Grief under grey skies as Britain mourns its queen at Buckingham Palace gates

Solemn atmosphere as mourners leave flowers and handwritten messages for Queen Elizabeth

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The gates of Buckingham Palace were a sombre place of mourning on Friday as Britain awoke to life without the late Queen Elizabeth II, who died on Thursday at the age of 96.

Mourners arrived under grey skies to leave flowers and handwritten tributes, see the noticeboard announcing the queen’s death and witness a watershed moment in British history.

“I feel so honoured that we’re here for this moment,” Jamin Sylvada, 49, a French-born visitor from America who arrived in London the day the queen died, told The National at the palace railings.

“She’s always been part of my life. She was so graceful and such a good woman throughout all these years.”

An anxious crowd had formed on Thursday afternoon as news filtered through that the queen was gravely unwell, before two footmen emerged from the palace to pin up the notice announcing her death at the Balmoral estate in Scotland.

The news had faster ways to travel in the social media age, but the black-framed notice and the lowering of the Union flag were part of the solemn theatre of the occasion, a changing of the guard not seen for 70 years.

Some mourners arrived on Friday dressed in black and carrying written tributes they had prepared, while others passed by on bicycles or in running gear, stopping to observe the solemn scene.

Many people took pictures of the flowers, the noticeboard and the flagpole, while others comforted each other or simply watched in silence from Queen Victoria’s statue and absorbed the weight of what had happened.

A notice was pinned to the railings of Buckingham Palace announcing the queen's death. Getty

Most British people have never known life without the queen, who marked 70 years on the throne this summer, a reign unsurpassed in the millennium-old history of the monarchy.

So many floral tributes were expected at the palace that a sign was put up saying they would be moved after 12 hours to the adjacent Green Park, freeing up space for the next cascade of mourners.

Alongside the flowers there were candles, British flags, photos of the queen and messages remembering her as a sovereign and matriarch, with one saying: “Thank you, ma’am, for everything.”

Another mourner wrote that the queen was “loved by everyone… will be missed by everyone”.

As the crowd swelled, phone signals started to falter and nervous officials put out a warning that trains were likely to be busy and roads closed because of the outpouring of public grief.

Britain in mourning after Queen Elizabeth's death - in pictures

The grief and solemnity were not confined to the queen’s subjects. People swapped stories in French and German outside the palace gates, and visitors who happened to be in Britain came to witness a moment of history.

“Everyone has a mother, everyone has grandmothers, and that’s part of the loss that I feel for the country too,” said Ms Sylvada’s partner Tom Schroeder, 64, an American whose grandmother was from Scotland.

“You can just feel the weightiness and the sombre mood. It’s had a big effect on me.”

The palace, the monarch’s official residence since 1837, was awaiting the arrival of the new King Charles III, who took the throne at the moment of his mother’s death but has days of formal ceremonies ahead of him.

It was just the start of a 10-day mourning period, carefully planned for years in what was code-named Operation London Bridge – the blueprint for a day that everybody knew would come but still marked a deep incision in history.

Once the tributes are paid in parliament and the books of condolences are filled with memories, the mourning will culminate in a funeral at Westminster Abbey and the queen’s burial beside her husband Prince Philip.

Updated: September 09, 2022, 1:44 PM