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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her parents, Sir Hugh and Dame Florence Bell

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Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian and Dame Florence Eveleen Eleanore
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Maude, Frederick Stanley
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter, paper
Iraq ยป Samarra

34.1660043, 43.9055155

[30 November 1917] Samarra Nov 30 Dearest Family. I'm still here though I wanted to go back a day or two ago. The Corps Commander (my kind host) insisted however on my staying till the end of the week to "complete the cure". I'm really most briskly well and longing to get back to work. I'm going back to Baghdad the day after tomorrow. Col. Wilcox [i.e. Willcox] came up this morning for a change (it's looked upon as a health resort, Samarra) and brought me a bag of letters, Mother's of Sep 26, Oct 10 and 19 and Father's of Oct 17 among them. I was rather pining for news of you. It's a great comfort to think of Maurice back at home, but what with household and industrial difficulties, present and ahead, you don't any of you seem to be having an easy time. We score over you now in weather - day after day of bright sun and exhilarating N. wind. It's perfect and in this empty desert one gets the best of its advantages. I've been out all day, usually riding the whole morning and motoring somewhere in the afternoon - if you can call it somewhere when it's just desert with the scoring of old canals and mounds of dead villages far out in what is now uninhabited wilderness. It's almost impossible to picture what the country must have been like when it was irrigated by loop canals from the Tigris and (to judge by the village mounds) thickly peopled ten miles out on either bank of the river. It is now cultivated only in the low ground by the river edge, a mile perhaps deep on one bank or another, but after last week's rain (we had 18 hours of it) the people are all busily ploughing and the turned up earth looks a live brown instead of a sandy yellow. The river has risen 3 feet. But it has not rained nearly so much at Baghdad and further south I fear there has been nothing. We are dealing out seed corn, pledged against next harvest, which Heaven send may be good or we shall have famine. We are feeding the people here as at Baghdad, making them pay where they can and giving doles where they can't pay, but they complain a good deal at getting nothing but rice, the truth being that wheat and barley are not to be had. Meat is fairly plentiful. It's a terrific problem everywhere, the war shortage. We gather it's worse with the Turks and the tribes are all coming down to us in consequence. It doesn't make things easier for us through gratifying in other respects. All the cultivators are set to work, but the real nomads don't do a hand's turn and we can get nothing from them but camel transport. Already, after the rain, the grass has begun to grow in the inner desert. Samarra is half empty. The Persian population has moved down to Baghdad. The town depends almost entirely on the pilgrim traffic and having had no pilgrims for 3 years is hard set to live. But as the pilgrims brought in diseases of various kinds, it's no loss as far as we are concerned that the frontier roads should be closed. Meantime it's a difficult matter for us to pull our weight here as the Turks don't show any inclination to advance and to trek after them without railways is no light job.
I'm longing to get back to Baghdad and see the new regime. Col. Wilcox says Sir S. Maude never had a chance - he was terribly ill from the first. There is practically no cholera now and the rising river will clear out everything. Una Strickland has explored a more exciting part of the Front than I! We see no war here but an occasional hostile aeroplane very high up. There was one over our heads the other day when Kermit Roosefelt, Mr Bowen (A.D.C.) and I were out riding. You heard that they dropped a message of condolence on Gen. Maude's death? a good effort as they were continuously shot at. We dropped a message of thanks next day! Your very affectionate daughter Gertrude

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