[an error occurred while processing this directive] Oriental Institute | Pioneers to the Past | Continental Hotel, Cairo, Egypt
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Continental Hotel, Cairo, Egypt

June 10, 1920

The plot thickens! But I have not a minute to write you of it. Sheikh Ramadhan’s letter which he cunningly set the stage for me to carry, was evidently for the French! In Aleppo they told me Count de Caix had gone to Paris! He was in Aleppo at that very moment, reading the letter that Sheikh Ramadhan had foisted onto me! Lord Allenby has asked me to go to London and see Lloyd-George and Earl Curzon, to whom he has already given me letters. He is trying to arrange passage which is almost impossible even for him. I heard him tell his aide-de-camp: “Tell General Headquarters I regard it as very urgent that Professor Breasted should be given passage to England”. Meantime I am snowed under with things to do here. You will have received a cable from me of course, if I go to England, and on the ship at least I will be able to write you what has happened.

I fear the French got my Beyrut letter to you with full journal of the overland trip from Baghdad. How I wish I knew! Love to the children and their mother from JHB.

Two home letters! So glad. You wrote all about Charles’ plays. So interested! Your poem is dear. Can’t write more.

Continental Hotel, Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, June 10, 1920.

I failed to get the above off in time to get the registration before it closed, so I will add a few words before dinner and get it off in the morning. I have given you a hint above, of happenings dark and deep. The evening before I left Jerusalem, Garstang brought around General Waters-Taylor and his wife. He is the keenest Briton I have met out here, — a veritable sleuth! Garstang asked me to tell him of Sheikh Ramadhan’s letter. He looked through his note-book and jotted down carefully the dates I gave him. Then he said, “Count de Caix had not left for Paris when you were in Beyrut. In all probability he was in Aleppo, and he went there, among other things, to get the very letter you brought from Ramadhan”.

Well, there was no help for it, and it was not likely that we could find out just what was in the letter, but the next day General Waters-Taylor went down to Cairo from Jerusalem in the same train with me. He asked me into his reserved compartment and we talked all day. At Kantara in the north-eastern Delta, where you meet the Egyptian Railway at the Canal and change cars, we were met by Lord Stradbrooke, the Commandant at Kantara, who came down to greet the general, and as there was a wait of nearly two hours, Lord Stradbrooke took us up to his headquarters in his car, where we rested a bit and had some refreshments. I wish there were time to summarize the long day’s conversation with the general. All I can say is that he gave me the history of Sheikh Ramadhan, and the present situation. Ramadhan was an officer in Lawrence’s army, and lost part of his nose there, as I have told you, if my journal letter got through. After the armistice King Feisal gave him large sums of money to carry on propaganda in the north among the Kurds and Turks on his behalf. It was then discovered that he was carrying on propaganda in the interests of Mustapha Kamal, the renegade Turk (really a Saloniki Jew), who is head of the rebellious Young Turk party in Asia Minor and is leading a powerful army there. Feisal then recalled Ramadhan and afterward made him governor of Der el-Zor, where he led the Arab seizure of the place, and the imprisonment of the British officers, owing to the misunderstanding of which I gave you an account in one of my Baghdad letters. Now he is again flirting with the Turks of Mustapha Kamal’s outfit, but this time seemingly in the interests of the French! You remember earlier in this letter I have expressed my own surprise at Ramadhan’s not having used Nadji for carrying his letter. Now I know why. He is working against Feisal’s interest again, and made me his messenger to the French without my knowing it! Whose Bedwins were those who examined me at Baalbek as to whether I had delivered the letter? Ramadhan was running no risks. If I had not delivered the letter, — well, I wonder what would have happened.

As soon as I could get out yesterday morning I went to the Consulate, where I had my first home news for nearly a month. My, but it was welcome! Then I stepped over to the Residency to ask the Foreign Office to assist me in getting our baggage through the Customs. When they heard of the trip from Baghdad, they said they must tell Lord Allenby, and he sent out word that he would like to see me at once. I went in and as we began to talk, Sir Paul Harvey was brought in and Lord Allenby asked me if I could come to lunch as he had an appointment with Sir Paul which he could not postpone. The lunch was intended for a lot of diplomats. I sat next to a handsome Italian woman, Countess di Nobile, whose husband was something-or-other. General Waters-Taylor was there; General Congreve who is Commander-in-Chief of the Army in Egypt; Colonel Storrs, Military Governor of Jerusalem; etc., etc. Storrs said Sir Louis Bols had been caught more than once sitting at his business desk in his office reading Ancient Times — a breach of discipline for which they held me responsible! Allenby made me talk some and tell about our trip from Baghdad. There was present also a young Indian officer, a native of Kashmir named Nasir ed-Din, a captain in rank, who has just been appointed by the British government their representative in Mecca at the court of the new king, Hussain, Feisal’s father. I made arrangements to meet him at dinner here at the hotel and have a talk with him.

After lunch we wandered out on the broad balcony in the rear of the Residency, where a plate of small raw fish was brought to Lord Allenby, from which he proceeded to feed a comical looking marabout stork, which trotted up on the porch and smiled serenely while Lord Allenby poked fish at him. It made a very picturesque and amusing picture and I told Lord Allenby I was very sorry indeed I did not have my camera with me. Meantime General Congreve came over and talked with me about conditions in their territory in Western Asia, and I expressed my apprehensions regarding Palestine if the present policy were continued. I walked into the drawing room again with Storrs and Waters-Taylor, and Allenby presently joined us and drew me off into his office which adjoins the corridor leading to the drawing room. There in his direct way he led at once to the matter which was on his mind, saying, “Look here, Congreve has just suggested to me that His Majesty’s Government ought to hear what you know of Western Asia. Would it be possible for you to go home by way of England and have a talk with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister?” I told him I had already engaged passage via Naples for the United States, but that if I could do anything to bring the facts before the government in London I would certainly be very glad to do so, and would gladly alter my plans accordingly. Allenby then sat down and wrote with his own hand the two following notes:


Dear Prime Minister,

Professor Breasted, who carries this letter, is too well known to need introduction. He has just travelled through Mesopotamia, and by land to Aleppo. He has therefore the latest and best information on these regions.

I think it would be well worth your while to see him. He brings this letter to you at my request, not at his own suggestion.

      Yours sincerely


Dear Lord Curzon,

If you can give an interview to Professor Breasted, who brings this letter, I am sure it will be well worth your doing so. He has just come back from Mesopotamia, by land, through Arabia and Syria; and has the latest information in those regions.

                     Yours sincerely,

I must add a postscript to say that Professor Breasted brings this letter at my request, not at his own suggestion. In fact, his visit has upset his previously formed plans, as he was going straight from here to America.

Allenby then called in his aide-de-camp and said, “Communicate with General Headquarters and tell them I regard it is very urgent that Professor Breasted should be given passage at once to England. But, by the way, when do you want to go?” I replied, “As soon as possible”. “Very well then, probably you can get him a berth in the same ship Lady Allenby is taking”. As I went out, I said I devoutly hoped something could be done, for the present policy was steering straight for trouble. “Yes,” Allenby replied, “I think so too, and I have told them so, but they won’t listen to me. Perhaps they will take it from you”. So I left him, clearly troubled by the outlook, and he followed me to the door with the assurance that I should hear from him at the earliest possible moment about the ship for England. I walked across the Residency lawn to a carriage feeling very much in a dream and wondering much at the curious chances that thrust responsibility on one. This one came to me because I walked into the Residency to secure some help in a matter of baggage at the Custom House, and I came out charged with an international mission which may have something to do with saving Palestine from civil war, and the whole Near East from a conflagration.

Today I went to the young secretaries at the Residency with all our passports, including Ali’s. They sent a cavass over to the passport office to secure the necessary official permits for Bull and Edgerton to leave Egypt; but on my passport they put the big DIPLOMATIC VISA, with the seal of HIS MAJESTY’S HIGH COMMISSIONER, which means that my baggage goes in and out of every port and station on the way to England, without examination or delay. If I am obliged to go overland, they also telegraph to all the necessary points on the journey where I need assistance, and the entire English service of diplomatic secretaries and the like will be on hand to see me through. But all my visions of a quiet restful trip home have vanished; nevertheless I could not have refused to go.

Affectionately, James.

For the full story of my exciting trip you should come to the special exhibit “Pioneers to the Past: American Archaeologists in the Middle East, 1919-1920,” at the Oriental Institute!

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