Vast crowds gathered in London and Windsor for Queen Elizabeth’swatched the grand procession in silence and awe on Monday, as some wept, others clutched one another for support, and some held up their children to view ‘the making of history’.
In central London where the funeral began, tens of thousands lined the streets around Westminster Abbey, the Mall – the elegant avenue leading up to Buckingham Palace – and Hyde Park. Many had camped overnight or arrived in the chilly early hours.
At the first sight of the queen’s coffin being borne to Westminster Abbey, a hush fell over the crowds, who followed the funeral service on large television screens or from a radio broadcast on loudspeakers.
Many said the scale and pageantry of the funeral captured how they felt and was a fitting goodbye to the queen, who died on Sept. 8 aged 96. She had been on the throne for 70 years, and most Britons have known no other monarch.
“I find it hard to express in words what we just witnessed. This was really special and memorable,” said Camilla Moore, 53, from Nottingham, after watching the funeral service in London. “It was terribly sad. So very, very sad. The end of an era.”
Chloe Jesson, 59, had travelled south from Manchester and said she found the ceremony emotional.
“You felt the sadness for the country and her family. At the same time it was a celebration of her life… I occasionally cried, but I was never sad, if that makes any sense,” she said.
“The best thing was there were people from all walks of life, each race and religion and everyone came here to celebrate.”
After the service, the queen’s coffinon a gun carriage, escorted by her family and thousands of soldiers dressed in ceremonial finery, past her Buckingham Palace home and on to Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner, to the strains of funeral marches.
From there, it was placed on a hearse and driven to Windsor Castle, west of London. The queen will beat the castle, in the King George VI Memorial Chapel.
Hundreds of thousands of well-wishers lined the route, throwing flowers, cheering and clapping as it passed from the city to the English countryside that she so loved much.
John Ellis, 56, an army veteran, came from Portsmouth to Windsor, and watched the services from Long Walk, the 3-mile-long avenue that sweeps to Windsor Castle through Windsor Great Park.
“It’s been a moving day. I’ve been struck by the reverence of everybody throughout,” he said.
“My own emotions were mixed, up and down… The most moving moment I think was when the hearse went past. I was really struck by the silence. Especially with all the bands there, I thought there was going to be lots of music and fanfare and there wasn’t, there was just silence.”
As the funeral procession drew close to the castle, even the queen’swere taken out to watch.
‘A LOVING AND CARING PERSON’
Colin Sanders, 61, a retired soldier who had come to London from North Yorkshire to bid farewell to the queen, struggled to hold back tears listening to the ceremony on the Mall.
“It felt like we were there and part of it… it was very moving,” he said.
“I knew I’d well up … She’s like your grandma, a loving and caring person. She said she’d serve the country and that’s what she did.”
It was Britain’s first state funeral since 1965, when World War Two leader Winston Churchill was afforded the honour.
More than an hour before the funeral service began all viewing areas in central London were declared full. Authorities had said they expected up to a million people might travel to the capital.
Melanie Odey, 60, a teacher, had camped out in a tent with her daughters and grandchildren after arriving on Sunday afternoon.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of history, to pay your respects,” she said.
Some in the crowds were silent and sombre, dressed in black. Others wore bright colours and said they wanted to celebrate the queen’s life.
Anna Kathryn from Richmond, in southwest London, had never met or seen the queen. Yet she said her family felt they had a personal tie with her.
“It is like we have had a death in the family, we couldn’t miss this,” she said. “She was such a bright spot in everyone’s lives and now it feels like that light has gone out.”