LOUIS, 1st EARL MOUNTBATTEN OF BURMA
1960: The Death of Edwina, Countess Mountbatten of Burma
Edwina (right) visiting patients on her tour
in North Borneo - shortly before her death
Edwina making a speech in North Borneo
(in her role as Superintendent-in-Chief
of the St John's Ambulance Brigade)
Mountbatten (saluting his wife's coffin)
with his daughters Pamela & Patricia and other members of his family and officials
at Portsmouth as Edwina's coffin
arrives to board HMS Wakeful
Edwina's coffin (draped in the Union Flag)
onboard HMS Wakeful
Edwina's coffin is lowered into the sea
from the side of HMS Wakeful
Another view of the burial at sea of Edwina -
Mountbatten casts his wreath
following Edwina's coffin being buried
at sea in the Solent, off the coast of
Personal tragedy came to Mountbatten in February 1960. Having recently celebrated the marriage of their youngest daughter - The Lady Pamela Mountbatten, to the designer and interior decorator, David Hicks (1929-1998) on 13th January 1960 at Romsey Abbey, the subsequent untimely death of Edwina, dealt a heavy blow to Mountbatten and his family. Edwina had arrived in Jesselton, North Borneo (now Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia) on 18th February 1960, and although not being well, she carried on with her usual dedication, fulfilling a heavy list of engagements on behalf of both the St John’s Ambulance Brigade (of which she was its Superintendent-in-Chief) and the Save the Children Fund (of which she was its President). Despite the clear symptoms of overwork, Edwina carried on and worked through her illness. Edwina, Countess Mountbatten of Burma was found dead on the morning of 21st February 1960 - she was aged just 58yrs old.
On 25th February 1960, Edwina’s coffin (draped in the Union Flag) was taken from Romsey Abbey to Portsmouth as Edwina had asked to be buried at sea, which surprised many as she had never cared for the sea. Mountbatten, his family and the official guests boarded the Royal Navy frigate HMS Wakeful and headed out into the Solent.
The burial at sea of Edwina -
Mountbatten casts his wreath
following Edwina's coffin being lowered
into the sea in the Solent, off the coast of
After a brief service led by The Archbishop of Canterbury - The Most Rev & Rt Hon. Geoffrey Fisher, later The Lord Fisher of Lambeth (1887-1972), a Royal Marine bugler sounded "The Last Post" and "Reveille". At 2.28pm, Edwina's coffin was lowered into the sea, just off the Portsmouth coast - recorded at 50 deg 36min North, 0 deg 57min West. Mountbatten kissed his wreath (which was full of white flowers) and cast it into the sea. Edwina’s dearest friend - Nehru, the Prime Minister of India had dispatched an Indian Naval anti-submarine frigate (INS Trishul) to accompany HMS Wakeful on its solemn journey in a tribute to the last Vicereine of India, and more importantly of course - his very close friend. V.K. Krishna Menon (1896-1974), the Indian Minister for Defence, who was a former High Commissioner of India to the UK and great ally of Nehru, was charged with casting Nehru's wreath of marigolds into the sea on his behalf.
Following Edwina’s death, Mountbatten threw himself into his work and continued to work on his re-organisation of Britain’s defence. His experience as Supreme Allied Commander had shown him that there were great advantages in closer co-ordination between the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force - and being an officer in all three services was never forgotten and this became his immediate focus to get through the tragedy of the death of his wife. He cast a lonely figure without Edwina, but even without her 'sparkle', his sense of duty compelled him to 'keep going' and not give up the work they had started together.