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The Last Viceroy of India

Now the War was over, Mountbatten - who held the substantive rank of only a Captain, wanted to return to the sea.  The Royal Navy was his life, and he was told that he would be appointed to command the 1st Cruiser Squadron in the Mediterranean Fleet, following the successful completion of a Senior Officers’ Technical Course at Portsmouth, but he had more challenges ahead of him.


At the request of their respective Prime Ministers - The Mountbattens were invited to the Dominions of Australia and New Zealand.  In March 1946 they were officially welcomed in Canberra by Mountbatten’s cousin - Prince Henry, 1st Duke of Gloucester (1900-1974), the third son of King George V (1865(1910-1936), who had been appointed Governor-General of Australia on 30th January 1945. The people of Australia were wildly excited by their visit and they much to boost post-War morale. They were the talk of society and whilst there, Edwina visited various hospitals and Red Cross units - and it was generally thought that Mountbatten would be appointed Governor-General of Australia upon Prince Henry's term of office ending.  However, the politics of the post-War world were changing and his talents were called upon to fulfil another job.   He was summonsed to Downing Street by the then Prime Minister - The Rt Hon. (Sir) Clement Attlee, later 1st Earl Attlee (1883-1967) to succeed Field Marshal The Rt Hon. Sir Archibald Wavell, Viscount, later 1st Earl Wavell (1883-1950) to be the next and ultimately the last Viceroy of India.  For it was to Mountbatten, that the British Government chose to take on the task of bringing the British Raj to an end and give the people of India the freedom they desired.  Of course with a country of over 400 million inhabitants, how to please all the different religious, civil and Princely leaders seemed an impossible job.  He understood that there was a real chance of failure and failure was not something that Mountbatten had ever experienced.  

A short film (no audio) by Pathé of the ceremonial

of Mountbatten being sworn in as Viceroy of India


Mountbatten & Edwina on the Vice-regal thrones

within the Durball Hall (Throne Room)

of The Viceroy's House, New Delhi


Mountbatten & Edwina in Vice-regal splendour

following his installation as Viceroy of India

With some trepidation, Mountbatten accepted the post of Viceroy of India but he demanded full plenipotentiary powers (ie: to act completely independently of the British Government’s India Office), which Attlee reluctantly agreed to.  However, it seemed right to all that a war-hero, with a positive public profile, who was the cousin of the King-Emperor and a great-grandson of Queen Victoria (1819(1837-1901) would be the last Viceroy of India and supervise the sunset of the British Empire, which the British Government had stated must end by June 1948.  Mountbatten said at the time - "I want you to regard me not as the last Viceroy winding up the British Raj, but as the first to lead the way to a new India".  

The Mountbattens arrived in New Delhi on 22nd March 1947, and said farewell to Viscount Wavell (his predecessor) and his wife.  Two days later - in a glorious colourful ceremony full of Vice-regal pomp and pageantry (not seen for many years) within the Durbar Hall (Throne Room) of The Viceroy's House, Mountbatten was sworn-in as the last Viceroy of India and Governor-General of India by The Rt Hon. Sir Patrick Spens, later 1st Lord Spens (1885-1973), the Chief Justice of India - the first time the ceremony was photographed, filmed and witnessed by every day Indians - not just the elite.


Mountbatten & Edwina - the Viceroy & Vicereine of India, seated upon the Vice-regal thrones

within the Durbar Hall (Throne Room) within The Viceroy's House 

Upon the Vice-regal throne, Mountbatten - dressed in full Vice-regal robes on top of his Naval uniform, glistening with numerous medals and decorations said - "This is not a normal Viceroyalty on which I am embarking... I believe that every political leader in India feels as I do the urgency of the task before us.  It will be no easy matter to succeed Lord Wavell, who has done so much to take India along the path to self-government.  I have always had great admiration for him and I will devote myself to finishing the work which he began...  I am under no illusion about the difficulty of my task...  I shall need the greatest goodwill of the greatest number of people and am asking India today for that goodwill."   Mountbatten’s presence was felt from day one, and Mountbatten immediately set to establish dialogue and contact with all the key figures of Indian politics with members from all sides being invited to official functions and traditional Indian cuisine being offered.


The Vice-regal family at the Vice-regal Lodge, Simla - the Summer capital of British India

(left to right) Pamela; Mountbatten, Edwina (feeding her dog - Mizzen)

On 4th June 1947, Mountbatten held a press conference and took his own staff completely by surprise and suddenly announced his idea for the solution of India, with a date of full transfer of powers to take place on 15th August 1947.  So instead of fifteen months, they had a matter of just 10 weeks to arrange the mammoth task.  Although Mountbatten had always wanted to hand over a unified India, it became clear that the only acceptable solution was to create a separate independent Pakistan in addition to an independent India. 


Mountbatten, Viceroy of India at his desk


HE Muhammad Ali Jinnah,

Governor-General of Pakistan (left)

with Mountbatten and Edwina

at the Pakistani Independence ceremony


ABOVE: Jawaharlal Nehru,

the Prime Minister of India (right),

with Mountbatten (later Governor-General of India)

& Edwina at the Indian Independence ceremony

RIGHT: Mohandas K. Gandhi (left)

with Mountbatten

BELOW: The Mountbattens with Gandhi (centre)

at The Viceroy's House, New Delhi, India in 1947

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On 21st June 1948, Mountbatten handed over the office of Governor-General of the Dominion of India to the veteran Indian politician - Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari (1878-1972), the first Indian born to hold the office.  On the eve of their departure, The Mountbattens were guests of honour at a banquet where their contribution to India was lavishly praised by the Prime Minister - Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964).  Nehru was to say - "I wondered how it was that an Englishman and Englishwoman could become so popular in India during this brief period of time". 


Edwina making a short speech

at their official 'farewell' dinner at

Government House with a bereft

Jawaharlal Nehru (right),

The Prime Minister of the Dominion of India


Edwina, Mountbatten and Pamela (left)

within the gardens of The Viceroy's House


The flag of Pakistan


The flag of India

As the astrologers indicated that the 15th August 1947 was an inauspicious date, it was decided that Indian independence would date from the last stroke of midnight on 14th August 1947, with a formal ceremony in Delhi.  A separate ceremony would then follow in Karachi for the birth of Pakistan. At 8.30am on 15th August 1947, Mountbatten was sworn in as Governor-General of the new Dominion of India, to oversee the transition from British rule.  Although the celebrations were joyous, peace was not everlasting.  With separation brought thousands of Muslims and Hindus crossing to their chosen new independent land and by 27th August 1947, Mountbatten calculated that over 10 million people were on the move throughout the country.  During this period, Mountbatten’s wife Edwina - always referred to as 'Lady Louis', continued her efforts working with refugees and earned the undying love of the people for her untiring devotion.  She would go from camp to camp, hospital to hospital and personally would intervene in an effort to improve sanitation.



The Indian sub-continent remained in chaos until the assassination on 30th January 1948 of Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948), the great spiritual leader of Indian independence. Gandhi - known as 'Mahatma', had campaigned and protested for independence for India and was opposed to the concept of partition, which contradicted his vision of religious unity.  Dr Stanley Wolpert (b.1927) has argued that - "the plan to carve up British India was never approved of or accepted by Gandhi... who realised too late that his closest comrades and disciples were more interested in power than principle, and that his own vision had long been clouded by the illusion that the struggle he led for India's independence was a non-violent one."   In death he brought people together and soon after peace was secured.  To show their personal support, Mountbatten, Edwina and Pamela attended Gandhi's funeral.

Edwina, Mountbatten and Pamela

at the funeral ceremony of Mohandas K. Gandhi



Mountbatten taking the final salute

as Governor-General of the Dominion of India, 

with Edwina by his side and Pamela (far right)
as they leave Government House, 
New Delhi

(the former Viceroy's House) 

The partition displaced between 10-20 million people along religious lines, creating overwhelming calamity in the newly-constituted Dominions.  It is often described as one of the largest refugee crises in history.  There was large-scale violence, with estimates of the loss of life accompanying or preceding the partition disputed and varying between several hundred thousand and two million.  The violent nature of the partition created an atmosphere of hostility and suspicion between India and Pakistan that affects their relationship to this day.  The Prime Minister - Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) said to Mountbatten at their final official dinner - "maybe we have made many mistakes, you and me.  Historians a generation or two hence will perhaps be able to judge what we have done right and what we have done wrong...  we did try to do right, and I am convinced that you tried to do the right thing by India, and therefore many of our sins will be forgiven us and many of our errors also."


Mountbatten & Edwina in the Governor-General's State Landau departing Government House, New Delhi

(and India) for the last time

In Mountbatten's farewell speech as Governor-General on 20th June 1948, he said - "When I was first asked to interrupt my Naval career to become the last Viceroy of India, I must confess that I viewed the prospect with considerable trepidation.  After serving in South East Asia from 1943-1946, during all of which time I had a rear headquarters in Delhi, I felt that I could to some extent appreciate the complexity of the situation which would confront the Viceroy on whom the task of transferring power would fall.  But when I arrived out in India, and was able to see the problem for myself at close quarters, it appeared to present even more difficulties than I had supposed.


There was one bright feature, however, in the general gloom – and it was perhaps the most important feature that one could have wished for.  This was the determination of all those with whom I had to deal – whether they were leaders in the political field or in any other walk of life, that a realistic solution could, and must be found.  And from the moment that I arrived, difficulties which had seemed insurmountable began to melt in the atmosphere of mutual trust and goodwill, with which those leaders combined to help me in my task.


I can never say with what emotion I received the invitation (which was generously ratified by the Constituent Assembly as its first act during the midnight meeting of the 14th/15th August) to be the first constitutional Governor-General of free India during the interim period.  I gladly agreed to stay on until 31st March 1948 (the date specifically mentioned in the Indian Independence Act, as the end of the interim period) and, later, I was deeply honoured by the invitation to extend this time until June.


It has been difficult to decide at what juncture it would be in India’s best interests that an Indian should be appointed in my place, but I hope that time will show that I have stayed long enough to be useful; but not too long, so as to deprive India of the right which her freedom has conferred on her, to choose one of her own people to be head of the State.  It is a particular pleasure to me that the choice should fall on my friend Rajaji, for no one is better qualified to take over the post.


It has been an unforgettable experience for myself and my family to have been privileged to be in India during these past historic fifteen months.  India has a great history behind her, and she has a great history ahead of her.  She has many problems, grave problems such as would be bound to face any nation suddenly achieving freedom – but magnified in her case by the fact that this freedom has been attained at a time of unparalleled world-wide difficulties, and in a country that contains nearly one-sixth of the human race.  But I know that she will solve these problems, and that her difficulties will be surmounted.


India is destined to fill a high place in the world and to play a high part in the world’s affairs.  India is potentially as rich as a country as any in the world.  Quite apart from the wealth within the ground itself, such as coal, iron ore, manganese and all the other valuable minerals.  Quite apart from the immense possibility of further prosperity from hydro-electric power and irrigation schemes, there remains the greatest source of wealth that any country can have – the hundreds of millions of its ordinary people.  For with them rest not only the age-long traditions of manual labour, but the inheritance of the new technical age and the ever-increasing skill which further training will provide.  Inventive genius, which is latent in the Indian people, can now be harnessed as never before for the benefit and prosperity of themselves and of the whole world.  Clearly the spread of universal education and the advance of social service and conscience are essential if these creative forces are to be fully realised.  These things will come about, but for all that, India’s greatest asset will, I am sure, always lie in the character of her people.  I myself saw the most stupendous crowds in my life in India – on Independence Day, at Gandhiji’s funeral, at the Mela at Allahabad and on other historic occasions.  The good nature and friendliness of these vast masses were unforgettable.  I realised then, that I was seeing before me the future of India’s future greatness. 


Your draft constitution takes its place among the great documents of liberty and human rights.  Be worthy of it.  Goethe wrote that “only he is worthy of true freedom who is prepared to establish it in himself in his everyday life.”  It is not the fact that high ideals are written into your constitution that will help you, but the stern resolve with which you yourselves determine to suppress all that could militate against these ideals being put into practice.


I would like to end this talk on a personal note.  During the last fifteen months in India, my wife and I have visited every single province and the majority of the major states; and wherever we have gone, we have been received with universal friendliness and kindness.  My wife, who has been so closely associated with welfare work (particularly among refugees and abducted women), has had an even greater opportunity of meeting the people than I have had myself – and I know how deeply she has appreciated the help and co-operation given to her by all officials, and the way that she has been received by all the people with whom she has come into contact.


Wherever me may go in the future, both of us will remember with a sense of pride and of real humility, the wonderful kindness and friendship we have received on all sides.  We shall continue to love India, and to take the deepest personal interest in her future welfare."

The Mountbattens left Government House with all the pomp and pageantry one would expect.  Mountbatten had arrived in Imperial Vice-regal splendour and was determined that his departure would be equally as memorable.  Mountbatten inspected a Guard of Honour and having formally taken his final salute, The Mountbattens left in the open Governor-General's State Landau carriage and headed for the airport with thousands of ordinary Indians shouting their love and admiration for Mountbatten and Edwina along the processional route.

Two days later on 23rd June 1948, The Mountbattens returned to the UK via RAF Northolt, and among the officials awaiting them was Mountbatten’s nephew - Prince Philip, 1st Duke of Edinburgh (1921-2021) and The Rt Hon. (Sir) Clement Attlee, later 1st Earl Attlee (1883-1967), the Prime Minister - who had never really believed that Mountbatten would be successful.  Attlee said - "In my opinion no other man could have carried out this tremendous task."  Mountbatten said of Edwina - "I never could have done it without Edwina."  However, not everyone was so pleased with Mountbatten.   Many disagreed with his perceived 'cavalier attitude' towards Indian’s independence, stating that he had sought glory for himself and that his rushed policies were the cause of so much chaos and ultimately the needless death of so many people. Mountbatten knew that his great mentor - The Rt Hon. (Sir) Winston Churchill (1874-1965), the great Wartime Prime Minister, but then the Leader of HM Opposition, was so angry with him that he had accused Mountbatten of "giving away" India and subsequently refused to speak to him.  Mountbatten’s answer was - "history will be my judge.”

A short film (limited audio) by Pathé

of the arrival of The Mountbattens

from India to RAF Northolt with Edwina

making a short speech to the awaiting reporters


The arrival of The Mountbattens back to the UK - 
(left to right) Prince Philip, 1st Duke of Edinburgh;

Mountbatten; (Sir) R.K. Shanmukhan Chetty,

the then India's Finance Minister;

The Rt Hon. (Sir) Clement Attlee (later 1st Earl Attlee)

and Edwina at RAF Northolt

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