LONDON – With resplendent royal pageantry — watched by a large crowd in dark suits and summery shorts, uniforms and baseball caps — the coffin of the Queen Mother Elizabeth was carried through the streets of London on Friday to lie in state at Westminster Hall.
As military bands played funeral marches, and mobile phones thrummed gently in the crowd, the royal matriarch's casket was pulled on a gun carriage from St. James's Palace through the heart of London to Parliament.
The Queen Mother, who died last Saturday at age 101, will lie in state until her funeral Tuesday so people can pay their last respects. By Friday evening, the line of mourners stretched for more than a mile from Parliament, over Lambeth Bridge and along the south bank of the River Thames.
Police said mourners could expect a six-hour wait, and officials announced the hall would stay open around the clock if necessary.
"I just wanted to say to her, thank you for being you," said Londoner Josephine Wait, 67, who filed past the coffin. "She was such a lovely, lovely lady."
Earlier, hundreds of royal guards in red tunics and gleaming black bearskin hats, sailors in white caps and blue uniforms and members of the Royal Air Force in light blue, escorted the coffin in solemn procession, their ranks passing by at the slow march used for funerals.
The gun carriage was pulled by six black horses in the bright spring sunshine. Behind walked 14 members of the royal family, including Prince Charles and his sons, Prince William and Prince Harry.
Thousands of people lining the broad, tree-lined Mall strained to catch a glimpse of the coffin, draped in the Queen Mother's personal standard and topped with a diamond-encrusted crown and a single wreath of white roses from her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II.
"In loving memory, Lilibet," read the card from the queen, using the pet name by which she was known as a child to close family.
Police estimated that 400,000 people watched the procession along its route past parks and grand government edifices. Amid the camera-toting tourists and families with children, some somberly dressed older mourners clutched bouquets of flowers or stood with heads bowed.
Many Britons had a strong affection for the royal matriarch, remembering her warm smile and visits to the bomb-damaged East End of London during World War II.
"It's the end of a great woman's life," said Mick Davids, 58, from Shere, southern England, who spent the night on the sidewalk outside St. James's Palace to watch the ceremony.
As the procession advanced, 28 gun salvos — one every minute of the journey — were fired from nearby Green Park.
More than 1,600 members of the armed forces escorted the coffin, made from Windsor oak and topped with the crown the Queen Mother wore at the coronation of her husband King George VI in 1937.
The royal mourners followed, many dressed in military uniforms and escorted by Britain's military chiefs. In a break with tradition, Princess Anne, dressed in the uniform of a Royal Navy officer, also walked behind the coffin — a role usually reserved for male members of the royal family.
Cavalrymen of the royal guard saluted with their swords as the carriage passed by. The soldiers and sailors escorting the coffin marched with their rifles pointing down in a traditional sign of mourning.
At Parliament, the coffin was met by the queen as it was carried into the medieval Westminster Hall by eight guardsmen. Prime Minister Tony Blair, lawmakers and political leaders solemnly watched and a choir in white and red robes sang psalms as the coffin was laid on a purple-draped dais, flanked by four large burning candles.
Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey gave thanks for the Queen Mother's "example of faithful duty and unwearied service, and for the loyalty and love which she inspired."
Four royal cavalry troopers in ceremonial armor and helmets took up watch around the coffin with swords drawn and heads bowed. An around-the-clock vigil will be maintained while the Queen Mother lies in state.
Following the brief service, the queen, looking tired and strained, left with the royal family for Buckingham Palace. The eyes of Prince Charles, who was close to his grandmother, glistened with tears as he left the building.
The queen was applauded and cheered by onlookers, many of them waving small British flags.