They came, they cried, they mourned to witness history in the making

They came, they cried, they mourned to witness history in the making

Edinburgh: This was the moment it became real for so many.

A simple oak coffin, draped in the Royal Standard of Scotland and crowned with a white wreath of phlox and heather, sat in the back of the hearse.

Edinburgh on Sunday offered a foretaste of what London can expect on a much larger scale in coming days.Credit:Getty

The body of Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning British monarch and a figure of stability, continuity and comfort to so many, was driven past mourners who lined the streets in their thousands hoping to get a glimpse.

They knew she’d been gone for days but this sight, on her “last great journey” as the King called it on Friday, was a moment all on its own.

From early morning they waited along a six-hour route for a glimpse, however brief. Black and white, young and old and accents from all around the world could be seen and heard in crowds that were ten-deep in places hours before the Queen’s body was due to arrive. They scrambled onto ledges and fire hydrants to get a better view.

Along the eclectic stores which line Edinburgh’s Royal Mile – a high street from the city’s famed castle entrance to the gates of Holyrood – they spilled out of fudge stores, thrift shops, pubs and hamburger chains to pay their respects.

The cortege carrying the coffin of the late Queen Elizabeth II passes St Giles’ Cathedral on its way to the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, United Kingdom.Credit:Getty

Those in the flats above the shops hung out of the windows, their excitement the only way those lined along the street knew the procession was nearing.

Heads were bowed. Some cried. Fathers stood with their daughters, sons comforted their mothers and a cascade of smartphone cameras were thrust towards the sky. Children held up their Paddington Bears. If you were not moved you had no soul.

In the far-off distance, a lone piper played. As the funeral cortege approached, you’d have heard a pin drop, as a hush descended on the crowds crammed into the narrow thoroughfare. As the cars passed, polite and spontaneous applause broke out.

It was as if people did not know how to behave. How do you thank a much-loved Queen– a grandmother to the nation – who had been the steadfast backdrop of our lives for 70 years?

Britain’s Princess Anne, Princess Royal, watches as the hearse carrying the coffin of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II arrives at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.Credit:Getty

Even in Scotland, where division over monarchs has been a constant since the late 13th and early 14th centuries, there was if nothing else, admiration and respect for this elderly woman.

But she was, after all, one of them. Descended from the Royal House of Stewart on both sides of her family, her relationship with Scotland and the Scots began in childhood and deepened during her many private – as well as official – visits throughout the seven decades of her reign.

At the start of the day, beyond the public view, her coffin was carried aloft by Balmoral gamekeepers, while an hour into the six-hour journey local farmers formed a guard of honour in their tractors.

Veterans from the Royal Engineers waved their regiment’s flag in tribute as the hearse came past, while other bystanders clutched Union flags close to their chests.

To finish, Princess Anne, who had been by her mother’s side for her final days, offered a poignant curtsy as a guard of honour welcomed the casket to Holyroodhouse.

These are remarkable days and they have only just begun. We are a witness to history. It is not an overstatement to say that, if civilisation lasts another 500 years, they will be still talked and written about in the same way Shakespeare ensured the great kings and queens lived on through literature.

On Monday, King Charles will escort the coffin to St Giles’ Cathedral for a service attended by members of the royal family and dignitaries. For 24 hours people will be able to pay their respects —the first time members of the public will file past the coffin — while a vigil is maintained by the Royal Company of Archers.

Authorities are already concerned about queues and an anticipated crush. In London later this week she will lie-in-state for four days at the Palace of Westminster. Such is the expected attendance it is expected the public will be granted 24 hours access. Mourners are likely to stand for many hours, possibly overnight, just to file past the catafalque to pay their respects.

Vice Admiral Timothy Laurence, Britain’s Sophie, Countess of Wessex, and Britain’s Prince Andrew, Duke of York, look on as Britain’s Princess Anne, Princess Royal, curtseys.Credit:Getty

Courtesy of a 70-year reign, much of the world has never experienced an occasion such as this. Within the crowds on Sunday were off-duty US marines, French and Italian tourists, Chinese university students and Australians just on holiday.

But, just as importantly, there were thousands of Britons of all shapes, sizes and classes, thanking an incredible woman just for always being there. Until she was not.

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