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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

Letter in which Bell discusses the ongoing general strike as well as her own plans in relation to her future role in Iraq and at the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, noting that she hopes to resign from the High Commissioner's Office and instead take on the position of Director of Antiquities. She discusses the changing nature of the current work of the Office, moving from politics to administrative issues in which she is less interested or competent in. She goes on to provide an overview of her current work at the museum, specifically noting ongoing negotiations with german archaeologists and the Deutsch Orient Gesellschaft relating to prior and future excavations, as well as tasks such as object arrangement and cataloguing to be done at the museum. She notes that she cannot leave until these tasks are completed, and the museum is in order. She ends by expressing her hope that Nuri Pasha will sign the Treaty of Ankara, noting her gratitude to Mussolini for his handling of the Turks.
Reference code
Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Dobbs, Henry
Cornwallis, Ken
Sa'id, Nuri al-
Cooke, R.S.
Hussein, Feisal bin al-
Andrae, Walter
Clayton, Iltyd
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper

33.315241, 44.3660671

Baghdad May 26 Dearest Father. I received by last mail your letters of May 5 and 11 and read them with the deepest interest. Also letters from Mother and Elsa of May 11 so that I had a good all round view of what things were like. Your forecast as to the duration of the general strike was very good and I was particularly glad that you gave me a resumé of dealings with the colliers because Sir Henry is always asking me about it and your outline was so clear. I am going to have it typed for distribution to my colleagues. But when you say that you hope the stike will go on for a long time, it is rather awful. Of course I understand that it would be much better to get a reasonable settlement and that an unworkable compromise would be the worst thing; but do you think there is much chance of a reasonable settlement? Mr Baldwin's last utterance to the Association doesn't sound very hopeful though from the point of view of the general public it seems logical. They will say that he is quite right in maintaining that the men and the owners have shown themselves incapable of coming to terms and that the matter is of such moment that Govt must step in. I imagine that your reply is that we can't come to terms because Govt has always interfered - is that so? - but it is difficult to explain to those who are ignorant, as most are. What I fear is that the unworkable compromise will be forced on you and then Heaven knows what will happen. Anyhow, I take it that we shall have very little income this year.
That is not the only reason, though it's a very good one, for my wanting to stay here this summer. I hope you won't be very much disappointed, darling. There's the fact that Bernard will be on leave and there's the museum. What I vaguely think of doing (but don't talk about it) is to stay with the High Com. till Bernard comes back in the autumn; then to resign and ask the 'Iraq Govt to take me on as Director of Antiquities for 6 months or so. (I'm only Hon. Director now, you know.) I should not in any case stay much longer with the H.C.; it has really ceased to be my job. Politics are dropping out (just as it should be) and giving place to big administrative questions in which I'm not concerned and at which I'm no good. On the other hand, the Dept of Antiquities is now a full time job. I am trying to get the Cabinet to let me deal with all the things the Germans left at Babylon as I should deal with a new excavation. Privately, I have put up the Deutsch Orient Gesellschaft to make the proposal and they have suggested sending out Andrae, who dug at Sharqat, to arrange and catalogue the objects, after which I would make a division. I know Andrae very well and like him; the fact that I was working with him would make everything go smoothly and the 'Iraq Govt has complete confidence in me as a Director and would not question anything I did. But all this would mean far too much work to be treated as a secondary employment. Yale is nibbling at Warka [Erech (Uruk)], the biggest mound in the 'Iraq, and if I have 3 excavations on my hands besides Babylon and the Museum it is very certain that I cannot do anything else. I am waiting to see how all this turns out, but already I know that I ought to have all my time for the Museum.

As it is I now go there from 7 to 8.30 or so every morning and get to the office about 9. That has meant a pretty strenuous 4½ hours but I find that I can just get through the work, sometimes taking papers home to read in the evening. The weather has been beautifully cool. On Sunday (Whit Sunday) I worked from 7 to 1 in the Museum without any fans. Monday was a holiday in the office though I could not take it all as I had a report to write, but by doing some of it on Sunday afternoon I got from 7 to 11 in the Museum. One big room downstairs, the Babylonian Stone Room, is now finished and I am only waiting for the catalogue, which I have written, to be translated and printed, to ask the King to open it - just to show them that we are doing something. But this is the easiest of all the rooms, big objects not under glass, it is when I come to the upstairs rooms and all the little objects that the difficulties begin. The mere cataloguing and numbering of them is terriffic. The cataloguing of things from Ur and Kish for the past 3 years has been done and I have now nearly finished the things of this year. But the serial number of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad has to be put onto everything and until each object is in the catalogue we can't number it. There are a mass of things from other places than Ur and Kish which we have not begun on. Then will come the arrangement in cases - none of which have begun to come in yet. I have moved about half the things from the old room into the new Museum and they are lying about, some on tables, some on the floor, a desolating spectacle. In the course of the next 10 days it will be even worse, for by that time I hope I may have got almost everything moved over.

I don't think I could possibly leave it like this. If in the middle of the summer I felt tired or seedy, I might have got things into enough order to come away for a bit, but it's very expensive to come as far as England as I have Marie to take too. I'll see later.

The afternoons, after tea, hang rather heavy on my hands. Lionel comes to tea and I walk home with him once or twice a week, occasionally I go out with Ken and occasionally with Mr Cooke - but Mrs Cooke is rather a bore, just dull, I mean. I miss Iltyd who is in Mosul [Mawsil, Al]. We can't swim yet because the river is so high and the current so strong. This last week I have sometimes gone into the Museum at 5, but it will soon be too hot to do that with any comfort and it is not really a good plan because one gets no excercise [sic]. I did it in order to finish cataloguing the Ur and Kish things of this year.

I have done very little else this week. I had a nice dinner and bridge party on Sunday, Ken and Major Eadie and a Wing Commander Babington, a new acquaintance and very pleasant. I lunch with Sir Henry and we gossip over all the events of the morning. By the way Mr Vernon is not being much liked, between ourselves. Sir Henry does not like him, chiefly because he things [sic] him so common I think; the King and the Ministers don't either, he is not patient enough with them. Whenever he is crossed he very stupidly says he will resign. It's an empty threat and they have found that out.

Nuri Pasha flies to Aleppo [Halab] tomorrow on his way to Angora [Ankara (Ancyra)] where we fondly hope that he will sign the Turko-'Iraq treaty. He came in to say goodbye this morning, very much delighted. Would not it be a comfort if that question were ended! We owe Mussolini a debt of gratitude; his vibrant utterances have terrified the Turks into coming to terms with us. Ever your very loving daughter Gertrude.

Thank you for this Daily Mail.

IIIF Manifest