Sombre silence for Queen Elizabeth's lying in state

Tears and kisses as 'The National' joins the stream of mourners paying their last respects inside Westminster Hall

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Some stopped and bowed, others blew kisses while a few sobbed openly as mourners slowly walked past Queen Elizabeth II lying in state on Wednesday evening.

Two lines streamed down the thick, fawn-coloured carpet past the coffin draped with the Royal Standard.

It rested on the raised catafalque guarded by two officers each from the Life Guards and Blues and Royals, four Beefeaters and two King's Body Guard, each statuesque as they rested hands on drawn swords, tips touching the red carpet, heads bowed.

The National, in the first small group of journalists allowed into Westminster Hall, watched as lords, MPs and parliamentary workers went down one side while the public went down the other.

As they came to the North Door of the 11th-century hall, they momentarily mingled, politicians and the people. It was how the queen, resting only a few metres away, would have wanted it.

Some left crying on the shoulders of a colleague. One woman blew a kiss, walked a few more paces then turned and blew another. The sense of loss was tangible.

The public pay their respects to Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster - in pictures

Never had Britain witnessed a monarch so devoted to duty or so respected after her record 70-year reign.

That will be reflected in the 16-kilometre queues that will continue until Monday at 6.30am British time, with many Britons and overseas mourners who have only known one monarch wanting to pay their last respects.

At the front, people young and old alike had arrived from 4am, some wearing military medals, others in wheelchairs.

“It was so emotional. You could feel such warmth coming from her,” one woman told The National after leaving the hall.

Queen Elizabeth II's coffin procession from Buckingham Palace - in pictures

The National counted 50 people passing a minute until after 20 minutes the line inside Westminster Hall halted for five minutes to allow the 10 catafalque guards to change over, in another solemn but exact act of military precision.

That discipline was reflected earlier in the day when Big Ben tolled mournfully once every minute as the late queen left Buckingham Palace for the last time at 2.22pm.

From 5pm on Wednesday to 6.30am on Monday her closed coffin will be mounted on a catafalque where it will be viewed by an estimated 500,000 people.

It was accompanied by wreath of white roses and dahlias appropriately joined by pine from the gardens at Balmoral Castle along with lavender and rosemary from Windsor Castle, both places treasured homes of the queen

The morning rain from slate-grey skies had subsided to rays of sunshine as the gun carriage of The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery trundled down The Mall, which was lined with Union flags and flanked by silent mourners, 10 people deep.

Mourners line The Mall to watch queen's coffin procession - in pictures

It was a road that the queen had taken so many times, on horseback for Trooping the Colour, others in the state carriage for the opening of Parliament. Many a head of state and prime minister had travelled in the opposite direction for audiences that Queen Elizabeth hosted during her reign.

Her final formal journey down the route through Horse Guards Parade had been in late June, to celebrate her platinum jubilee.

Now, instead of the joyful tunes of military bands and the rock group Queen, was the sound of gunfire every minute from the Royal Horse Artillery in Hyde Park.

Behind the escort party of 34 soldiers from The Queen’s Company, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards came King Charles III walking alongside his three siblings.

Queen Elizabeth II's lying in state explained - video

The waiting crowd of his new subjects watched the procession slowly march past, some smiling in memory of all Queen Elizabeth had done for their country, others crying. Nearly all clapped.

The escort of Grenadiers, Life Guards and Blue and Royals, who form part of the Household Division, marched the entire 40-minute journey either with their rifle or sword reversed under their right arm with their left hand behind their back. Each wore a black armband.

At precisely 3pm the procession reached Westminster Hall, attached to the Houses of Parliament.

In a moment of perfect unison, the eight Grenadier pallbearers removed the coffin from the gun-carriage then, as if it was raising under its own volition, placed it on their shoulders, before marching to the catafalque as choristers sang.

Queen Elizabeth II's coffin arrives at Buckingham Palace - video

The lying in state is another important moment in the transition of power, during which British subjects historically confirmed that the monarch was actually dead. This has been open to the public only since Edward VII’s death in 1910.

The location of Westminster Hall, once the home of kings and feasts, is symbolic in recognising the close relationship between crown and Parliament, in which the latter’s legislation ultimately has to be signed off by the monarch.

Another symbol of the transition was the crown on the coffin that will not be passed to King Charles until his coronation, most likely next year.

Before then, people from Britain and around the world will queue, some potentially for 24 hours, to pay their last respects.

RAF plane carrying Queen Elizabeth II's coffin lands in London - video

A major operation has begun with 1,000 security staff and volunteers supervising the line that stretched down the Thames past the London Eye and beyond the Tower of London.

Coloured wristbands were handed out to ensure people could keep their place if they needed to visit one of the 500 Portaloos lining the route or to get some refreshments.

After an airport-type security check, the first entered the hall silent in the gravity of the presence of their dead queen.

For the next six days, officers of the Household Division will stand vigil at each corner of the catafalque in six-hour shifts, except when the queen’s four children will mount their own vigil late on Friday evening.

People queue to view Queen Elizabeth II's coffin lying in state - in pictures

Updated: September 15, 2022, 2:26 PM
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