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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. 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. Clement Attlee, later 1st Earl Attlee (1883-1967) 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 - the Viceroy & Vicereine of India,

seated upon the Vice-regal thrones within the Durbar Hall (Throne Room)

With some trepidation, Mountbatten accepted the post of Viceroy of India but demanded full plenipotentiary powers (ie: to act completely independently of the British Government’s India Office), which Attlee agreed to.  It seemed right to all that the cousin of the King-Emperor

and a great-grandson of Queen Victoria (1819(1837-1901) would be the last Viceroy 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 was sworn into office 2 days later, in a ceremony within the Durbar Hall (Throne Room) of the Viceroy's House.  The event was full of Vice-regal pageantry - not seen for many years, and was the first time a new Viceroy being sworn in was seen by the mass public in India. 

 

Mountbatten’s presence was felt from day one, and Mountbatten set to establish dialogue and contact with all the key figures of Indian politics.

 

ABOVE: Mountbatten & Edwina -

at the swearing-in ceremony

within the Durbar Hall (Throne Room)

in the Viceroy's House, New Delhi

RIGHT: The Mountbattens in Vice-regal splendour

following his installation as Viceroy of India

 

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. 

 

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Governor-General of Pakistan (left)

with Mountbatten and Edwina at

the Pakistani Independence ceremony

 

Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister of India (right),

with Mountbatten (later Governor-General of India) & Edwina 

at the Indian Independence ceremony

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 Daily Telegraph reported the assassination of Mohandas K. Gandhi

 

Mountbatten, Edwina and Pamela at the funeral ceremony

of Mohandas K. Gandhi (inset)

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.