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Lord Louis Mountbatten
Lord Louis MountbattenLord Louis Mountbatten

Lord Louis Mountbatten

The polo legacy of a brilliant naval officer

January 19, 2017
January 19, 2017
By Alejandra Ocampo

"Polo is a wonderful sport, one which combines several skills: one must be a good rider and there is the challenge of striking the ball at speed. But the best thing about the sport is playing with friends (...). I was never a natural polo talent, nor a good rider at the beginning: I had to work hard to be good. I had to study the game. I watched English and American films in slow motion and analysed the players hitting the ball. I also remember that my team and I used to come up with tactics around a billiard table. As polo is amateur, I had to do everything myself. I remember one time I was speaking to an international player, and I asked him advice about how to hit the ball. He said: 'My dear Dickie, hit it quickly! Hit it like a snake!'" (Lord Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, in his book "The Life and Times of Lord Mountbatten", by John Terraine, 1968.

Lord Louis Mountbatten was not only an outstanding naval officer, war hero and diplomat, but also a passionate polo player. He reached a 5-goal handicap and left an invaluable polo legacy, being a mentor to several important members of the polo family: his nephew, Prince Philip, as well as Princes Charles, William and Harry. 

A BRILLIANT NAVAL OFFICER, WAR HERO, AND HIS PASSION FOR POLO

Prince Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas George of Battenberg was born on June 25, 1900, in Forgmore House, Windsor, son of Prince Louis of Battenberg, 1st Marquis of Milford Haven, and Princess Victoria of Hesse and Rhine. On his mother’s side, he was the grandson of Princess Alice, second daughter of Queen Victoria, making him great grandson of the famous monarch. He had three siblings: Alice of Battenberg, Louise (later Queen of Sweden) and George, second Marquis of Milford Haven.
In 1917, due to tensions with Germany caused by the First World War, King Geroge V decided to change the surname of the royal household from Saxe Coburg Gotha to Windsor due to the marriage of Queen Victoria to German Prince Albert. At the same time, the King ordered the modification every German surname in the family. That is how Battenberg became Mountbatten. Louis was therefore Lord Louis Mountbatten, but to his closest friends, he was Dickie.
Louis was home schooled until the age of ten. At thirteen he entered the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, before going on to serve in the Second World War. Between wars he pursued a career in the navy, specialising in communications. In 1922 he married the Honorable Edwina Ashley at St. Margaret's Church, London - the greatest social event of the year. A year before his wedding Louis had accompanied his cousin David, Prince of Wales, to India. That is where he discovered polo, the sport which would captivate him for the rest of his life, and to which he would become a great advocate.
Clare Milford Haven, an avid polo player, married to George, current Marquis of Milford Haven, great nephew of Lord Louis, remembered Louis’ introduction to polo in India in an interview: "He was not a natural rider in his youth, but the future Lord Mountbatten definitely fell in love with polo (...)". In his diary entry for December 1921 he wrote enthusiastically, "It was one of the best mornings of my life (...) I played my first ever polo match. I played two chukkas, the eighth and the eleventh. I think the average handicap of the players in India is five, but it is undoubtedly one of the best things in India (...)". In India Louis played matches with the Maharaja’s team, against his cousin. That first interaction with polo was the beginning for a long love affair. Clare Milford Haven recalls what Lord Louis wrote to his mother: "For the first time in my life I am excited about a sport. Soon I will be playing polo more than anything else!".
After their wedding Lord Mountbatten and Lady Edwina moved to Aldstean, West Sussex, near Cowdray Park Polo Club, founded in 1910, the epicentre of English polo at the time. Lord Louis Mountbatten already had his polo team, Aldstean, and competed in several club tournaments. His naval team were the Bluejackets, and from 1930-1931 they stood out in tournaments at Hurlingham, Ranelagh and Roehampton. In terms of his naval and public service career, in 1937 he was promoted to Captain, and later served in the Second World War commanding HMS Kelly, which was torpedoed in 1943 during the battle of Crete. By orders of Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, Mountbatten became the first chief planner of Operation Overlord, which came to an end with D-Day, the Allied Invasion of Normandy, on June 6, 1944. In 1943 Churchill appointed Mountbatten the Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia Command, with promotion to acting full Admiral. During his time in that post, his command oversaw the recapture of Burma from the Japanese. A personal high point was the reception of the Japanese surrender in Singapore. After the war he was named Earl of Mountbatten and Burma, and he became the last Viceroy of India (1947) and the first Governor-General of the independent Dominion of India (1947-48), from which the modern Republic of India emerged in 1950. Mountbatten then went back to his naval career, and concentrated on his polo, which he never abandoned.

MALTA, THE POLO PARADISE FOR ENGLISH OFFICERS, AND THE INFLUENCE OF LORD MOUNTBATTEN

Like many British officers and members of the Royal Family, Lord Mountbatten made Malta his special place. This small archipelago in the central Mediterranean was a compulsory stop for officers returning from India. Malta is very relevant in the history of polo; in 1865 English officers introduced polo to the West on this island. Lord Louis Mountbatten not only played, his wish to learn and improve meant that he spend hours analysing the game - and even the sticks. In 1931 he designed and patented a special stick which became very popular at the time. It was developed with the aim of giving the player greater reach when striking the ball. That same year he published his famous book "An Introduction To Polo", under the pseudonym "Marco". The copyright belonged to the Royal Naval Association, presided by Mountbatten. The book became a best seller, and it is considered an essential guide to polo to this day. It has been translated into several languages and is considered the ultimate polo book, par excellence.
Both for the British Royal Family and for Lord Mountbatten, Malta is and has been a very special place. In 1870, his father, Louis, played polo there while serving as a marine officer. Furthermore, two important trophies at the Malta Polo Club are attributed to Lord Mountbatten: the Prince Louis Cup, in memory of his father, and the prestigios Cawnpore Cup, the origin of which dates back to India (1901), and which Mountbatten insisted on taking to Malta after the war. Malta remembers Lord Mountbatten very fondly. He was generous with the local players, and, if he saw potential in them, would give them lessons personally. The grooms knew him well and witnessed his generosity. He was always happy to give advice and promote the sport of polo.
Lord Mountbatten is recorded talking about polo in Malta in "The Life and Times of Lord Mountbatten". He states: "Polo was very important to me in Malta, particularly as captain of my team, the Bluejackets (...). I have many wonderful memories of the Marsa field [the main ground of Malta Polo Club]".
King George V started the polo tradition in Malta, and his children continued it. It was in Malta, toward the end of the 1940s, where Lord Louis Mountbatten introduced his nephew, Philip, to polo. Philip, born in Corfu, Greece in 1921, was sent to England in 1928 to be looked after by his uncle. He completed his studies in England, Germany and Scotland, before enrolling in Royal Naval College, just like his uncle had in 1913. Philip graduated in 1940 at the top of his class, and became one of the youngest officers in the Royal Navy. Once the Second World War came to an end, he returned to England, where his future wife awaited. He married the young Princess Elizabeth, daughter of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, in 1947.
Encouraged by his uncle, Philip became an avid polo player, playing with his team Windsor Park in the 1960s. Like his uncle, he reached a 5-goal handicap and spent part of his naval, and polo, career in Malta. The then Princess Elizabeth attended many of their games at Malta Polo Club. 
During the 1960s Lord Mountbatten also shared his love of polo with his great nephew and godson, Prince Charles. Mountbatten greatly influenced the young Prince Chales, who in turn adored him. The Prince of Wales referred to the tradition of polo in the Royal Family and the importance of Lord Mountbatten in his life when he wrote the prologue to the book, "Profiles in Polo", compiled by the prestigious historian Horace Laffaye: "My family seem to have been involved with polo since its introduction into Britain (...): my great-great uncle, the Duke of  Connaught, my great grandfather, King George V and his brother, the Duke of Clarence were amongst some the early players (...); my grandfather, King George VI and his three brothers were all devoted to polo (...). And later my great uncle Lord Mountbatten took a great deal of interest in the improvement of my game".

Lord Mountbatten stopped playing in the 1950s, but his enthusiasm never diminished. He attended games and watched from the Royal Box at Guards Polo Club. He was patron of the New Forest Polo Club, where he donated the Bluejackets Cup, which today is the club’s main trophy. His last visits to polo were in 1979: he presented the Gold Cup for the British Open at Cowdray Park, and presented the Rundle Cup to his great nephew in Tidworth, who won the tournament with his team Royal Navy.

On August 27, 1979, Mountbatten went lobster-potting and tuna fishing in his 30-foot wooden boat, Shadow V, which had been moored in the harbour at Mullaghmore, Ireland. IRA member Thomas McMahon had slipped onto the unguarded boat that night and attached a radio-controlled bomb weighing 50 pounds (23 kg). When Mountbatten was aboard, just a few hundred yards from the shore, the bomb was detonated. The boat was destroyed by the force of the blast, and Mountbatten's legs were almost blown off. Mountbatten, then aged 79, was pulled alive from the water by nearby fishermen, but died from his injuries before being brought to shore. His funeral was held at Westminster Abbey.

The polo legacy left by Lord Louis Mountbatten is invaluable. Just like his public service, his polo career was one of enthusiasm and passion. Today he is honoured at the club founded by his nephew in 1955, Guards Polo Club, with the Mountbatten Cup. His legacy continues with his great nephew George Milford Haven and his wife Clare. And of course, through his royal great-grand children, the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry.