Escape to the East

The London skies turned more somber than usual in the autumn of 1915, clouded with enemy aircraft and spattered with enemy bombs. The sound of the German planes, rumbling over Hampstead on one September day, drew Gertrude’s attention as she watched the raid from Elsa’s balcony. “We saw nothing, but the bursting shells,” she wrote to Florence. “I gather they didn’t do much harm.”

A few words hastily scribbled, her note showed neither fear nor a sense of relief. Gertrude, who had routinely composed lengthy, picturesque letters, was no longer able to express much feeling at all. She was numbed by the terrible loss of Dick. As her sister Molly wrote in her own diary: “It has ended her life—there is no reason now for her to go on with anything she cared for.… 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, and sorrow instead of maturing her mellow has dried up all the springs of kindliness.”

Friends could offer little comfort, and as content as she once had felt in solitude, she now ached from isolation. “It is intolerable,” Gertrude had written to Florence, “not to like being alone as I used, but I can’t keep myself away from my own thoughts, and they are still more intolerable.” England had become a place of heartbreak, its cold damp air clinging to her.

By November 1915, as the war against the Turks extended on the Eastern Front from Gallipoli to Mesopotamia, Gertrude was more anxious than ever to be back in the East. The people, the climate, the sense of urgency about the region all made her eager for a summons, but until now, it was considered too dangerous for a woman, and the Government had refused to let her go. Toward the middle of the month, however, she strode into work at Norfolk House and, rushing across the office, seized the arm of her friend Janet Hogarth, and drew her aside. “I’ve heard from David,” she told his sister excitedly; “he says anyone can trace the missing but only I can map Northern Arabia. I’m going next week.”

David Hogarth had written to Gertrude from Cairo, where he was in charge of gathering information for the office of Military Intelligence. The small espionage bureau, established only a year earlier, was staffed with a handful of political officers, archaeologists and journalists. Like Gertrude, they had previously supplied the Foreign Office with relevant details from their everyday work in the field. Now, with the growing momentum of war and an increasing need for information about the Arabs, Hogarth urged Reginald Hall, the Director of Naval Intelligence, to draft Gertrude as a spy.

She had waited impatiently for this moment; after more than a year of marking time, filling her hours with bureaucratic busy work, she could at last return to the part of the world that welcomed her as a Person. What’s more, she would go not as an observer, but as a participant, not as a bothersome traveler but as a knowledgeable practitioner, indispensible now to the same British officials who had tried so hard two years before to prevent her journey to Arabia. Her traveling expenses would be paid, and she would be given a billeting allowance. “I think I’m justified in accepting that, don’t you?” she asked her father.

In the house on Sloane Street, her maid Marie packed a steamer trunk with tunics and peg-topped skirts, satin corsets, knickers, petticoats and silk stockings, adding capes and coats for the cool Cairo evenings and parasols to protect her from the hot Egyptian sun. A week later, clothing, books and toiletries in order, Gertrude said farewell to Florence and Hugh, not knowing how long she would be away nor how far she would travel beyond Egypt. That was enough.

Her spirits high, she boarded the SS Arabia on November 19, 1915, and set sail from Southampton. Storms raged all the way from Marseilles to Port Said; the rough seas pitched the boat day and night, tossing it dangerously, turning most of the passengers green with seasickness. It was a “horrible journey,” Gertrude confessed, but she survived “triumphantly.” Five days later, on the night of Thursday, November 25, 1915, the ship reached Port Said. The following afternoon Gertrude arrived in Cairo, invigorated by the sight of her mentor, David Hogarth. By his side was his subordinate, the fair-haired, blue-eyed young man named T. E. Lawrence.

“Gerty!” the young man exclaimed.

“My dear boy!” Gertrude called in return. Lawrence had come—sloppily dressed, as always, his belt missing and his buttons unpolished—to meet her carriage and welcome her to Egypt. A ride on the dusty streets took them through a blend of East and West—a Levantine atmosphere thriving with Bedouin Arabs, Turkish traders, Jewish merchants, Sudanese servants, British officials and soldiers recalled from Gallipoli—until they reached the fashionable quarter of Ismailiya and the Hotel Continental, where Hogarth and Lawrence were billeted.

Gertrude surveyed the luxurious gardens and sumptuous surroundings, a whimsical combination of English gingerbread and Oriental elegance, and glanced at the guests sipping mint tea on the swag-covered verandahs. Egyptian bellboys in long nightshirts took her luggage, and she settled into her room, a well-appointed suite with modern fittings, private bath and covered balcony. After changing into a gown, she joined the two men and went down to her first dinner as a Staff Officer on the Military Intelligence team. There was much to catch up on, and as Gertrude sipped her Turkish coffee and puffed on a cigarette, she filled them in on news from home while Hogarth outlined the work to be done and Lawrence amused her with gossip.

When morning came, she marched to the telegraph desk to pen an urgent message home: send at once my new white skirt and purple chiffon evening gown, she wrote. That done, she was keen to start her day.

The local office of Military Intelligence, soon to be renamed the Arab Bureau, was installed in three rooms at the nearby Savoy. In peacetime, the hotel rivaled Shepheard’s as a stylish meeting spot for women as well as men, but now, as headquarters for the War Office, it had become a bastion of uniformed British males—khaki-clothed officers in high suede boots, swatting the air with fly sticks. Gertrude marched through the Savoy, tall and erect, her head topped with a feathered hat, her confidence overbrimming, but her high spirit was met with a stony reception. “The military people here are much put about how she is to be treated and to how much she is to be admitted,” Hogarth had written to his wife a few days before Gertrude arrived. “I have told them but she’ll settle that and they needn’t worry!”

He was right; Gertrude was impervious. Ignoring their suspicions, she stared them down and plunged into work, and after months of severe depression, her old enthusiasm reappeared. She was in her element, surrounded by males, toiling like a schoolgirl and excelling at her assignment. She was no longer a deflated balloon, left on the floor of a party, but a bubble floating higher and higher over the heads of the guests. On November 30, 1915, only a few days after her arrival, she wrote to Florence excitedly, “It’s great fun.” That same day Hogarth sent another letter to his wife: “Gertrude … is beginning to pervade the place.”

If there were sidelong glances from the military, there were welcoming smiles from others. Most of the members of the Intelligence staff—“Intrusives,” as they were code-named, for their unorthodox ways—were old acquaintances who had come to Cairo in December 1914 to carry out new jobs: Lawrence, who had been digging at Carchemish, was now making maps and writing geographical reports; Leonard Woolley, another Oxford archaeologist who had worked at Carchemish, was now in charge of propaganda for the press. Several people were her friends from the embassy in Constantinople: Wyndham Deedes was an expert on Turkish affairs and had received her report after the trip to Hayil; George Lloyd, a family friend and financial expert, had provided her years before with her most loyal Armenian servant, Fattuh; the Times correspondent Philip Graves, an authority on the Turks, had often invited her to his Constantinople home to dine. Still others she had met on her earliest travels: the brilliant Aubrey Herbert, who spoke at least seven languages, had lunched with her in Japan in 1903 when she was on a round-the-world trip; the pragmatic Mark Sykes, now on a fact-finding mission for the War Office, was the fellow adventurer she had first met in Jerusalem in 1905; the erudite Ronald Storrs had been Oriental Secretary in Egypt, a position he described as “the eyes, ears, interpretation and Intelligence … of the British Agent, and … much more.” In charge of them all was General Gilbert Clayton, a fatherly figure who believed in an Arab revolt. He had been working on the idea since November 1914, when he encouraged the ruler of Asir, near Yemen, to rebel against the Turks.

The office bustled with activity: men rushed about, bells rang and the air was charged with excitement.

On the Eastern Front, the war had begun with the battle at Gallipoli. It had been a strategic attempt to stave off the Turks before they could make two serious strikes: one at Egypt and the Suez Canal; the other at Mesopotamia (Iraq) and the nearby oil refineries in Abadan on the Persian Gulf. The interests of Military Intelligence in Cairo had centered, at first, on Gallipoli: on the size and whereabouts of the Turkish army in the Dardanelles, where the regiments were, how large they were, who commanded them and what ammunition they held. But with the British defeat at Gallipoli, the bureau’s focus had soon shifted to Mesopotamia, Arabia and the Gulf.

Success depended upon help from the Arabs. Years earlier, Gertrude had scoffed at the notion of Arab unity and denied the idea of Arab nationalism. But several factors had brought a change in Arab attitudes and, with it, an incipient Arab nationalist movement. The increasing weakness of the Ottoman Empire had caused the Sultan to reclaim his role as Caliph, the chief religious leader of the Muslims, threatening the religious leaders in Arabia. Concerned about competition from the Arabs, the Sultan had even exiled the Sharif Hussein, custodian of the holy places in Mecca and Medina and supervisor of the holy pilgrimage, to Constantinople. In addition, the desperate state of the Ottoman economy had resulted in higher taxation and deep inflation for the Arabs, while at the same time the thinly spread Ottoman army, engaged in too many costly wars, had relied on compulsory recruitment of Arabs. In Constantinople the Turkish reformers had forced a “Turkification” of the Ottoman world: Turkish rather than Arabic became the official language, angering the masses throughout the empire who spoke Arabic, the students and scholars who used Arabic as the language of education and the Muslims who considered Arabic the language of Islam. The reformers banned new political and ethnic organizations and shut down existing non-Turkish clubs, causing more resentment and pushing the Arab activists underground. Now that England was at war with the Turks, the Arab nationalists were a potential ally against the Ottomans.

In fact, the Arab tribes were torn between aligning themselves with the Turks (who, though they were unpopular occupiers, were also fellow Muslims) or the British (who represented a new rule but were, unfortunately, Christian infidels). There was even fear that the Arabs might call for a holy war against the British and the French. Nonetheless, if Military Intelligence could find the right Arabs—strong leaders, eager for independence and sympathetic to the British—they could pull off a rebellion against the Turks. The idea had been floating around for a while. In February 1914, a son of the Sharif Hussein of Mecca had arrived in Cairo to pay a call on the British Agent, Lord Kitchener, to test his support for an Arab revolt. Kitchener made no promises, but that same year Gertrude saw the importance of such a revolt when, in September 1914, after her trip to Hayil, she wrote in her official report, “I think we could make it pretty hot for the Turks in the Gulf.”

The key to success was information.

For a while T. E. Lawrence had been assigned the task of collecting data on the Arab tribes. The Intelligence bureau had knowledge of the Arabs of Western Arabia and the Hejaz, where the Sharif Hussein was in control of six hundred thousand members of the Harb confederation; but they had few details on the tribes in Iraq, the Gulf, or the Nejd. Gertrude was a formidable expert, more knowledgeable about the personalities and politics of the Arabs in Northern and Central Arabia than anyone else (and the last European to have visited that region), not to mention—thanks to her six long desert treks—her familiarity with the tribes of Syria and Mesopotamia. As Mr. Lorimer, the British representative in Baghdad, said, he had “never known anyone more in the confidence of the nations” than Gertrude.

Now, seated at a desk in Hogarth’s office, she quickly began to fill in the missing pieces in the files. Within a few weeks she was given an office of her own and took over the tribal work, while Lawrence was “mostly writing notes on railways, & troop movements, & the nature of the country everywhere, & the climate, & the number of horses or camels or sheep or fleas in it … and then drawing maps showing all these things.”

With papers strewn everywhere, her ashtray overflowing, Gertrude worked till seven each night cataloguing the Arab clans. Her talent for detail proved invaluable: she recorded everything she knew about the tribes and the desert, recalling the campsites, the water wells, the railway lines, the topography and the terrain; she noted the tribes’ numbers, their lineage and their sheikhs; she analyzed their personalities and assessed their political alliances. There were some who were feuding and others who were rivalrous friends; some who could be trusted and others who could not; some whose strength was waning and others who were on the rise. There were some, she wrote, like the weakened Ibn Rashid, whose territory ran close to the Mesopotamian borders, whose purse was filled by the Turks and whose headquarters, Hayil, had once been the center of operations for Ottoman influence in Arabia. And there were Ibn Saud and the Sharif Hussein of Mecca, who were now “the most powerful chiefs in Arabia,” but whose authority over the desert was personal and fleeting, never permanent, and whose regard for each other was filled “with jealous anxiety.”

Much of what she recorded she knew from personal experience, and what she did not know she learned by interviewing Arab nationalists who came to the office in search of British backing. “They come up and sit with me by the hour,” she explained in an uncensored letter to Lord Robert Cecil, who was now Parliamentary Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs. With their help she corrected the names of places, people and tribes, and in the course of conversation she heard about “remote people and near people who were little but shadows before.” Some of the nationalists were from Arabia and followers of the Sharif Hussein; some, like Aziz al Masri, lived in Egypt and were determinedly anti-Turk; others, such as the wily Sayid Talib of Basrah, the brazen Sharif Muhammad al Faroki, the sophisticated Nuri Said, and the military expert Jafar al Askari were Mesopotamians, officers of the Ottoman army who had created a secret Iraqi society against the Turks. For Gertrude, to talk with them was a taste of earlier travels, and she relished the discussions. “It is great fun,” she wrote.

Her mornings entailed an hour session with an Arabic tutor, “a charming little man,” who sat with her on the balcony as they read and practiced conversation, chatting about people and places they knew. The rest of her day she spent at the office, but only a week after she arrived in Cairo, she wrote disappointedly to Florence, “Mr. Hogarth leaves tomorrow, to my great sorrow. He has been a most friendly support.” She favored quiet meetings with colleagues, and in the evenings, when she returned to her hotel, there were others to sit with at dinner, especially T. E. Lawrence. “Usually I dine here with Col. Wright, Mr. Lawrence and a party of people,” she noted in her first letter home; “we all share the same table.”

Although they came from opposite social strata—she, a scion of one of England’s most prominent families; he, a bastard from the lower middle class—Gertrude and Lawrence were much alike. Oddities, and out of the mainstream, both were loners who felt more at ease in the empty desert than in the crowded drawing room. To them, the Bedouin were more accepting than the British. As Gertrude had written earlier: “You will find in the East … a wider tolerance born of greater diversity … the European may pass up and down the wildest places, encountering little curiosity and of criticism even less. The news he brings will be heard with interest, his opinions will be listened to with attention, but he will not be thought odd or mad, nor even mistaken, because his practices and the ways of his thought are at variance with those of the people among whom he finds himself.” Her words described herself and Lawrence.

As protégés of Hogarth, Gertrude and Lawrence saw eye to eye on the East. Over their evening meal, they conspired about the Sharif Hussein and how to keep him in line; abhorred the French and talked about how to limit their role in Syria; worried about the government in India and how to convince it to support a desert revolt by the Arabs; and concurred over the feuds between the Foreign Office, the War Office, the India Government and their own Cairo bureau. Because of the censors, little of their conversations reached home.

Despite the disastrous battle at Gallipoli, the war now going on in Mesopotamia and the constant threat of a Turkish attack on the Suez Canal, an eerie air of celebration surrounded Cairo; its inhabitants were like children at play, oblivious of the anxieties of the adult world. Prosperous civilians and smart-looking officers entertained themselves on the tennis courts, the polo grounds or the racetrack of the Sporting Club; Wednesday evenings meant dances at the Majestic Hotel, and every night there were lavish dinners at Shepheards or stylish parties at home. Cairo was exhilarating. Henry McMahon, the British Resident, and his “charming [and] agreeable” wife even extended Gertrude a standing invitation to dine with them whenever she liked.

When she visited and gave Sir Henry her unequivocating advice, they mostly talked about an Arab revolt against the Turks. Since June 1915, six months after he arrived in Cairo to replace Lord Kitchener, Sir Henry McMahon, with the help of the Arab Bureau, had been corresponding with the Sharif Hussein of Mecca. The Sharif was one of the three most powerful men in Arabia—the others being Ibn Rashid and Ibn Saud—his territory of the Hejaz extending across the western region of Arabia and including the holy cities of Mecca and Medina as well as the thriving port of Jeddah and the mountain resort of Taif. As a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad and guardian of Mecca, the Sharif Hussein was the most important religious figure of the three Arabian chiefs, and thus a welcome ally for the British. Letters and messages had been flying through the desert since Kitchener’s time, and now McMahon was floating bubbles, negotiating the terms of an alliance in which, with the help of British funds and support, the Sharif Hussein planned to strike against the Turks. In return for his help, the British made vague promises of an Arab kingdom after the war. As a show of good intentions, McMahon had already sent the Sharif a down payment of twenty thousand pounds.

“The negotiations with the Sharif have … been very skilfully conducted,” Gertrude wrote knowingly to Lord Robert Cecil. Indeed, so skillful were they that the precise extent of British promises to the Sharif became the subject of bitter controversy for many years between Arab nationalists and British colonialists. But Gertrude was concerned about the Sharif Hussein. “From all the information that comes in he seems to have acquired a very remarkable position in Arabia, but his strength is moral, not military,” she argued, and suggested that Hussein’s rival Ibn Saud should also be drawn to the British side. At her insistence and upon the advice of others, the British put Ibn Saud on the payroll, at almost ten thousand pounds a month. By the end of the war he would defeat Ibn Rashid at Hayil, and by 1925 he would dethrone the Sharif Hussein and rule all of Arabia.

Nurtured by its British nannies in Cairo, an Arab uprising was in the air, coming closer to reality, but “meanwhile,” she noted to Lord Robert, two troublesome factors stood in the way: the French, who controlled much of Syria; and India, whose Viceroy controlled British troops in Mesopotamia and the Gulf and who did not wish to see a war in Arabia.

McMahon’s oblique letters suggested to the Sharif Hussein that he would have a kingdom extending from the parts of Arabia he already controlled to Mesopotamia and most of Greater Syria, including all of TransJordan and some of Palestine. But the British knew they did not have the authority to hand over these areas to the Sharif without the French having a say. Since the days of the Crusades, France had established and maintained strong political and commercial ties in Syria in the vilayets of Aleppo, Damascus and Beirut.

While Sir Henry McMahon was drawing a blurry picture of a future Arab kingdom, Mark Sykes was smoothing the way for a future pact between the British and the French. He had been sent by the Foreign Office in the summer of 1915 on a six-month trip to the region to assess the feelings toward a postwar Arab state. Gertrude and Lawrence tried to convince Sykes that the French should be given only a minimum of territory.

Just back from a tour of the Middle East and India, Sykes talked to Gertrude for hours, as they discussed the Arabs and their sentiments toward both the British and the French. Sykes agreed with Gertrude “that the Arabs can’t govern themselves,” she wrote to Lord Robert; “no one is more aware of that than I.” But she believed that the Arabs would be dependent upon the British and would willingly approach them for advice on running their new state after the war. Her major concern was the French. She believed that the French would ignore the Arabs’ needs and thus provoke them, risking the possibility of a future Arab war against the West. She tried hard to convince Sykes that, on the heels of eventual victory, France should be given only a corner of northern Syria, along with the mostly Christian area of Lebanon. In spite of her efforts, however, by the time he returned to England in December 1915, Sykes was prepared to agree with a French official, François-Georges Picot. Picot demanded that Syria, from the Mediterranean to the Tigris, be given to France.

In the area of Mesopotamia—which included Basrah and Baghdad—however, Sykes agreed with Gertrude. There the Arab nationalists could help in defeating the Turks, but it was the British Government in India, not the administration in Egypt, that had political and military authority over Mesopotamia and Arabia.

In November 1914, the India Expeditionary Force D had been sent to seize Basrah from Turkish troops, and, having succeeded, was now under the command of General Townshend, battling its way to Baghdad. Sykes’s mission in Delhi had been to try to convince the Viceroy, Lord Hardinge, to support and finance an Arab revolt, which would lead to a future Arab kingdom, including Mesopotamia. But Hardinge considered the revolt a dangerous idea. Great Britain was the largest Muslim empire in the world. Its tens of millions of Indian Muslims were members of the Sunni sect; their holy leader, the Caliph, was the Sultan of Turkey. Hardinge worried that the Indian Muslims under his domain, who were not Arabs, would be unsympathetic to an Arab rebellion against the Sunni Muslim Turks, and that they would be angered by any turmoil near the Muslim holy sites. He refused to support an Arab movement.

But what upset him even more was that McMahon promised to give Mesopotamia to the Sharif Hussein. The port of Basrah was of vital interest to the British. It was a strategic point from which the British guarded the Persian oil fields and the installations at Abadan, the largest oil refineries in the world; in addition, Basrah served as a strategic link on the route to India. Furthermore, the city of Baghdad, where the British had been established since the 1600s, was an important commercial center and involved all of their trade in the Gulf. To the British officials in the service of the India Government, the Arabists in Cairo were creating a “Frankenstein Monster.”

The British Government of India wanted to annex Mesopotamia. Furious with his Cairo colleagues, Viceroy Hardinge lashed out in a letter to the Foreign Office: “I devoutly hope that this proposed Arab State will fall to pieces, if it is ever created. Nobody could possibly have devised a scheme more detrimental to British interests in the Middle East than this. It simply means misgovernment, chaos and corruption, since there never can be and never has been any consistency or cohesion among the Arab tribes.… I cannot tell you how detrimental I think this interference and influence from Cairo have been.”

By the end of 1915 the Arab Bureau was desperate. The British administration in Egypt and the British Government in India eyed each other as rivals: Cairo was in charge of Egypt and the Sudan; India was in charge of overseeing the sheikhdoms and emirates of the Persian Gulf. Both governments toyed with the question of who would control the future Middle East. The India Government wanted to maintain its authority in Arabia and to annex Iraq; the Egypt administration wanted to create an Arab kingdom extending from Arabia to Iraq, over which the British would have influence but far less control and, presumably, at far less cost.

There was little communication between Cairo and Delhi, and the telegrams that were sent were not much more than brusque formalities. In a letter to her father, sent by diplomatic pouch, Gertrude wrote: “There is a great deal of friction between India and Egypt over the Arab question which entails a serious want of co-operation between the Intelligence Departments of the two countries and the longer it goes on the worse it gets.”

In order to move ahead with their plans for an Arab uprising, Cairo needed Hardinge’s support. The Viceroy alone could provide the men, the money and the arms. There was only one person who could possibly persuade Hardinge to change his mind. Gertrude had known Hardinge since her youthful trip to Bucharest when both he and Domnul came to visit her uncle, Ambassador Frank Lascelles. Now, with Domnul, a close friend of Hardinge’s, in India working on a special project for the government, she was encouraged by her chief, General Clayton, to pay him a call.

“So I’m going,” she wrote to her father. “I feel a little nervous about being the person to carry it out … but the pull one has in being so unofficial is that if one doesn’t succeed no one is any the worse.”

“I’m off finally at a moment’s notice to catch a troop ship at Suez,” she wrote on January 24, 1916, hardly betraying her anxiety; “I really do the oddest things.” The SS Euripides was crowded with military men, two battalions of soldiers on their way to India. “The cat and I are the only two people not in uniform,” she scrawled to Florence. The five-day cruise ended in Karachi; from there, she took the railway line to Delhi. She arrived, coated in dust on an icy cold morning; Domnul, still red-haired but plumper, was waiting on the platform.

Taking her in an official car, Domnul motored with her to her quarters, a luxurious tent with a sitting room, bedroom and bathroom, and stayed to talk while she breakfasted. A short while later the Viceroy appeared. Gertrude curtsied and launched her case. “He is very anxious that I should return to somewhere in the neighbourhood of my old hunting grounds,” she wrote home excitedly, referring to Iraq.

After lunch at the Viceroy’s residence, she presented him with a memorandum on what she felt she could do to improve relations between India and Egypt. For all his power as head of India, Hardinge was out of the loop. Actions were being taken and policies set in Cairo without his consultation. He was eager for better communications, and with his help she set to work, meeting with officials from India Intelligence headquartered in Simla, digging through Intelligence dossiers to add information to her tribal report, working with officials in India Foreign Affairs, using every opportunity to argue for support of an Arab revolt. She found them “curiously eager to talk—much more than I expected,” and was asked by India Intelligence to serve as an editor for a publication they were compiling, a Gazetteer of Arabia. After three weeks she deemed her visit a success, writing proudly to her father: “I think I have pulled things straight a little as between Delhi and Cairo.” In another note she added, “It is essential India and Egypt should keep in the closest touch since they are dealing with two sides of the same problem.”

But her greatest interest was in Mesopotamia. In a note to Captain Hall, the Director of Naval Intelligence, she wrote: “I remember your putting your finger on the Bagdad corner of the map and saying that the ultimate success of the war depended on what we did there. You are one of the people who realised how serious are the questions we have to face.”

Whatever happened, the British needed Iraq. Its huge grain supplies could feed the army, its proximity to oil could fuel the navy, and its location put it at the center of the land route to India. Mesopotamia, it was hoped, would be the place where the British could stave off the Turks by setting the Arabs against the Ottoman army. At the end of February 1916, Gertrude bade farewell to Domnul and Hardinge, and, having established a new line of communication between India and Egypt, with the Viceroy’s blessing she set sail for Basrah.

From its position at the head of the Gulf, near the convergence of Iraq, Kuwait, Arabia and Persia, few places served as better listening posts, and few people were better equipped to listen than Gertrude. For the next few weeks, she was told by Hardinge, her mission was to gather information from the Arabs and to act as a liaison between British Intelligence in Cairo and India Intelligence in Delhi.

She would be the eyes, the ears, the lips and the hands of Great Britain, watching, listening, talking to and stroking the Arabs of Iraq. It would be her job to convince the Arab tribes to cooperate with the British. But she would be working without an official position.

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