Britain said farewell to Queen Elizabeth II on Monday at a state funeral attended by world leaders, before a historic last ceremonial journey through the streets of London packed with sorrowful mourners.
Huge crowds gathered in near silence to watch as the queen’s flag-draped coffin, topped with the Imperial State Crown, her orb and sceptre, was carried slowly to a gun carriage from parliament’s Westminster Hall where it had lain in state since Wednesday.
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To the tune of pipes and drums, the gun carriage – used at every state funeral since Queen Victoria’s in 1901 – was then drawn by 142 junior enlisted sailors in the Royal Navy to Westminster Abbey.
The thousand-year-old church’s tenor bell tolled 96 times at one-minute intervals – one for every year of her life – stopping a minute before the service began at 11:00 am (1000 GMT).
In his funeral sermon, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby praised the queen’s life of duty and service to the UK and Commonwealth.
“People of loving service are rare in any walk of life. Leaders of loving service are still rarer,” he told the 2,000 guests, who included US President Joe Biden and Japan’s reclusive Emperor Naruhito.
“But in all cases, those who serve will be loved and remembered,” the Anglican leader added before the coffin was borne on another procession towards her final resting place in Windsor Castle, west of London.
The longest-serving monarch in British history died at Balmoral, her Scottish Highland retreat, on September 8 after a year of declining health.
Her eldest son and successor, King Charles III, dressed in ceremonial military uniform, followed the solemn processions, alongside his three siblings.
Charles’s eldest son Prince William accompanied them alongside William’s estranged brother, Prince Harry, and other senior royals.
William’s two eldest children, George and Charlotte, who are next in line to the throne, also walked behind the coffin inside the abbey.
Late Sunday, Charles, 73, and his wife, Queen Consort Camilla, said they had been “deeply touched” by the public’s flood of messages.
“As we all prepare to say our last farewell, I wanted simply to take this opportunity to say thank you,” he said.
Britain, a country much changed since the queen’s coronation in the same abbey in 1953, has dug deep into its centuries of tradition to honour the only monarch that most of its people have ever known.
“It’s once in a lifetime,” said student Naomi Thompson, 22, camped out in the crowds at London’s Hyde Park.
“It’s a moment of history… She’s everyone’s granny,” added engineer Alice Garret, 28.
Others unable to be in London gathered in cinemas and churches around England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to watch the service and procession on big screens.
Auto engineer Jamie Page, a 41-year-old former soldier, stood on Whitehall to observe the funeral procession, wearing his military medals from service in the Iraq war.
“Sixteen years old, I swore an oath of allegiance to the queen. She’s been my boss. She means everything, she was like a gift from God,” he said.
The funeral lasted just under an hour, brought to an end by a bugler playing “The Last Post”, before two minutes of silence and the reworded national anthem, “God Save the King”.
After an hour-long procession that was to go past Buckingham Palace, the coffin was to be taken west by road to Windsor Castle, where thousands had lined the route since early morning.
Some 6,000 military personnel have been drafted in to take part in proceedings in what Britain’s highest-ranking military officer has called “our last duty for Her Majesty the Queen”.
The queen will be buried alongside her father king George VI, her mother queen Elizabeth and sister princess Margaret, reuniting in death with 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.
Elizabeth’s funeral could not be more different from Philip’s at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, in April 2021.
Coronavirus restrictions limited mourners to just 30, led by the queen, a solitary figure in mourning black and a matching facemask.
The contrast was profound on Monday, the abbey was packed with dignitaries and some ordinary Britons who were honoured for their military or community service, especially during the Covid pandemic.