Members of the public joined a line that stretched for kilometres along the south bank of the Thames River on Wednesday, waiting hours to say an in-person goodbye to the woman who ruled the United Kingdom for 70 years.
In the coming days, hundreds of thousands of people are expected to pay their respects to Queen Elizabeth, whose lying-in-state began Wednesday afternoon in London after a military procession from Buckingham Palace.
People filed past slowly on either side of the closed coffin, which was placed on a raised platform under the medieval timber ceiling of Westminster Hall. Many had waited hours for their last, brief encounter with the queen.
Some paused to bow and curtsy while others shuffled past, wiping tears. The crowd was kept moving — except for a brief pause to change the guard every 20 minutes — although many members of the public paused for a backwards glance as they exited the hall.
Equipped with sleeping bags, books and backpacks of food, the mourners formed a queue that was nearly four kilometres long as of 8:13 p.m. local time. With Westminster Palace silhouetted across the river, people waited patiently as the line wound its way past the London Eye and across Lambeth Bridge.
Erin Hutchinson, who is originally from Guelph, Ont., said she was prepared to stay all night if needed.
“Being Canadian, the queen has always been part of our life growing up,” said Hutchinson, who now lives in Pittsburgh. She said it was important to mark a moment in history and pay tribute to the only queen she and her family have ever known.
“To have a new monarch, and to have her passing, feels very historic and I’m just happy to be here,” she said.
The mood in the line appeared upbeat, as people exchanged names, shared food and offered to step out to fetch each other cups of tea. Those who entered the line were given wristbands that were periodically checked by security.
Andrew Villosa said he left his newborn baby’s side to come line up, on behalf of family who he said couldn’t make the trip. “Hopefully it’s not too long,” he said. However, he made it clear he wouldn’t be leaving the line no matter how long it took.
“It’s something everybody will know about for the rest of our lives. It will probably be in our kids’ kids’ history lessons, so it’s a very big deal,” he said.
While people were prepared for long waits, the line appeared to be orderly and was moving at a brisk walking pace an hour after the lying-in-state began.
Michelle Cozzi, who is originally from Fiji, said she came to honour the queen’s life of “dignity, duty and devotion to people, wherever they are.” Cozzi remembers being a little girl in her school uniform, waving a flag for the queen during the monarch’s 1963 tour of her home country. “So this is like a bookend of my experience with the Crown,” she said.
Earlier, King Charles III and other members of the Royal Family walked behind the queen’s flag-draped coffin as it was brought by horse-drawn carriage from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster.
The crowds who lined the barricades pulled out phones and sometimes wiped away tears but stayed largely silent as the military procession passed.
The coffin was draped in the Royal Standard and topped with the Imperial State Crown — encrusted with almost 3,000 diamonds — and a bouquet of flowers and plants, including pine from the Balmoral Estate, where Elizabeth died on Sept. 8 at the age of 96.
The roads near the procession were blocked off hours before it began in order to limit the crowds, leaving masses of people wandering the suddenly maze-like streets of London, looking to find a way in or out.
Beverley Gould and her sister, Teresa Brouter Khazanchi, were two of the lucky ones who got a spot for the procession.
Dressed head to toe in Union Jack apparel, they said they were there to witness a historical moment. After mourning five of their relatives that died in the last year, this feels like another loss, they said.
“It seems very personal,” Gould said. “It seems like one of your family.”
The queen’s coffin will be on display for public viewing 24 hours a day until the morning of her funeral, which is set for Monday.
—Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press