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Archive for Wednesday, April 10, 2002

Britain bids queen mother farewell

April 10, 2002

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— In the majesty of Westminster Abbey and in quiet corners all around the country, Britain said goodbye Tuesday to the Queen Mother Elizabeth, whose dignity and courage endeared her to millions.

While kings, queens and foreign leaders sat in the splendor of the great abbey church for her funeral, hundreds of thousands of ordinary Britons stood outside and joined in prayer and hymns for the 101-year-old royal matriarch who died March 30.

About a million people turned out in a huge display of affection, police said, including those who later lined the 20-mile route to Windsor Castle. Many applauded and some threw flowers at the hearse that carried the queen mother to her final resting place beside her husband, King George VI.

People of every age and many nations stood quietly outside the abbey during the funeral, remembering a woman who forged a bond with her countrymen and women during World War II at her husband's side.

Some 400,000 people had gathered through the morning to watch the solemn procession escorting the queen mother's coffin to the abbey from Parliament, where for nearly four days a miles-long stream of people had paid their respects.

Slow drum beats punctuated the shrill bagpipe lament of nearly 200 regimental musicians. Soldiers of the Royal Horse Artillery in gold-trimmed black tunics rode six black horses pulling a gun-carriage that bore the coffin. The same carriage carried her husband's coffin at his funeral in 1952.

When the coffin entered the church, the abbey choir of men and boys began to sing and the silent congregation of 2,200 stood for the beginning of the service, broadcast outdoors for the crowd.

"In gratitude we bid farewell to a greatly loved queen, for her grace, humanity and sympathy, for her courage in adversity, for the happiness she brought to so many," said the Very Rev. Wesley Carr, Dean of Westminster, as the coffin rested on a bier before the altar.

Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey spoke of the queen mother's strength and dignity, and the humor that reached across the generations.

"There was certainly nothing remote or distant about her own sense of dignity," Carey said in his sermon. "It was a dignity that rested not on the splendid trappings of royalty, but a sense of nobility of service."

The monarchs of Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands were among the 25 members of foreign royal families in the congregation. Leaders and representatives from across the world attended, including first lady Laura Bush, the leaders of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and representatives of many other countries.

As the bells of Westminster Abbey pealed after the service, a World War II-vintage Lancaster bomber droned overhead with a Spitfire fighter at each wing, giving a final salute to the wartime queen.

The public response, like the many thousands who waited up to 12 hours to pay their respects at the queen mother's coffin for days before the funeral, has confounded the expectations of pundits who believed the monarchy had lost its strong tie to the population in a decade of scandal and controversy.

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