Women with strollers. Men in wheelchairs. Plenty of children. Young men with their mates dressed in puffer jackets, jeans and sneakers. All for this old woman they almost certainly didn’t know and had probably never met. But they all cared about her enough to want to say thanks to this great unifier of generations.
“It was a reverent, phoneless hush that you rarely see anywhere now. No faces staring at screens or posing with their friends for selfies.”
For such a grand occasion – a mighty monarch, Elizabeth the Great, lying-in-state – this was not a place for class or social statues. Former prime ministers honours the late sovereign next to milkmen. People in thongs, on crutches and tradesmen in boots and paint stained trousers on their way to work. Some women wore Ugg boots, others were dressed in their Sunday best. One man was in navy-blue hoodie branded with AFL club Carlton’s logos and sponsors, another in a Welsh rugby top.
Others, according to press speculation, had tried to sneak in pets. She did adore all creatures great and small, after all.
The early morning sun shone through the stained-glass window and cast a golden glow through the medieval hall. Erected in 1097 by King William II (William Rufus), this was the site of the trials of King Charles I, William Wallace and Guy Fawkes. The scene of King George IV’s coronation banquet in 1821, and the place where Churchill lay in state.
Nelson Mandela addressed both houses of parliament under the ancient hammerbeam roof, so too Charles de Gaulle and Pope Benedict XVI.
But it was the silence which was the most remarkable thing. It was broken only by heavy sobs and muffled footsteps as they filed in their thousands through the hall.
There was none of the cheers or applause that had rippled along the course of the Queen’s final journey. It was a reverent, phoneless hush that you rarely see anywhere now. No faces staring at screens or posing with their friends for selfies.
Every 20 minutes the clank of ceremonial swords echoed as the guard changed.
Those guarding the coffin are from units which include the Sovereign’s Bodyguard, the Household Division or Yeoman Warders of the Tower of London. They maintain a constant, 24-hour vigil around the lead-lined coffin. Although the soldiers rotate every 20 minutes, there are six-hour stints spent remaining completely still.
To the millions abroad with contempt for Britain and its royals, the entire concept have been met with puzzlement. Who would queue for half a day in the rain just for this?
But as you watch mourners approaching the exit, their 90-odd seconds in her presence already over, so many turned and lingered. Once in, few wanted it to be over so quickly.
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