It is not only the silences that go through the marrow during Queen Elizabeth’s state funeral, but also the sounds. The cannons in Hyde Park. Big Ben’s dull clatter. Irish and Scottish bagpipes guards. The click of army boots against the asphalt in The Mall. The Order of Angels in Westminster Abbey. That God save the king. And more specifically: the sobs from those present, for whom this climax of ten days of public mourning is just a little too much.
London is Monday afternoon, to paraphrase William Shakespeare, ‘full of sounds’ during the biggest funeral that not only the British but the rest of the world has ever seen. Sounds of sadness, sounds of thanks and sounds of hope. Saying goodbye to the Little Great Queen who has been on the throne for more than seventy years, the words ‘Great’ and ‘United’ in Great Britain and the United Kingdom regain their old meaning.
Hundreds of thousands of Britons came to the capital on Monday morning, or already Sunday evening, to help make history. With sleeping bags. With thermos. With Mr Kipling cakes. With flag. With unresolved grief. They all want a nice place around the Palace of Westminster, where the late Queen lay in state until Monday morning, and Westminster Abbey, the place where Elizabeth was married, crowned and where the funeral would now take place.
The gun carriage on which the royal body rested is being pulled by 142 sailors, just as it was at Victoria’s funeral 121 years ago. Back then, it was really the artillery’s job, but the bad weather made the horses unmanageable. The Royal Navy then came to the rescue. This is how British history works: a series of coincidences and improvisations. Elizabeth was never meant to be queen. It was the result of her uncle’s love life.
From the beginning, she has sought God’s support in her vocation, which the Anglican funeral service testifies to. It is completely different from Diana’s farewell a quarter of a century ago. No Elton John on the piano, no emotional speeches and no celebrities, but hopeful hymns and hymns. As then, Harry and William walk side by side behind the coffin, as does nine-year-old George, the future king, after much discussion, with his two-year-younger sister Charlotte.
The head of the Commonwealth, Baroness Scotland, and the head of her government, Prime Minister Liz Truss, read from the Bible, while the head of the Anglican Church, Archbishop Justin Welby, preached. ‘We will meet again‘ he quotes Vera Lynn. The most touching moment comes at the end, when the royal bagpiper, Pipe Major Paul Burns, plays a final tribute and lets the sound die by walking away towards the light. In the British way, emotions were hidden in ritual and ceremony.
If you want to follow the whole ceremony closely, you have to rely on the big screens in Hyde Park, where you can occasionally smell gunpowder. The place where The Rolling Stones, the kings of rock, stood a few months ago is now home to thousands of spectators who have brought blankets and provisions. Where in the last days the row served as a symbol of Britishness, the picnic, that other British specialty, is now part of the national mourning process.
deeply religious princess
Gary Tootill donned his burgundy beret from his Parachute Regiment for the occasion and sat on the medals he earned in Bosnia, Belize and Northern Ireland, as well as the three medals from three Royal Jubilees. “It’s an honor to have served her,” says the 54-year-old veteran, “and to have been served by her.” He proudly displays a photo showing how he met the Queen as a 20-year-old during an army exercise near Salisbury. “This farewell does her justice,” he says, eyeing his marching brothers-in-arms with a glass of rosé.
In addition to sadness, pride is also a dominant emotion for 31-year-old Sophie Nielson, who is looking at the flag for the recent platinum anniversary. “Her death has reunited the country and I hope this will be her legacy,” she says. ‘My lasting memory of Her Majesty? Her humor and how she managed to survive as a young person in a man’s world.’ A little further on, an old man sings The Lord is my shepherd with, the deeply religious princess’s favorite hymn.
There is silence – even planes have been diverted – as the coffin is put back on the mountain by soldiers who had come over from Iraq. A long mourning march then begins towards Wellington Arch near Hyde Park Corner. Slowly, the crème de la crème of the armed forces march across The Mall, the wide boulevard created for occasions like these. Walking behind the coffin, in full regalia, are King Charles and other members of the Royal Family. The gates of Buckingham Palace are open, but the funeral procession is marching past.