Lord Mountbatten: Why the great man and polo player should never be forgotten

Gareth A Davies
Lord Mountbatten was a polo mentor to Prince Harry - 2016 Getty Images

There was a fascinating profile of Lord Louis Mountbatten which went rather under the radar a recently. It summed up why polo will always survive, and why at its heart, those who play the sport and are enveloped in it have such as rewarding time playing - and being involved. 

The world has moved on, and it is no longer just 'social', but there were some intrinsic and powerful points worth noting in the piece by Alejandra Ocampo on Pololine.

Born in 1900, the grandson of Queen Victoria reached a 5 goal polo handicap and left an invaluable legacy in the sport, penning a book on the sport under the cod name 'Marco'.

Of course, Lord Mountbatten is best remembered as an outstanding naval officer, war hero and diplomat, but he was also a passionate polo player. He 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, and today through Princes William and Harry. 

As Mountbatten is quoted as saying: "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!'" That was back in 1968. 

In polo circles, and to his friends, he was known as 'Dickie'. He discovered polo in India, at the age of 22, while serving in the British Army. 

As Jaeger-LeCoultre ambassador Clare Milford Haven, an avid polo player, married to George, current Marquis of Milford Haven, the great nephew of Lord Louis, recalled in an interview: "He was not a natural rider in his youth, but the future Lord Mountbatten definitely fell in love with polo."

Ocampo brings back a diary entry for December 1921, in which Lord Mountbatten had written 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."

It was the start of a lifetime's passion. It led to many tournaments back home.

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!"

His polo team, Aldstean, 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. 

He spent hours analysing the game; 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. It was in that same year he published his famous book "An Introduction To Polo", under the pseudonym "Marco". The book became a best seller, and it is considered an essential guide to polo to this day. 

Later on, he encouraged his nephew Prince Philip who became a dedicated player, and then shared his love of polo with his great nephew and godson, Prince Charles. 

Mountbatten also influenced a young Prince Charles, who in turn adored him. 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. 

As Ocampo details, he was an extraordinary patron of the game, and in 1979, just weeks before his death, 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, as is well-documented Mountbatten went lobster-potting and tuna fishing in his 30-foot wooden boat, Shadow V, in Ireland, where he died after an IRA bomb had been placed on the boat. He was 79, and was pulled alive from the water by nearby fishermen, but died from his injuries before being brought to shore. 

As a very important season gets underway, it is timely to remember the polo legacy left by the great Lord Louis Mountbatten.

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