Conflicted Hearts – The Doughty-Wylie Correspondence – April 2015

Envelope returned to Gertrude, 29th April 1915, after Doughty-Wylie’s death (Bell (Gertrude) Archive)

The 25th April 2015 marks the centenary of the Gallipoli Campaign during World War I, where over 100,000 men lost their live. Amongst them was Lieutenant Colonel Charles Doughty-Wylie, who had already had a distinguished military career in Turkey and was respected both by his own troops and the Turks.

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Doughty-Wylie

Photograph of The Doughty Wylies in Consulate Gardens, May 1907
The Doughty Wylies in Consulate Gardens, May 1907 (Bell (Gertrude) Archive, I_250)

On 26th April Doughty-Wylie’s leadership and complete disregard for his own safety had succeeded in transforming the dispirited remnants of the landing force and in securing the beach at Gallipoli. While commanding the capture of the strategically important hill 141, armed only with a cane out of respect for his former Turkish allies, Doughty-Wylie was shot by a sniper and died instantly. The hill was renamed Fort Doughty-Wylie in his honour and he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross; the highest ranking officer to win the award during the Gallipoli campaign.

His lifelong connections to Turkey proved fatalistic in more ways than one and it is through his correspondence with explorer and archaeologist Gertrude Bell, whom he met there in 1907, that we come to understand him through our Gertrude Bell Papers. Although married to Lilian Doughty-Wylie, following a visit to the Bell family home in August 1913, their friendship became something more intimate. Their correspondence, nearing nearly 100 letters and beginning in that August, reflect on their mutual expertise and love of the Middle East, but moreover their long distance, growing affection for each other. Gertrude repeatedly addresses Charles as ‘Dearest heart of my heart’, and expresses despair on hearing he has been mobilised to active duty on 24th January 1915.

Gertrude Bell

Bell’s fears were well founded. His last letter was written five days before his death and her last two letters were written after. They were returned to Gertrude in the envelope pictured at the top on 29th April 1915 and eventually deposited along with the rest of her collection. Their affair remained a secret outside the Bell family and Doughty-Wylie’s letters to Gertrude did not become publicly available until after his wife’s death in 1960.

As part of our centenary commemorations, Bequest Student David Lowther transcribed all of this correspondence, which is now available on the Gertrude Bell website.

Gertrude Bell is also the subject of a Werner Herzog biopic due to be released this year ‘The Queen of the Desert’, the title of which springs directly from this correspondence. Writing on 28th December 1913, and fearing for the safety of Gertrude in her travels through Baghdad, Charles writes ‘And the desert has you – you and your splendid courage my queen of the desert – and my heart with you…’.

Special Collections were delighted to welcome, in January last year, actor Damian Lewis, who plays Charles Doughty-Wylie in ‘Queen of the Desert’ and researched his role by consulting these fascinating letters between two complex people.

Archivist, Geraldine Hunwick, pictured next to actor, Damian Lewis, in the Special Collections Reading Room.