Philip Corbett was there
When the news came in that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth was seriously unwell and that members of the Royal Family were travelling to Balmoral it was difficult to know what it all really meant, or indeed how to respond. By mid-afternoon on the 8th September there were rumours that there would be some sort of announcement at 6pm. I travelled down to Buckingham Palace with a sense of wanting to be with others to watch and wait. At just after 6.30pm the crowd spotted that the flag was being lowered to half-mast. A flurry of checking online for news revealed what many had expected. It was a strange walk back to Notting Hill, it was all people were talking about and at the back of my mind, as I am sure with many clergy, was how would we in parish churches respond.
Once home I hastily prepared memorial cards to be distributed with a photograph of the Queen on one side and a prayer on the other. These were available alongside the book of condolence for people to collect. I had no idea that the 500 cards I had printed would be taken so quickly and I was delighted to hear that they had been posted around the world to far flung parts of the Commonwealth, to bring comfort to those who couldn’t be in London.
There were of course a series of Requiem Masses and services to commemorate the life of the Queen. Many people spoke to me of going to see the flowers or the lying in state, or signing the book of condolence on behalf of someone who couldn’t make it themselves. I was particularly touched to hear of someone taking flowers for an elderly aunt in Jamaica. She had seen the Queen three times and it was only old age that prevented her flying over to pay her final respects to her Queen.
And then came The Queue (or ‘The Elizabeth Line’ or ‘The Queue E2’). I joined The Queue at 5pm on the Wednesday and the initial going wasn’t too bad. London Bridge to Victoria Park in under two hours; I’ll be home by 9pm I thought. I didn’t quite bank upon the ‘zig-zag’ queue in the park which took my time up to 8 hours. The Queue was, as you might imagine good hearted with people chatting and supporting one another – we had come together for one purpose – to honour Our Queen.
There were of course those who couldn’t quite understand what we were doing. Some tourists came up to us in the queue. ‘How long will you queue for?’ they asked. We weren’t sure, we replied but the news was suggesting around twelve hours. What will you do when it gets to midnight? Or if you don’t move for many hours, or if you have to go through the night? they asked somewhat alarmedly. Well, we will just keep queuing, was our reply. I am not quite sure they understood at all. There was an intangible sense of wanting to do this for the Queen, one final act of loyalty and devotion to one who had offered a life of service to her people.
On entering Westminster Hall I was struck mainly by the silence, it was truly awe-inspiring. To see person after person paying their respects each in their own way was very moving. I must have been in the Hall a matter of minutes but if you asked me straight after I emerged into the night I would have told you I had been in there for a good half an hour. There was a sense of peace, of people coming together to share in remembrance. It is something that those of us privileged enough to take part in will never forget, however much our limbs ached the next day.
I wonder whether the funeral of the Queen, and all of the associated ceremonies will lead to a resurgence in interest in this part of British heritage and culture? Will there be a resurgence in the study of heraldry and militaria? for example. The Queen’s funeral was conducted in black vestments; will this set a trend?
The Queen’s funeral was, as all Christian funerals should be, a sermon in and of itself. It spoke about Christian hope, the Resurrection, Judgement, and vocation. It is worthy of study and reflection. Most importantly it clearly summed up the Queen’s own faith that had sustained her throughout her life. Our prayer is that as the final hymn in the Abbey put it she has cast her Crown before the King whom she served so well ‘lost in wonder love and praise’.
One curiosity comes in the second verse of the National Anthem. In the reign of King George VI the last two lines were sung to rhyme. Will this be restored in the new reign? Even if it is not the sentiment is a worthy and right prayer in which we can all join:
Thy choicest gifts in store
On him be pleased to pour,
Long may he reign.
May he defend our laws,
And ever give us cause,
With heart and voice to sing,
God save the King!
The Rev Philip Corbett is the Vicar of All Saints,
Notting Hill, with St Michael’s, Ladbroke Grove,
and former editor of New Directions