19 September 2022
By Tim Koch
Today, Monday 19 September, is the day of the State Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. On Thursday, I went to see the lines of people waiting for many hours for their turn to briefly pass by her coffin lying-in state in the historic Westminster Hall of 1097.
On observing the long, quiet queues of people waiting to pass Sir Winston Churchill’s coffin in Westminster Hall in 1965, the journalist Vincent Mulchrone wrote, Two rivers run silently through London tonight, and one is made of people*. The same could be said in 2022.
I had expected the line to be dominated by the pale-skinned, middle-aged and middle-class – but it was not. It was heartening to see a noticeable number of Britons of colour who presumably thought that the Queen and what she represented deserved their respect. This was in a difficult week for what was once commonly called “race relations”. In London, an armed police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man. The facts have yet to be determined but there have been little-reported protests in at least nine towns and cities by those who felt that this was another of the ongoing injustices highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement.
As to age, children (understandably) and those in their teens were underrepresented but there was a wide spread of those from their 20s to perhaps their 70s. I doubt that any were of the Queen’s wartime generation but there were a few who showed the same indomitable spirit. The lines contained some very frail and/or elderly people who were clearly suffering from the effects of standing outside for a long time but who were also obviously determined to say farewell to their Queen. By Saturday evening, 700 people had been treated by First Aid providers on site and 40 had been sent to hospital.
Social class is rather more difficult to determine at a glance nowadays, not least because the whole world seems to have agreed to dress for maximum comfort with minimum thought. A minority of people did choose formal black clothes, but the majority wore what they would have done had they been visiting a supermarket. A clothes snob such as myself could easily be scathing about this lack of sartorial effort but, when I saw a middle-aged man in an unflattering T-shirt, sagging jogging bottoms and fluorescent “Croc” sandals sobbing as he left Westminster Hall, how could I think that he had any less respect for the occasion than the composed man in the immaculate dark suit that followed him?
National Symbols abounded at Westminster:
* The full quote is, Two rivers run silently through London tonight, and one is made of people. Dark and quiet as the night-time Thames itself, it flows through Westminster Hall, eddying about the foot of the rock called Churchill.