Lord Longford recalls his former colleague — a 'do it now' man
From Shore to Shore The Final Years, The Diaries of Earl Mountbatten of Burma 1953-1979 Edited by Philip Ziegler (Collins, £18.00) Frank Longford PHILIP Ziegler, editor of these diaries and also of the fine official biography of Mountbatten, did not find it easy to like Mountbatten, whom he never knew. He found it necessary to pin up a notice in front of his desk to remind him that "in spite of everything, Mountbatten was a great man".
Knowing Mountbatten a little, I am ready to endorse that verdict while recognizing that he had a vanity surpassing that which is found not infrequently among great men. I think of him as one of the most helpful men I have
ever met. For a few months in 1951 (mirabile dictu) I was First Lord of the Admiralty. Mountbatten, formerly Supreme Commander in the Far East and Viceroy of India, was working his way back in the relatively humble role of Fourth Sea Lord.
I published a book of memoirs soon afterwards without much reference to him. lie wrote to me to tell me that he wished that he had known more about me earlier. "I could have been more helpful."
Many years later my wife wrote a book about The Royal House of Windsor. Mountbatten gave her all the assistance in his power. When she sent him her manuscript he was off on one of his endless world tours. He used to send her back a chapter, carefully annotated, from his various stopping places.
His love of life was perhaps his most endearing characteristic. Half of these diaries were written after he passed into official retirement, but he remained as buoyant as ever and as interested in the world around him. At the end of 1976, ten years after he had retired and long after he had lost his wife, he was able to write "It is wonderful to have such a delightful family and all ten of my grandchildren are absolutely enchanting. I am indeed a very lucky person. . ." We are not likely to look upon his like again. He was royal and not royal. I cannot suppose that he would have reached the top so young without his royal connections. Again, without them it is difficult to think that he would have impressed so devastatingly the peoples of Asia and Africa. We all know of his friendship with Nehru. Until 1 read these diaries. I had not realised how widely his charm operated.
Take this entry for example: October 13, 1964. "We were conducted into the presence; a smile lit up Nkrumah's face and he embraced me very warmly, saying My dear, dear friend. After some exchange of courtesies, he suggested to the others that they might go along to the breakfast room and meet his wife. After they had gone, he said. "Now we are quite alone and can really talk."
There is something almost
poignant, though very understandable, in his desire to stand well with the Queen, (whom he usually refers to as Lilibet) and Prince Philip. He becomes excited in the diary by any sign of approval from that quarter. He never, in my recollection, spoke in the House of Lords. On one occasion we were told he was going to do so, but later (I was Leader of the House at the time) I was given to understand that he thought that the Queen might not think it appropriate.
His own personal qualities, owing nothing to his privileged position, would have taken him to the top in any case. He was, if anyone ever was, a "do it now" man. 1 remember when I was First Lord of the Admiralty discussing some complicated question with him for an hour or Sc). He promised a memorandum in due course; he dictated one and brought it back within three minutes.
I would not attribute to him any exceptional qualities of judgement, but his vision of world peace took a most practical form. Nothing became him better than his indomitable work for the United World Colleges in his latter years. These diaries do not throw any particular new light on policies, but they vividly bring before us once again one of the most remarkable men of our time.