Sep 19 2022. views 192
Today the eyes of the entire world will be focused on the funeral of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as her life is celebrated with a service at Westminster Abbey followed by a private burial at St Georges Chapel in Windsor Castle. For as long as I remember I have been an ardent fan of the Queen. This stems largely due to my two aunts Nalini Colonne and Swarna Leelanada who were close in age to the Queen and keen followers of queen Elizabeth. As young teenagers, they even collected newspaper cuttings of the queen and made scrapbooks. My aunt Nalini in her role as the Chief Librarian of the British Council had the immense fortune of meeting the Queen and showing her around the new British Council premises in 1981. As I was in their care as a child this rubbed off on me. From watching films of Prince Charles’ investiture and Princess Ann’s wedding at the British Council to watching Princess Diana's marriage to Prince Charles in 1981 were all historical events I had to watch from afar. However, this changed when I returned to London and would spend hours at events to catch a glimpse of the royals.
From camping out overnight to wish the queen mother for her 101st birthday and attending her funeral in 2002 to spending the night outside St. Paul’s cathedral for the church service at the platinum jubilee were all experiences I had been part of. Thus it was a no-brainer that I would somehow attend the Queen’s funeral too.
On the morning of Thursday 15th September, myself and two friends who were cajoled into coming with me followed the specially created app which informed us where to join the queue, by Blackfriars Bridge. However, when we went there we were told to keep walking further down the Southbank to go to the end of the queue. We walked and walked passing a sea of heads patiently waiting in line. Finally, after over an hour of walking, we were elated when we saw the end of the line at Tower Bridge.
We soon made friends with the people around us and that made the time pass by quickly. We shared our own experiences with members of the royal family and more importantly were able to tell them what the queen meant to some Sri Lankans as she was the head of the Commonwealth. They were surprised to learn that the blue sapphire from the engagement worn by Princess Diana and now Kate traced its origins to Sri Lanka.
The meandering line at some places moved briskly and at other times was a snail’s pace. We moaned and we groaned when our feet started hurting but we all kept encouraging each other when we felt someone was flagging. Soon we reached the station where wristbands were being given. This was to identify the people who had actually queued as opposed to those who wanted to creep in.
Well organised, along the route, there were marshals to man the queues, personnel from St John’s Ambulance, and volunteers from Samaritans and Police to help those in the queue.
After 6 hours of snaking our way along the South Bank, past the Globe Theatre, the British Film Institute, The London Eye we reached the Lambeth Bridge. From there we had to cross the bridge to Victoria Gardens and the queue zigzagged its way to the side of the parliament where there were strict security measures in place. Right along the way, there were hundreds of TV crews that were interviewing random people as to what compelled them to come and queue up. No liquids or food was permitted and people could either throw their food or non-perishable food could be donated to food banks which was a great idea. Finally, after strict security, we found ourselves inside the Palace of Westminster. After 8 hours we were finally there.
Standing at the top of the flight of steps in the Westminster Hall which dates back to 1099 and looking down was indeed an arresting sight. The coffin draped in the Royal standard with the Coronation Crown, orb and sceptre were flagged by three ceremonial units tasked with guarding the sovereign as she Lies in State. Each corner is guarded 24 hours a day by personnel from the Gentlemen at Arms, the Royal Company of Archers and the Yeomen of the Guard, who stand guard in a 24-hour vigil, switching places every 20 minutes.
As I progressed down the steps I could not help but look up at the roof and notice the beautiful hammer-beam roof, the largest medieval timber roof in Northern Europe. A masterpiece of design this was commissioned by Richard II in 1393. As I edged towards the bottom of the steps the catafalque on which the coffin was laid on loomed ahead becoming larger and larger as we inched towards it. Each of us in our thoughts, remembering the late queen. It was a solemn moment when we each paused briefly and bowed our heads in respect of a sovereign whose exemplary work ethic and dedication to the nation and the commonwealth are unsurpassed.
In under 90 seconds, we were out of Westminster Hall. Standing in the shadow of Big Ben which had just struck 6 pm we noted that our journey to file past the coffin and pay our respects to her had taken 8 hours. “Was it worth it?” I was asked. Yes of course it was as I was part of a historical event that we will never ever witness in our lifetime and for me, it will be yet another story to relate to my grandchildren whenever they come along!