Letters from Baghdad (2016) Movie Script

You've probably heard of Colonel
Lawrence and his wonderful exploits,
and indeed they were wonderful,
and are wonderful,
but I attribute much of the success
of his enterprises
to intelligence in which Ms Bell
had a very large hand.
The only woman whom
the commander-in-chief
General Sir Stanley Maude
had allowed to come up to Baghdad.
A wonderful person.
Not very like a woman, you know?
Her work has in no sense
been exaggerated.
It was true, however, that,
at times, she came under suspicion.
I had known her first
in Constantinople,
where she'd arrived straight out
of the desert
with all the evening dresses,
the cutlery and napery
she insisted on taking with her
on her wanderings.
I have never wavered in my belief
that she came to her end
by her own deliberate act.
Baghdad, November the 28th, 1918.
Dearest Father, I'm having by far
the most interesting time
of my life.
It doesn't happen often that people
are told that their future
as a state is in their hands,
and asked what they would like.
I have come to love the land,
its sights and its sounds.
I never weary of the East,
just as I never feel it to be alien.
It's a second native country, and
if my family were not in England,
I should have no wish to return.
Father, I came to the conclusion,
I've been very unhappy
in the big things, always,
and very happy in the little things.
Small change for happiness,
I suppose it is.
Except only in that very big thing,
complete love and confidence
in my own family.
I've had that always,
and can't lose it.
And you are the pivot of it.
Goodbye, dearest.
Your affectionate daughter,
Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell
was born on July 14th, 1868,
at the residence of her grandfather,
Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell,
a prominent iron master
and owner of coal mines.
Mary Shield, Gertrude's mother,
died when Gertrude's brother Maurice
was born.
Gertrude was three years old.
Gertrude's relation to her father...
They had deep mutual affection.
..were to both the very foundation
of existence.
Gertrude was eight when her father
and I were married.
I have found a diary of hers
she kept when she was 11,
given her as a Christmas present in
1878, but only kept for a few pages.
She never entirely mastered
the art of spelling,
and all her life long there were
certain words
that were always spelled wrong.
In the train,
September, 1885.
Dearest Mother mine,
I meant to ask you whether I should
go on learning to play scales.
I'm afraid I know what you like,
but always have a glimmering of hope
that you may change your mind.
Oh, my dearest, sweetest mother,
I always want to do
what pleases you best,
only I don't succeed very often.
I hate going away.
I hate the idea of reaching college,
of going to bed
in that horrid little room,
of waking up in the cold morning
to find myself no longer
in my own comfortable bed.
However, the worst is over now.
We've almost arrived.
Your very loving and rather
sorrowful daughter, Gertrude.
Oxford, May, 1886.
I love this place.
It's much nicer
than I thought it would be,
and I have not felt half so strange
and lonely as I expected.
We went the other day to a lecture
of Professor Bright's.
Bright met us with a very cross face
and put us in seats
with our backs turned to him.
She had several verbal encounters
with her professors.
With one, she disputed the position
of a German town.
The questioner held that it was
on the left bank of the Rhine.
Gertrude exclaimed, "I'm so sorry,
but it really is on the right!
"I've been there."
Women's colleges of this university
should be levelled to the ground.
Dearest Mother, I must tell you
an amusing story.
Minnie Hope was sitting
with an Oxford man and, presently,
he grasped her hand and said,
"Do you see that young lady
in a blue jacket?"
"Yes," said Minnie, lying low.
"Well," said he,
in an awestruck voice,
"She took a first in history."
Sunday, 95 Sloan St.
Papa is going to a smoking party at
Mr Byrne's tonight after dinner.
Mr Byrne is delightful,
and I thought I might go,
but I'm afraid it is only men.
Around this time,
Gertrude took up smoking.
Once, she took the underground to
visit her girlfriend, Mary Tolbert.
Our mother was horrified.
Gertrude had gone
on such an orgy of independence.
My sister,
wife of Sir Frank Lascelles,
who was British ambassador
to Persia,
begged me to send Gertrude
to stay with them after Oxford.
She felt that foreign diplomatic
society might help Gertrude
to get rid of her Oxfordy manner.
Tehran, May 9th, 1892.
We arrived on Saturday afternoon
in the Garden of Eden.
Here, in the dust and the sunshine,
is an epiphany of the living East.
I had my first Persian lesson
with a sheik, who is a darling.
Now, the other person
in our paradise is Mr Cadogan.
Intelligent, a great tennis player,
a great billiard player,
devoted to writing, though he can't
write in the least, I'm told.
Smart, clean, well-dressed.
I like him.
It certainly is unexpected
and undeserved
to have come all the way to Tehran
and find someone so delightful.
He is always there when we want him,
and never when we don't.
Henry Cadogan
was very unconventional,
and therefore not very popular
among his colleagues.
I think, apart from Sir Frank
and Lady Lascelles,
my wife and I were the only ones
who really liked him.
Cadogan was very musical
and spent evenings with us
listening to my wife playing
the works of Bach, Chopin, Wagner.
At other times, she would
bring a book and read to us.
I remember a picnic in one of the
gardens when Gertrude and Cadogan
had climbed up onto a gate in order
to read an ode of Hafiz.
Then said my heart,
here will I take my rest.
This city breathes her love
in every part.
But to a distant
bourne was she addressed, alas!
He knew it not, alas, poor heart!
Not only did she lift my bosom's
veil, reveal its inmost secret...
Dear Father, I am in a panic
that you may never have received
the letter I wrote telling you
that I am engaged to Mr Cadogen.
The flower-strewn river lip
and meadows fair...
If you have not, this will come
as rather a shock.
The rose herself
but fleeting treasures were,
regret and winter
follow in their trail.
July, 1892.
Dear Domnul, I fear my affairs
look very bad.
Mr Cadogen is very poor,
and his father I believe
to be practically a bankrupt.
And my father, though he is an angel
and would do anything
in the world for me,
is absolutely unable
to run another household,
which is what we are
asking him to do.
Nothing has yet been discussed, as
my father is waiting for my return.
Meanwhile, Henry Cadogan and I
are not allowed to consider
ourselves engaged to one another,
and I'm afraid that the chances
of our eventual marriage
are very far away,
somewhere in the future.
My father recorded in a diary
how he'd travelled south
from Yorkshire by the night train
to talk to Gertrude about herself.
But, apart from love and sympathy,
he could not give her
what she wanted.
She never saw Henry Cadogan again.
Nine months later, he died in Persia
after a brief illness.
Now, I saw Gertrude in London
on her way to the Matterhorn.
She was bent on doing all the most
impossible peaks in Switzerland.
I could sympathise with her, because
I used to love climbing myself.
But I did think she attached
too much value to the thing being,
above all, difficult and dangerous.
She made some remarkable
first ascents,
requiring a great deal of skill
and endurance,
but her destiny had been fixed
by that first visit to Persia.
She was determined
to return to the East.
I prefer the East to the West,
and, one way or another,
I don't expect to be in England
in the future, inshallah.
You will find in the East a wider
tolerance born of greater diversity.
A man may go in public veiled up to
the eyes, all clad, if he pleases,
only in a girdle.
He will excite no remark.
Why should he? He is merely
obeying his own law.
So, too, the European will be wiser
if he doesn't ape their habits.
He will meet with
far greater respect
if he adheres strictly to his own.
I'm so wildly interested in Arabic
that I think of nothing else.
What I should particularly like
is to get away for a long stretch
with no-one
but Arabic-speaking people.
That ought to make me
comparatively fluent.
And the fun of it!
I should like to go on to Damascus,
and then to Palmyra
with its magnificent ruins.
I have seldom felt the ancient world
come so close.
Dearest, kindest and wisest
of fathers, if you don't mind,
I'd rather do this
than be in London.
It's more worthwhile on the whole.
By the way, my photographs
are not at all bad.
I spend all my spare moments
developing and printing.
Did I tell you I was writing
a travel book?
It's Syria from underneath -
the talk I hear around my campfires,
the tales they tell me
as they ride with me,
the gossip of the bazaar.
It's a very odd sensation to be
out in the wilds quite by oneself.
I don't think I ever feel lonely...
..though the one person I often
wish for is Father.
I think he really would enjoy it,
and I keep wanting to compare notes
with him.
You, Mother, I want to talk to,
but not in a tent with earwigs
and black beetles around
and muddy water to drink.
I rode off in the early morning
to Carchemish.
I found Mr Thompson and a young man
called Lawrence, an interesting boy.
He's going to make a traveller.
Ms Bell appeared on a Sunday.
She was pleasant,
about 36 at the time.
Not beautiful,
except with a veil on, perhaps.
She told Thompson his ideas
of digging were prehistoric.
And so, we had to squash her
with a display of erudition.
She was taken in five minutes
through Byzantine, Crusader,
Roman and French architecture,
prehistoric pottery
and telephoto lenses,
the Young Turk movement,
price of riding camels,
Syrian burial customs,
and German methods of excavation.
This was a kind of hors d'oeuvres
and, when it was over,
she was getting more respectful.
We settled down each
to seven or eight subjects
and questioned her upon them.
She was quite glad to have tea
after an hour and a half.
It would've been most annoying
if she'd denounced our methods
in print.
An Englishwoman named Miss Bell
travels through Central Asia.
She wrote a book about Syria,
and it is clear from her letters
and the book that she has thoughts
against the Ottoman Empire.
I find the Ottoman government here
has been in an agony of nervousness.
They had three telegrams a day
about me,
and wondered what
I was going to do next.
I have become a person in Syria.
The sense of change,
uneasy and bewildered,
hangs over the whole of
the Ottoman Empire.
I should not be surprised
if we were to see in the course of
the next ten years the break-up
of the Empire in Asia.
Dear Domnul, you know, there's
an English vice-consul here now.
Captain Doughty-Wylie,
a charming young soldier,
with quite a pleasant little wife.
He's the more interesting
of the two.
A good type of Englishmen,
wide awake and on the spot,
keen to see and learn.
Will you tell William Tyrell
of the Foreign Office
I congratulate him
on the appointment?
It isn't so much to be in London
that I want when I'm away
as to be at home at Rounton,
where I think life
in the family circle
is more delightful
than anything else.
Captain Doughty-Wylie
suggests himself
for two nights on Wednesday next.
I can't say anything but, "Do come,"
for they were so exceedingly kind
to me.
He is very nice.
My dear, I've always,
ever since those Turkey days,
wanted to be a friend of yours.
Of course, call me Dick in letters,
and I shall call you Gertrude.
There is nothing of that.
Many people do.
My wife doesn't see my letters,
as a rule.
The first hour of the day
is for you, Dick.
A memory comes to me, of Konya,
when I arrived the first time.
Did you know anything of me then?
Had you read any book of mine?
Or were you just pining
for someone to talk to?
It's late.
And I'm all alone, and thinking
of the evening at Rounton.
I have often loved women, as
a man like me does, well and badly,
little and much, as the blood took
me or simply for the adventure.
I've always maintained
that this curious,
powerful sex attraction is a thing
right and natural to be gratified.
But if it is not gratified,
are we any worse?
I don't know.
Domnul, if you knew the way
I have paced backwards and forwards
along the floor of hell,
you would think me in the right
to try for any way out.
I told you before,
it's mostly my fault.
I want to cut all links
with the world -
that's the best and wisest thing
to do.
Don't think I'm going off on a wild
and desperate adventure in the hope
that it may indeed be desperate.
A woman named Miss Bell,
subject of England,
plans to meet in Ibn Rashid
at Shammar territories.
She plans to depart from Damascus
with 20 camels,
personal guards and guides.
We believe she's a British spy.
Her travels should be prevented.
Damascus, November 29th, 1913.
Dearest Father, I sent you today
a telegram which I fear will rather
surprise you, asking you to make
the National Bank telegraph
400 to my credit
to the Ottoman Bank here.
This is not a gift -
I wish to borrow the money.
We shall need 17 camels, good desert
camels, going cheap in Damascus.
They cost an average of 13 apiece,
including their gear.
I never tell anyone of alleged plans
in getting in to Hayyil.
Because otherwise the whole of
Damascus would be talking of them.
Dearest, beloved Father, don't think
me very mad or very unreasonable,
and remember always that
I love you more than words can say,
you and Mother.
Ever, your tiresome daughter,
Miss Bell had long nursed a desire
to penetrate Arabia proper
and see Nejd, where only
one other European woman had been.
By December 1913,
she was ready with a caravan,
and in the middle of the month,
she vanished in the desert.
She carried her three-inch
transit theodolite
from the Royal Geographical Society,
put on the map a line of wells
previously unknown,
and accumulated information
about tribal elements
which would become of
national value.
Despite bitter weather and
freezing night-time temperatures,
and also trouble with an Arab tribe
of the Jebel,
she accomplished the first stage
in only 21 days.
Dearest Dick...
..I have cut the thread.
I can hear no more from you
or from anyone.
Do you know that I am an outlaw?
Ambassador Louis Mallet has informed
me that if I go on towards Nejd,
my own government
washes its hands of me,
and I have given a categorical
acquittal to the Ottoman government
saying that I go on at my own risk.
For in no case could the Turks
be held responsible for me,
since I travel without a guard,
and British protection is of
no great value in these wastes.
Thus, we turn towards Nejd,
and the only thread which is not cut
through is that which runs through
this little book, which is
the diary of my way, kept for you.
The Howeitat are great people.
They raid all across
to the Euphrates,
and are known for their
reckless courage.
Some objected to my photography,
and asked what it was for,
but I went on, and no word was said.
In the desert,
every newcomer is an enemy
until you know him to be a friend.
Today we arrived in Hayyil,
Amir ibn Rashid's capital.
I will not conceal from you,
there have been
hours of considerable anxiety.
War is all around us.
Ibn Rashid is raiding to the north,
and Ibn Saud is gathering up
his powers to the south.
In Hayyil, murder is like
the spilling of milk.
On March 3rd, a certain
eunuch slave, Said,
informed me that I could not travel,
neither could they give me my money.
The Amir's mother, Mudi, invited me
to visit the women of the Palace.
There they were, those women,
wrapped in Indian brocades,
hung with jewels, served by slaves.
They passed from hand to hand.
The victor takes them.
And think of it,
his hands are red with the blood
of their husband and children.
I passed the next days
in solitary confinement.
After dark, Said came with a bag
of gold and full permission to go.
And why they've now given way,
or why they did, I cannot guess.
And thus it was that
my strange visit to Hayyil ended
after 11 days' imprisonment.
The worst of it is,
I can't forget it yet.
I go on riding camels
through my dreams.
Constantinople, May 20th, 1914.
To the Right Honourable
Sir Edward Grey.
I have the honour to report the
arrival of Miss Gertrude Bell
in Constantinople
on the 13th instance.
Miss Bell's journey, which is,
in all respects,
a most remarkable exploit,
has naturally excited
the greatest interest here.
Miss Bell has kindly promised to
furnish you with a detailed account
of her travels, the results
of which will be of great value.
Your most obedient humble servant,
Louis Mallet.
Dear Domnul,
I got through to Hayyil,
but no further.
You will find me a savage, for I
have seen and heard strange things,
and they colour the mind.
You must try to civilise me
a little, beloved Domnul.
But whether I can bear with England,
come back to the same things
and do them all over again,
that is what I sometimes wonder.
Don't tell anyone that
the me they knew
will not come back
in the me that returns.
Perhaps they will not find out.
We must become the owners,
or at any rate the controllers,
at the source of at least
a proportion of the oil
which we require.
Winston Churchill,
First Lord of the Admiralty.
Dearest, dearest Dick.
Do you love me still?
I look back
and rage at my reluctance.
If I'd given more,
should I have held you closer?
Drawn you back more surely?
Do you remember that my doctor
made me take morphea with me
on my last journey?
I never used it. That's why
I feel safe, whatever happens.
Don't be missing.
Today, I pack up all your letters,
dear queen of words,
and leave them addressed to you.
Tomorrow, if the weather moderates,
I'm embarking on the collier
to Gallipoli.
The wooden horse of Troy,
which we're going to run
on the beach
and disembark by
an ingenious arrangement.
If we fail,
it is political disaster.
If we win, it will be
a surprising success
from which England gains but little.
My dear, today, at last,
we have the account
of your splendid achievement.
Since I've heard nothing of you,
I conclude that you're all right,
and I'm cheerful again,
after some days of wild anxiety.
This is from my diary.
July, 1915.
I have learned this summer
of a tragedy that has been
going on in our midst.
Quite invisible to all, at any rate.
Gertrude had made friends
with a man who was Consul,
somewhere in Arabia,
and they discovered
that they loved each other,
and he was married.
In March, he was ordered
out to the Dardanelles.
A month later, Gertrude heard
casually at a dinner party
that he was dead.
It has ended her life.
It is difficult to see how she can
build up anything
out of the ruins left to her.
Hers is not a happy
nor a kindly nature.
Sorrow has dried up
all the springs of kindliness.
Darling Mother,
it's very curious what you tell me
about the anarchy of the universe.
Perhaps, after all,
it isn't anarchy,
but only the end of the order
we're accustomed to.
There's no doubt it has
come to an end, east and west.
There's room enough in the sun
for us all.
I'm not certain, by the way,
that that's true.
Perhaps there's just not enough sun
to keep us all warm.
My dear Wingate.
Miss Gertrude Bell,
who's a great friend of mine,
is about to go to Egypt.
She knows more about
the Arabs and Arabia
than almost any other
living Englishman or woman.
I'm sure you will like her
very much.
She ought to have been employed
ever so long ago,
but our public offices
have such singular facility
for never doing the right thing
that it's not until now that
her services have been utilised,
of all the departments in the world,
by the Admiralty.
Very sincerely yours, Lord Cromer.
30th November, 1915, Cairo.
Dearest Mother,
I telegraphed you the morning after
my arrival and asked you to send me
another gown and shirt.
It looks as if I might
be kept here some time.
Mr Hogarth and Mr Lawrence,
ex-digger at Carchemish and now
in the intelligence department,
came on board to meet me
and brought me to this hotel,
where they're both staying.
Gertrude duly turned up last Friday
in very fair form.
She is mending,
in health and spirit,
and is beginning
to pervade the place.
The military people here are
wondering if she is to be trusted,
and about how much
she is to be admitted.
I told them that she'll settle that,
and they needn't worry.
I'm helping Mr Hogarth to fill
in the intelligence files
with information as to tribes and
Sheiks, their numbers and lineage.
We're going to bring out a sort
of catalogue of the former,
paying special attention to their
numbers and political grouping,
and a new edition of the map.
Our chief is Colonel Clayton,
whom I like very much.
When the war broke out,
the intelligence department realised
that the Arabs were going to have
a considerable influence on its
outcome in the Eastern theatre.
In correspondence
with the Sheriff of Mecca,
the British High Commissioner
for Egypt
pledged to recognise and support
an independent Arab state
if the Arabs assisted Great Britain
in the war.
At the same time,
Sir Mark Sykes and Mr Picot
entered into secret negotiations
as to the boundaries
of the perspective Arab state,
and the French and British
spheres of influence.
To the people of the Wilayat
of Baghdad,
our armies do not come
into your cities and lands
as conquerors or enemies,
but as liberators.
You are not to understand that it is
the wish of the British Government
to impose upon you
alien institutions.
FS Ward, Lieutenant General
commanding the British forces
in Iraq.
15th April, 1917.
Dearest parents, we are within
two hours of Baghdad.
Today, we shall pass through
the battlefields.
There's nothing to see
in the stretching plain, I believe,
but the imagination clothes it.
It's strange, isn't it, to be
treating all these tragic places
merely as stages of a journey?
When I told the GOCN chief that some
of my officer staff are coming up
to Baghdad, including Miss Bell,
he expressed considerable misgiving
at the news.
He feared her arrival might form
an inconvenient precedent
for other ladies.
But I reminded him that her services
had been specifically offered
to me by my predecessor,
that I've regarded and treated her
no differently to any male officer
myself, and that
her particular abilities -
especially her knowledge
of intertribal relationships -
could be very useful to me.
I had no doubt that Miss Bell
could find a place
if she stuck to literary work.
Some sort of an outlet had to be
found for her energies.
Dear Domnul, it never occurred to me
to tell you that I'm
an assistant political officer,
because it's quite unimportant.
Sir Percy gave me the title
when I was transferred to Baghdad.
I have the right to be lodged and
fed and looked after when I'm ill,
and I earn a handsome salary -
300 rupees a month.
My duties are of the most
diverse kinds.
We're very short-handed.
I take on everything I can.
I keep an open door for
tribal sheiks and messengers
from the desert,
whose business I discover,
and then behind all is my real job -
the gathering and sorting
of information.
Already, the new tribal maps and
tribe lists are getting into shape,
and the first batch of confidential
notes on Baghdad personalities
will be issued to our
political offices tomorrow.
That's not bad going.
All visitors were turned over
to her,
and were pumped dry
in an understanding way.
Many visitors from the desert
were surprised that she knew
some inner detail of their own
or their tribe's history.
It was quickly realised
that Miss Bell, a woman,
to the Arabs' astonishment,
had a gift for finding out
what you really wished to say,
and understanding
your point of view.
I'm now going to cultivate
the Jewish community,
and find out more about them.
There are 80,000 in Baghdad,
out of a population of 200,000.
So far, I've only met the bigwigs,
such as the Chief Rabbi.
There's no doubt they'll be
a great power here some day.
One of the worst drawbacks
of the occupation
from the point of view of
the inhabitants of the country
is the requisitioning of houses.
I don't see what's to be done,
for we haven't time to build,
and we must be lodged.
But it's a terrible hardship
to the luckless ejected ones.
The real difficulty under which we
labour here is that we don't know
exactly what we intend to do
in this country.
We've rushed into this business
with our usual disregard
for a comprehensive
political scheme.
Can you persuade people to take your
side when you're not sure in the end
whether you'll be there
to take theirs?
I dined last night with some
American missionaries
called Van Ess.
He has an unexampled knowledge
of the country,
and gives me a good deal of help.
And she is particularly nice.
I see her often.
She and I had a great deal
in common.
Except she was
very clothes conscious.
And one hot summer, when I was
going to Bombay on the way to Simla,
she asked me to buy her
some thin dresses.
I told her I had seen
attractive ones in a specialty shop
near the Taj Mahal Hotel,
but I thought they were probably
very expensive.
She said, "Pay whatever you have to,
my dear, I must have clothes."
Dearest dear Father,
did I mention I had bronchitis?
I'm quite recovered,
and much less thin.
We see no war here, but an
occasional hostile aeroplane.
I have been very busy this week
with the translation
of the Shia traditional books.
You see, the first thing
in this Shia country
is that we should have a
real understanding of the things
that lie at the bottom
of the Shia mind.
One January,
I took the opportunity to tour some
of the tribal areas with Miss Bell,
who came from Baghdad
for the purpose.
We travelled mostly by boat.
Poled along the canals
and across the swamps.
We visited a number of sheiks,
who entertained us
in their large guesthouses.
And in bright, cold weather.
It was a delightful trip...
..during which I learnt
a great deal.
All the sheiks adored al-Khatun,
the lady.
The people I meet are all kind
and pleasant.
I like everybody,
and no-one in particular
any better than all the rest.
Do you know, what I really want
is a wife
to look after my household
and my clothes!
I quite understand why men out here
marry anyone who turns up.
No... No, one could not say
that she was popular,
outside the small circle of highly
placed people in which she moved.
She was abrupt and intolerant.
Snooty, perhaps.
Especially with other women, with
whom she could be downright rude.
She was always very nice to me.
And I thought she was as much
my friend as my husband's.
Of course, I do have a university
degree, and I do speak Arabic.
I think John and I saw
the very best side of her.
But it was just as real
as her arrogant side.
Which was all many people saw.
Today, with the soft air
blowing into my room,
I thought of Rounton in February,
and wondered whether by chance
it was snowing with you.
Oh, Father, dearest.
Do you know that it's just three
years since Dick and I parted?
I can't think why the recurring date
should bring back all memories
so strongly, but it's so.
I've brought back work to do
at night after dinner.
Oh, thank heaven,
there's plenty of it.
The truth is that one can't do
without that narcotic.
To be idle means
having time to think.
And no thoughts are bearable.
On my way home yesterday, I came
in by motor, I stopped at Babylon,
having been asked by Sir Percy
to advise on what we ought to do
about the preservation
of antiquities.
And what we should do
to stop illicit digging.
Tempi passati
weigh very heavily there.
Not that I was thinking of
nor yet of Alexander.
But of the warm welcome
I used to find.
My heart aches when I stood
in the empty, dusty little room
where the Germans and
I held eager conversations
over plans of Babylon or Ukhaidhir.
I often think of my German friends,
and long for news of them.
Koldewey, Andrae, and many others.
Where are you all?
Remember that, for us at least,
friendship is stronger than war.
Darling Father,
you must have been surprised
at not hearing from me before,
but the truth is,
I've dropped into a world so amazing
that up to now I've done nothing
but gape at it.
Our Eastern affairs are complex
beyond all words,
and won't be tackled
until a settlement
with our enemies has been reached.
I think an Arab state in Mesopotamia
is a possibility.
Experts on Western Arabia,
both military and civil,
were there in force.
But no-one except Miss Bell had
any first-hand experience of Iraq
or Nedj.
I also saw Sharif Feisal,
who was sent as a representative
of an independent Arab state.
My dear Sir Percy,
it is maddening
to have nothing settled.
At the back of my mind, there is the
firm conviction that no people likes
permanently to be governed
by another.
I hope that the transition
from British to native rule
will be made peacefully...
..for AT Wilson seems to be taking
a rather definite anti-Arab line.
I send you a letter
from General Clayton,
because it seems to echo
our thought.
Burn it when you've read it.
Dear Gertrude, I agree that you
probably are in for difficulties
in Mesopotamia.
I hope that the British hand
will be a light one to start with,
even at the cost of some efficiency,
and that the local
national aspirations
will not be snubbed too ruthlessly.
I feel that we should start slowly,
and let the people come to us
for help and guidance,
rather than impose
Western efficiency
too suddenly on Orientals,
to whom it has been unknown
for centuries.
I fear that catchword,
British efficiency.
You, I know,
will realise what I mean.
It was up to us to get more work
and more money out of the people
of these territories,
and perhaps more produce, also.
The home government started to
interfere wholly unjustifiably
in local matters.
They wired out forbidding flogging
of any kind.
I need hardly say that
I did not accept their orders.
Miss Bell, who was a legacy
left to me by Sir Percy Cox,
continued to earn her views
as to the necessity
for an Arab head of state.
It was wholly out of the question.
I think we're on the edge of a
pretty considerable Arab nationalist
demonstration, with which
I'm a good deal in sympathy.
They're out for independence.
I and others have been telling A that we were pressing them too hard.
There are constant meetings
in mosques,
where the mental temperature
rises a great deal above 110.
I personally don't think
there will be an outbreak
either here or in the provinces,
but it's touch and go.
In point of fact, I'm entirely
in sympathy with Sulaiman Faidhi,
whose views are enclosed.
The allocation of the mandate
for Mesopotamia to Great Britain
was publicly announced on May 5th.
Probably nothing could have
prevented the explosion.
I doubt if the Arabs
will accept the mandate,
and they will be encouraged in
refusing to do so by the Americans,
who are extremely eager
to make a treaty of their own.
Oil is the trouble, of course.
Detestable stuff.
My dearest girl, the papers in the
US are kicking because we're not
allowed a share in the oil ground
grabbed by Britain while we were
doing their fighting in France.
You may not think that your bill,
way out in far-away Baghdad,
is very important.
As a matter of fact,
we are in the centre of one of the
biggest business battles in years.
June 17th, 1920.
Standard Oil company's
representative in Baghdad
is reported to be in close touch
with extremists.
We cannot exclude the possibility
that they may be getting
financial assistance
from Standard Oil.
All the tribes are out
in full rebellion.
We've evacuated the barrage,
and are evacuating Diwaniyah.
You realise that we may be at any
moment cut off from the universe
if the Tigris tribes rise.
AT never tells me anything.
His chief idea is that
I should be kept in my place.
The truth is that
I'm in a minority of one
in the Mesopotamian
political service, or nearly.
Yet I'm so sure I'm right
that I would go to the stake for it.
Regarding Standard Oil,
no entry is too base for an
American who is out for the boom.
Sunlight is thrown on the subject
by this letter,
intercepted by our censors.
The trouble started from a small
town refusing to pay their taxes.
The Civil Commission had told them
that if taxes were not paid
in six weeks, they would bomb
their village from aeroplanes.
Nothing further was heard
from the village.
At the end of six weeks, a plane
appeared, and bombed the town.
The village immediately
went out on the act of warpath.
This led to some neighbouring
villages refusing to pay taxes.
The British may be able to terrorise
the Arab into temporary submission,
but he will never be
a contented citizen.
In the light of the events
of the last month,
there's no getting out of
the conclusion
that we have made an immense
failure here.
We had promised an Arab government
with British advisers,
and had set up a British Government
with Arab advisers.
It's difficult to be burning
villages at one end of the country
and assuring people at the other end
that we really have handed over
responsibility to native ministers.
The Turks didn't govern, and
we have tried to govern, and failed.
I personally think we tried
to govern too much.
On October 4th,
I restored the keys to the office
of the Civil Commissioner,
and 24 hours later, I left Baghdad.
Defeatism was nowhere evident.
Dearest Father.
You have been the only person
to whom I have related fully
the ups and downs of these
extremely difficult months.
I feel that whatever might happen,
my family is a sure refuge,
and I bless you all for it,
more than I can tell you.
This week has been rich in letters
from you and Mother
describing your Christmas party,
which sounds very delightful.
Do you know that this is the
eighth Christmas I've been away?
1913, Arabia,
1914, Boulogne,
1915, Egypt,
1916, Basra,
and all the rest, Baghdad.
Extraordinary, isn't it?
On Christmas Day, I went to
an enormous dinner party
for all the Political Service
and their wives.
I came home early
when they began to dance.
I dance no longer.
I've just got Mother's letter of
December 15th saying there's
a fandango about my report on the
civil administration in Mesopotamia.
The general line taken by the press
seems to be that
it's most remarkable
that a dog should be able to
stand up on its hind legs at all.
i.e., a female write a white paper.
I hope they'll drop
that sort of wonder
and pay attention
to the report itself,
if it will help them to understand
what Mesopotamia is like.
Sir Percy asked me if I would
come onto his personal staff
as Oriental Secretary,
and I said I would love to serve
with him in any capacity he chose.
I'm beginning to get a hold
of the women here.
I mean, the women
of the better classes.
I have them to little tea parties
at my home.
I get to know a side of Baghdad
which I could know no other way.
Until I came in 1917,
none of the Muslim women
and very few of the Jews
had ever been to parties.
Yesterday, I arranged a
ladies' night at the cinematograph.
I shall have to do an explaining
of the pictures myself,
as we can't have a man in to do it.
However, anything to make
a little social movement,
even if you have to exclude
all the chaps.
I had a well-spent morning
at the office
making out the southern desert
frontier of the Iraq.
I think I succeeded in compiling
a reasonable border.
She spent many hours in our house.
John would tell her,
"Gertrude, you are flying in the
face of four millenniums of history
"if you try to draw a line
"around Iraq and call it
a political entity."
They argued endlessly,
but always amicably.
I am pretty certain Sunni Mosul
must be retained as a part of the
Mesopotamian state,
in order to keep the balance.
I don't doubt
that the final authority
must be in the hands of the Sunnis,
in spite of their
numerical inferiority.
Otherwise, you will have
a mujtahid-run theocratic state.
If only we could manage
to install a native head of state.
Cairo, March 12th, 1921.
We arrived yesterday.
TE Lawrence and others
met us at the station.
We retired at once to my bedroom
and had an hour's talk,
after which I had a long talk
with Clementine,
whilst Sir Percy was closeted
with Mr Churchill.
Oh, Sir Geoffrey Archer is here.
A nice man,
with two enchanting baby lions,
which he's taking to the zoo.
Ja'far Pasha,
the Minister for Defence,
and Sassoon Eskell,
the Minister of Finance - he's from
a leading Baghdad Jewish family -
were much gratified
at being asked to come.
And I think it a masterstroke
to take them.
It will give the conference
a feeling of the reality of the
Arab government. After all, it's
their fate which is to be decided,
so why shouldn't they take a hand?
The selection of Feisal
as Amir of the Iraq is the one hope
of establishing speedily
a stable Arab government.
There's no possible alternative.
The people will not accept
a local Arab,
because there's none they trust to
refrain from grinding his own axe.
And after all, Muhammad
is Feisal's direct ancestor.
Churchill to the Prime Minister,
March 14th, 1921,
secret and personal.
Prospects Mesopotamia, promising.
We do not want any announcement,
even in guarded terms.
We also discussed the issue
of Kurdistan.
Kirkuk and Solimania, and certain
districts north of Mosul.
I told the committee that these
divisions formed an integral part
of the country, and should
be retained as part of Iraq.
Churchill to Prime Minister,
March 18th, 1921.
I think we shall reach unanimous
conclusion amongst all authorities
that Feisal offers hope
of best and cheapest solution.
The procedure of his adoption,
which was devised by Cox,
Miss Bell and Lawrence,
carries with it unanimous opinion
of all authorities here.
If we bring it off, we shall make
a difference in the world.
For it will be the beginning
of a quite new thing,
which will serve as an example,
let's hope, not as a warning.
Feisal reached Iraq
early in the summer of 1921.
His reception in Basra was lukewarm,
and the Arab governor,
riding up the front of the
procession, begged the bystanders,
"For Allah's sake, cheer!"
His reception in Baghdad
was outwardly more enthusiastic.
Somehow or other,
Feisal must be proclaimed king.
One is straining every nerve
to pull the matter forward -
talking, persuading, writing.
I find myself carrying
on the argument even in my sleep.
You may rely on this - I'll never
engage in making kings again.
It's too great a strain.
Feisal looked very dignified,
but much strung up.
He looked along the front row,
and caught my eye,
and I gave him a tiny salute.
Then, Saiyid Husain read Sir Percy's
proclamation - Long Live The King.
And the band played
God Save The King.
They have no national anthem yet.
Any election in a country where only
20% of the men are illiterate
is unconvincing, but it was easy to
ignore vague unfavourable opinions.
When I visited Gertrude,
she asked me if I would like
to go to tea with the King.
Talking all the time,
now in English to me,
now in Arabic to the eager servants,
she had the gift of making everyone
suddenly feel eager.
So we sat talking,
as friends who have not seen
one another for a long time,
until it was time to go
and meet the King.
Gertrude seemed to be conversant
with every detail
of his housekeeping,
as well as with every detail
of the government of his kingdom.
I watched them both.
The Arab prince
and the Englishwoman,
who were trying to build up
a new Mesopotamia between them.
This evening, I went swimming
with the young men in the office.
It was supremely delicious.
Opposite where we bathe,
Feisal was standing on the balcony
of his new house,
watching us dive from the buoy
in midstream.
Have I ever told you what the
river's like on a hot summer night?
At dusk, the mist hangs
in long white bands over the water,
and the twilight fades.
Silently, a boat
slips down the stream.
"Slowly, slowly!" the voices of the
quffahjis drift across the water.
"Don't ruffle the river
lest we sink!"
If the floating votive candles
reach the last house still burning,
the sick man will recover
and the baby will be born safely
into this world
of glittering lights
and bewildering reflections.
Goodbye, dearest.
However many native lands
I may have,
I've only one
father and mother anyway.
And I'm therefore ever your
devoted daughter, Gertrude.
Dearest Father,
your letter of June 28th
was rather despondent
about the fortunes of the family.
Indeed, it's very hard
that you should have fallen
on such difficult times.
But you will see
it will work out all right.
By the way, I have been figuring
in my capacity as director
of antiquities. We are starting -
what do you think? -
the Iraq Museum!
Mr Woolley arrived on Sunday.
I knew him first
when he was digging at Carchemish,
and next as intelligence officer
in Cairo.
He's a tiresome little man,
but a first-class digger.
They are going to dig Ur.
Before nine,
we started the division.
It began by my winning the golden
scarab on the toss of a rupee,
and we carried on till 12.30,
when I struck.
I had to tell them that I must take
the milking scene.
In my capacity
as director of antiquities,
I'm an Iraqi official
and bound by the terms on which
we gave the permit for excavation.
The division of objects, no matter
how painful in the process,
was not as unfavourable to ourselves
as I had feared.
The Iraqi government took the golden
scaraboid and the milking scenes.
I surrendered the bulk
of the cylinder seals.
Miss Bell seemed to think that
she'd been far too lenient.
Her ambition was to create a museum
worthy of the great history of Iraq
and essential in the study
of its past.
And the fulfilment of that ambition
is the greatest material monument
to her.
This is, I fear, going to be
a very scrappy letter
as I'm rather overcome
with departure.
Last week, Sir Percy left,
a very moving farewell.
He has given me a photograph
of himself in a silver frame,
and across the corner, he's written,
"To the best of comrades."
Isn't that the nicest thing
he could possibly have written?
I'm happy in feeling that
I've got the love and confidence
of this country.
It may not be the intimate happiness
which I've missed,
but it's a very wonderful
and absorbing thing -
almost too absorbing.
The work has been so interesting
that, as far as I'm concerned,
I couldn't have expected
a better destiny.
When the days of improvisation
and makeshift passed
and the civil servant took over,
her usefulness to the
High Commission steadily waned.
I believe she felt this very much.
So she'd flunk herself with
characteristic enthusiasm and energy
into her archaeological work,
but this did not compensate
for the gradual slipping down
from the summit,
where the great affairs of state
were managed.
Dear Domnul,
it's late and I'm unable to sleep.
Tomorrow, Sir Henry Dobbs,
the new High Commissioner,
gives an official dinner to the
King, Cabinet and advisers,
a male dinner.
He told me about it
before I went to Ur.
When I came back, I asked him,
as man-to-man,
whether he wanted me to come.
He said, "Yes, of course,
if you won't feel smothered."
I said that I thought,
as a high official in his office,
I was sexless and that
I ought to come, and would.
Sir Percy, on these occasions,
always treated me
simply as an official.
I still miss him.
One is extraordinarily lonely
with no-one of one's own.
I'm without any female who I can
trouble to be intimate with,
and it's a great drawback.
In 1924, the High Commissioner
and most of the senior advisers
went home on leave.
I was left in charge
with Gertrude as my right-hand man.
Before the others returned,
she had a complete breakdown
in health and very nearly died.
However, she did recover
and went home,
but she ought never
to have returned to Iraq.
Darling Molly,
your letter of March 1st
went so dreadfully to my heart.
The leaving of Rounton,
to tear yourself up by the roots,
when it's only the roots
that seem to be left...
it is terrible.
I hate the thought
of the dear house empty.
I feel as if my home were gone.
What I cling to is work,
the ordinary routine
that keeps on going,
and try to feel as happy as I can
without bothering about the future.
So Hugh asked me to help him
put some pressure on Gertrude
to bring her home for a bit.
It put me in rather
an awkward position
because she'd written to me
more than once that
even though she felt she
couldn't risk another hot summer
in Mesopotamia and hoped to get away
to the hills in India,
she would not come home.
Baghdad, June 2nd, 1926.
Dearest Father,
I do understand that you want me
to come home,
but I don't see, for the moment,
what I can do.
You see, I've undertaken this very
grave responsibility of the museum.
I had been protesting,
for more than a year,
that I must have a proper building.
This winter, one finally
fell vacant, and next,
I was held up by the floods.
All the very valuable objects
have been transferred
into the new building,
and no-one but I
knows anything about them.
It isn't merely a responsibility
to the Iraq,
but to archaeology in general.
If I were to leave,
I shall not want to come back here.
But I would like
to finish this job first.
Indeed, I feel I must finish it.
It isn't because I don't
immensely want to see you,
but I know you will understand that
it means I'll find myself
really rather loose on the world.
In spite of all I've said
of my activities in the office...
..you must please remember
that I am not a person.
She told me that black depression
had settled down on her
like some dark cloud.
I don't think she was really
ever happy again.
I think you ought to know
about this,
whether you decide to reveal it
or not.
I was one of those who carried
the coffin to the grave,
and was responsible
for the settlement of her affairs
in Baghdad.
She had a large wardrobe full of
fashionable dresses and clothing.
There are at least 25 pairs
of expensive shoes,
some of which had never been worn.
I remember remarking, when I left
the little house for the last time,
that the house would not last
as long
as the legend of its last occupant,
and that that too was ephemeral.
I've always been sorry that
my husband and I were in America
when Gertrude died.
She was so disillusioned
with King Feisal,
who was not living up to her
impossibly high ideals for him.
And she realised
that he no longer needed her.
I like to believe that I could have
helped her to be more realistic.
It seems sad to me that
Gertrude wasn't even mentioned
in a recent book about Iraq.
Sorry, I don't recall the author.
Her political work,
one of the biggest things
a woman has ever had to do,
was as finished as mine.
That Iraq state is a fine monument,
even if it only lasts
a few more years.
She was born too gifted, perhaps.
By the way, do read her letters.
They are splendid.
I had a nice little ceremony
on Monday
when the King opened
the first room of the museum.
It was open to the public
for the first time today.
I saw some 15 or 20
ordinary Baghdadis
going around it under the guidance
of an old Arab curator.
Everyone agrees that it looks like
a real museum,
rather like the British Museum,
only a little smaller.
I often wonder
how the old Babylonians,
with whom I now feel such a close
connection, passed their summer.
Much as we do, I dare say, but
without our ice and electric fans,
which add immensely
to the amenities of existence.
There's the lunch bell,
and I'm dreadfully in need
of some iced soda water.
Your very affectionate daughter,