(AFP) – Britain said farewell to Queen Elizabeth II on Monday at a state funeral attended by world leaders, before a historic last ceremonial journey through the streets of London packed with sorrowful mourners.
Huge crowds gathered in near silence to watch as the queen’s flag-draped coffin, topped with the Imperial State Crown, her orb and sceptre, was carried slowly to a gun carriage from parliament’s Westminster Hall where it had lain in state since Wednesday.
To the tune of pipes and drums, the gun carriage — used at every state funeral since Queen Victoria’s in 1901 — was then drawn by 142 junior enlisted sailors in the Royal Navy to Westminster Abbey.
The thousand-year-old church’s tenor bell tolled 96 times at one-minute intervals — one for every year of her life — stopping a minute before the service began at 11:00 am (1000 GMT).
In his funeral sermon, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby praised the queen’s life of duty and service to the UK and Commonwealth.
“People of loving service are rare in any walk of life. Leaders of loving service are still rarer,” he told the 2,000 guests, who included US President Joe Biden and Japan’s reclusive Emperor Naruhito.
“But in all cases, those who serve will be loved and remembered,” the Anglican leader added, before the coffin was borne on another procession towards her final resting place in Windsor Castle, west of London.
The longest-serving monarch in British history died at Balmoral, her Scottish Highland retreat, on September 8 after a year of declining health.
Her eldest son and successor, King Charles III, dressed in ceremonial military uniform, followed the solemn processions, alongside his three siblings.
– ‘She was my boss’ –
Charles’s eldest son Prince William accompanied them alongside William’s estranged brother, Prince Harry, and other senior royals.
William’s two eldest children, George and Charlotte, who are next in line to the throne, also walked behind the coffin inside the abbey.
Late Sunday, Charles, 73, and his wife, Queen Consort Camilla, said they had been “deeply touched” by the public’s flood of messages.
“As we all prepare to say our last farewell, I wanted simply to take this opportunity to say thank you,” he said.
Britain, a country much changed since the queen’s coronation in the same abbey in 1953, has dug deep into its centuries of tradition to honour the only monarch that most of its people have ever known.
“It’s once in a lifetime,” said student Naomi Thompson, 22, camped out in the crowds at London’s Hyde Park.
“It’s a moment of history… She’s everyone’s granny,” added engineer Alice Garret, 28.
Others unable to be in London gathered in cinemas and churches around England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to watch the service and procession on big screens.
Auto engineer Jamie Page, a 41-year-old former soldier, stood on Whitehall to observe the funeral procession, wearing his military medals from service in the Iraq war.
“Sixteen years old, I swore an oath of allegiance to the queen. She’s been my boss. She means everything, she was like a gift from God,” he said.
– Two minutes of silence –
But on Charles, the oldest person yet to ascend the British throne, Page added: “Who knows, time will tell.”
The funeral lasted just under an hour, brought to an end by a bugler playing “The Last Post”, before two minutes of silence and the reworded national anthem, “God Save the King”.
After an hour-long procession that was to go past Buckingham Palace, the coffin was to be taken west by road to Windsor Castle, where thousands had lined the route since early morning.
Some 6,000 military personnel have been drafted in to take part in proceedings in what Britain’s highest-ranking military officer has called “our last duty for Her Majesty the Queen”.
The queen will be buried alongside her father king George VI, her mother queen Elizabeth and sister princess Margaret, reuniting in death the family who once called themselves “us four”.
The coffin of her husband, Prince Philip, who died last year aged 99, will also be transferred to lie alongside her.
Elizabeth’s funeral could not be more different from Philip’s at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, in April 2021.
Coronavirus restrictions limited mourners to just 30, led by the queen, a solitary figure in mourning black and a matching facemask.
The contrast was profound on Monday, the abbey packed with dignitaries and some ordinary Britons who were honoured for their military or community service, especially during the Covid pandemic.
– Biden’s tribute –
“You were fortunate to have had her for 70 years; we all were,” Biden said on Sunday after signing a book of condolence. “The world is better for her.”
In the abbey pews was Liz Truss, whom the queen appointed as the 15th British prime minister of her reign just two days before her death, in her last major ceremonial duty.
All of Truss’s living predecessors were there plus her counterparts and representatives from the 14 Commonwealth countries outside Britain where Charles is also head of state.
Whether they remain constitutional monarchies or become republics is likely to be the defining feature of Charles’s reign.
The queen’s death has prompted deep reflection about the Britain she reigned over, the legacy of its past, its present state and what the future might hold, as well as the values of lifelong service and duty she came to represent during her 70-year reign.
Hundreds of thousands of people are estimated to have queued, sometimes for up to 25 hours and overnight, to file past the queen’s coffin as it lay in state.
Chrissy Heerey, a serving member of the Royal Air Force who joined the marathon queue twice, was the last person through the doors and described the experience as “amazing”.
“When they came to me and said, ‘right, you’re the last person’, I said, really?!” she told AFP, before heading off to join the crowds for the coffin’s procession through London.
– Big Ben tolls –
Throughout the procession after the funeral, Big Ben, the giant bell atop the Elizabeth Tower at one end of the Houses of Parliament, tolled and military guns fired at one-minute intervals.
At Windsor, the Sebastopol Bell — captured in Crimea in 1856 — and the Curfew Tower Bell also sounded.
A vast television audience was expected to watch the funeral worldwide and live online, in a sign of the enduring fascination with the woman once described as “the last global monarch”.
Those lining the streets of London — already jammed at sunrise on Monday — said they had to bear witness.
“I will talk about this moment to my children,” said Jack Davies, 14, camped out for the procession with his parents at Hyde Park Corner, where the coffin will be transferred from the gun carriage for the drive to Windsor.
“I’ll say: ‘I was there!'”
At Windsor, the queen’s crown, orb and sceptre will be removed and placed on the altar.
The most senior officer of the royal household, the lord chamberlain, breaks his “wand of office” and places it on the coffin, symbolising the end of her reign.
The lead-lined oak casket, draped with the queen’s colours, will be lowered into the Royal Vault as a lone bagpiper plays a lament.
A private interment ceremony will take place at the adjoining King George VI Memorial Chapel at 1830 GMT.
© Agence France-Presse