ramadhan. In the lighted rooms of the pavilion I caught a glimpse of long robed figures saying their prayers - the King has a dinner party to break the fast every night in Ramadhan, and Tom, Dick and tribal Harry are always hanging about in the easy fashion of the tribal East which regards its King as its natural host and his house as theirs. In the big saloon I found the King, in full Arab dress, white and gold and black, sitting with Sabih Beg. The trouble was that some explanation that the High Com. had given to a group of ill- intentioned Deputies had been either misunderstood or misrepresented and the King didn't know where he was. It was more than probable (this is very private) that it had been misunderstood. Sir Henry can't talk Arabic for nuts and he won't allow his interpreter to talk for him. He stumbles on for hours in the most exasperating fashion and at the end you haven't an idea what he's driving at. Ken and I haven't so I don't suppose the Arabs have either.

So I put that straight and then we went on till 10 o'clock about choses et autres. The King is tired and anxious and he wants his hand held. I held one and Sabih Beg the other.

There may be - I don't say that there are not - more momentous affairs elsewhere, but there's nowhere, I'll be bound, where they are presented to you in such a setting. That night was unforgettable - the praying tribesmen, the King in his white robes, the riot of flowers round the pavilion - and oh! the sandflies goading you to distraction while you tried to think straight.

On Saturday Iltyd Clayton turned up at a loose end so we went off to spend a soothing hour with Haji Naji, dear old thing. But Sunday was a really terrific day. Ken took me up to the Museum where I was to meet Professor Sayce. I put in the time till he came by going up to see Saiyid Husain Afnan in the Prime Minister's office. Sabih Beg joined us and we discussed the situation most gloomily. In the end, we struck out between us a plan for changing and strengthening the Cabinet which I undertook to impart. I then spent an enthralling hour with Sayce after which I went round to the Interior to see Ken whom I did not find, but I left a memorandum, and so on to Justice to see Mr Drower and enlist his help.

Nuri Pasha came to lunch with Iltyd and we discussed my scheme which was based on the sound principle that it doesn't pay to put a man you distrust into high office. It was a most satisfactory talk, and then I had one of the Kurdish Deputies, Daud Beg Haidari, to tell me that all the 18 Kurds were solid for the Treaty. At 6 came Husain Afnan with messages from Ja'far - and at 8 came Ken to say that Ja'far had thrown in his hand and recommended the King to send for Yasin Pasha (the leading villain) and ask him to form a Cabinet. Ken and the High Com. had agreed. Upon that I, not unreasonably, fell into a furious passion which raged round the head of the luckless Ken for half an hour - for Dr Sinderson and Iltyd were late - and left us barely on speaking terms! Next day I told Sir Henry what I thought of it - but in more careful language. Fortunately Yasin {has} refused this morning on the ground that he would have been suspected of having been won over by being given high office. No doubt he would, but as he is certainly in correspondence with the Turks, there may be other motives. They are now considering how to strengthen the existing Cabinet and I'm wondering whether they will adopt any of my suggestions of Sunday.

Sir Henry, meantime, is being rather tiresome. He has made up his mind to adopt an attitude of complete detachment and he has ordered his staff to do the same. As regards us I rather think he is right - anyway our efforts up to now have resulted in nothing. But as regards himself he is being too detached, I feel sure. He ought not to refuse to answer questions or to give explanations; his job is to sit patiently and calmly there and answer everything that is asked. So I think, and so, I think Sir Percy would have behaved.

I went to see the two shaikhs tonight - they are getting on wonderfully well. And then to tea with Professor Sayce who has quite recovered and is going to motor away on Friday. So is Bernard, alas! Bernard and his wife will come and see you. He is the salt of the earth - I do love the man and I shall miss him terribly. She is a dear too.

Aurelia is here on her way to Italy. She and Mr Tod are dining with me tonight.

Ap. 30. [30 April 1924] Well, the dinner happened. It wasn't a great success, the Tods, Major Edmunds going on leave, Major Ditchburn (with whom you stayed at Nasiriyah [Nasiriyah, An] (he's at Ramadi [Ramadi, Ar] now) Ken and Lionel. Somehow it did not go. Ken was visibly worried and I couldn't get the thing lifted. And afterwards I couldn't sleep - it was the first hot night. So at 4 a.m. I put a notice on my door telling Marie not to wake me and the next I knew was that it was 11 a.m. I jumped up, most ashamed, and got to the office at noon to find Sir Henry closeted with Ja'far. They have decided to carry on without Cabinet changes - perhaps they're right. Sir H. thinks it's too late to change now.

I've just been to tea with the Tainshes to meet Sayce and the Tods and now I must tackle a Bellated despatch and my other letters for the mail. Summer began last night, electric fans began.

Your letter of April 15. I'm not one of those whom 'Iraq keeps or sends away. I'm on the High Com.'s staff as long as there is a High Com. and a British Govt servant. All you say on wages and economics is most interesting and most sound - but hard for general understanding.

I'm so sorry about Mother's knee - but I'm writing to her. Ever your very affectionate daughter Gertrude

Ken has just been in to tell me that all the Ministers have declared that they won't be responsible for administration if the Treaty is rejected, and that the whole atmosphere is clearing.

IIIF Manifest