Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin was given a solemn reception by tens of thousands of mourners in central London on Monday, as Britain’s longest-reigning monarch made her final journey home.
There was hardly breathing room along The Mall as crowds of loyal admirers took up every inch of space on pavements lining the route leading to Buckingham Palace.
The sun emerged from behind the clouds shortly after the funeral service at Westminster Abbey concluded at noon, and mourners, some of whom had camped out overnight, prepared for the climax of the day’s events.
A young child wailed in the distance, a sign that the hours of standing had taken a toll on tiny feet. Other children were hoisted up on their parents’ shoulders and afforded a bird’s-eye view of the historic procession.
The throngs dutifully observed a strict silence as they watched the sovereign's coffin being carried along the road on the state gun carriage. The coffin was draped in the Royal Standard and topped with the Imperial State Crown and the sovereign's orb and sceptre.
After the coffin had made its way through The Mall, the crowds erupted in applause as they watched the procession proceed towards the palace.
More than a hundred royal household staff members, dressed in black, formed a guard of honour outside the late queen’s official home. They stood shoulder to shoulder as their former boss was carried past them and up Constitution Hill before being transported to Windsor for burial.
King Charles III was supported by his brothers Prince Andrew and Prince Edward and sister Princess Anne in following the coffin on foot. Prince William and Prince Harry appeared united in grief as they marched side by side. The scene was reminiscent of the brothers’ walk behind their mother Princess Diana’s coffin 25 years ago.
Kate, Princess of Wales followed the procession in a car with Prince George and Princess Charlotte. The princess, wearing an elaborate black hat with netting over her face, appeared to be in deep thought as she observed the thousands of mourners along The Mall.
Prince George, second in line to the throne, looked somewhat awestruck by the sheer number of people who turned out to honour his great-grandmother.
Queen Consort Camilla was sitting beside the Princess of Wales, while Prince Harry’s wife Meghan travelled in a car behind them. Sophie, Countess of Wessex, was in a car behind them with her daughter Lady Louise while her husband Prince Edward made the sombre journey on foot.
“The queen and the crown mean so much to us so we had to come over and pay our respects,” Samantha Tate, from Northern Ireland, told The National. “The monarchy represents our county across the world. I think it’s important to show our support by coming to this and coming out when the royals visit Northern Ireland.”
The 24-year-old was accompanied by her mother, Gale Tate, and boyfriend Andrew Hoey. The trio proudly sported the Northern Irish flag, which stood out among the sea of Union Jacks.
“She’s worth it,” Ms Tate said, referring to the journey they had made across the Irish Sea to attend the queen’s funeral procession. “She’s our queen, too. A lot of people forget that because were in Northern Ireland. I’m here representing my community.”
The younger Ms Tate urged other young people to get behind the king as he takes on his new role.
“Charles has done so much charity work, especially with young people through the Prince’s Trust,” she said. “That’s something to be admired. He has 100 per cent of my support.”
A contemplative silence had hung over The Mall on Monday morning, with crowds already six-deep by 8am.
Some of the more ardent fans of the royal family had camped out in tents and on folding chairs overnight, refusing to risk losing their prime spots on the front row. Other bleary-eyed mourners had got up before dawn to make the journey to central London for the historic day.
Extended families and groups of friends chatted over cups of coffee and tea poured from giant flasks while children were kept entertained on iPads and phones.
At 11am, as the funeral began in Westminster Abbey, the chattering crowds on The Mall fell silent as the audio of the service played on loudspeakers. Restless children were reined in by their parents and crying babies were shushed as the hymns in the abbey could be heard outside the palace, the historic seat of the monarchy.
After the procession had drawn to a close, the crowds retreated to St James’s Park to bask in the sun and tuck into picnics. The sombre atmosphere gave way to a more relaxed vibe as people huddled in groups on the grass to eat and drink.
Sisters Elizabeth Jones, 72, and Anne Fieldhouse, 68, cracked open a bottle of champagne, saying the funeral was as much a celebration of the queen’s life as it was a mournful send-off.
“It’s been amazing,” said Ms Fieldhouse from Worcestershire. “We’ve met such beautiful and respectful people.”
Ms Jones, whose parents named her after the queen, joked that she had a marriage like the late monarch’s as her husband is also called Philip.
“We always loved the queen,” she said. “She’s been there for almost all of my life.”
A Chelsea Pensioner from Leeds, Yorkshire, said he turned up to pay his respects to the queen whom he met “many years ago” while working as a bus driver.
“She visited Leeds and I introduced her to local children,” he recalled. “She was a lovely lady. It’s a very sad day.”