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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

Letter in which Bell discusses her recent activities, commenting upon the recent lunar eclipse and the reaction of locals to the event, Iraqi politics (specifically relating to government contracts) and King Faisal's reaction to events in Transjordan under the rule of his brother, Abdullah I bin al-Husayn. She notes that she visited the Iraq Museum in Baghdad with teachers from Mosul, and adds that she has had a letter from Sir F. Kenyon commending her and the Iraq Department of Antiquities for their division of excavation finds. She also discusses the Westminister Gazette's publication of a negative article on the role of the British in Iraq, which she attributes to Philby, and encloses a letter she has written to Alfred Spender in relation to this. Bell ends by noting her pleasure at the acceptance of the Dawes Plan, and expressing her scepticism of the Anglo-Soviety Treaty.
Reference code
Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Cornwallis, Ken
Naji, Haji
Cox, Percy
Cooke, R.S.
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Philby, Harry St John
Askari, Ja'far al-
Sa'id, Nuri al-
Kenyon, Frederic G.
Feisal, Ghazi bin al-
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad Aug 20 Darling Father. It was very clever of you to send your letter from Columbo by overland mail. I got it on Aug 16, i.e. in 18 days. That's clearly the best way to write. How delightful it all sounds! Ceylon [Sri Lanka] must be an earthly paradise and what fun you're having.
Well I've been having rather a week of it. On Thursday, the last post day, I dined with Haji Naji on his roof. Mr Cooke, Major Pulley  (acting adviser to Interior) and two Airmen were the party. It was a nice cool evening for once and we sat on the roof with the full moon so bright that we wanted no other light and the tops of the mulberry trees waving round us. Presently I glanced up and saw the moon looking a very odd shape, it grew odder and odder and we consulted Mr Cooke's pocket book and found that it was a total eclipse! You saw it too I expect. It's a sinister thing, an eclipse, isn't it. As we motored back the copper shadow spread over the moon, deepened and left the world in a threatening darkness. The people in the houses were beating pans and firing off revolvers to frighten the whale which was devouring the moon. This they ultimately succeeded in doing, but not without great trouble. It was a very long eclipse.

On Saturday I dropped in to another dinner party. Mr Cooke and I with Sabbah, Nuri's darling little boy, were bathing in our favourite pool opposite the King's palace. To us a party of shining[?] ones, the King, Zaid, Ja'far, Nuri - all the King's pals. They had come, some of them to bathe and all of them to picnic on the bank. Do you know it's difficult to make a curtsey with grace when you're in a wet bathing dress. We finished our swim, dressed and went away, when I found I had left my dog's collar (I'm in charge of Ken's dog, Sally, a charming little spaniel who adores swimming) in my bathing hut. So we dropped Sabbah near his house and went back for the collar. But as soon as the King saw us he sent Nuri running down to ask us to stay to dinner. We did; it was very pleasant. They all laughed and joked and told stories.

On Sunday morning I went to the Museum which I had promised to show to some teachers from Mosul [Mawsil, Al]. They were very much impressed and said many complementary things about the service I was rendering to the 'Iraq. But what pleases me still more - since I'm blowing my own trumpet so loud - is that I have a letter from Sir F. Kenyon saying that he holds up the 'Iraq Dept of Antiquities as the model for the manner in which the division of finds is made between excavators and the local Govt and that as long as things remain in my hands he will be perfectly satisfied. I am very much relieved for I feared they would never forgive me for taking the milking plaque which was by far the best thing they found. I could do no other and I am so glad they recognized it. They have been most reasonable.

The Minister of Interior, Muhsin Beg, came to see me in the afternoon and we had a heart to heart talk. He is being absolutely staunch about the Contracts for Interior and Police; he says he doesn't care what the provisions of the treaty may or may not be; he has got to consider how the Ministry can be worked now and in the future and he can't do with fewer British officials or shorter terms of contract. He is longing for Ken to return. It's only when Ken's away that it is realized how essential he is.

On Monday I dined en famille with the King - he and Zaid. We dined in the garden, but it was a very hot night. Sinbad (who is the King's private physician) came to pay him a visit and was asked to stay to dinner, which was very nice for I love Sinbad. He is a heart of gold and such good company besides. H.M. was very anxious to talk to me about 'Abdullah's errors. 'Abdullah, I must tell you, has brought things to such a pass in Trans Jordania that H.M.G. is going to resume financial and military control. The King is very comic when he talks of 'Abdullah's misdeeds. It's exactly like Elsa when she and Moll were little - do you both remember that when Moll was naughty Elsa used to say with a würdig air "You shee. I don't bwoke that -"or whatever it was that she didn't happen to be doing. So the King: "My brother 'Abdullah is my elder brother and of course I give him all devotion and respect, but really, oh my sister, the things he does in Trans Jordania! I told him when I was there last year -" in fact he told him that he didn't bwoke that. And to do him justice, Faisal compared to 'Abdullah is an angel of goodness.

Yesterday I also dined out - it's an orgy. We were invited by a friend of Mr Cooke's to dine on the river bank after swimming. Five of us went, including Sabbah who is inseparable from us. It was very pleasant, much too much to eat, but as Sally was sitting under the table at my feet I was able to pass down to her in the darkness all I couldn't possibly eat. And it made a huge meal for her.

Today I have had an interesting morning. When I got to the office Nigel showed me an article in the Westminster Gazette of July 28, information from a "high authority" whom I take to be Philby. It raked up the whole Talib story, accused us of having foisted Faisal on the 'Iraq, of having intimidated the Assembly, prevented the anti-treaty deputies from attending by surrounding the building by a cordon of troops and police and finally forced the issue at the last meeting. So I told Nigel that I knew Alfred Spender and that I thought he was still in close touch with the Westminster, and I asked permission to write him a confidential letter. Here it is - I had to have it typed because it grew so long that I thought Mr Spender would never wade through it and I took the opportunity of having copies made for you and Sir Percy and Ken. Nigel thinks I have put the case well. Oh but it was a comfort to speak out!

The King is much excited because King Husain has at last released his only son Ghazi who has been kept at Mecca [Makkah] till now. The boy - he is 12 - is now at 'Amman and H.M. is sending Muhsin Beg across to fetch him. I'm afraid he will be rather a little weakling after the horribly unhealthy life he has been leading, boxed up in the Mecca [Makkah] palace.

I look forward very much to your next letter. What a good correspondent you are! Ever your very devoted daughter Gertrude

I think when you return to England you might confidentially show my letter to Mr Spender to Mr Thomas.

Isn't it splendid that they have brought off the acceptance of the Dawes scheme! Hats off to Ramsay Macdonald. The treaty with the Soviet, on the other hand, seems to be bunkum.

{I don't see why, when you get back to}]

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