British naval officer Lord Louis Mountbatten accepted the Japanese surrender during World War II. He was the last Viceroy of India, and also mentor to Prince Charles.

Earl Mountbatten of Burma
Earl Mountbatten of Burma

Mountbatten, known as “Dickie” to family and friends, was born Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas on 25 June 1900 at Frogmore House, Windsor. His parents were Prince Louis of Battenberg and Princess Victoria of Hesse.

He fell in love with his cousin Grand Duchess Marie when he was 13. Mountbatten was determined to marry her. (Years later, Mountbatten denounced imposters claiming to be her sister Anastasia.) He kept Marie’s photograph by his bedside until he died.

His education included home-schooling until he was ten, Locker’s Park Preparatory School, then he enrolled as a cadet at the Royal Naval College at Osborne on the Isle of Wight.

King George V was forced to change the royal family’s name to Windsor during World War I whilst his Battenberg cousins lost their royal titles and anglicised their name. Prince Louis was now the First Marquis of Milford Haven.

The British resented Prince Louis, as First Lord, running the Admiralty when their country was fighting for its life. Prince Louis was forced to resign after he was targeted in a smear campaign. He never recovered from the psychological shock.

Mountbatten progressed to Dartmouth and spent a year studying at Christ College, Cambridge.

Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine, Prince Louis of Battenberg and their four children Princess Alice, Princess Louise, Prince George and Prince Louis.
Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine, Prince Louis of Battenberg and their four children Princess Alice, Princess Louise, Prince George and Prince Louis.

Part of his ambitions included cultivating his cousin David’s (later Edward VIII) friendship and arranged to be part of a tour thanking the Empire for its support during the war. Mountbatten was appointed ADC and his cheerfulness proved a tonic for the depression-prone prince.

Everyone, especially the ex-servicemen, wanted to meet the handsome young prince in 1920. The Prince had an extremely sore hand after too many vigorous handshakes from the ANZACs!

Mountbatten married wealthy heiress, Edwina Ashley, in the “wedding of the year” on 18 July 1922 at St Margaret’s Westminster. The Prince of Wales was Mountbatten’s best man with the cream of European royalty in attendance.

The Mountbattens were hailed a “Golden Couple” as they were the most glamorous and sought-after people in society. They entertained lavishly, attended parties and dined regularly at Buckingham Palace.

Grand Duchess Maria in 1913.
Grand Duchess Maria in 1913.

Both indulged in extra-marital affairs but Edwina, bored with routine, often took off to exotic parts of the world.

They produced two daughters, Patricia (born 14 February 1924) and Pamela (born 19 April 1929). Mountbatten also took his nephew, Prince Philip of Greece, temporarily into his care and became a powerful influence. He took charge of Philip’s education.

Mountbatten’s friendship with David deteriorated during the Abdication Crisis.

He was promoted to Captain ten days before World War II was declared, and given command of the HMS Kelly.

The Kelly was struck twice and sent to dry dock for repairs during the worst of the fighting. It was eventually sunk during the Battle of Crete on 23 May 1941.

Noël Coward’s film, In Which We Serve, was loosely based on Mountbatten’s life.

Mountbatten was responsible for the Dieppe fiasco where nearly one thousand Canadian troops lost their lives. A further 2,000 were captured and 25% of the remaining 2,000 were injured. The raid was poorly conceived and carried out, but it proved an invaluable lesson prior to D-Day.

Lord Mountbatten swears in Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as the first Prime Minister of free India at the ceremony held at 8.30 am on 15 August 1947.
Lord Mountbatten swears in Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as the first Prime Minister of free India at the ceremony held on 15 August 1947.

He was offered the post of Supreme Allied Commander of South East Asia directing the various Commonwealth forces, the United States and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek against the Japanese.

Mountbatten directed the Burma campaign from his base in Kandy in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

He also accepted the formal surrender of the Japanese in South East Asia in Singapore on 12 September.

Mountbatten later flew to Australia and New Zealand to thank the troops for their participation in during the war.

Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh in 2007. Photo Credit: NASA/Paul E Alers
Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh in 2007. Photo Credit: NASA/Paul E Alers

Prime Minister Clement Atlee appointed Mountbatten as Viceroy to oversee the granting independence to India within a deadline of June 1948. India was divided into two parts—Muslim and Hindu. Mountbatten negotiated with Pandit Nehru, the ruling Congress Party’s leader; Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Muslim League leader and pacifist Mahatma Gandhi. Nehru said India should remain united as a single country under his leadership but Jinna insisted upon a separate Muslim state.

Independence was declared on 14 and 15 August 1947 so Mountbatten became the Indian Governor-General until June 1948.

Mountbatten was eventually appointed First Sea Lord in 1955.

He was also a mentor and “honorary grandfather” to Prince Charles.

Mountbatten was killed by an IRA bomb planted aboard his boat, Shadow V, on 27 August 1979 whilst on holidays in Mullaghmore, County Sligo in Ireland. Prince Charles was devastated. British and European royal family members attended his funeral in Westminster Abbey.

The Irish police arrested and charged Thomas McMahon, an experienced bomb-maker with the Provisional IRA. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1979. He was later released in 1998 under the Good Friday Agreement.

Sources

Hoey, Brian, Mountbatten: The Private Story, Sidgwick & Jackson Limited, London, 1994

Hough, Richard, Mountbatten: Hero of our Time, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1980

Picknett, Lynn, War of the Windsors: A Century of Unconstitutional Monarchy, Hardie Grant Books, Prahran, 2005 [First published 2002]

© 2009 Carolyn Cash

This article was originally published by Suite 101 on 12 September 2009 as
Lord Louis Mountbatten.

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