Britain and the world say farewell to Queen Elizabeth II

LONDON (Agencies): Queen Elizabeth II is laid to rest on Monday, after a grand state funeral attended by leaders from around the world, and a historic last ceremonial journey through the packed streets of London.

The longest-serving monarch in British history died aged 96 at Balmoral, her Scottish Highland retreat, on September 8 after a year of declining health.

The last state funeral to be held in Britain was in 1965 for the country’s wartime prime minister Winston Churchill.

Tens of thousands of people, many of whom had camped out overnight, lined the route of Queen Elizabeth’s funeral procession on Monday to bid farewell to the only British monarch most have ever known.

Huge crowds await Queen’s funeral

London’s City Hall said at 09:20 a.m. (0820 GMT) that all central viewing areas for the procession in the city were full.

“We wanted to come and see this historic event, to be part of it and to pay our respects to the Queen and thank her for her long life of service. I think we’ll probably feel fairly emotional at the end of it,” said Alison Cornish, 66, from Ashford in Kent.

Cornish was waiting on the Mall, London’s grand ceremonial boulevard by Buckingham Palace, where the crowd stood 15-20 people deep already at 8:30 a.m.

“Emotion is not something I try to exhibit, but I’m probably going to,” said her husband Robin, also 66.

The best prepared had tents, sleeping bags, flasks of tea and stepladders, while others were sitting or sleeping on the ground in only their jackets.

Melanie Odey, 60, a teacher, was at the front of the barriers along the Mall. She had camped in a tent with her two daughters and grandchildren after arriving on Sunday afternoon.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of history, to pay your respects,” she said. “The atmosphere is so unique. I had to come. It has definitely been worth it,” she said, adding that it was the least she could do to honor the late monarch.

“She cared so much about this country.”

There was a remarkable cross-section of society out on the streets, of young and old. People have arrived in London from all over Britain and the world to witness the state funeral.

Some were silent and sombre, dressed in black. Others were more upbeat. A group of three women dressed in Union Jack hats sang “God Save the Queen.” A woman with dyed green hair and facial piercings stood next to a man wearing a morning suit.

Final journey

After the funeral, the flag-draped coffin of the queen, topped with the majestic Imperial State Crown, will be taken west to Windsor Castle.

She will be buried alongside her father king George VI, her mother queen Elizabeth the queen mother, and sister princess Margaret, reuniting in death the family who once called themselves “us four.”

The coffin of her husband, Prince Philip, who died last year aged 99, will also be transferred to lie alongside her.

On Monday, more than 2,000 people, including heads of state from US President Joe Biden to Japan’s reclusive Emperor Naruhito, will pack Westminster Abbey, the imposing location for royal coronations, marriages and funerals for more than 1,000 years.

The queen’s eldest son and successor, King Charles III, 73, will lead mourners, alongside his three siblings and his heir, Prince William.

Late Sunday, Charles said he and his wife, Queen Consort Camilla, had been “deeply touched” by the messages of condolence and support.

“As we all prepare to say our last farewell, I wanted simply to take this opportunity to say thank you,” he added.

The queen’s death has brought two of its most controversial members — the queen’s second son Prince Andrew and Charles’s younger son Prince Harry — temporarily back into the royal fold.

In the abbey pews will also be Liz Truss, whom the queen appointed as the 15th British prime minister of her reign just two days before her death.

All of Truss’s living predecessors will be there too, plus her counterparts and representatives from the 14 Commonwealth countries outside Britain where Charles is also head of state.

Whether they remain constitutional monarchies or become republics is likely to be the defining feature of Charles’s reign.

“Last duty for Her Majesty”

The queen’s death has prompted deep reflection about the Britain she reigned over, the legacy of its past, its present state and what the future might hold, as well as the values of lifelong service and duty she came to represent during her 70-year reign.

“She was the glue that kept the country together,” Andy Sanderson, 46, a supermarket manager who was among the last members of the public to pay his respects as her coffin lay in state, told AFP.

Some 6,000 military personnel have been drafted in to take part in the solemn procession to and from the abbey, on the route to Windsor and the committal service at St. George’s Chapel.

Britain’s highest-ranking military officer, Chief of Defense Staff Admiral Tony Radakin, called it “our last duty for Her Majesty the Queen,” their late commander-in-chief, and the first for Charles.

The abbey service itself, taking place under London’s biggest-ever police security operation, starts at 11:00 am (1000 GMT).

After just under an hour, a bugler will play The Last Post, before two minutes of silence and the reworded national anthem, “God Save the King.”

Former Archbishop of York John Sentamu said the queen, who headed the Protestant Church of England founded by king Henry VIII in the 16th century, did not want a “boring” send-off.

“You’re going to be lifted to glory as you hear the service,” he told BBC television on Sunday.

At Windsor, her crown, orb and sceptre will be removed and placed on the altar.

The most senior officer of the royal household, the lord chamberlain, symbolically breaks his “wand of office” and places it on the coffin.

The heavy lead-lined oak casket, draped with the queen’s colors, is then lowered into the Royal Vault as a lone bagpiper plays a lament.

A private interment ceremony will take place at the adjoining King George VI Memorial Chapel at 1830 GMT.