Until her funeral on Monday 19 September, HM Queen Elizabeth II is lying-in-state at Westminster Hall for the public to pay their respects. Henrietta Easton joined the queue to see her…
Words: Henrietta Easton
Last week, HM Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin lay in state for four days in Westminster Hall, London, before her funeral on Monday 19 September.
In London, as they did in Edinburgh, people queued for hours to see Her Majesty lying-in-state inside Westminster Hall in the Palace of Westminster. The Queen’s lying-in-state was open to the public from 5pm on Wednesday 14 September, and was open 24 hours a day until 6:30 am on Monday 19 September, before the State Funeral began at 11am on Monday.
People came from all over the country, and all over the world to stand in the queue, which, at its longest point was 4.9 miles long, to see Her Majesty one final time before she was buried in Windsor Castle.
On Thursday evening, eager to pay my respects to a remarkable woman and Queen, I joined the long queue to see her. By the time we joined the queue at 8:30pm, it was predicted that we would be queuing for around 9 hours. I reminded myself that Queen Elizabeth II had spent her entire life in service; I could spend nine hours in a queue to pay my respects to her.
On entrance to the queue, you are given a wristband – this means you can leave and come back should you need to go to the toilet, get some refreshments along the way, or just have a quick perch on a nearby bench.
We collected our wristbands, along with many others, at Tower Bridge, which is around 3.5 miles from Westminster Hall. Luckily it was a clear night with no rain in sight, and it wasn’t too cold – although we had packed jumpers for later on.
The queue itself was beautifully organised. There was a clear path to follow, most of which snaked its way along the river, and there were stewards and policemen along the route, checking people have wristbands, answering questions and handing out water and snacks. There were also plenty of toilets along the way – approximately every half an hour we passed a toilet – and good smattering of cafés along the way should you need a drink or snacks.
Despite the long wait ahead, the atmosphere in the queue was at all points positive, polite, jolly and reflective – we were all there for the same reason, after all. After almost nine hours of standing together in a queue you get to know each other a little better, and there was a sure sense of togetherness from absolutely everyone there. I saw people sharing snacks, sharing stories, and even giving each other their numbers having just met that evening.
I heard one man say to another that he’d just met that evening; ‘it’s funny isn’t it, we only met tonight and yet we’ve spent the whole evening talking. We’re here for the same reason, for Her Majesty, and that is amazing.’
The atmosphere in the queue was a perfect reflection of what Her Majesty The Queen did best: bringing people of all walks of life together.
By midnight we had reached Westminster Bridge and finally we could see where the queue came to an end. But, if you’re planning to join before Monday, be aware that the last section is the longest, and there is little opportunity to sit down. It was almost 4:30 am before we reached the security section and the entrance to the Hall.
Still, the atmosphere remained the same as we made the slow, zig-zagging approach up to the Hall, even with tired legs and the thought of a day with very little sleep ahead. But, as we entered the building, the prospect of what lay ahead, made every second worth it.
After you go through the airport-style security (you couldn’t take any food or liquid in with you and phones had to be switched off!), you are directed to the entrance of the Hall. Almost immediately and without being asked, everyone fell into silence.
As you pass into the Hall, through St Stephen’s entrance, you will see the Queen’s coffin on a raised platform (called a catafalque) in the middle of the Hall. Each corner of the platform is guarded around the clock by members of the Sovereign’s guard of the Household Cavalry, Foot Guards and The King’s Bodyguards.
On top of the coffin sat the orb (symbolising christianity around the world), the sceptre (symbolising Her Majesty’s fair governance) and the Imperial State Crown, perhaps the most familiar item in the Crown Jewels – a priceless collection of tens of thousands of gemstones collected over the centuries by British kings and queens.
The crown sparkles with nearly 3,000 stones – including 2,868 diamonds, 273 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, and five rubies.
Made in 1937 for the coronation of the Queen’s father, King George VI, the Imperial State Crown was designed to be lighter, and to fit better, than the crown it replaced – which dated back to Queen Victoria. But nevertheless, the Imperial Crown still weighs in at a hefty 1.06kg. During her reign, Queen Elizabeth II would wear it annually for the State Opening of Parliament.
As we walked down to pass the coffin, the only sound we could hear was the faint tinkling of the Guards’ armour. It was incredibly moving.
As they passed the platform many people bowed their heads, blew kisses or even curtseyed. It was amazing to see so many different people showing the same emotion – utter respect and gratitude for a woman who dedicated her entire life to service and to this country. She will be greatly missed.
Although it was over in a flash, and we didn’t get into bed until 5:45am, every second of standing in that queue was worth it to enter Westminster Hall. And, even though it was long, tiring and sometimes seemingly never-ending, the queue itself was as much a part of the experience as seeing the coffin.
Seeing so many people of so many ages and from so many places come together for the same reason, queuing from day to night just to have one minute to see Queen Elizabeth II, embodied the magnitude of the impact of her reign, and how many people she touched and helped throughout her lifetime.
As I write this the morning after, sleep deprived but happy and grateful, I know that every second was worth it to say thank you to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, one final time.