Sept 15 (AFP) – Thousands queued overnight into Thursday to pay their last respects to Queen Elizabeth II, with many choking back tears after seeing her coffin lying in state in London.
Britain’s longest-serving monarch, who died on September 8 aged 96 after 70 years on the throne, is at rest in the capital’s Westminster Hall ahead of Monday’s state funeral at Westminster Abbey.
After waiting in all weathers for more than 48 hours, the first public mourners were allowed into the vast mediaeval hall on Wednesday after the coffin left Buckingham Palace for the last time, in a ceremonial procession witnessed by tens of thousands.
Thursday marks the first full day of Queen Elizabeth II’s lying-in-state — a last chance to say a personal farewell to a much-loved sovereign admired around the world for her steadfast sense of duty.
The casket, draped in the Royal Standard flag and bearing the Imperial State Crown plus the Orb and Sceptre, was raised high on a platform, with tall, flickering candles at each corner.
The coffin was being guarded by soldiers in ceremonial uniform, in a constant vigil.
– ‘At peace’ –
In sombre scenes, many people stopped and bowed or curtsied towards the coffin. Others crossed themselves, or removed their hats.
Some prayed towards the casket or wiped away tears with tissues. Some brought their infants in pushchairs. Old soldiers stopped and gave one last salute to their former commander-in-chief.
Sue Harvey, 50, an accountant, was among those in tears after filing past the coffin.
“Inside it was really quiet, really calm, and incredibly emotional. A lot of people were in tears but there was a total silence. It was just so respectful,” she told AFP.
“I wanted to make sure I did see her no matter how long the queue was going to be, because I never met her when she was alive.”
Vickie Wicks, 36, a clinical paramedic specialist who took the day off work, was also in tears after leaving the hall.
“The guards were watching her one last time at the four corners of the coffin. It was beautiful,” she said. “She was at peace.”
Nina, a 40-year-old performer, wanted to say thank you for Elizabeth’s life of unswerving service to the nation.
“In this place, you can’t escape the magnitude of who she was. I got really emotional — and I was not the only one,” she said.
– ‘This is what we do’ –
The queue snaked back for nearly three miles (five kilometres) along the Thames river bank on Wednesday evening as mourners braved hours of waiting for their chance to see the late monarch.
Adam Armendariz, 35, a sales manager from London, joined the back of the line with his colleagues.
“She gave so much to us and the world,” he said. “I think it’s the minimum that we can do to queue for a few hours to see her rest.”
Jacob Lovewell, 29, who works in marketing, had only a large bottle of water with him.
“We British, this is what we do: queue,” he said. “It’s the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.
“I’ve never seen the queen, I’ve never met her, but this is an opportunity to say thank you and goodbye.”
– Solemn procession –
The coffin had been taken to Westminster Hall from Buckingham Palace earlier Wednesday.
To the strains of a military band playing funeral marches, King Charles III led the royal family in procession behind a horse-drawn gun carriage bearing the casket.
King Charles — Queen Elizabeth’s eldest son — his siblings, and his own sons, Princes William and Harry, walked at a carefully choreographed 75 steps a minute behind the gun carriage.
The sight of the new king’s two grief-stricken sons inevitably evoked memories of 1997, when William and Harry, then aged just 15 and 12, walked, heads bowed, behind the coffin of their mother, Diana, princess of Wales.
From the Elizabeth Tower at the Houses of Parliament, the Big Ben bell tolled out each minute as the casket passed in front of hushed crowds lining the route.
The grand procession through the flag-lined heart of London represented the latest step in 11 days of national mourning that will culminate with the funeral.
– Visits to Sandringham, Manchester –
William and his wife Kate will travel to Sandringham, the royals’ private winter retreat in Norfolk, eastern England, on Thursday to view the floral tributes left by members of the public at the Norwich Gates.
Sandringham is where the royal family gathers for Christmas, with members walking to the local church on Christmas Day and interacting with well-wishers.
King Charles, 73, was created Prince of Wales by his mother in 1958 and bestowed the title on his eldest son on his first full day as monarch on Friday.
The historic title is given to the heir apparent to the throne.
It will be the first engagement conducted by just the new Prince and Princess of Wales.
Queen Elizabeth’s youngest son Prince Edward, 58, and his wife Sophie were to visit Manchester in northwest England to view the civic book of condolence at the city’s central library.
They were also to view the floral tributes in St. Ann’s Square and meet members of the public who are volunteering at the site.
The square became a sea of flowers in 2017 following the Manchester Arena bombing, which killed 22 innocent people.
Finally they were to light a candle in memory of Queen Elizabeth at Manchester Cathedral.
The late monarch’s funeral will see hundreds of world leaders and global royalty pack the historic Westminster Abbey in the heart of the British capital.
US President Joe Biden has confirmed he will attend, as will French President Emmanuel Macron and Japan’s Emperor Naruhito.