Queen Elizabeth II platinum jubilee: Britain celebrates historic reign with gun salutes

The salute is a military honour fired to mark special occasions in the UK

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Gun salutes rang out across London on Monday afternoon as celebrations honoured Queen Elizabeth II’s record-breaking platinum reign.

Londoners, tourists and avid royal fans crowded around the waterfront next to Tower Bridge to watch a 62-gun salute fired over the River Thames.

Some people told The National that attending the gathering was particularly special for them because some of their earliest memories were watching the queen ascend the throne in a live television broadcast.

The gun salute is a military honour fired to mark special occasions, including birthdays and anniversaries.

The King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery, named by the Queen's father King George VI 75 years ago, fired a 41-gun salute from London's Green Park. The blasts rung out across the park which stretches to Buckingham Palace. Earlier, the Band of Grenadier Guards had given a musical performance.

Brothers Ahmad and Mahmoud Sherif were among the younger spectators who watched the gun salute at the Tower of London to mark Queen Elizabeth II's platinum jubilee. Photo: The National

Brothers Ahmad and Mahmoud Sherif travelled from their home in Acton, west London, to the Tower of London with their sister and mother.

The family, who are originally from Syria, moved to the UK five years ago and were delighted to witness the historic occasion at one of the capital’s iconic landmarks.

Ahmad, 11, described how the loud bangs from the gun salute reminded him of war, but said overall he found the firing of the cannons “interesting and fun”.

“I have never seen that action before, only on the TV. It was kind of exciting but also scary – I thought it was from a war,” he told The National.

“I sometimes see the queen on TV and we learn about her in school and also about ancient things. A lot of my friends have been to the Tower of London and now I am here.”

His younger brother Mahmoud, 9, beamed as he described his initial reaction to witnessing the military honour.

“When I heard it I thought there was a fire and I was nervous but then I was told they are shooting cannon,” he said. “I think it was interesting.”

Crowds gathered at the Tower of London on Monday to watch a gun salute in honour of Queen Elizabeth as the nation celebrates her platinum jubilee. Photo: The National

On Monday, it was reported that the queen had returned to Windsor Castle from Sandringham, her country retreat in Norfolk, and will attend a service of thanksgiving for her late husband Prince Philip at Westminster Abbey on March 29.

As well as the service for the duke, it is understood the head of the royal family will attend a diplomatic reception at Windsor on March 2 and the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey on March 14.

The 95-year-old monarch is also expected to resume other duties such as audiences, credentials and privy council meetings which will be held in person and online.

East Londoner Jimmy James, 74, and his wife Susan, 73, decided to travel to central London on Monday to get in on the action because watching it on television would not have been the same.

“All the pomp and the rest of it – you don’t get that on television. It’s better to be here in person,” said Mrs James.

After watching the gun salute at the Tower of London, both recalled vivid childhood memories of the queen's coronation

“Our neighbour was the only person in the street who had a TV and she opened her doors for everyone to watch it,” said Mrs James. “It was so beautiful. Anything to do with the royal family is so regal and pomp. There are some memories that just stick out in your mind and that’s one of them.”

Her husband remembered marking the monarch's accession to the throne by attending a street party near his childhood home in Bethnal Green, east London.

“We had lines and lines of tables and there were kids and their mums and dads watching the ceremony on TV," he said. "I remember they had a great big magnifying glass placed in front of the TV so that everyone could watch it. The TV was small but they made it into a 30-inch screen.”

The couple praised the queen for her dedicated service to the Commonwealth and said she has been an inspiration to generations of men and women.

“She’s just been an inspiration to everybody and people look up to her not just in England but around the world. She’s the most famous woman in the world.”

The queen became the first British monarch to rule for 70 years on Sunday.

On Saturday, she announced it was her “sincere wish” that her eldest son’s second wife be known as Queen Consort on his accession to the throne.

Camilla, 74, who currently has the title of Duchess of Cornwall, has become a popular member of the royal family and regularly appears at official duties, alongside her husband Prince Charles and the queen.

Jimmy and Susan James pose in front of the Tower of London after watching the gun salute in honour of Queen Elizabeth II's platinum jubilee. Photo: The National

Mr James said he was surprised by the monarch’s announcement, but nevertheless happy about her decision.

“I was not expecting it, but I am not against it,” he said. “I think Camilla has been wonderful really and she’s not put a step out of line.”

Mr James, who has followed the royal family throughout his life, said he cannot foresee any circumstances whereby the queen would abdicate the throne.

“I cannot see her giving up. I think she will see it to the end,” he said.

Lt Col James Shaw, who as Brigade Major of the prestigious Household Division oversees the Army's big ceremonial events, said Monday's military salutes were just the beginning of the UK's platinum jubilee celebrations.

"For me this is the launch of the platinum jubilee. This is where it all starts for all of us and as a country," he said.

"This is no doubt a career highlight for me. I'm honoured to be involved. On June 2, we've got the queen's birthday parade, with 1,400 troops involved in that, and on June 5 there's the pageant and the armed forces will also be involved.”

Royal and national salutes feature 21 rounds, but increase to 41 rounds when fired from a royal park or residence. The Tower of London salute is 62-guns.

The guns fire at 10-second intervals.

Members of the King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery fire a salute in Green Park. PA

The 4th Infantry Brigade and HQ North East (4 Brigade) also fired a 21-gun salute at York Museum Gardens.

The queen was advised to undertake light duties after a night in hospital last autumn, and it is likely she will still be mindful of the advice.

But at the weekend, the head of the royal family held her largest in-person public engagement since then, welcoming members of the Sandringham community to her Norfolk home to celebrate the jubilee.

She used a walking stick but looked well, moved freely and clearly enjoyed meeting former Sandringham estate workers, charity volunteers and colleagues from the Sandringham branch of the Women’s Institute.

During her seven decades on the throne, the queen has overseen a wealth of social, economic and political change, including the end of the British Empire.

She became the queen of Britain and more than a dozen other realms including Canada, Australia and New Zealand on the death of her father King George VI on February 6, 1952, while she was on an international tour in Kenya.

The news was broken to her by her husband Prince Philip, who died last year aged 99 after more than 70 years by her side.

The queen said on Saturday that she wished to renew the pledge she had made in 1947, when she turned 21, that her life would be one of devotion to the country.

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Updated: February 21, 2022, 5:19 AM