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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

Letter in which Bell discusses British politics, commenting on the formation of the Cabinet and noting that she has discussed this with King Faisal, who had been erroneously informed that the British Cabinet intended to evacuate Baghdad. She also provides an overview of her recent activities, including a meeting with the Minister of the Interior about elicit excavations and the arrangement of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, and a visit to the Iraq Ladies Club at which she spoke on the ancient history of Iraq and modern excavation. Bell notes that she has enclosed a letter which has been sent to her, asking for her assistance, by the great-great aunt of the Shah, and that she has also met with Ja'far and Nuri Pasha, and has criticised the actions of the Council in relation to oil companies and recent articles published in local papers.
Reference code
Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Cornwallis, Ken
Dobbs, Esme
Dobbs, Henry
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Asquith, H.H.
Churchill, Winston
Askari, Ja'far al-
Sa'id, Nuri al-
Henley, Anthony
Cox, Louisa Belle
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper
Iraq ยป Baghdad

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad. Jan. 30 Dearest Father. I've somehow mislaid you last letter and Mother's last letter - they arrived together and I think were dated Jan. 16 or 17. Anyway they were written in answer to my description to our Xmas shoot. I'm glad you thought it nice - and I'm equally glad you didn't publish it! or gladder. Well, we've now got all our Cabinet and upon my soul I think it's the best we have had for years. The nobility and gentry included in it are doubtless to a large extent the weak point. But I'm glad old Haldane is in and I have written to tell him so. (Sir Henry, the cynic, observes: "You'll always find Lord Haldane climbing up the right tree." This is not for publication.) And I'm glad Charles is in and I'm very glad to have Thomas for our minister, especially after his utterances at the banquet given to the Prince of Wales which we received by Reuter today. And, now let them get to work; there's plenty for them to do in Europe and Asia. Sir Henry has received from Mr Thomas a copy of the round robin addressed to all who come under the C.O. expressing his good will towards Sir Henry's government and the territories administered by him. It's the usual formula but it doesn't apply to a mandated country with an independent native Govt. and we got some innocent fun out of it. The event of the week is that I've read Winston Churchill's second volume and am still labouring under the poignant impression it makes. What a magnificent book! he has risen to the height of the tragedy he recounts - I don't know that one can say more. As to lesser matters: Ken Cornwallis dined with me on Thursday and I read him a great part of your letter of Jan. 10 and your draft letter to Mr. Asquith. He was greatly impressed and indeed I enjoyed reading them to him; they were so very good. On Friday I went to tea with the King and held his volatile attention for a full hour while I told him all that I had done and seen while I was on tour of inspection. After which we talked of the possible lines of action of the new Cabinet, about which he is very anxious. He was astonished at the assurance with which I spoke. On Saturday the world had dried up a little and I had a very nice ride with Col. Vincent - the husband of Kitty and a dear creature. I took him to see Tall Mahammad, two or three miles south of Baghdad, and the traces of a Hammurabi temple which are visible in it. Capt. Clayton dined with me; he was going into hospital next day for a small operation. We had a very delightful evening in which we spoke freely of all our views on 'Iraq politics - views which we don't confide to other people, so (like Herodotus) I won't detail them! I've been to see him in hospital this afternoon; he has had rather a miserable time but he expects to be out in a day or two. That afternoon Ja'far and Nuri had been to see me and I had criticised rather severely, very severely, some silly things the Council has been doing lately and told them that this wasn't the time to play about - it was chiefly in connection with oil companies and the idiot observations they allow to be made in the extremist local papers. We ended with laughter and invitations to dinner. Nevertheless there was, next day, a storm in an eggcup. Ken took me down to the Sarai after breakfast and went on to the King. I spent the whole morning talking to the Minister of the Interior about what we should do to stop elicit [sic] digging and arranging my museum. After lunch Ken telephoned to me that he had found terrible agitation at the Palace. Ja'far was there telling the King that no doubt I had received private information from the new Cabinet that it was their intention to evacutate 'Iraq! Ken wisely told them not to pay attention to anything I said and I subsequently telephoned to Ja'far and told him he was donkey first class (his own phrase.) He tried to excuse himself by saying it had been a joke, but it hadn't, I know. That's what they're like - they are terribly jumpy. I spent the afternoon reading Winston and had a dinner and bridge party in the evening - Nigel Davidson, Ken and Mr Pritchard - very cheerful and amusing. It rained in torrents in the night and most of next day - horrible. I had a great dinner party on Monday evening - the King, the Amir Zaid, H.E. and Lady Dobbs, Col. Vincent and Ken. It was quite successful. We played Vingt et un afterwards, which H.M. enjoys. He fortunately won some twenty rupees, so I felt I had fulfilled my duties as a hostess. They weren't my twenty rupees which was an added satisfaction. And then - oh dear! I've been earning my salary this week, to be sure - on Tuesday I had 20 ladies to tea. I had asked 48 but the balance were prevented from coming by the incredible mud and I can't say I was sorry. It was the 'Iraq ladies' Club, that's what it was. After tea I discoursed to them on the ancient history of 'Iraq and modern excavation. Some of them listened and some didn't - they haven't got the habit of attention. But they'll have to learn it. And I dined with the Longriggs. Though they are quite close it was almost impossible to get there by car because of the mud; and it was also perishingly cold in their house. There was a nice policeman there, namens Capt. Cabot and he told me the following diverting tale of Lady Cox. Lady Cox kept hens and the hens laid eggs on each of which Lady Cox wrote its date and number and stored it away. Then her servants, who were all rogues, stole the eggs and Lady Cox telephoned to the police, with unfailing regularity, requiring them to find out what thief broke into her larder. Finally these young policemen wearied of it and one of them, after ascertaining the number of eggs stolen, put a similar number into his pocket and surreptitiously placed them in the egg box; after which he came to Lady Cox and said innocently that he thought she had made a mistake in counting for he had found the full tale of eggs there. But unfortunately he didn't know that all Lady Cox's eggs were numbered and dated and she, going hurriedly to the scene, at once discovered the fraud and was duly furious. But again, as the Arab historians would say, So and So son of So and So son of So and So recounts that Lady Cox, going into the bazaar to buy eggs was offered eggs bearing number and date inscribed by her on their shells. And God who is All Knowing, knows what is the truth. Hoping that you are as much amused in reading my letters as I am in writing them to you, I am always your devoted daughter Gertrude. I thought I had lost the enclosed, but I have luckily found it. I hope it will entertain you. The writer is a great-great-aunt of the Shah. I had to reply to her, poor old thing, that my Majestie could do nothing for her. She is living at Najaf [Najaf, An]. I think it's the best letter I've ever had except one in the early days addressed "Her Excellency Political Miss." Jan. 31. [31 January 1924] I remember now what your letter was about - the Henleys. What an interesting tale. My congratulations to Sylvia; I hope she is very well off and that she will invite me to stay at her country seat next time I'm in England.

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