LONDON – They flocked to central London, arriving before dawn and flocking to the blocked streets. Some have camped out overnight. Others have made hour-long journeys in the dark to find a prime location for the royal spectacle.
They stood on ladders, or miniature mailboxes, or gathered in front of giant screens in Hyde Park to get the best possible view of Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral.
“I need to say my last goodbye,” said Beny Hamedi, 55, who clutched a picture of the queen. “And I think it’s going to be a moment no one will ever forget.”
11 days since Queen Elizabeth II died at the age of 96 was a concerted exercise in public grief as Britain faced the loss of its longest-serving monarch.
Prayers appeared in the streets and in parks, zigzag lines to see her undamaged coffin, cross-country travel to commemorate the royal family – all a way to say goodbye a woman considered by many to be family, it is said again and again.
But in a sense, the days of the ceremonies are also a time for Britons to solidify their sense of national identity. And they provided a much-needed distraction from a terrifying cost of living crisis and a period of time political instability dominated the national agenda for months.
Perhaps nowhere were those sentiments felt more fully than in the crowds that gathered in and around central London to watch the procession after the queen’s state funeral at nearby Westminster Abbey.
Melissa Hackett, 28, who traveled with a friend from her home in Doncaster, northern England on Sunday, said: “We will never see the queen again in our lives. The queen’s eldest son is currently King Charles III. His son William was second in line, followed by his eldest son, George.
Outside the long fences that block much of the area around the parade route from the crowds that still come, street vendors sell homemade shows and small Union Jack flags.
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Public viewing areas have been set up in parks in London and other cities, and people set up camping chairs, spread blankets and set up small stools so they could get a bird’s-eye view of those in front of them. their face. But the carnival-like atmosphere initially turned bleak as the funeral service began and video was shown from Westminster Abbey.
Anna Stubbens, 29, a doctor in London, said she went to Hyde Park to watch the day’s events on the big screen “because it would be sad to miss it”. She said she was thinking of bringing a bottle of champagne, but her fiance convinced her to put it away. “He said it wouldn’t be appropriate,” she said.
Those lucky enough to secure a spot along the procession route were settled to wait. Some visitors, navigating the chaos of an unfamiliar city, find themselves lost in random sections of Hyde Park, where tens of thousands of people watch the service on the big screen. Many people brought food or bought hot dogs or fish and chips from some of the food trucks installed for the occasion.
Jess Parson, 36, wearing a Union Jack said: ‘I cried all the time. “They don’t force them to like her anymore. She was only once. “
The crowd fell silent as the first chords of a funeral hymn sounded through loudspeakers along the Mall, the road that ran from Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square.
A group of women, leaning against metal railings, clasped their hands as if in prayer. Another woman cried while singing with the choir a hymn at Elizabeth’s wedding to Philip in 1947, as princess and prince.
Others crossed their arms, hugging themselves against the cold.
At the end of the ceremony, after two minutes of silence, those in the crowd bowed. Children hold hands with parents. The mother of one put her arm around her young son’s shoulder.
Enid Reade, 80, and daughter Ellen Reade, 43, from Lancashire, were among those who quietly listened to hymns filtered out from loudspeakers in Hyde Park.
“I am old enough to remember her promise to everyone that she would serve us whether her life is short or long‘,” said the elderly Mrs. Reade, referencing the queen’s speech when she was 21 years old. I just want to be here. “
The funeral gave way to the splendor of a large military procession as the queen’s coffin was moved from Westminster Abbey to the Mall. And the sun appeared as brass bands played mournful hums.
As the queen’s coffin – closely followed by the royal family, led by King Charles – passed, the only sound was the distant drumming and the hooves of horses. Then, in the midst of a silent parade, from one side of the crowd on Horse Guards Road, a single male voice shouted, “God bless the queen,” as her coffin rolled over.
Members of the army in the crowd saluted their one-time commander-in-chief as the queen’s coffin passed. Jeff McNally, 63, wore a medal he was awarded in the 1970s, when he served in the Royal Artillery Force, with Queen Elizabeth’s face on it.
“I wanted to say goodbye to my boss,” he said. “Prime Ministers come and go, but she has been a constant in my life.”
At the end of the march down the Mall, which has hosted so many important ceremonial moments in Queen Elizabeth’s life, her coffin was transferred from a gun truck to a hearse during the 25-mile journey. to Windsor Castle. It gave Londoners another chance to see the last king before her reign went down in history.
Those who couldn’t get a spot at the edge of the sidewalk as the queen’s hearse drove by by climbing on the railings and climbing above the post boxes for a better view.
“You will wait for a brief moment – but that moment lasts forever,” said Andrew Lucas, of the hours waiting for the coffin to pass.
The mourners also lined up along both sides of the road to see off the passing procession. The sky above Hounslow in West London was eerily quiet during the procession, a rarity for locals living down the runway of Heathrow Airport, one of the world’s busiest. The airport said on Thursday that they had rescheduled flights “out of respect” for the queen to ensure the route remained quiet over London and Windsor during the ceremony.
After the procession passed through a west London neighborhood, the crowd quickly dispersed, and children poured into the streets to play soccer – enjoying the unusually deserted streets. Street sweepers, dressed in camisoles, spread out to pick up discarded flower bouquets and abandoned trash cans.
As the crowds filtered out of the city center, many people reflected or were interested in the event.
Fiona Russell, 53, said: ‘I didn’t want to see the rest of the family, but I was always punished by the queen.
Robert Scott, also 53, said: “In the days since the queen’s death, much of the rest of the country has been similarly transformed.
“The whole thing is a huge distraction, noting the political turmoil and economic woes of Britain,” he said. “And I think some of the top politicians were probably relieved.”
Emma Bubola, Isabella Kwai and Euan ward Contribution reports from London.