Gertrude Bell

Timelines: Ribbon of Remembrance Gertrude Bell

Fiona Hall, Communications and Retail Manager at the Green Howards Museum submitted this story about one of the most important women of the First World War (in fact of any) era.

I’m intrigued by this local hero – a complex character.

There’s not enough space here to describe the many achievements of Gertrude Bell, and that’s not the point of this entry. Although I do recommend you take some time to acquaint yourself with her if you are not already familiar with this fascinating woman – archaeologist, mountaineer, one of the first women to gain a degree at Oxford (a First in History) but an anti-suffrage campaigner, the first to work for British military intelligence, colleague of TE Lawrence, and also the first to write a government white paper.
She was born in 1868 into the sixth richest family in England, the granddaughter of the industrialist Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell, and lived in Redcar.
When war broke out her request for a government posting to the Middle East was denied. Instead she volunteered with the Red Cross, taking charge of the missing and wounded office in Boulogne. Meanwhile her brother, Maurice, a career soldier and Boer War veteran was commanding the 4th Bn The Yorkshire Regiment on the western front. Imagine working in the environment Gertrude was working in- with the very possible chance she may have to ‘process’ information about the fate of her own brother. Maurice was in fact invalided home in 1916 and died in 1944.

In 1915 she hears of the death of the man she loves as part of casual conversation at a dinner party. A married man, Dick Doughty-Wylie was killed in the Gallipoli campaign.
Despite all this, she goes on to be a key player in the political administration of the time, writing a masterful report ‘self determination in Mesopotamia’ and is pictured in a publicity line up photo on board a camel with the pyramids in the background in an image featuring both Lawrence and Churchill at the 1921 Cairo Conference.
This resident of Redcar died from an overdose of sleeping pills in July 1926 and is buried in Baghdad. There is a stunning stained glass window in her memory in St Lawrence Church East Rounton. The family’s arts and crafts country home, Rounton Grange, wasdemolished in 1950. It was hoped at one stage her childhood home, Red Barns in Redcar might be converted into a museum but appears to be earmarked for redevelopment for housing.


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