EDWINA, COUNTESS MOUNTBATTEN OF BURMA
1960: Edwina's Death & Burial at Sea
Edwina on a visit to a hospital in North Borneo
during her tour for the St John's Ambulance Brigade
Edwina arrived in Jesselton, North Borneo (now known as 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. As Superintendent-in-Chief of the St John’s Ambulance Brigade and President of the Save the Children Fund, Edwina's itinerary was nothing more than an ordeal, but she showed no sign of weakness. She carried on regardless despite "feeling wobbly around the knees", ensuring that no one would be 'let down' or even be aware that she was seriously ill.
After two days into her tour, Edwina's heath deteriorated and a doctor was called, despite this she insisted on attending an evening reception but left the party early. The next morning (21st February 1960) at 730am her assistant went to her room and found Edwina, Countess Mountbatten of Burma had died, surrounded by letters from Nehru - she was just 58yrs old. Following her death, the Anglican Bishop of Jesselton - The Rt Rev. James Wong (1900-1970) conducted a moving service over Edwina's coffin and the Acting Governor of North Borneo - Noel Turner, contacted General (later Field Marshal) Sir Richard Hull (1907-1989), the Commander-in-Chief Far East Land Forces, based in Singapore to send a plane urgently.
Edwina's coffin (draped in the flag of the Order of St. John)
on her final journey home
Edwina’s coffin (draped in the flag of the Order of St John) was then taken to Government House, Singapore and flown onto London on a Quantas Boeing 707 airplane and landed on 24th February 1960 at Heathrow Airport. Her coffin, which was met by her cousin - Marjorie Pratt, Countess of Brecknock (1900-1989), the Controller of the Overseas Department of the St John's Ambulance Brigade, was first taken to Broadlands and then to Romsey Abbey - where she lay before the altar until the morning of the funeral. Edwina’s death was clearly a bitter blow to Mountbatten and he was soon overwhelmed with the numerous telegrams of condolence from Heads of State, politicians and Servicemen and women throughout the World. In Mountbatten's diary of 23rd February 1960 he wrote - "I never realised how much I loved her and what she meant to me." Mountbatten said later - "it was a poleaxe blow. I simply couldn't grasp it." Following the tragic news of Edwina's death, Buckingham Palace announced in the Court Circular - "The Queen has received with great sorrow the news of the death of The Countess Mountbatten of Burma" and the Royal Family observed a week of Family Mourning.
The last photo (made into a portrait) of
Edwina, Countess Mountbatten of Burma,
Superintendent-in-Chief of the
St John's Ambulance Brigade -
Edwina with a 5yr old daughter of
a Gurkha soldier, whilst visiting
a British Military Hospital in Singapore
Edwina making a speech
in North Borneo during her tour for
the St John's Ambulance Brigade
A portrait of Edwina by Arthur Pan
In India, the Indian Parliament rose for two minutes silence prior to the start of business. Rajendra Prasad (1884-1963), the 1st President of India wrote in his message of condolence to Mountbatten - "let me hope that the fact your grief is shared by a very large number of people of this country, to whom she had endeared herself by her warm sympathy and untiring efforts to ameliorate the distressed, will help you bear this grievous loss." Nehru was seen to be dabbing his eyes as the Speaker of the House of the People (the Lower House) said of Edwina, that she was "a great friend of India, who took a leading part in accelerating Indian freedom." Nehru was bereft and inconsolable privately - almost as if a light of joy had been turned off forever. Of all the losses he had endured, Edwina's death was the one that affected him the most and he never recovered from the grief. In her will, Edwina had asked to be buried at sea, which surprised many as she had never cared for the sea, but humorously she had said many years before that the prospect of being buried in a cemetery in Romsey would be "bad for her claustrophobia". She also requested that instead of flowers, donations be made to the St John's Ambulance Brigade.
A distraught Mountbatten leading his family
out of Romsey Abbey behind Edwina's coffin
On 25th February 1960, Edwina’s coffin - draped in a Union Flag, was taken from Romsey Abbey to Portsmouth, Hampshire - the home of the British Royal Navy. Eight Broadlands estate workers carried the coffin out of Romsey Abbey, where 600 mourners joined Mountbatten and his family for a brief service. Thousands lined the streets of Romsey to witness the cortège travel to Portsmouth.
Edwina's coffin was officially met by Admiral Sir Manley Power (1904-1981), the Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth (who had been Mountbatten's Chief of Staff whilst he was Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean) and Admiral Sir Charles Lambe (1900-1960), who succeeded Mountbatten as First Sea Lord - who would sadly die a few months later. As the cortège passed through Portsmouth's Naval Dockyard, the route was lined by 120 sailors, 40 Wrens, 20 Royal Marines, soldiers from the Solent Garrison, airmen from RAF Thorney Island and members of staff from Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service (QARNNS), St John's Ambulance Brigade and the Red Cross.
The arrival of Edwina's coffin at Portsmouth Naval Dockyard
as her coffin is conveyed onboard HMS Wakeful
A short film by Pathé about Edwina's funeral at sea
Mountbatten was visibly moved when Edwina’s coffin was piped aboard the British Naval frigate - HMS Wakeful, an honour never known to be afforded to any woman other than the reigning Sovereign. Six Chief Petty Officers from HMS Mercury (the Royal Navy's Communication School - where Mountbatten himself trained as a Communications Officer) carried Edwina's coffin from the hearse to the quarterdeck of HMS Wakeful, where is was guarded by ratings from HMS Excellent.
ABOVE: Edwina's coffin is lowered into the sea from HMS Wakeful
RIGHT: An aerial view of HMS Wakeful
following with the wreaths being cast into the sea
Mountbatten (clearly grief stricken)
salutes Edwina's coffin as it arrived at
Portsmouth Naval Dockyard.
At his side is his eldest daughter -
Patricia, Lady Brabourne who later
succeeded her father as
2nd Countess Mountbatten of Burma
HMS Wakeful's Badge
Onboard HMS Wakeful, Mountbatten was joined by his daughters Patricia (with her husband - John, 7th Lord Brabourne); Pamela (with the husband - David Hicks); Edwina's sister Mary, Lady Delamere (1906-1986) with her sons from her first marriage - Michael (1928-2014) and Noel (1930-2017) ; Mountbatten's nephew - Prince Philip, 1st Duke of Edinburgh (1921-2021), who was accompanied by his mother - Princess Andrew of Greece & Denmark, formerly Princess Alice of Battenberg (1885-1969) and Mountbatten's sister; his nephew - David Mountbatten, 3rd Marquess of Milford Haven (1919-1970) and Edwina's cousin and oldest friend and confidante - Marjorie, Countess of Brecknock (1900-1989) who was accompanied by her son David Pratt, Earl of Brecknock, later 6th Marquess Camden (b.1930).
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.
On the morning of Edwina's funeral, a Requiem Service was also held in Edwina's memory at St Paul's Church, Knightsbridge, London led by The Revd. Donald B. Harris (1904-1996) - The Mountbatten's home in Wilton Crescent was within the Parish of St Paul's. Flags throughout Romsey (which had been raised to celebrate the birth of The Queen's third child - Prince Andrew, who was born on 19th February 1960), were lowered to half-mast, and it was recorded that the small town, in which Broadlands lay was noticeably quieter and locals were clearly saddened at the loss of 'Lady Louis' - who would often be seen walking around Romsey informally. At Romsey's Magistrates' Court, the Chairman of the Bench asked for a minute's silence for "a great lady... and a great humanitarian." The Court stood in silence, including the various defendants who were about to appear before the Magistrates.