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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

Letter in which Bell discusses her trip to Ukhaydir, providing an overview of her journey and activities as well as reflecting on the fortress itself and the changes to it since her last visit in 1911. She also discusses the departure of visiting Secretaries of State from Baghdad, ongoing negotiations relating to the development of the Iraq army, and recent hostilities towards Lord Balfour during his trip to Palestine and Syria.
Reference code
Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Cornwallis, Ken
Dobbs, Henry
Wilson, J.M.
Cooke, R.S.
Smith, Arthur Lionel Forster
Amery, L.S.
Baring, Evelyn
Balfour, Arthur
Clayton, Iltyd
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper

33.315241, 44.3660671

Wed. April 15. Baghdad Dearest Father. There is still no letter from you - I wonder if mine are reaching you.
We succeeded in making our little Easter jaunt, rather to my surprise, as so many of our plans have come to nothing. We started on Thursday afternoon, Lionel, Ken, Mr Cooke and I, and motored 2 hours to Musaiyib [Musayyib, Al] on the Euphrates, just above the Barrage. There we spent the night in the Govt sarai, a very nice place on the river bank. We had our own camp beds and baths and the Qaimmaqam's office provided tables and chairs. The Qaimmaqam also provided dinner though we had brought our own; however my caviare and tongues and excellent Stilton cheese supplemented his heaps of rice and dishes of chickens and beans. (A tragedy happened to the Stilton cheese. The cats dug it out of the lunch basket in the night and next morning when we wanted to take it with us for lunch, it was no [sic] there.) We dined on the balcony over the river, very peaceful and pleasant, and did cross word puzzles till we went to bed. Next day we made a leasurely [sic] start about 8 and motored to Karbala where we picked up a policeman as guide, and so straight out across the desert to Ukhaidhir [Ukhaydir]. Near Karbala the desert was full of enormous lizards, a couple of feet long; they sat in the little craters they had dug out for suntraps above their holes and lifted up their long necks to look at us as we passed. It was better still when they were out of their holes and had to walk very fast and busily to find refuge from us - lizards don't seem to be able to run, or this kind can't; perhaps their tails are too long.

We got to Ukhaidhir about noon, lunched and stayed there till 4. Most of it has fallen down since I was there in 1911, not the big walls, but little vaults and things. It's a wonderful place, the finest Arab monument of so early a date. I wished J.M. Wilson had been with us; he was to have been of the party and was stopped at the last moment.

We motored on to the Shithithah [Shithathah] oasis where we arrived about 5 and put up at the police station, turning all the policemen out of their offices which were three nice upper rooms on a wide roof which served as a balcony. On reflection I think we must have interrupted the wheels of administration, not that on evenings in Ramadhan much administration is done, I expect.

After tea we walked about the oasis and looked at the great sulphurous springs bubbling up in the depths of huge clear pools, and the pomegranates flowering and that deliciously sweet scented tree which was in the Residency garden at Jerusalem [(El Quds esh Sherif, Yerushalayim)] and in all the Palestinian hedges - do you remember? we tried to get some seeds of it. Again a mass of rice and chickens and beans arrived for dinner - from the Mayor this time, a local gentleman who though fasting had insisted on walking round with us. I met several people - the Mayor included - who remembered my former comings in 1909 and 1911. It made me feel rather ghostlike to be in these places again, with such years between, and I was glad I wasn't there alone.

Next day we motored back to Baghdad, lunching on the bank of the Euphrates under willow trees.

The Secretaries of State also returned from Basrah [Basrah, Al (Basra)] that day but I did not see them on Sunday, which I spent partly at the Museum in the morning and riding with Iltyd after tea, with the usual Bridge party at night - Ken and Iltyd, and Major Eadie for a fourth.

I met Mr Amery at the Museum in the course of Monday morning and we drove back together. His description of his impressions was very satisfactory. He said that he had been much struck by the admirable relations between the British and 'Iraqi officers and that he had been surprised to find that the Arab façade (Winston's phrase) wasn't a façade but a real thing - the Arabs really doing it themselves and the advisors advising. He thought the amount of work that had been done was remarkable and the orderliness of the country most gratifying, and I thought that he gave the praise where it was due and was very much pleased.

Sir Henry, as usual, has been most skilful. He has got the original army proposals, which really weren't workable and would have largely destroyed our relations with the Arab Govt, modified in such fashion that the Secs of State are perfectly satisfied and the Arab Govt immensely relieved and ready to agree to anything short of what was first put forward. And the contracts for British officials, a very thorny question, are through also and approved. Most of them are for 10 years, i.e. far beyond the treaty period. So yesterday morning the Secs of State flew away in clouds of dust and glory and we all went down to the aerodrome to bid them farewell. And then, though relieved, we felt a little flat! But there's no doubt that their visit has done good - not least to them. I don't like Sir Sam Hoare - he is so rigid and he lacks all political (or other) imagination. But I love Sir John and Mr Amery. The latter distinguished himself by conversing in Turkish which he hadn't done since 1898! And he got a speech in Arabic by heart and delivered it at Mosul [Mawsil, Al]. His audience thought it a very pretty attention though they didn't understand a word.

Tonight I have Evelyn Baring to dinner, and Nuri, Sabih Beg and Ken to meet him. He is off tomorrow. He has been up to Mosul and enjoyed himself hugely I think.

What do you think of the Balfour episodes! I am convinced that his going out was a great mistake - Sir Herbert was against it, I believe. It was asking for trouble. He got off at Jerusalem with pinprick, but very galling, insults, but what a fracas at Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Sham, Damas)]! If we had been in the shoes of the French, the French would certainly have been convinced that we had done it on purpose, and I hope they will remember, or that we shall remind them when necessary, that Arab extremists are not so easy to control. It just strikes me that they are quite capable of Bellieving that it was a put up job by us in the 'Iraq by us and the Arabs! The Syrian press went the length of accusing us of having organised the robbery on the desert route in which Mme Maillard was killed.

What a people! and just look at the mess they've got got [sic] themselves into at home! Upon my soul the League of Nations would be perfectly justified in asking someone to be mandatory power over the French for they don't seem to possess the elements of fiscal honesty.

But that is what you always said.

Goodbye darling. I want to go out riding for a little. I hope you are enjoying yourself. Your very affectionate daughter Gertrude

I see this letter has to be posted to Colombo. My love to Elsa and tell her the books have come back. And my best congratulations to Herbert on being a Vice Admiral.

IIIF Manifest