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Sombre pageantry as world farewells Queen Elizabeth at Westminster Abbey

King Charles and other senior British royals have followed Queen Elizabeth’s coffin into Westminster Abbey, joining world leaders and monarchs to bid farewell to a beloved figure who unified the nation through her 70-year reign.

In scenes of inimitable pageantry, pall bearers carried her flag-draped casket along the aisle in the country’s first state funeral since 1965, when Winston Churchill was afforded the honour.

Tens of thousands of people lined the streets as the Queen’s casket made the short journey from Westminster Hall where she had been lying in state, pulled along on a gun carriage by 142 sailors with arms linked. A bell tolled and bagpipes skirled.

Pin-drop silence fell over London’s Hyde Park nearby as thousands of people, who for hours had picnicked and chatted, went quiet the second the Queen’s coffin appeared on screens erected for the occasion.

Shortly before, hundreds of armed personnel in full ceremonial dress had marched past in a historic display of kilts, bearskin hats, scarlet tunics and bands in white gloves.

Inside the abbey, lines of scripture were set to music that has been used at every state funeral since the early 18th century.

Among those walking behind the casket was her great-grandson and future king, nine-year-old Prince George.

The 2000-strong congregation included some 500 world leaders and foreign royal families, including Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

Among them also was US President Joe Biden, who paid tribute to a 96-year-old who earned respect for her sense of duty and represented a constant as Britain’s role in the world diminished and changed.

“You were fortunate to have had her for 70 years,” Mr Biden said. “We all were.”

Among the crowds who came from around Britain and beyond, people were climbing lampposts and standing on barriers and ladders to catch a glimpse of the royal procession – one of the largest of its kind in modern history in the capital.

Millions more will watch on television at home on a public holiday declared for the occasion.

The funeral of a British monarch has never been televised before

Along the Mall, one of London’s grand ceremonial boulevards, the crowd stood 15 to 20 people deep in places.

Alistair Campbell Binnings, 64, said he left his home in Norfolk at midnight to make his way to London.

“This is a one-off. We would only be here for the Queen. We just felt we had to be here. She was what we always needed in a time of crisis,” he said.

Queen Elizabeth died on September 8 at her Scottish summer home, Balmoral Castle.

Her health had been in decline, and for months the monarch who had carried out hundreds of official engagements well into her 90s had withdrawn from public life.

The 40th sovereign in a line that traces its lineage back to 1066, Queen Elizabeth came to the throne in 1952, Britain’s first post-imperial monarch.

She oversaw her nation trying to carve out a new place in the world, and she was instrumental in the emergence of the Commonwealth of Nations, now a grouping comprising 56 countries.

“Queen Elizabeth II was without any shadow of a doubt the best-known figure in the world, the most photographed person in history, the most recognisable person,” historian Anthony Seldon told Reuters.

Transport chiefs said one million people were expected in central London for the funeral, while police say it will be the biggest security operation ever in the capital.

The funeral will end with the Last Post trumpet salute before the church and the nation falls silent for two minutes.

Afterwards, the coffin will be brought through central London, past the Queen’s Buckingham Palace home to the Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner.

From there, it will be placed on a hearse to be driven to Windsor Castle, west of London, for a service at St. George’s Chapel.

The coffin will then be lowered into the royal vault as the Sovereign’s Piper plays a lament.

Later in the evening, in a private family service, the coffin of Queen Elizabeth and her husband of more than seven decades Prince Philip, who died last year aged 99, will be buried together at the King George VI Memorial Chapel, where her parents and sister, Princess Margaret, also rest.

-Reuters

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