War hero killed during boat blast in Irish Republic

The front page from The News on Tuesday, August 28, 1979
The front page from The News on Tuesday, August 28, 1979
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It was the most sensational day of violence in 10 horror-packed years in Ireland.

It was also the day that Portsmouth lost perhaps its favourite adopted son – Lord Louis Mountbatten.

The naval war hero and staunch defender of the Senior Service throughout his life, was killed instantly when his boat was ripped apart in County Sligo in the Irish Republic. He was 79.

Also killed in that bank holiday Monday outrage by the IRA were the Dowager Lady Brabourne, the 82-year-old mother-in-law of Lord Louis’s daughter, Lady Brabourne, his 14-year-old grandson, Nicholas, and the 17-year-old boatman, Paul Maxwell.

It should not be forgotten that 18 soldiers – two of them from Hampshire – also died that day in a massacre at Warrenpoint.

The News of Tuesday, August 28, 1979, carried colour pictures of Lord Mountbatten on the front page surrounded with thick black borders.

The larger one showed him resplendent in his naval uniform posing casually on a balcony of the Civic Offices in Guildhall Square, Portsmouth. It was taken three years earlier when he was made a freeman of the city.

The second had been shot just a month earlier and showed him and the Queen Mother walking the grounds of his Hampshire home, Broadlands, at Romsey.

He was made a freeman of the city because of his life-long connections to Portsmouth through the Royal Navy. He was a frequent visitor, both for formal naval events, and for the not-so-formal when he would turn up in a simple lounge suit.

Inside that day’s paper, for which journalists had worked through the night, were six more pages of reports and pictures charting his life and work in Portsmouth and Hampshire.

Former defence correspondent Reg Betts wrote: ‘The Royal Navy is today mourning the death of Admiral of the Fleet Earl Mountbatten of Burma, unquestionably the greatest naval personality of the 20th century, who fought through two world wars and played a major role in shaping the modern navy – only to be killed by a terrorist bomb.’

He continued: ‘As he neared 80, Lord Mountbatten still retained the charisma which had marked him as a leader to be respected with awe by generations of sailors.

‘Always a regular visitor to ships and establishments, whose opinion was still sought at the highest level, the aristocratic, much-decorated admiral, was a legend in his time. He seemed indestructible.’

There were pictures of him in Portsmouth on board the frigate HMS Antelope, hands in pockets, telling a rapt audience of ratings about his Second World War experiences.

Another showed him, somewhat grim-faced, on the bridge of the minehunter HMS Bronington as his great-nephew, Prince Charles, brought the ship alongside at HMS Vernon (now Gunwharf Quays). For once he was not in charge.

There were also reports from Romsey of the emotional reaction from his home town and the people who had naturally gravitated to the big black gates of Broadlands to pay their respects. A few months earlier, feature writer Alan Montgomery had been present when Lord Mountbatten opened that house to the public for the first time.

He ended his piece with these words: ‘Lord Louis smiled that smile that comes from age. If we were really enjoying ourselves it had been worth inviting us in.

‘With that, he disappeared into another part of the grounds. The gates shut. We did not see him again. Now, we never shall.’