EDWINA, COUNTESS MOUNTBATTEN OF BURMA
Vicereine of India
Mountbatten had been summonsed to Downing Street by the then Prime Minister - The Rt Hon. (Sir) Clement Attlee, later 1st Earl Attlee (1883-1967) to be the next (and ultimately 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. After much discussion on the Government's plans, Mountbatten's remit and his demands for plenipotentiary powers - he formally accepted the role of Viceroy of India on 11th February 1947.
On 20th March 1947, The Mountbattens left London for India, to enable Mountbatten to take up the post of Viceroy of India. Edwina had encouraged Mountbatten to take the job, for she had fallen in love with India as a young girl and the prospect of being Vicereine was yet a further challenge for Edwina, who like her husband had felt 'lost' after the War. Of course Edwina rose to this challenge with the same vigour and determination she showed throughout her life. She was the first Vicereine of India to be more widely known in her own right.
The Mountbatten Tiara
Prior to The Mountbatten's move to India, Edwina had characteristically planned meticulously the packing of items such as crockery, linen and of course her jewellery. For Mountbatten's official Swearing-In Ceremony, Edwina chose to wear her diamond tiara dating from circa 1910, which had been a gift from Mountbatten. The tiara was subsequently inherited by Pamela (Edwina & Mountbatten's youngest daughter), but she was compelled to sell it at auction in 2002 to a private unknown buyer.
On 21st February 1947, Edwina was awarded in 1947 the Imperial Order of the Crown of India (CI) - a British order only given to women, of which Queen Elizabeth II (1926(1952-2022) was the very last surviving recipient. However in the 1948 New Year's Honours List, she was promoted to be a Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire (GBE). Unlike her husband, Edwina thought that titles, medals and honours were a bore, however she was proud of the service they honoured.
The Mountbattens set to their new role immediately and entered into dialogue with all the Indian leaders. At one particular public meeting between The Mountbattens and Indian spiritual leader Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948), as the aged man turned - he put his arm on Edwina’s shoulder to assist him with his walking. This simple act of friendship immediately captivated the people and it was seen as an encouraging gesture which signified peaceful dialogue.
Against the background of Mountbatten’s plans to bring down the curtain on the British Raj, Edwina set to work, bringing relief and support to thousands who were unsettled by the prospect of a divided India. An American reporter said of Edwina - "what can one say of this amazing Englishwoman who goes among the poor and the sick and the suffering like some latter-day Mary Magdalene?"
Edwina as Vicereine of India
ABOVE: The insignia of the
Imperial Crown of India (CI)
BELOW: The insignia of a Dame Grand Cross of
the Order of the British Empire (GBE)
Edwina, Vicereine of India giving support to
'Mahatma' Mohandas K. Gandhi after a historic
meeting at The Viceroy's House,
New Delhi in 1947
At the stroke of midnight on 15th August 1947 - India became separated into the Dominions of India and Pakistan, two separate nations and Mountbatten was no longer Viceroy. Mountbatten who was a great-grandson of Queen Victoria (1819(1837-1901) - the first Empress of India, had brought an end to the British Empire. He did however accept the offer of the post of the first Governor-General of the new Dominion of India and of course Mountbatten and Edwina would then remain in India. During this period, 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.
When Mountbatten’s term of office as Governor-General ended in June 1948, Nehru praised The Mountbattens in a very eloquent speech at their farewell banquet. Of Edwina he said - "the Gods or some good fairy gave you beauty and high intelligence, and grace and charm and vitality - great gifts - and she who possesses them is a great lady wherever she goes. But unto those that have even more shall be given: and they gave you something that was even rarer than those gifts - the human touch, the love of humanity, the urge to serve those who suffer and who are in distress. And this amazing mixture of qualities results in a radiant personality and in the healer’s touch." Mountbatten’s Chief of Staff, General The Rt Hon. Sir Hastings 'Pug' Ismay, later 1st Lord Ismay (1887–1965) said of Edwina - "she had the missionary zeal of Florence Nightingale and the dedicated courage of Joan of Arc." It was said by a British observer - "to the disabled and heartbroken there came not a grand lady standing at a distance, but a mother and nurse who squatted in the midst of the dirty and diseased, took their soiled and trembling hands in hers, and spoke quiet words of womanly comfort."
Edwina with Jawaharal Nehru (left)
at the Viceregal Lodge, Simla
(now Rashtrapati Niwas, Shimla)
Edwina with Jawaharlal Nehru (right), Prime Minister
of the Dominion of India at The Mountbattens'
final farewell dinner
In Edwina ‘s farewell broadcast to the people of India, she ended this emotional and personal speech - "although in a physical sense my husband, Pamela and I will be leaving India so soon, we shall always be with you in spirit, and I think you know you will have our affection, our gratitude and our prayers at all times. The close links of comradeship that have been forged between us are such that can never be broken, and I know that it is inevitable that I shall return. So this is not farewell, but only ‘au revoir’."
Understandably, Edwina found returning to post-War London dull and confined. Now she was expected to resume to a quieter life - but of course she missed her life as Vicereine and later the wife of The Governor-General, the status, the sense of purpose and felt low and "empty".