EDWINA, COUNTESS MOUNTBATTEN OF BURMA
Edwina's Final Years
Edwina in the uniform of
of the St John's Ambulance Brigade
Following their return from India, Edwina was not happy. She loved India and its people and she was saddened at the continuing disharmony throughout the country. In addition, she no longer saw Nehru everyday - he was now Prime Minister of the Dominion of India, but they remained close, continually writing to each other. Mountbatten had also returned to the Royal Navy - a condition he imposed upon his appointment as Viceroy, and once again Edwina was faced with returning to Malta being a Naval Officer’s wife. Edwina subsequently arranged her life so that she could visit India (and of course her dear friend Nehru) and used her positions with the St John’s Ambulance Brigade and British Red Cross to ensure that any visit towards the Far East included a visit to New Dehli. As a result, Edwina’s timetable increased year by year and her workload became intense.
By 1957, Edwina saw a heart specialist (who promised complete confidentiality - even from Mountbatten!) and it was confirmed that her cardiac condition was poor and would only deteriorate to the extent that her life expectancy would be only three years if she continued to work as hard as she had, and that she should reduce her workload immediately. Noticing that Edwina was clearly ill, Mountbatten and their daughters implored her to 'slow down' - even requests from Queen Elizabeth II (1926(1952-2022) were ignored. In 1958, Edwina suffered a minor stroke, which temporarily affected her face. Edwina told people that she had dental treatment and did not appear in public for weeks. Just when her health seemed to improve, Edwina contracted a virulent form of chicken-pox from one her grandchildren and sadly never regained her strength. She went to India in January 1959 for a complete rest, but despite all the warnings she continued to carry out her scheduled tours throughout Canada and the USA.
A formal photograph of
Mountbatten & Edwina
in tropical uniforms
A formal photograph of Edwina in 1954
Edwina (left) with Nehru in New Dehli, India
for the 10th anniversary celebrations
of the founding of the Republic of India
Edwina's health continued to be of concern and in June 1959 she wrote to Nehru that she was 'not so good' and complained of being breathless. Prior to her forthcoming tour of Malaya and Borneo, Edwina saw her doctor who advised her not to 'over do it' as her angina had got worse, however true to Edwina’s usual behaviour, not a word was mentioned about how tired she was, how the chest pains had started to get worse and how ill she actually felt. On 16th November 1959, Edwina delivered a tribute speech at a dinner to celebrate Nehru’s 70th birthday. Nehru was to say that - "my birthdays are chasing me and I cannot escape them it seems… if anyone reminds me of my age I do not like it. But how to hide it? Everybody knows it!" Despite remaining in contact throughout their lives, this dinner would be the one of the last times they would meet.
LEFT: One of the last photographs of Edwina in the UK:
Edwina at Heathrow Airport, London -
leaving the UK for the very last time on 18th February 1960
ABOVE: David Hicks & Pamela
(youngest daughter of Edwina & Mountbatten)
following their wedding in January 1960
The Mountbattens celebrated on 13th January 1960 the marriage of their youngest daughter - Pamela, to the designer and interior decorator David Nightingale Hicks (1929-1998) at Romsey Abbey. The wedding was the usual Mountbatten organisational triumph, apart from the weather - which even Mountbatten could not control. Edwina put on a brave show for the wedding and it was commented how well she looked, however some of her family and friends begged her to cancel her forthcoming tour, but Edwina said - "I've simply got to go - I have to!"
A few days before her departure, on 11th February 1960, Mountbatten and Edwina accompanied his nephew - Prince Philip, 1st Duke of Edinburgh (1921-2021) to the premiere of the war-film "Sink The Bismark!" - which was produced by John, 7th Lord Brabourne, Mountbatten's son-in-law. The film, starring Kenneth More (1914-1982) and Dana Wynter (1931-2011) and directed by Lewis Gilbert (1920-2018), showed the story of the operations, chase and sinking of the Nazi German battleship Bismarck by the Royal Navy during the World War II. The charity event was held at The Odeon Cinema, Leicester Square, London, and was described as "the most splendid premiere London had seen for years." In the audience were senior officials from the Admiralty, survivors of the campaign and Spyros Skouras (1893-1971), President of 20th Century-Fox film company, flew in from Hollywood especially. It was however one of the last public events that Mountbatten and Edwina would attend together.
A title screenshot of the opening credits of John Brabourne's film "Sink the Bismarck!"
Edwina's last official duty in the UK was to open the 'War on Want' exhibition at the Central Hall, Westminster, London with the economist and MP, The Rt Hon. Hilary Marquand (1901-1972). Days later, Edwina was at Heathrow Airport, London and set off on 18th February 1960 on the first leg of her tour to Cyprus, Pakistan and then her beloved India. Despite being happy at being back in India, Edwina was feeling ill and not sleeping - and she refused to acknowledge her health issues. She continued with her exhaustive workload, and combined with the sweltering heat, no-one (even Nehru) would not know how on the edge of death she really was and her last days would be just a blur of pain and exhaustion.