LONDON — Three months ago, royal enthusiasts lined the red pavement of The Mall which stretches in front of Buckingham Palace. The excitement was palpable as they waved tiny British flags to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s 70 years on the throne.
But on Wednesday, as a royal procession once again descended the Mall in front of the palace, it was rather the silence of the crowd that resonated.
The rousing marches of the brass band were replaced by a dark dirge. The draped Union Jack flags were held up by black mourning ribbons, rather than waved by passers-by. And the coffin of Queen Elizabeth, the only monarch most people have ever known, passed slowly.
The clack of horses’ hooves as the carriage carrying his coffin was pulled down the road, and the clack of shoes worn by members of the royal family walking just behind, reverberated through the crowd.
“It was surprisingly emotional,” said Liz Budge, 38, who was holding her 9-month-old daughter, Martha. Like many who had spent hours waiting for a glimpse of the royal procession, she said it “felt important to be here”.
“None of us have really experienced an event like this before, so we have nothing to compare to,” said Sue Budge, 66, who is Liz’s mother. As a child, she remembered Winston Churchill’s state funeral. “Seeing the coffin and seeing the crown glisten in the sun was really moving,” she said.
Across Britain, people have taken part in the mourning rituals that have gripped the nation since the Queen died in Scotland on Thursday at the age of 96. The elaborate ceremonies, planned for years, returned to London on Wednesday after the Queen’s coffin’s journey was completed. from Scotland to Buckingham Palace and in the afternoon was carried in the motorcade to Westminster Hall.
There she will rest in state for four days before her state funeral, and members of the public will be allowed past the casket, although they may face waits of up to 30 hours. Wednesday night, the line was already miles. Many had chosen to watch the procession go by rather than brave the day’s wait.
Two generations of a family from County Tyrone in Northern Ireland who described themselves as “staunchly royalist” had left their homes at 2 a.m. to travel to London to see the motorcade.
“You thought she would be here forever,” said Dawn Livingstone, 55. “It was a shock for everyone. Everyone felt like they had lost a tiny little something.
In Green Park, right next to Buckingham Palace, flowers were stacked or arranged on the grass in rows or spirals that allowed the crowd to stroll and reflect.
“She is an incredible role model and inspiration to women and girls,” said Antonia Parsons, 34, her voice captivating as she watched her young daughter in her pushchair. “She is the only queen, rather than king, that I and probably my daughter will ever know.”
Ms Parsons, who lives in London’s Brixton district, is not a Royalist but said she was deeply moved by the tributes to the Queen, which she described as a ‘significant of stability or pursuit”. Amid a cost of living crisis and political unrest, Britain needs the Queen more than ever, Ms Parsons said.
“We know we’re heading into a tough winter, and I think that kind of doubles down on the grief that people are already feeling,” she added.
Stacks of handwritten notes were also laid out on the grass near the palace. “We love the Queen,” a child had written in pencil next to a large heart on a piece of white paper. Raindrops from an overnight storm had caused the page of the multi-coloured dress adorning the staff-shaped depiction of Queen Elizabeth, signed by 5-year-old Phoebe White, to bleed despite a protective plastic covering.
Yvonne Frater, 72, and her sister-in-law Alison Frater, 66, who walked among the tributes, said they both felt a personal connection to the Queen.
“It’s like losing the matriarch of the family,” said Yvonne, who moved to Britain as a child from Jamaica, where the Queen is still head of state. “And when that matriarch leaves, it’s not knowing what happens next.”