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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 9 April, 2002, 15:20 GMT 16:20 UK
A view from the crowds
A police officer talks to younger members of the crowds at Westminster Abbey.
The crowd sang hymns from newspaper pull-outs

They were just a group of jolly strangers, swapping anecdotes and chit-chatting to pass the cold hours until the Queen Mother's coffin arrived at Westminster Abbey.

Even as the pipes and drum led the funeral procession slowly into sight and the crowd fell silent, they were still an unfamiliar group brought together out of grief, duty and wonderment.


It was done as only the British can

David Roberts

But no sooner than the first hymn, Immortal Invisible, filled the air from speakers high above them, they became part of the service, singing as one, paying their respects personally, individually as important as every single one of the 2,000 VIP mourners inside the abbey.

Clutching crumpled orders of service that had been pulled out of newspapers, they sung with gusto, some even providing the tenor harmony to make the tune that bit sweeter.

'Grand day'

This was a people who were determined to give the Queen Mother a good send off.

David Roberts, 63, who with his brother Barry, 64, decided on a whim last Wednesday to board a plane from Canada to attend the Queen Mother's funeral, summed it up: "It was a grand day and she deserved it all.

"It was absolutely spectacular. It certainly restores your faith in the age and is an example for young people.

"I don't think there is a journey in my lifetime that I have wanted to complete more than this.

Stiff-upper lip gone

"It was done as only the British can," said David, a retired funeral director.

Barry, a retired English teacher, from Woodstock, Ontario, said: "You always hear how stand-offish the British people are, but everybody has been so very kind.


Britain would be absent without the Royalty

David Roberts
Canadian

"To us, the monarchy is necessary. It is a great symbol which I think a lot of other countries are jealous of.

"People always look to Britain as something that is lasted thousands of years."

David added: "Britain would be absent without the royalty."

Many waiting opposite Westminster Abbey would agree. The crowd was at least 20 deep at its peak, filled with people of all ages, jockeying gently to get a view of the majestic scene.

Different age

Earlier, as the Abbey's tenor bell tolled every minute for 101 minutes, one for each of the Queen Mother years, a little girl of about five summed up the massive changes that have occurred during that time.

Sitting on her father's shoulders, her marmalade-coloured toy cat held tightly to her chest, she shouted: "I think the bell's got to ring 100 times," into a mobile phone - technology that was never even conceivable in the Queen Mother's childhood.

Crowd scene.
A bystander tries to grab a photograph of the spectacle

One middle-aged man had obviously waited all night for the funeral cortege, reprimanding a bystander jokingly: "That's my bed you are standing on. I'm sorry I didn't make my bed this morning."

A nearby onlooker trying to photograph the event on tiptoes complained that she was surrounded by tall people and could not see the arriving spectacle of MPs, royalty and foreign dignitaries.

'Deeply loved'

But once the service had started, the banter faded away.

Instead, the waiting neighbours joined in prayers for the Queen Mother and nodded in agreement as the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr George Carey declared that she had an ability "to make all human encounters, however fleeting, feel both special and personal".

He told how she was "deeply loved and greatly missed", adding that "many have done excellently, but you accede them all", prompting one man to remark: "Praise God".

Dr Carey also emphasised the Queen Mother's "strength, dignity and laughter".

Having waited with this patient, kindly crowd for more than three hours, this is certainly a compliment I am sure he would be happy to pay to them.

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