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EDITIONS
Friday, 5 April, 2002, 14:13 GMT 15:13 UK
Straining for a view

Mourners of all ages and backgrounds turned out in their masses on a crisp spring morning to say goodbye to the Queen Mother.

It was a fitting riposte to the sceptics and the nay-sayers; to those who have dismissed the Queen Mother's passing as an irrelevance in 21st Century Britain.

The royal procession which led her coffin to Westminster Hall was the biggest show of pageantry in central London in almost 40 years.

Couple opposite Horse Guard's Parade
Early-comers staked out the best vantage points
And in that time the standing of the royals has, of course, changed immensely.

But on a crisp and hopeful spring morning great crowds flocked to the ceremonial heart of the capital.

Some came to pay their respects to a woman who never strayed from her royal duty and who many credit with having reinvented the monarchy.

Prince is a draw

Others came more out of curiosity, and more than a few of the younger ones, like Annette Wood, were keenly looking forward to a glimpse of Prince William.

Annette Wood
Annette Wood: Respects the royals, and a fan of Prince William
"I'm quite unusual for my group of friends because I'm quite interested in the royals and I'm patriotic," said 21-year-old Annette, who had draped herself in a Union Flag for the occasion.

"But my friends will be jealous when they find out I got to see William."

Annette and her mother, Gay, had arrived early to stake out a prime spot on Horse Guard's Parade, near the corner with The Mall.

Late rush

But even at 10 o'clock in the morning, just 90 minutes before the procession was due to start, it looked like they had been somewhat over-eager.

Man on chair
Mourners had to strain for a view
The crowds behind the temporary barriers lining the route were still thin.

But by half past they were swelling quickly and late-coming spectators and mourners walked briskly in the diminishing hope of finding a decent vantage point.

Anticipation rose as the various military regiments arranged themselves on the red tarmac of The Mall, in readiness for the procession's off.

Sombre

A young girl clinging to the top of a small stepladder eyed up one of the Grenadier guards, resplendent in his red tunic and bearskin hat.

Man with medals
The sun brought a shine to the occasion
"It looks like a clown's suit," she told her mother.

Despite the sombre overtones of the occasion, there was also an air of celebration, acknowledging the Queen Mother's full and long life.

With the blast of the first minute gun at 11.30, the procession moved off slowly to Mendelssohn's Funeral March and the excited chattering quickly died down.

By then the onlookers on the south side of The Mall were 12 or 14 deep and those towards the back stood on tiptoes and strained their necks to peer over a sea of heads.

Statue of king

Across the way, outside Carlton House, stands a statue of King George VI, the Queen Mother's late husband whose death 50 years ago brought Elizabeth II to the throne.

Woman crying
There were few tears, but some found it an emotional occasion
Dressed in the uniform of the Admiral of the Fleet, head turned slightly to the right, it almost seemed as if he too was awaiting the gun carriage that bore the coffin of his beloved wife.

Cameras and camcorders shot up in the air as the horse-pulled carriage passed and a respectful hush was maintained as the procession headed east along its mile-long route.

Tears were few, but it was a dignified and sombre atmosphere as the booming drums that kept the beat of the march faded into the late spring morning.


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