As the U.K. mourns the Queen, thousands gather at Buckingham Palace

·4 min read
A young woman reacts to some of the personal messages left in remembrance of Queen Elizabeth outside Buckingham Palace in London. (Briar Stewart/CBC - image credit)
A young woman reacts to some of the personal messages left in remembrance of Queen Elizabeth outside Buckingham Palace in London. (Briar Stewart/CBC - image credit)

Outside the wrought iron gates of Buckingham Palace, thousands queued up for their chance to pay respects to Queen Elizabeth II and be part of a historic moment as the United Kingdom, and much of the world, mourns her death.

On top of the palace, the Union Jack flew at half-mast, while at the base of the gates lay hundreds of bouquets of flowers, including many with handwritten notes personally thanking the Queen for 70 years of service. Others remembered a monarch who many viewed as a "grandmother."

"You have to show gratitude for this woman,'' said Gali Franklin, who was writing out a card in Hebrew.

Franklin, 47, grew up in Israel in a kibbutz, or settlement, where many had British ancestry. She moved to the United Kingdom 20 years ago.

WATCH | King Charles arrives at Buckingham Palace and greets mourners:

As Franklin spoke with CBC, she stood amid a swelling crowd that demonstrated just how widely the Queen was admired.

"She represented all of us. All colours and mixed ages, nations," Franklin said. "It brings us together."

Diverse crowd

Among the thousands gathered at the palace were not only devoted monarchists, but office workers, students and multi-generational families who wanted to experience this moment together.

There were lifelong Brits, recent immigrants and tourists whose vacations happened to coincide with the Queen's death.

Beside one bouquet, someone had placed a portrait of Paddington Bear, another British institution, who helped the Queen celebrate her Platinum Jubilee earlier this year by sharing tea with her in a video that went viral.

In front of the flowers, some posed and snapped selfies, while others silently took a solemn moment.

Briar Stewart/CBC
Briar Stewart/CBC

Linda Mauer, 55, bowed her head to say a prayer, and then made the sign of the cross.

"I always grew up with the Queen, and she felt very close to me," Mauer said.

She grew up in Hong Kong, but now lives in Seattle, and was in London on vacation with her husband.

"She really put her whole life into protecting the U.K. and the entire Commonwealth. I feel very grateful for her. She is a role model for me."

Period of mourning

The crowd started gathering in front of the palace Thursday morning, after news that the Queen was under medical supervision and her family were rushing up to Balmoral Castle in Scotland.

After she died later that day, the United Kingdom began to collectively grieve.

WATCH | Queen's death prompts outpouring of grief in Britain:

Her portrait is displayed on electronic screens at every bus stop, and many sporting events have been cancelled, including soccer matches in the U.K.'s Premier League.

Scheduled job action by rail and postal workers has also been called off, as a sign of respect.

MPs honoured the Queen on Friday during special sessions in the House of Commons.

Prime Minister Liz Truss, who met with the Queen at Balmoral on Tuesday, called her "one of the greatest leaders the world has ever known."

"She was the rock on which modern Britain was built," Truss said during her speech.

Briar Stewart/CBC
Briar Stewart/CBC

King Charles III, who arrived by car at Buckingham Palace and shook hands with some people, has declared a period of royal mourning extending from Friday until seven days after the royal funeral.

Once the Queen's body has been returned to London from Scotland, she is expected to lie in state for four days, which is when members of the public will be able to file past.

Longest-reigning monarch

Henry Jan turned up at Buckingham Palace in a three-piece suit and a bowler hat, saying it was important to dress formally for such an important occasion.

The 21-year-old is originally from China, but has been studying in the U.K. for six years. He is currently a student at the University of Oxford and took a train down Friday morning to lay flowers.

Briar Stewart/CBC
Briar Stewart/CBC

"When there are crises and wars and when politicians come and go, she's always been there," Jan said.

He added that while now isn't the time to talk about politics, he appreciated the Queen's tactful diplomacy. When she visited China in 1986, she was the first British monarch to do so.

The Queen's death comes at a time of uncertainty about the path forward for the monarchy and the U.K. As 73-year-old King Charles gets set to take the throne, the country is in the grip of an energy crisis and is struggling with high inflation.

"I don't think anybody will be able to replace [the Queen]," said Tracey Wheeler through tears, having turned up at Buckingham Palace just minutes after the monarch's death. "She was amazing."