Canon Robert Howard, rector of Annahilt & Magherahamlet, spent 13 hours in the queue to see Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II lying in state (he is pictured above, standing before the coffin). Robert shares his reflections on the momentous events of the last two weeks.
When viewing the photographs taken of HM The Queen at Balmoral when she appointed the new Prime Minister one was immediately struck by how ‘old age’ was catching up with the elderly monarch. Nevertheless, despite her obvious physical frailty she looked well for her 96 years and was reported to be mentally very alert and in excellent spirits. Her declining health over recent months and her advancing years indicated that she was in the twilight days of her long reign. Yet, the Royal Family, the Nation and Commonwealth as well as the whole world were completely caught ‘on the hop’ by what transpired two days later on 8 September. The lunchtime statement of ‘concern’ for the Queen’s health followed later by the announcement of her death was in one sense expected yet also somehow shocking.
The passing of Queen Elizabeth II was momentous after a reign of over 70 years. Most people have no memory of any other British monarch. It was also historic with the end of the second Elizabethan age. Her people had felt a comfortable familiarity with the presence of Her Majesty on the balcony of Buckingham Palace during the recent Platinum Jubilee celebrations and on other national occasions over the years. Now they are experiencing an acute sense of grief and loss. Of course, she was not only our Sovereign but also a beloved wife, mother, grandmother and great–grandmother and it is her family who will experience those feelings the most.
I have always recognised and appreciated The Queen’s long life of duty and service as well as her deep Christian Faith. I had a great desire to mark the period of national mourning by paying my respects in person at the Lying–in–State at Westminster Hall. I joined the queue early on Friday afternoon and was admitted to the Hall 13 hours later early on Saturday morning. Without in any way being presumptuous or wanting to assume liberties I felt I was representing my family, friends and parishioners who could not travel.
There was a big physical effort involved in attending but I was sustained by the comradery of those nearby in the queue. There were so many different age groups, backgrounds, races and cultures which were all united in gratitude and respect. There was much friendly chat and there were recollections of seeing the Queen albeit at a distance. I met a lady from Northern Ireland who after her marriage 40 years ago to a gentleman from Belfast came to live in London and had remained there ever since. I was able to share that although I was never presented to the Queen, I was at a Garden Party hosted by her at Buckingham Palace at which I was accompanied by my late mother.
At Westminster Hall I was fortunate to see the Changing of the Guard before slowly walking down the steps and standing before the coffin. I prayed in remembrance of Her late Majesty and for the new King Charles III and all the Royal family. It was a deeply moving and religious experience which I will very gratefully remember as long as my memory lasts.
With thanks to Revd Canon Robert Howard