Precision, solemnity and a grief that spoke for a nation

·3 min read
The coffin of Britain's Queen Elizabeth arrives at Westminster Hall from Buckingham Palace for her lying in state in London
The coffin of Britain's Queen Elizabeth arrives at Westminster Hall from Buckingham Palace for her lying in state in London

By James Toney

With grief that spoke for a watching nation, he walked slowly, surely and silently through the stilled streets of the capital.

You can plan a lifetime for a moment, but even the greatest apprenticeship couldn’t have sufficiently prepared him for the enormity of this occasion – the sad final chapter of an age now consigned to history.

King Charles III walked ten paces behind the Queen’s coffin, alongside his siblings Princess Anne, Princes Andrew and Edward and the late monarch’s grandsons, Princes William and Harry and Peter Phillips.

Drums were muffled and Big Ben tolled relentlessly as they walked, 75 steps per minute, everything choreographed with a blend of precision and solemnity.

The coffin of Queen Elizabeth II, adorned with a Royal Standard and the Imperial State Crown and pulled by a Gun Carriage of The King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery as it travels to Westminster Hall to lie-in-state
The coffin of Queen Elizabeth II, adorned with a Royal Standard and the Imperial State Crown and pulled by a Gun Carriage of The King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery as it travels to Westminster Hall to lie-in-state

London has seen some sights through its storied history but perhaps nothing quite like this, supposedly billed as a small and personal procession from Buckingham Palace, the heart of a nation, to Westminster Hall, the seat of its democracy.

Because when it comes to pomp and circumstance, this deeply moving high ceremony, over 1,000 people strong and laced heavily with symbolism, was quite something.

It was a farewell production that had been decades in the preparation and there was no opportunity for a mistake under the bright glare of a watching world.

But, as expected, the soldiers, sailors and airmen didn’t put a well-polished boot out of place, the perfect send-off to their commander-in-chief.

The Queen’s coffin, topped with the Imperial State Crown on velvet cushion and a wreath of white roses, spray white roses and white dahlias, was carried by a gun carriage of the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, a tradition dating back to the death of her great-grandmother Queen Victoria in 1901.

With the scarlet tunics and bearskin ‘caps’, the Grenadier Guards joined forces with the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals to provide the honour guard.

The band of the Scots Guard added the sombre soundtrack, while in the distance you could hear the thump of the gun salute being fired in Hyde Park.

After the heavy rain that marked the Queen’s return to London last night, the capital was bathed in watery autumnal sunshine, glinting on the gild and brass of all the massed military splendour.

In the crowds they were ten deep and more, children hoisted onto parents shoulders and selfie sticks thrust into the air.

In truth you couldn’t see much, but you were there – and that was all that mattered.

Exactly 39 minutes after departing Buckingham Palace, precisely as planned, the coffin arrived at the mediaeval magnificence of Westminster Hall, carried by eight sure-footed Grenadier Guards for a short religious service.

In this ancient space, a canvas for a nation’s history, it is expected 400,000 – perhaps half those expected to queue – will file slowly past as the Queen lies-in-state until Monday’s state funeral.

It will be her last public duty, one final chance to deliver on the mantra that she made the foundation of her monarchy – “I have to be seen to be believed.”

Read more: Precision, solemnity and a grief that spoke for a nation (SWLondoner)