'Ashar Creek - Basrah: (from Dockyard) - All the small boats are "bellums"', Mesopotamia, 1916 (c)
Panoramic photograph by Gertrude Bell (1868-1926), 1916 (c).
'Bellums' are oared or pole-driven boats common to the Persian Gulf.
Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell was born in 1868 in Washington New Hall, County Durham. She was educated at Queen's College in London and gained a first class pass in Modern History at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University.
After graduating from Oxford, Bell travelled extensively and wrote about her experiences. Her keenest focus was on the Middle East, its people, culture and history. Her knowledge of the region made her a useful intelligence asset during World War One (1914-1918). In 1916, after serving as a Red Cross volunteer in France, Bell was in Cairo, assisting the Arab Bureau and subsequently British Intelligence. In the Egyptian capital she was reacquainted with T E Lawrence who she had met in 1909 while visiting archaeological sites in Mesopotamia. In 1916 Bell was posted to Basra where she worked as a political officer, helping to create maps for British forces. Bell continued her work as an advisor in Baghdad after it was captured by the British in 1917.
Bell remained an influential figure, particularly in regard to Mesopotamia and the emergence of modern Iraq. Political machinations aside and in spite of poor health, Bell's love of archaeology and history led her to work on the establishment of what became the Baghdad Archaeological Museum; somewhere to house and preserve artefacts from the region, including those from her own excavation projects. What is now the Iraq Museum opened in June 1926 with Bell as Director. However the following month Bell died from what is believed to have been an overdose of sleeping pills. She was buried at the British Cemetery in Baghdad.
From a photograph album of 230 photographs compiled by Colonel William Leith-Ross, Army Staff, 1916-1917.
NAM Accession Number
National Army Museum, Out of Copyright
National Army Museum, Study collection