Queen Elizabeth II's coffin procession: crowds flock to The Mall in London

Many royalists camped overnight for their chance to witness history unfolding

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It started as a ripple and quickly became a wave. Hundreds of people, who were gathered outside Westminster Abbey, reacted to the sight of Queen Elizabeth II's coffin passing the place where she married Prince Philip in 1947.

For many, witnessing the final chapters of the queen’s story was an important chapter of their own family history as well as that of the nation.

Nusrat Mahmud made the trip from Bath, south-west England, with her husband, children and parents, including her mother Farida Khanam Saki, an MP in the Bangladeshi Parliament.

“It’s something for them to remember,” she said, pointing to her sons aged 6 and 9 months. “When they grow up, they can say we were part of this moment in British history.”

Meanwhile, Stephen Sullivan, from Essex, said he held a special link to the queen’s reign as it began the year he was born ―1952.

“There’s a solemn atmosphere here today,” he said, as he stood back from the crowds to have a breather. “It’s quite emotional.

"The queen did a marvellous job and I’m sure [King] Charles will also."

The queen's coffin had been transported along a slow march from Buckingham Palace to Westminster, where in the Great Hall it will now lay in state for four days. The royal family in uniform and formal dress, accompanied by the mass ranks of the leading military regiments, had followed the coffin along the route where the late monarch had performed her decades-long official duties.

For most of those in the crowd, Wednesday had started early as throngs of mourners jostled for front-row positions along The Mall.

While there was stiff competition for space, with many dedicated royalists having camped out overnight, there was also a sense of camaraderie and fellowship in the crowds. Strangers bonded over their shared love and celebration of the late monarch after her 70 years on the throne.

Young and old wrapped in warm coats, blankets and flags, sat on foldable chairs. They sipped warm drinks as they waited patiently to witness the queen’s final journey.

The Imperial State Crown and a wreath of flowers were on top of the queen’s coffin as it left the palace for the procession at 2.22pm. This was followed by King Charles III, Prince William, Prince Harry, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. Princess Anne, the queen’s daughter, also joined the procession on foot, while other royal ladies ― including Queen Consort Camilla, the Princess of Wales, Prince Harry's wife Meghan and Sophie Wessex ― travelled the 1.9-kilometre route by car.

The lying-in-state period will begin at 5pm on Wednesday. It will continue around the clock until 6.30am on Monday, before the queen's funeral at Westminster Abbey at 11am.

With six hours to go before the historic procession started, the crowds along The Mall were already six deep.

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“It’s unbelievable,” Derek Derdivanis, an American tourist holidaying in London, told The National as he observed the rows of people. "I admire them, I’m truly surprised that people will sit and wait just to get a glimpse, to be part of history.”

The 68-year-old flew in from California on Tuesday night and is en route to Scotland for a golfing holiday. His scheduled tour of Buckingham Palace was cancelled due to the queen’s death. However, Mr Derdivanis said he was glad he had the chance to witness history unfolding in London.

“It’s an expression of love that the people of England and around the world have for the queen. I love tradition, it’s awesome,” he said.

Chantelle Cahill, 38, woke her six children up at 5am to travel to The Mall and secure a good viewing position. Her youngsters were eagerly awaiting the procession with their home-made condolence cards and bunches of flowers.

The Londoner remembers watching Princess Diana’s funeral procession as a teenager in 1997. She was determined to ensure her four sons and two daughters, aged from 5 to 15, could witness Wednesday's historic event.

“It’s something that they will tell their children and grandchildren about,” she said. “For them to be a part of today is absolutely amazing. They are also seeing King Charles and the future king, William. I said: 'you’ll thank me for years to come'.

“We’ve got ponchos, we’ve got picnics, I’ve even got a bucket in case they need to wee.”

The queen's coffin arrived at the palace on Tuesday evening, having been transported from Scotland on a flight to RAF Northolt. The Princess Royal and her husband Vice Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence travelled with the casket on the RAF Globemaster C-17 flight from Edinburgh. The coffin remained at the palace overnight, giving royal family members and royal household staff the opportunity to pay their respects.

Security was tight around the palace on Wednesday morning, with police conducting mounted and on-foot patrols. The thousands of bouquets of flowers and other tributes left at the palace walls after the queen's death last Thursday appeared to have been moved to nearby Green Park.

Esther Ravenor, 55, a native of Kenya, said the queen held a special place in her heart due to her connection to her homeland. The late monarch was on holiday in the East African country in 1952 when she heard that her father King George VI had died, making her the new sovereign.

“We love the queen; as Kenyans, we celebrate her,” Ms Ravenor told The National as she unfurled a Kenyan flag. “She taught us kindness, respect and just to be there for each other.

“She was a queen of love. It’s like losing a mum for me. It’s a mix of emotions for me, coming from a migrant background.

“I had some issues with migration and fear of persecution. Later to be given British citizenship was an honour and I am really humbled to be here.”

A special memory ingrained in Ms Ravenor’s mind is her 2005 meeting with the queen at Moorfields Eye Hospital in Islington, London. Her daughter, Zee, and her classmates sang for the monarch.

“It was a proud moment for me,” she said. “I shook her hand. It was amazing. She said the kids were great. It was a special moment I will always remember.”

A military horse on The Mall ahead of the ceremonial procession of the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall, London, on Wednesday. Reuters

Royal fan Lewis, 23, travelled to London from Newcastle with his mother Chris, 58, on Tuesday evening. The pair had a few hours’ sleep overnight on foldable chairs, before waking up to a huge influx of fellow mourners.

Dressed in a suit for the sombre occasion, Lewis said he wanted to witness a “momentous moment” in British history. He said he was eager to honour the queen's memory and also show support for the royal family, who are grieving the loss of their matriarch.

“We got here at 8pm last night as people were leaving after seeing her coffin arrive at the palace,” he said. “There were other people on chairs and some people were in tents. There is camaraderie here, people are sharing umbrellas and chatting and they were giving out free hot drinks. It was not too cold but it was damp."

Valerie Garnerone, 53, flew in from the southern French city of Nice on Tuesday. She headed straight to The Mall, where she camped out overnight.

A long-time admirer of the queen, the Frenchwoman hailed the late British monarch for having a strong influence across the globe. “It’s my way to say my last goodbye,” she told The National. “She had a really incredible life and for me it was a priority to be here.”

Sharon Chlouk, in her 50s, arrived with her 17-year-old daughter Riya after taking a train from Brighton. She printed photos of the queen at home and brought them along to hold up as her coffin passed.

“I think it’s nice to have this memory of her,” she told The National as she held up the picture. “She was charming.”

“It’s interesting to see the celebration of her life,” her daughter added.

People queue to see the queen's coffin lying in state - in pictures

Updated: September 14, 2022, 3:10 PM
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