My mother picked up her ringing phone. “Is that Lady Pamela Hicks?” asked a voice. “Yes, it is “ replied my mother “and whom am I speaking to?” she asked.
“This is the Daily Mail newspaper.” “Ah, in that case I am not Lady Pamela and I am not here.“
It was lovely that so many newspapers around the world were reporting my Aunt’s death, calling for quotes and writing about her extraordinary life, but hard for my mother who wanted time alone to grief. As sister’s they had been exceptionally close. My mother even went on my Aunt’s honeymoon with her. They spoke nearly every day for 88 years and supported each other through unbearable tragedies.
My Aunt, Patricia Edwina Victoria Knatchbull, Countess Mountbatten of Burma, entered the Women’s Royal Navy Service at 19 where she met her husband, John Knatchbull, the 7th Baron Brabourne, an officer, and later a film producer whose credits included amongst others A Passage to India, which was nominated for an Oscar. When my Aunt found herself in Hollywood at the Oscar dinner seated next to the iconic singer, Prince, she asked “Prince who?”
1,000 guests, including King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, witnessed the wedding ceremony of my Aunt and Uncle, at Romsey Abbey. Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret were bridesmaids, along with my mother of course.
My Aunt went onto be appointed Deputy Lieutenant of Kent, served as a magistrate and was intimately involved with numerous service organizations and Patron for many of them, including The Compassionate Friends, a charitable organization of bereaved parents in the UK. She knew a lot about bereavement. Her 14-year-old twin son Nicholas was murdered by the IRA, along with my grandfather, one warm summer’s day, when we were altogether on holiday in Ireland. But even after a 130 stitches to her face and eyeballs, broken legs and a machine to breath for her she decided not to give up. And she made a commitment to never let bitterness or resentment consume her. She set the example for us all.
I was lucky to see her in action with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, where she served for 33 years, as their much adored Colonel-in-Chief until she retired in 2005, aged 80. I travelled with her and my Uncle to Canada where she was inspecting her troops. I fell in love with her ADC, insisted on wearing combat fatigues and wanted to run off and join the army. My mother was horrified. My Aunt was amused. As their Colonel-in-Chief my Aunt visited the regiment no less than 47 times, happily climbed in and out of armored vehicles drank beer with the lads and when at a ceremonial dinner with 500 male soldiers she realized her lipstick was missing she asked if anyone in the room could lend her theirs. She had a wicked sense of humor, wore a ring with the letters FUCK on it, and when ever anyone looked at it shocked she would say it stood for Francis Ulick Charles Knatchbull, a cousin of her husband.
A mother of eight, grandmother of twenty two, godmother to many others, married for 58 years and never fell out of love.
Yesterday as the family gathered at her home Newhouse (built around 1680 in place of another house, so known as the New House) we watched her being carried out for the last time, in a simple wicker casket covered in flowers, fresh from the garden.
Her last request was not to be buried beside her beloved husband, but to be buried on top of him, joined once again, and in her pocket a picture of Nicky, her 14-year-old twin to carry with her to that other place.