India Independence Ceremony, 1947

Following the Independence of Pakistan the previous day, Viceroy Lord Mountbatten and Lady Mountbatten presided over the Indian Independence Ceremony in Delhi on this day in 1947 (75 years ago), marking the creation of a new Commonwealth Dominion following almost a century of direct British Rule.

At the Independence Ceremony in the Durbar Hall of the Viceroy’s House in Delhi, Viceroy Lord Mountbatten was Sworn In as the Governor General of India and then received the Oath of Office of the new Cabinet. Lady Pamela Mountbatten wrote:

A few hours before the Indian independence ceremonies were due to begin, Panditji and Rajendra Prasad, the president of the Congress Party, came formally to invite my father to take up the post of constitutional governor-general of India, representing the British sovereign—a ceremonial position, with day-to-day power resting in the hands of the Indian cabinet. They presented him with an envelope which, they informed him, contained a list of everyone in the new government. You can imagine my father’s surprise when he opened it to find that a blank piece of paper had been put in there by mistake. During dinner at Viceroy’s House, we raised our glasses for the last time to toast the king-emperor and the viceroy. Then, just before midnight, we turned on the wireless and listened to Panditji’s wonderfully moving speech to the new nation: “At the stroke of the midnight hour when the world sleeps, India will awaken to life and freedom.”

Friday, 15 August 1947 was one of the most incredible days in history. I have never experienced such an outpouring of excitement and joy. The noise of crowds cheering rang throughout India and the expressions of respect and admiration for my parents from both the new government and the Indian people were remarkable.

For us, Independence Day began with my father being sworn in as governor-general while the new Indian flag was hoisted over what was now Governor-General’s House. In the Durbar Hall, it was pure theater as the golden thrones with their sumptuous red velvet canopies were spotlit, reflecting the gold of the carpet, and bathing the room in a warm glow. My mother looked marvelous in a long gold lame dress with a little wreath of gold leaves on her head, and my father was resplendent in his white full-dress naval uniform with the blue ribbon of the Garter and his other decorations. The trumpeters in scarlet and gold heralded a splendid entrance, and as the doors were thrown open everyone sang “God Save the King” followed by the new Indian national anthem, “Jana Gana Mana.” Then my parents were driven off in the state landau to the Constituent Assembly. There were so many people surrounding the Council House, however, cheering “Jai Hind,” that the state carriage was engulfed and Nehru and the other government leaders had to come out to calm the crowd and create a passage for my parents to get to the hall.

Once inside, my father read out a message from the king and made his own speech, which resulted in prolonged and joyous cheering. Then the president of the Assembly, Rajendra Prasad, read out messages of congratulations and good wishes from other countries and gave an address that concluded by paying tribute to my parents. Again, making their way outside was impossible, as the crowds had pressed so tightly against the doors, and it took several minutes even to leave the chamber. Once out in the bright sunlight, we watched as the crowds clapped and shouted themselves hoarse with cries of “Pandit Mountbatten, ki jai!” “Lady Mountbatten! Jai Hind!” as well as similar exclamations to all the Indian leaders. There were even some cries of “Mountbatten Miss Sahib!” or “Miss Pamela,” or they just chanted “Angrezi! Angrezi!” I hurried to get back into the car and went ahead of my parents’ procession to Prince’s Park for the flag salutation ceremony.

Afterwards, Lord and Lady Mountbatten rode in a Carriage Procession through massive crowds in Delhi for the flag salutation ceremony. Lady Pamela Mountbatten wrote:

A tsunami of people filled every possible bit of space as far as the eye could see. We climbed out of the car and attempted unsuccessfully to fight our way on foot towards a low platform surrounding the flagstaff. My parents had said that this would be India’s day and you could see it on every single face, hear it in every voice. It struck me as odd that there were babies up in the air, high above heads, until I realized that their parents simply had to thrust them up above the crowds to avoid their being crushed. The bicycle being passed above everyone’s heads appeared surreal but the crowd took it good-naturedly—there just wasn’t a single inch of space in which to put it down.

We were about thirty yards away from the grandstand, feeling helpless, until Panditji made his way over to us, walking on people’s laps and having to steady himself by grabbing the nearest shoulder. “Come on, Pammy,” he yelled above the din. He reached out for me to grab his hand. “But I can’t walk over people,” I shouted feebly. “Of course you can! Nobody will mind. Come on!” He waved his hands. I looked at Panditji’s feet—he was wearing flat leather sandals. I was wearing high-heeled shoes. “Take your shoes off!” he shouted. Then he pulled me up and over hundreds of human laps while everyone laughed and cheered us on. When we reached the flagstaff, he told me and Maniben Patel, Vallabhbhai’s diminutive daughter, to stand with our backs to the pole so that we would not be knocked over in all the excitement, and from this spot we had the perfect view of the exuberant chaos.

The state carriage finally crept into view, but neither it nor the bodyguard escort could come any closer without running people over. Eventually, my father stood up in the landau and saluted the flag. Panditji struggled over to them but this time it proved impossible to clear a passage for them. In his attempt to help, Panditji came so close to being crushed that my father hauled him onto the carriage hood, much to the delight of the crowd. He then rescued several women and children from being crushed by the horses’ hooves until, in addition to the uniformed attendant standing on the back, there were ten more people in the carriage along with my parents, with the new prime minister riding triumphantly on top.

That night we gave a dinner party for over one hundred people, and after dessert we all wandered out into the blissful cool of the night to watch the illuminations and fireworks from the magically lit Mughal Gardens. This was followed by a reception for two and a half thousand people—each one of whom was presented to my parents. The atmosphere was intoxicating, but eventually I had to go to bed, exhausted but exhilarated.


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