Windsor Castle: Britain said farewell to Queen Elizabeth II this week at a historic state funeral attended by world leaders, before a ceremonial journey past hundreds of thousands of mourners to her final place of rest.
Huge crowds gathered in London 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.
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 – and stopped a minute before the service began.
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 Emperor Naruhito.
The coffin was then borne, to the rhythmic strains of funeral marches, on a three-hour journey through the streets of London to Windsor Castle, west of the capital.
All along the route, a sea of arms were raised aloft, clutching mobile phones, to record the choreographed display of military precision.
The last chants of “God save the queen” were heard as onlookers scattered flowers on the road, and muffled church bells rang in the distance.
Army veteran Robert MacDonald, 48, was among the dense crowd lining the three-mile Long Walk leading up to Windsor Castle.
“I was in the infantry for 26 years, so the queen was my boss,” he said, adding he wanted to “salute one last time as the hearse passed by”.
On the Long Walk, the military cortege passed by the late queen’s Fell pony, Carltonlima Emma, standing without a rider. It was met at the castle by her last two corgi dogs, Muick and Sandy.
The queen – 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 in London, alongside his three siblings.
They were accompanied by Charles’s eldest son Prince William, William’s estranged brother, Prince Harry, and other senior royals.
William’s two eldest children, George, aged nine, and Charlotte, aged seven, who are next in line to the throne, also walked behind the coffin in Westminster Abbey.
Charles, 73, and his wife, Queen Consort Camilla, 75, said they had been “deeply touched” by the public’s flood of messages. “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,” said engineer Alice Garret, 28.
John MacKinnon, a 49-year-old insurance broker from London, added: “The ceremony was perfect in every way. “Very spectacular, as it should be for a great queen.”
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. “She means everything, she was like a gift from God,” he said.
But on Charles, the oldest person yet to ascend the British throne, Page added: “Who knows, time will tell.” The funeral – watched by the crowds in silence – lasted just under an hour.
It ended with trumpeters playing “The Last Post”, two minutes of silence in memory of the queen and the reworded national anthem, “God Save the King”.