Gertrude Bell

Having given a talk on Kitchener’s Ladies to the SA Military History Society, I received an email asking about Kitchener’s dealings with Gertrude Bell. Nothing significant had featured in my research to warrant a deeper search, she appeared to be a later generation than Kitchener although their paths did intersect. Gertrude’s name is more closely linked with Lawrence of Arabia and the peace discussions determining the fate of the Middle East after the 1914-18 war. To confirm my thinking, a quick online search brought to light the Gertrude Bell collection of letters and diaries at Newcastle University.

Kitchener’s name appears 7 times between 1900 and 1922 and each sheds some light on the great man while demonstrating that Gertrude moved in different, but overlapping circles.

2 March 1900 (letter) – On the relief of Ladysmith during the 1899-1902 war in southern Africa. The two men, Roberts and Kitchener had only been in southern Africa since early January and already their impact was being felt across the empire.

Roberts and Kitchener have done marvels and I fancy we have found a very able general in French.

18 March 1902 (diary) – The most likely of Kitchener’s brother, would be Walter Frederick, who served in the 1899-1902 war as a General, however it is recorded that he participated in a battle at Buschbult on 31 March 1902. His wife Carry (Caroline) had died on 1 November 1901 in Pretoria where she had gone to see her husband, knowing she was soon to die and although he had been given time off to spend with her, he was back on the battlefield about three months later. Walter died during his term as Governor of Bermuda in 1912. Kitchener’s other military brother and heir to the title, HEC, was by all accounts in Jamaica where he had retired from the army (to come back and serve in the East Africa campaign of 1914-18). A third brother, Arthur, an architect died in 1907. Little is known of his movements.

We walked halfway along this wall – magnificent view over Ephesus and the sea – and then scrambled down to the port and rode back to Karpouza’s where we lunched. Kitchener’s brother was there.

1 January 1903 (diary) – the next four mentions concern the coronation Durbar in Delhi soon after Kitchener arrived to take up his post as Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army. Kitchener was quite particular about his camp as a few of his female friends were to record. It brought out his competitive nature.

Saw Kitchener arrive and then the Veterans – a crowd of old men, white and native together. The whole horseshoe stood up and shouted and the bands played See the conquering hero.

3 January 1903 (letter) –

The Tylers are in Kitchener’s camp, but it was not very amusing because Gen. Tyler, wasn’t there [at the lunch Gertrude was attending].

4 January 1903 (diary) – Kitchener was well known for not being a good public speaker.

On the other hand Arthur told me that the Sanscrit College at Benares [Varanasi] is a great failure and the hotbed of sedition. Lord P. made a fair speech and Sir M.H.B. an excellent one saying he spoke to them as Lord P. and Lord Kitchener (he had been there the day before) cd not, as a graduate of an English University.

25 February 1903 (letter) – An enlightening snippet which confirms Kitchener’s dislike of paperwork. Curzon complained about Kitchener’s floor being littered with papers, so it’s not surprising he would need to take time out to tidy things in order to find them.

After breakfast we drove out to see wood carvings and missions, and then we did no more till we caught our train at 6, except arrange our rooms, like Lord Kitchener – Captain Brooke says he works furiously for 2 days and then arranges his room for 2 days!

5 January 1922 (letter) –

I’ve just read Lord Esher’s book about Lord Kitchener which is a very interesting human document, isn’t it. What a very big figure he just failed to be. Yet he did play a great part and if ever I meet his shade I should make it a curtsey. He was a greater man than I knew – it’s a pity he didn’t have a better biographer than Sir George Arthur.

George Arthur was one of the newest members of Kitchener’s team, having joined him in 1914 and wrote the biography within six years of Kitchener’s death, so not surprising that it turned out as it did. With the benefit of hindsight and objectivity, John Pollock’s biography is probably the best all round account of the man. My own work on Kitchener is an attempt to understand the human side of Kitchener and how he developed as a leader.

But back to Gertrude Bell (1868-1926), whose name is most well known with regards the Middle East and defining the boundaries of Iraq. As with Kitchener, she had an interest in archeology, but where his was a hobby, hers was her work. During World War 1 she was eventually based in Cairo working for the Arab Bureau translating Arabic intelligence into English.

Once again, a ‘simple’ question has led to a network of other links involving Africa.

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