King Charles III sits in front of the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II during the funeral service of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey in central London, Monday Sept. 19, 2022. The Queen, who died aged 96 on Sept. 8, will be buried at Windsor alongside her late husband, Prince Philip, who died last year | Photo: PTI
LONDON: Britain said a final goodbye to Queen Elizabeth II at a state funeral Monday that drew presidents and kings, princes and prime ministers — and crowds who massed along the streets of London to honor a monarch whose 70-year reign defined an age.
In a country known for pomp and pageantry, the first state funeral since Winston Churchill’s was filled with spectacle: Ahead of the service, a bell tolled 96 times — once a minute for each year of Elizabeth's life. Then, 142 Royal Navy sailors used ropes to draw the gun carriage carrying her flag-draped coffin to Westminster Abbey. Pallbearers finally bore it into the abbey, where around 2,000 people ranging from world leaders to health care workers gathered to mourn her.
The trappings of state and monarchy abounded: The coffin was draped with the royal standard and atop it sat the Imperial State Crown, sparkling with almost 3,000 diamonds, and the sovereign’s orb and scepter. But the personal was also present: a handwritten note from her son, King Charles III, that read, “In loving and devoted memory” and was signed Charles R — for Rex, or king.
“Here, where Queen Elizabeth was married and crowned, we gather from across the nation, from the Commonwealth, and from the nations of the world, to mourn our loss, to remember her long life of selfless service, and in sure confidence to commit her to the mercy of God our maker and redeemer,” the dean of the medieval abbey, David Hoyle, told the mourners, as the funeral opened.
The service drew to a close with two minutes of silence observed across the United Kingdom, after which the attendees sang the national anthem, now titled “God Save the King.”
The day began early when the doors of Parliament's 900-year-old Westminster Hall were closed to mourners after hundreds of thousands had filed in front of her coffin. Many had waited for hours in line, including through cold nights, to attend the lying in state in an outpouring of collective grief and respect.
“I felt like I had to come and pay my final respects to our majestic queen. She has done so much for us and just a little thank you really from the people,” said Tracy Dobson, who was among the last to join the line.
Monday was declared a public holiday in honor of Elizabeth, who died Sept. 8 — and hundreds of thousands of people descended on central London to partake in the historic moment. They jammed the sidewalks to watch the coffin wend its way through the streets of the capital after the service. As the procession passed Buckingham Palace, the queen's official residence in the city, staff stood outside, some bowing and curtseying.
Millions more tuned into the funeral live on television, and crowds flocked to parks and public spaces across the U.K. to watch it on screens. Even the Google doodle turned a respectful black for the day.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said in his sermon that “few leaders receive the outpouring of love we have seen" for Elizabeth.
After the passage through central London, the coffin will be placed in a hearse to be driven to Windsor Castle — where Elizabeth spent much of her time — for another procession before a committal service in St. George’s Chapel. She will be laid to rest with her late husband, Prince Philip, at a private family service.
On the evening before the funeral, Charles issued a message of thanks to people in the U.K. and around the world, saying he and his wife Camilla, the queen consort, have been “moved beyond measure” by the large numbers of people who have turned out to pay their respects to the queen.
People across Britain paused for a minute of silence at 8 p.m. Sunday in memory of the only monarch most have ever known. At Westminster Hall, the constant stream of mourners paused for 60 seconds as people observed the minute of reflection in deep silence.
In Windsor, rain began to fall as the crowd fell silent for the moment of reflection. Some camped overnight outside the castle in order to reserve the best spots to view the queen’s coffin.
Jilly Fitzgerald, who was in Windsor, said there was a sense of community among the mourners as they prepared to wait hours to see procession carrying the queen’s coffin.
“It’s good to be with all the people who are all feeling the same. It’s like a big family because everyone feels that … the queen was part of their family,” she said.