- Excerpts from the Letters of Gertrude Bell
- Gertrude Bell: the tragedy of her letters from Baghdad
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Florence Bell was a playwright and author of children's stories, as well as the author of a study of Bell factory workers. She instilled concepts of duty and decorum in Gertrude and contributed to her intellectual development. Florence Bell's activities with the wives of Bolckow Vaughan ironworkers in Eston , near Middlesbrough , may have helped influence her step-daughter's later stance promoting education of Iraqi women.
History was one of the few subjects women were allowed to study, due to the many restrictions imposed on them at the time. She specialised in modern history, and it was said that she was the first woman to graduate from Modern History at Oxford with a first class honours degree , a feat she achieved in only two years. Nine were recorded because they were men but the other two were Bell and Alice Greenwood.
Bell never married or had children. She befriended British colonial administrator Sir Frank Swettenham on a visit to Singapore with her brother Hugo in and maintained a correspondence with him until Charles Doughty-Wylie , a married man, with whom she exchanged love letters from to In May , after leaving Oxford, Bell travelled to Persia to visit him. She described this journey in her book, Persian Pictures , which was published in She spent much of the next decade travelling around the world, mountaineering in Switzerland, and developing a passion for archaeology and languages.
In , Bell again went to the Middle East. She visited Palestine and Syria that year and in , on a trip from Jerusalem to Damascus, she became acquainted with the Druze living in Jabal al-Druze. Between and , she conquered a number of mountains, including the La Meije and Mont Blanc , as she recorded 10 new paths or first ascents in the Bernese Alps in Switzerland. However, she failed in an attempt of the Finsteraarhorn in August , when inclement weather including snow, hail and lightning forced her to spend "forty eight hours on the rope" with her guides, clinging to the rock face in terrifying conditions that nearly cost her her life.
In this book she described, photographed and detailed her trip to Greater Syria 's towns and cities such as Damascus , Jerusalem , Beirut , Antioch and Alexandretta.
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Bell's vivid descriptions revealed the Arabian deserts to the western world. Ramsay , an archaeologist and New Testament scholar. In , they discovered a field of ruins in northern Syria on the east bank of the upper course of the Euphrates, along a steep slope of the former river valley. From the ruins, they created a plan and described the ramparts: " Munbayah , where my tents were pitched — the Arabic name means only a high-altitude course — was probably the Bersiba in Ptolemy's list of city names. It consists of a double rampart, situated on the river bank. In January , Bell left for Mesopotamia.
She visited the Hittite city of Carchemish , mapped and described the ruin of Ukhaidir , and continued to Babylon and Najaf. Back in Carchemish, she consulted with the two archaeologists on site. One of them was T. Lawrence , assistant to Reginald Campbell Thompson.
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In a letter to her stepmother, she recounts how she had the research room to herself and spoke to some Syrians from Damascus who were part of the ethnographic section of the exhibition. In , she completed her last and most arduous Arabian journey, travelling about miles from Damascus to the politically volatile Ha'il , back up across the Arabian peninsula to Baghdad and from there back to Damascus.
She was only the second foreign woman after Lady Anne Blunt to visit Ha'il and, arriving during a period of particular instability, was held in the city for eleven days. In , a year after Bell's death, her stepmother Florence Bell published two volumes of Gertrude Bell's collected correspondence written during the 20 years preceding World War I. She instead volunteered with the Red Cross in France.go to link
Excerpts from the Letters of Gertrude Bell
Later, she was asked by British Intelligence to get soldiers through the deserts, and from the World War I period until her death she was the only woman holding political power and influence in shaping British imperial policy in the Middle East. She often acquired a team of locals which she directed and led on her expeditions. Throughout her travels Bell established close relations with tribe members across the Middle East.
Additionally, being a woman gave her exclusive access to the chambers of wives of tribe leaders, giving her access to other perspectives and functions. She also again met T. Both Bell and Lawrence had attended Oxford and earned a First Class Honours in Modern History, both spoke fluent Arabic and both had travelled extensively in the Arabian desert and established ties with the local tribes before World War I.
Renowned archaeologist and historian Lt. David Hogarth recognised the value of Lawrence and Bell's expertise and upon his recommendation first Lawrence, then Bell, were assigned to Army Intelligence Headquarters in Cairo in for war service. Arriving in February , she did not, at first, receive an official position, but instead helped Hogarth set about organising and processing her own, Lawrence's and Capt.
Shakespear 's data about the location and disposition of Arab tribes. They could then be encouraged to join the British against the Ottoman Empire. Lawrence and the British used the information in forming alliances with the Arabs.
Gertrude Bell: the tragedy of her letters from Baghdad
On 3 March , Gen. Clayton abruptly sent Bell to Basra , which British forces had captured in November , to advise Chief Political Officer Percy Cox regarding an area she knew better than any other Westerner. Cox found her an office in his headquarters, where she was employed for the two days per week she was not at Military GHQ Basra. She became the only female political officer in the British forces and received the title of "Liaison Officer, Correspondent to Cairo" i.
She was St. John Philby 's field controller, and taught him the finer arts of behind-the-scenes political manoeuvering. I went out last week along the light railway 25 miles into the desert it's the Nasariyeh Railway General Maude, our new army commander, has just arrived. I've made his acquaintance Contrasting them with previous massacres, she wrote that the massacres of preceding years "were not comparable to the massacres carried out in and the succeeding years.
The battalion left Aleppo on 3 February and reached Ras al-Ain in twelve hours These Kurds were called gendarmes, but in reality mere butchers; bands of them were publicly ordered to take parties of Armenians, of both sexes, to various destinations, but had secret instructions to destroy the males, children and old women One of these gendarmes confessed to killing Armenian men himself No man can ever think of a woman's body except as a matter of horror, instead of attraction, after Ras al-Ain.
Due to her familiarity and relations with the tribes in the area she had strong ideas about the leadership needed in Iraq. She spent the next ten months writing what was later considered a masterly official report, "Self Determination in Mesopotamia". On 11 October , Percy Cox returned to Baghdad and asked her to continue as Oriental Secretary, acting as liaison with the forthcoming Arab government.
Her travels continued with two round-the-world trips: one in and one in From the turn of the century, Gertrude developed a love of the Arab peoples - she learned their languages, investigated their archaeological sites and travelled deep into the desert. This intimate knowledge of the country and its tribes made her a target of British Intelligence recruitment during the First World War. At the end of the war, Gertrude focussed on the future of Mesopotamia and was to become a powerful force in Iraqi politics, becoming a kingmaker when her preferred choice, Faisal son of Husain, the Sharif of Mecca and King of the Hijaz was crowned King of the state of Iraq in August Gertrude's first love remained archaeology and, as Honorary Director of Antiquities in Iraq, she established the Iraq Museum in Baghdad.
Her expedition through the Syrian Desert to Asia Minor was published as The Desert and the Sown and her study, in , of Binbirkilise on the Kara Dag mountain was published as The Thousand and One Churches and remains the standard work on early Byzantine architecture in Anatolia. Her later journeys were published as From Amurath to Amurath Among other works, Gertrude Bell also published Palace and mosque at Ukhaidir: a study in early Mohammadan architecture in Her romantic, sentimental attachment is to the other home, Rounton, a childhood idea of England.
Just before the installation of Faysal, the not-yet-Iraqi tribes rebel. The colonial administration wants to adopt the position vacated by the Ottomans and demands of each tribe a poll tax. These are the the tribes that had been promised sovereignty. When the tax goes unpaid, the aerial bombardment of villages starts. The film has some haunting footage of the shadows of warplanes on dusty desert dunes. Bell writes home, distraught, already blaming the curse it is that oil has been discovered in this land. Churchill had seen from the start of the war that oil independence for the empire would be the great strategic prize of the war as well as a tactical military requirement.
Her mother died when she was three; she was very close to her father, a rich, enlightened industrialist with whom she seems to have a relationship of mutual love and respect. He remarried when she was eight and she was sent away to school; the letters hint at a feeling of dutiful exile, of being turfed out of her garden of Eden. Perhaps living with exile is what prepared her so well to her subsequent colonial life and the desire she has of re-attachment; maybe it is also what makes her particularly sympathetic to the dispossessed subjects of empire to whom she becomes attached and whom she so tries to help.
She becomes the first woman to be awarded a first from Oxford in History, but late nineteenth century Britain has no suitable role for an intelligent, independent and forceful woman like her. Her step-mother relates, in an introduction to her collected letters , the following anecdote:. Her attitude to her so-called superiors is rather like the one she has to the mountains: powerful figures of frightening authority that she confronts and needs to overcome.