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Lord Mountbatten in Paris - 1961
A case of mistaken identity

The recent film The Last Days of the Raj reminded me of a meeting I had with Lord Mountbatten in Paris in 1961. As Chief of the Defence Staff, he had arranged for the British NATO staff and the British Embassy staff in Paris to give a reception at the Cercle Militaire for General Lauris Norstad, who was retiring as Supreme Allied Commander Europe. Mountbatten believed he had done an impossible job with exemplary skill and had asked The Queen’s permission to have a Guard of Honour in tunic order for this occasion.  I was told to take my Anti-Tank Platoon from 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards to Paris.

Guardsmen in tunic order in Paris created some interest and soon there was quite a crowd. The car drew up and after a General Salute I went forward to be greeted by Mountbatten as follows; ‘How nice to see you Mr Corbally Stourton and your Coldstream Guardsmen here today’. I could hear Sergeant Wilkinson, my platoon sergeant, ticking like a bomb but I said nothing. Halfway through the inspection Mountbatten whispered ‘I have got it wrong, haven’t I?’  As a Grenadier, I could only reply with ‘Sir!’

By this time the entire staffs of the Embassy and the British element of NATO, and their wives, were assembled in the Cercle Militaire before the arrival of General Norstadt and the guests. Mountbatten called for silence and sent for the senior RAF officer who had briefed him incorrectly. He pointed at me and said ‘If this young man had not good manners, he could have made a fool of me in front of the crowds of Paris’! Lord Mountbatten was not known for apologies, so as a very junior officer I felt extremely flattered to receive one from such a distinguished figure who had inspired trust and loyalty in war and peace.

Nigel Corbally Stourton

Lord Mountbatten and Nigel Corbally Stourton at the reception in the Cercle Militaire

General Norstad and Lord Mountbatten

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