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Tuesday, 2 April, 2002, 14:22 GMT 15:22 UK
A sad return to London
The Queen Mother's coffin in The Mall
Greeting the nation's grandmother
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By Ryan Dilley
BBC News Online
The body of the Queen Mother has been brought to London in readiness for her coffin to lie in state. Crowds lined The Mall to greet the solemn procession.

The hordes of tourists outside Buckingham Palace are being given a prime show of British pomp and ceremony.

"Bobbies" shout for them to get back behind the curb-side barriers as many stray into the road to photograph a band of kilted Scots Guards.

Barely audible over the drone of bagpipes and rumble of black cabs are the bells of nearby Big Ben.

Floral tributes on The Mall
Flowers line The Mall
Once the band and their armed escort pass, the visitors' attentions are caught by an army of a different kind - a massing of scores of reporters, photographers and TV crews.

Few people walking on The Mall seem to realise that the sombre procession returning the Queen Mother's body to London is soon to arrive.

Bert Inward, who has come to lay flowers outside the Queen Mother's Clarence House residence, is upset to hear that the body of the woman he came to honour is nearby.

Remembering a Queen

"I'd really rather remember her as she was when she was alive. I don't really want to see her coffin," says Mr Inward, who even has a photograph of himself meeting the Queen Mother.

Cyril Brown, a war veteran who walks The Mall every day, says he has made a special effort for the occasion. He points to his black tie: "I'm wearing this for the Queen Mother."

Bill West
"I felt I had to be here."
The 80-year-old is angered that more people aren't wearing black to honour the cortège. "The younger generation don't care. All they know is Top of the Pops."

However, as the crowds thicken along the wide road, there are many young people and children among their number.

"She was a mother and grandmother to us all," says 86-year-old Bill West, dressed in the scarlet uniform of a Chelsea Pensioner.

"I met the Queen Mother many times - she was very nice - and I felt I had to be here today."

Silence in the city

Mr West - who also admits to being the Pearly King of Chelsea - says he understands why relatively few people are lining the route of today's sad procession, but predicts a far greater turnout for next week's funeral.

Suddenly a hush descends, with only the birdsong from St James's Park breaking the silence. A trio of black-clad police motorcycle riders slowly sweep down the road.

The coffin arrives at St James's
The crowds are silent
Behind this honour guard comes the royal hearse - the Queen Mother's flag-draped coffin clearly visible.

As the vehicle passes the barriers - over which hang not only Union flags but those of Canada, Australia and Scotland too - the crowd seem undecided about how to pay their respects.

Some people bow their heads, others snap their cameras. Some hats are removed, others stay on. As the procession turns into St James's Palace, a small ripple of applause even breaks out in one section.

The hush returns as some strain to see the coffin carefully removed from the hearse and marched slowly inside the building.

Though the last fold of the Queen Mother's standard has disappeared from view, it takes the return of the noisy lunchtime traffic to break the spell which had fallen over the hundreds present.

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