Red roses hit the side of the state hearse as the Queen’s coffin was driven from London to Windsor at the conclusion of the funeral. By the time the procession reached Windsor Castle, many flowers had caught against the windscreen and lay atop the glass body of the vehicle, held in place by nothing except the grace of fate. They were left there – an unplanned tribute in an otherwise meticulously orchestrated event.
Moments after the military procession of the main funeral ended, the muffled bells of Westminster Abbey rang endlessly. The waiting crowds broke into cheers, applause, and wolf whistles in a bizarre (yet fitting) mix of archaic and modern adoration that no doubt would have brought a twinkle to her famously blue eyes.
The last goodbye was done in the British way.
No one manages pomp, dignity, pageantry, ceremony, and grandeur quite like the Poms and it must be said, if you want something done right, ask the Duke of Norfolk. Even the weather bowed to the order of service, with London’s famous grey skies opening to blue in contrast to the double-rainbow that mysteriously appeared above Buckingham Palace through the drizzle during the hour of the Queen’s death.
As a state funeral, it was an overwhelmingly military display. Befitting the head of state, it had all the colour, costume, theatre, and drama that startled the otherwise dreary modern world. London was spellbound by the performance of living history while their emotions were taken by surprise – especially when bagpipes drowned the world in mournful tribute and the tears started to flow.
When members of the crowd were interviewed at random and asked, ‘What does Her Majesty mean to you?’ The answer was usually a swiftly uttered, ‘Everything…’
The end of the second Elizabethan Age has seen an outpouring of affection unlikely to repeat. Kings, queens, emperors, empresses, prime ministers, and presidents attended Her Majesty’s funeral and yet they were barely worthy of a footnote in the coverage.
What sort of Queen can cast a shadow over her peers? How does a small, unassuming woman bring military men to tears and leave the most powerful politicians in the world bowing low?
In the days leading up to the funeral, the queue to see the Queen lying-in-state had reached ten miles long with a fourteen-hour wait – an arduous pilgrimage undertaken by over 10,000 people.
During the initial period of mourning, royal residences and Hyde Park overflowed with flowers, cards, and Paddington bears. It was a coming together of citizens, many of whom made lasting friendships. That, perhaps more than anything, would have appealed to the Late Elizabeth.
Minutes before the official funeral began, the mood changed. There was no instruction issued. No order given.
Crowds thickened in the streets – ten and twenty deep on all sides. The London Plane trees lining The Mall were in full leaf, breaking up the concrete and sandstone facades with a very British green and patches of shade where the largest crowds congregated. Beneath their canopy was the road’s muted crimson – dyed to give the impression of a sprawling red carpet leading to Buckingham Palace. Today, it looked the part.
The mourners were surrounded by Union Jacks proudly draped over whatever surface was available. The largest of the flags were those hung between the trees as a resplendent sea. Spurred on by the colour, some members of the crowd had donned the once-playful gimmicks of Union Jack hats and glasses from the recent Jubilee celebrations.
Between the promenades of Union Jacks were the flags of the Commonwealth nations. It remains difficult to think of a time when those flags have looked more beautiful, draped together.
Last night, the Queen was laid to rest. The time for tears has come to pass. The farewells have slipped away. For today, and all the days to follow, we must look to restoration. The peace and strength of the Commonwealth are well worth saving and now that mantle falls, not only to the new King, but to us.
Farewell Elizabeth, until we meet again.
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