Queen Elizabeth’s coffin starts journey to final resting place

King Charles, his sons William and Harry and other senior royals joined a solemn procession behind Queen Elizabeth’s coffin through the silent streets of London on Monday, following a state funeral of matchless pageantry at Westminster Abbey.

Hundreds of thousands of people crammed into central London to witness a ceremony attended by leaders and royalty from across the globe, a fitting end for Britain’s longest-serving monarch who won widespread respect during 70 years on the throne.

Her flag-draped casket was pulled on a gun carriage the short distance from Westminster Hall to the Abbey by 142 sailors with arms linked. A bell tolled and bagpipes skirled.

Pin-drop silence fell over London’s Hyde Park nearby as thousands of people, who for hours had picnicked and chatted, went quiet the second the queen’s coffin appeared on screens erected for the occasion.

Shortly before, hundreds of armed personnel in full ceremonial dress had marched in a historic display of kilts, bearskin hats, scarlet tunics and brass bands.

Inside the abbey, lines of scripture were set to music that has been used at every state funeral since the early 18th century. Among those walking behind the casket was the queen’s great-grandson and future king, nine-year-old Prince George.

Charles, Anne, Prince Edward Edward and William, all dressed in ceremonial military uniform, saluted as the coffin was lifted off the gun carriage in front of the abbey.

Princes Andrew and Harry, who are no longer working royals, were in morning suits and did not salute, even though both had served in conflict in the past, in the Falklands and in Afghanistan.

After 11 days of momentous change and activity since his mother died, Charles looked distraught and exhausted as the pall bearers carried the coffin into the abbey through the Great West Door for the funeral service.

The 2,000-strong congregation included some 500 presidents, prime ministers, foreign royal families and dignitaries including Joe Biden of the United States and leaders from France, Canada, Australia, China, Pakistan and the Cook Islands.

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, told the congregation that the grief felt by so many across Britain and the wider world reflected the late monarch’s “abundant life and loving service.”

“Her late majesty famously declared on a 21st birthday broadcast that her whole life would be dedicated to serving the nation and Commonwealth,” he said.

“Rarely has such a promise been so well kept. Few leaders receive the outpouring of love that we have seen.”

Among the crowds who came from around Britain and beyond, people climbed lampposts and stood on barriers and ladders to catch a glimpse of the royal procession – one of the largest of its kind in modern history in the capital.

Those who had camped out in nearby streets were watching the service on smartphones, while hush descended along the Mall, one of London’s grand ceremonial boulevards, as the funeral service was relayed live through loudspeakers.

Some wore smart black suits and dresses. Others were dressed in hoodies, leggings and tracksuits. A woman with dyed green hair stood next to a man in morning suit as they waited for the procession to begin.

Millions more watched on television at home on a public holiday declared for the occasion, the first time the funeral of a British monarch has been televised. Around the wider capital, normally bustling streets were deserted.

Ben Vega, 47, a nurse from the Philippines standing at the back of the crowd on a stool, said he was a royalist.

“I love pageantry. I love how the British do this,” he said. “I’m from the Philippines, we don’t have this, we don’t have royal families. It’s a sad day for me. I’ve been here 20 years. I saw the queen as my second mum, England as my second home.”

The 40th sovereign in a line that traces its lineage back to 1066, Elizabeth came to the throne in 1952, Britain’s first post-imperial monarch.

She oversaw her nation trying to carve out a new place in the world, and she was instrumental in the emergence of the Commonwealth of Nations, now a grouping comprising 56 countries.

When she succeeded her father George VI, Winston Churchill was her first prime minister and Josef Stalin led the Soviet Union. She met major figures from politics to entertainment and sport including Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II, the Beatles, Marilyn Monroe, Pele and Roger Federer.

“People of loving service are rare in any walk of life,” Welby said during the funeral. “Leaders of loving service are still rarer. But in all cases, those who serve will be loved and remembered when those who cling to power and privileges are long forgotten.”

The tenor bell of the Abbey – the site of coronations, weddings and burials of English and then British kings and queens for almost 1,000 years – tolled 96 times.

Among the hymns chosen for the service were “The Lord’s my Shepherd”, sung at the wedding of the queen and her husband Prince Philip in the Abbey in 1947.

In addition to dignitaries, the congregation included those awarded Britain’s highest military and civilian medals for gallantry, representatives from charities supported by the queen, and those who made “extraordinary contributions” to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

TWO-MINUTE SILENCE

Towards the end of the service, the church and much of the nation fell silent for two minutes. Trumpets rang out before the congregation sang “God Save the King”. The queen’s piper brought the service to an end with a lament that faded to silence.

Afterwards, the coffin began its journey through central London, past the queen’s Buckingham Palace home to the Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner, with the monarch and the royal family following on foot during the 2.4-km procession.

From there, it was placed on a hearse to be driven to Windsor Castle, west of London, for a service at St. George’s Chapel. This concluded with the crown, orb and scepter – symbols of the monarch’s power and governance – being removed from the coffin and placed on the altar.

The Lord Chamberlain, the most senior official in the royal household, will break his ‘Wand of Office’, signifying the end of his service to the sovereign, and place it on the casket.

It will then be lowered into the royal vault.

Later in the evening, in a private family service, the coffin of Elizabeth and her husband of more than seven decades, Philip, who died last year aged 99, will be buried together at the King George VI Memorial Chapel, where her parents and sister, Princess Margaret, also rest.

“We’re so happy you’re back with Grandpa. Goodbye dear grannie, it has been the honour of our lives to have been your granddaughters and we’re so very proud of you,” grandchildren Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie said.

© Thomson Reuters 2022.