Letter from Gertrude Bell to Charles Doughty-Wylie which includes hand drawn map by Bell of Neuve Chappelle.
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Thursday 25 (March 1915). Here’s the sketch of Neuve Chapelle.
My dear. I have just got back to England & it’s late & I have had a very rushing time these last few days. But I must write to you, if only because this room is so full of you — & my heart & my thoughts, which are all yours & always yours. I don’t know what Lord R. will want of me — as likely as not he’ll pack me off at once, back to my old job. I don’t care; I only want to sit in a corner & work. But I’m glad to be back for a day or two, to hear news; for, from what has reached me I’m anxious about the near East, & therefore dreadfully anxious about you & longing to hear what is the state of things & if possible where you are. There are no letters — I ache for them. None since Malta. My dear, my dear, what can I write to you in this room? I can scarcely bear it — only bear it by throwing my thoughts on bravely to the uncertain future, about which I will admit no uncertainty — your safe return, & then — That’s all I think of. For against any other alternative I have made myself secure. Do you remember that my doctor made me take morphia with me on my last journey? I never used it & now I’ve sent for it from home & have it always by me, two full tubes, enough, I think, to cut a thread even as strong as mine. That’s why I feel safe, whatever happens. Don’t be missing! There’s no one to make enquiries & I might be led astray. Disease & death rage out there, not only death from fighting; but when my heart quales [sic] I remember the morphia tubes & know there’s a way out, smooth & easy, a sleep — to wake where? If I can’t sleep in your arms, I’ll sleep this way. You won’t like this talk, but why not? You must accept this with the rest. I crossed, by chance, with Louis Mallet, & was rather glad he was there to look after me. I had worked so hard the last few days, getting things straight’ before I left; & then suddenly I felt I couldn’t move another hand or foot & welcomed anyone who could save me trouble. He’s always kind & nice. Early last week Mr Amery passed through Boulogne on his way to Servia. He had just spent 2 days with Sir H. Rawlinson. I lunched with him & heard much of the battle, the Pyrrhic victory of Neuve Chapelle. The net result is that everything that was fully prepared was successful, & everything that was impromptu failed. The battle of the 10th was fully prepared. They had studied every trench & .... for 10 days before, got the range, & when the bombardment began every shell found its right billet & every shell told. And if after that we just walked in — there’s no standing artillery of that kind. But even on the 10th it was not all brought off. The field guns at the N. end of the line, N. of Neuve Chapelle, had been in place only 24 hours. They hadn’t had time to study the ground & their shells fell 10 yards the other side of the German trenches every time. They might just as well not have fallen at all. Nothing was injured, wire entanglements remained intact, we charged under enfilading machine guns & got no further. That held up the whole line to some extent. And by 4 o’clock in the afternoon of the 10th the Germans had brought up reinforcements & all possibility of breaking through was really over. Then came the 11th & disastrous loss. Both on the 11th & 12th it was misty, our aeroplanes couldn’t look[?] & the deadly batteries of the enemy couldn’t be silenced. I believe we’ve cooked the casualty figures. For the whole business, including St Eloi, I don’t think we had much short of 20,000, & as for the German losses, I’m inclined to think that their own published estimate, 8000, is a great deal nearer the truth than any guess we have made officially. Last night an artillery general dined with me, on his way through for two days leave. He told the tale, but all from the point of view of the gunner. His mind was wholly occupied with the ... ...., the not—to—be hoped for way in which the bombardment of the 10th worked out. But why didn’t they go on? they say the mist stopped them & I’ve no doubt that’s true, but I suspect also that ammunition gave out. They none of them admit it, none of them, but I can’t reconcile the facts to any other explanation. There, you see I’ve .... to write of other things — of other things than that which colours every drop of my blood. Friday 26. This must go or miss the mail. Herbert R. lunches with me today so that I shall hear all that is to be known. I’m going up to see Lord R. now. And I’m yours.