The Daily Telegraph
Nation’s greatest traditions: queues and the Queen
Sense of camaraderie among mourners lifts spirits during long wait in the dark and the rain to see Elizabeth II lying in state
TO THOSE unfamiliar with British culture, it is perhaps hard to explain the rationale of the thousands of mourners waiting for hours – at times in the pouring rain – for a chance to catch a glimpse of the late Queen lying in state.
However, the Archbishop of York summed it up perfectly when he quipped that people are there to honour their nation’s two greatest traditions: the Queen and the Queue.
Such was the camaraderie of those waiting patiently in line to pay their respects at Westminster Hall, that by the end they were exchanging contact details with their fellow queue-mates and promising to keep in touch.
Yesterday the queue of mourners through central London swelled to over four and a half miles in length while the estimated waiting time increased to eight hours for new joiners.
By last night more than 11,000 people were monitoring the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) live queue tracker which gives live updates about the location of the end of the line, suggesting that many more are working out when is the best time to join.
But the ever-growing waiting times did nothing to dampen the spirits of the mourners who formed their own “subcommunities” and support networks while standing in line, sharing snacks and making new friends.
Suggestions of rule-breaking were few and far between – although a handful of people were reportedly caught trying to smuggle their pet dogs into Westminster Hall under their coats.
The Archbishop of York, the Most Rev Stephen Cottrell, visited some of those who queued into the early hours of yesterday morning and helped to order pizza for one group.
He was not the only senior Anglican clergyman; the Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday shook hands and posed for selfies with people waiting in line.
The Most Rev Justin Welby described witnessing the thousands of mourners as “one of the most moving parts of the week”. Before greeting those in line at Victoria Tower Gardens, the Archbishop said he was not at all surprised by the turnout and remembered the late Queen as someone whose “wisdom was remarkable”.
George Woods, chief business officer at St John Ambulance, which is providing hundreds of volunteer first responders to patrol the queue, said that in his 15 years with the service it was the most unique experience he had come across.
“Folk are having a lovely time, they are respectful and very well behaved,” he said. “When you speak to folk as to why they are doing this, they simply want to pay their respects.
“What is interesting is the little subcommunities and friendships that are forming in the queue. There is a sense of camaraderie.
“It is a process of grief but people are happy to be together and united in their grief. The Queen has always been a unifying force.” Mr Woods, who volunteered on Wednesday afternoon as well as overnight yesterday, added that the length of the queue was “extraordinary”, adding: “It is picking up pace and it will just continue to grow now.”
Misty Nicholson, who volunteered with London Samaritans on Wednesday and yesterday, said people had been “overwhelmed” by the number of “queue friends” they had made, adding that they had been exchanging numbers with one another.
“It shows how friendly people have got in the queue, and how much they are supporting each other,” she said.
Charities warned that elderly mourners had been suffering from dehydration and falling over after standing in the queue for hours.
They said government officials had failed to publicise the “accessible” queue, meaning some of those in need were unaware of its existence and had joined the standard queue instead.
Volunteers with St John Ambulance said that for the 24-hour period up to yesterday morning, they had attended to 232 incidents, with dehydrating, fainting, falls and blisters the most common ailments for those in the queue.
An “accessible” queue is available for those who cannot stand for long periods of time, which could include the elderly or those with disabilities.
But charities have raised concerns that not enough effort has been made to publicise arrangements, resulting in small numbers making use of it.
Kamran Mallick, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “It’s really important that when the Government puts out guidance, the accessible arrangements are front and centre so that people genuinely see it and don’t have to go hunting for that information.
“For older people, but also for a lot of disabled people, there is a whole digital divide for those who don’t have access to broadband or internet who would not be looking at the Government website or know that’s where they should be going. Also, there is not an easy-read version of the accessible queue information.”
He added that the lack of knowledge had led to elderly and disabled people waiting in the standard queue.