Rumoured to be a descendant of Pocohontas, she led a fashionable and priviledged life as one of London's leading socialites. But it wasn't until the Second World War that she became a woman of substance.
Edwina Cynthia Annette Ashley was born on November 28, 1901 at Broadlands, Romsey, Hampshire and named after her godfather, King Edward VII. She was the daughter of Amalia Mary Maud Cassel and Wilfred William Ashley, (later created Baron Mount Temple), the grandson of the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury. She was also the granddaughter and co-heiress, with her younger sister Mary, of Sir Ernest Cassel the millionaire financier, friend and confidant of King Edward VII.
Her mother died when she was ten years old and she and her sister spent much of their time with their grandfather. She was sent to school in Eastborne and later to domestic science school in Suffolk. When she left school her grandfather, who adored her, arranged that she should come to live with him, and at the age of eighteen she became his hostess at his mansion London, Brook House.
She met Louis "Dickie" Mountbatten (son of Victoria, Marchioness of Milford Haven) in June 1921 and on February 14, 1922 Dickie proposed. They were married on July 18, 1922 at St. Margaret's Westminister, with the Prince of Wales as best man. For a wedding present, Edwina gave her new husband a 1919 Rolls Royce. They lived first at Brook House, Park Lane, London, the old home of Sir Ernest Cassel. After the death of her father in 1939, she inherited Broadlands near Romsey, Hamshire, which then became the family home of the Mountbatten's.
Early in their married life, the couple lived a rather glamourous lifestyle, with friends in the entertainment business such as Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin who wrote and directed a film as a wedding present called 'Nice and Easy'. This film starred Dickie, Edwina, Fairbanks, Pickford and Chaplin, who appeared in two roles - his normal self and as the little tramp.
Two years to the day of Dickie's proposal, on February 14, 1924 their first daughter Patricia was born at Brook House. Their second daughter, Pamela was born April 19, 1929 in more eventful circumstances when Edwina unexpectedly went into labour while in a hotel in Barcelona, Spain.
With the advent of the Second World War, Edwina joined the war effort via the St. John's Ambulance Brigade, touring shelters and designing and implementing a first aid course for civilians. In 1943 when her husband was appointed the Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia, she continued her efforts by visiting hospitals and camps throughout South East Asia. In 1947 her husband was appointed Viceroy of India. Once India and Pakistan gained independance in August 1947, Louis and Edwina or 'Lady Louis' as she was affectionately known, remained in India as Governor General, continuing their work with the poor and disadvantaged. In recognition of her efforts, Edwina was made Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire (GBE) in 1943, a Dame of the Royal Victorian Order (DCVO) in 1946 and was awarded the Imperial Order of the Crown of India (CI) in 1947.
Four days after the marriage of her second daughter, she went away on tour of the Far East on behalf of Save the Children Fund and as Superintendent-in-Chief of St. John. She died in her sleep on the 21st of February 1960 in Jesselton, North Borneo. At her request she was buried at sea off the coast of Portsmouth.
© Marilyn Braun 2007
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