At twenty years old, I would say that I have already lived through some incredibly significant and historical times. Very early into the pandemic, I knew I would have the privilege of repeating my experiences to future generations.
Recently, I was placed right into the middle of history very early into my stay in the United Kingdom. As me and some friends were leaving to go out, one of them asked me, “Did you hear the Queen died?” I had not, and to my sadness I looked this up and saw more and more articles announcing the news.
By the time we made it to the pub, there was a projector displaying the news. The mood in the room was not somber, but you could tell the news was very much on people’s minds. After a while, me and my friends decided to head to Buckingham Palace and pay our respects.
All of us were inexperienced London travelers, so we had a little trouble finding our way to the palace. But soon it became easy as we saw a stream of people headed in the same direction. There was also a large crowd headed back from the palace, including two people with lit candles.
When describing the experience of being at Buckingham Palace that night to friends and family, I told all of them that the environment was quite peaceful. There were no shouts of grief or anger, though there was one group that sang “God Save the Queen.” People were simply sharing their experience of loss. Flowers already lined the gates, as well as cards. I found one written by a child that said, “To the Queen’s family, sorry for the loss of your mummy and grandma.”
There were thousands of people gathered, as we had heard on the news, but the chaos one might have expected from such a sudden crowd was not there. It was easy to make your way to the gates, and everyone ebbed and flowed in their own time.
The biggest crowd lay at the Queen Victoria Memorial. People were perched around and on the statue, and there were a couple of British flags on display, including one with the Queen’s face placed in the center.
When we made it back to our residence, the lobby’s TV was tuned to the news, which cut back to a live feed of Buckingham Palace, an interesting sight having just returned from the place.
The following day, there seemed a collective sense of grief. It was not difficult to spot someone wearing black on the street; several stores closed in response to the news; and every screen on the tube stations had changed to display the Queen and the years she had lived.
That day was our scheduled walking tour of London, and our tour guide was clearly impacted by the loss. Throughout the tour, she had to correct herself to say King Charles III instead of Prince Charles. Given that Elizabeth II was England’s longest-ruling monarch, it will certainly take some time to get used to the change in titles.
As we passed St. Paul’s Cathedral, there was another crowd of mourners, given the significance of the location to the Royal Family. At noon, the clocks began chiming once a minute for the next ninety-six minutes, reflecting how much time we had the Queen for.
Over the next few days, there were still visible signs of mourning. The tube stations continued to display the Queen. Shops reopened, but many put messages of condolences to the Royal Family in their windows.
Things escalated in the days leading up to the funeral. Almost every business announced they would be closed that day, and when the Queen began lying in state at Westminster Hall, the line immediately stretched for miles. Walking to Trafalgar Square the Friday before Monday’s funeral, it was completely closed off to make way for the funeral preparations. It was a strange sight to see this part of London, a place I had been walking though just the week before, closed off like this.
As I continued walking through the city, I saw soldiers and police officers from every corner of the country in tube stations, all of them being summoned to act as security for the funeral. There were more and more signs of how London, one of the biggest and busiest cities in the world, would be shut down for this occasion.
The day of the funeral, I did not brave the crowds to be close to Westminster Abbey. But even as an American in the city, I could still feel the sense of loss from the United Kingdom as I watched the service online. More than that, you were reminded once again of the significance of what you were witnessing. After the funeral, the BBC anchor announced that this was the first state funeral held at Westminster Abbey since 1760, and the first funeral procession like it in seventy years.
During the funeral’s moment of silence, the feed changed to show the crowds of people watching the service throughout the country, from Hyde Park in London all the way to Edinburgh in Scotland. The procession marched through the streets of London, which had all been closed off. All the soldiers marching carried their arms in reverse to display their grief. Everywhere they went, people were lined on the other side of the barriers to say goodbye.
There is no denying that this is a difficult period of time for the United Kingdom. Queen Elizabeth II’s reign was so long she was a constant presence in the lives of nearly everyone in the country. The phrase you kept hearing in the news is that we have reached “the end of an era.” It is difficult for many to imagine to what the future will look like, but I count myself incredibly fortunate to have been able to witness such a seminal moment in history firsthand.
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My name is Brady Judd. I am from Mill Creek, Washington, and I am a third-year history major at Whitworth University. As a history nerd, I am incredibly excited to be traveling to the UK. I have also long been a fan of British culture, watching shows like "Top Gear" and "Sherlock" as I grew up. I am an avid learner, so I can't wait to share all of the things I will be discovering with you.