Mountbatten's secret role in 'propaganda war'

What posture should the Queen's cousin adopt if he met the rebel leader? Prime Minister's suggested answer: "Bow stiffly and condescendingly and treat as a private person," writes John Crossland.

What if there is a demonstration outside Government House? Prime Minister's suggested answer: "Rely on tall guardsmen." What if no clearance for landing the royal plane? This would merely show the rebel leader's loyalty to the Queen as "completely bogus rather than constitute a snub for the Queen herself".

This is not a plot for a Feydeau farce. It is the scenario for a mission dreamt up by Harold Wilson when Prime Minister for reasserting royal authority in Rhodesia in 1965. He envisaged Lord Mountbatten flying into Salisbury at a few hours notice on the pretext of investing the beleaguered governor, Sir Humphrey Gibbs, with the KCVO, but actually to rally loyal support and score a propaganda victory.

Mountbatten, approached informally by the Prime Minister, responded enthusiastically. He wrote to Wilson on 19 November 1965: "The deplorable situation in Rhodesia is getting worse and the effect on the Commonwealth and on our relations with the Afro-Asian bloc may be disastrous if no active steps are taken. This step can hardly fail to help our cause if we collect my party in secrecy and only ask for Rhodesian . . . clearance two hours before take-off.

"We shall have had the publicity on take-off for the world to see, that we meant business if the Rhodesians subsequently refused to let us land. I shall be seeing Her Majesty this evening at Luton Hoo and will ask her not to allow any consideration for my safety to influence her decision."

The Queen, who may already have heard of another eccentric government scheme to win hearts and minds by scattering leaflet appeals to loyalty in her name over the Rhodesian bush veldt, asserted her royal prerogative to abort the mission.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Day In a Page

Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate