The Daily Telegraph


Marching in perfect unison, the funeral cortège and the Queen’s loyal staff bade their farewells before she made her final journey. By Bryony Gordon

- Additional reporting: Eleanor Steafel, Jack Hardy and Danielle Sheridan

One by one they filed out of the palace, every bit as stately as the funeral procession they had come to witness.

The staff of Buckingham Palace stood in the neatest of lines in front of the gates of their workplace, their uniforms far less ceremonial than those in the military cortège that passed before them, but no less important for it.

Maintenanc­e men stood side by side with footmen, kitchen porters with admin staff. There were chefs in their whites, black bands around their upper arms. Then there were the gardeners who had spent the past 11 days sifting and sorting through the hundreds of thousands of floral tributes that had been left in the Royal Parks… gardeners who had earlier been cheered by the crowds who lined Constituti­on Hill and The Mall, 30ft deep.

For the past week and a half, we have been dazzled by the pomp and ceremony on display as the nation has mourned Queen Elizabeth II. But it is the backroom staff at Buckingham Palace, rarely seen, who have made sure that everything has run like clockwork. This was their turn to pay their respects.

Shortly after the piper’s lament had spilled out of the speakers and on to The Mall, those who had loyally served Her late Majesty – and now loyally serve King Charles III – exited the Buckingham Palace quadrangle through the gates, before coming to a halt in front of the Queen Victoria Memorial, where they waited for almost an hour to say their final goodbyes to the woman they once called boss.

It took a little longer than originally planned. Despite the preparatio­n for the occasion, the procession ran late, no amount of military precision able to mitigate for the footfall of a mile-long cortège, containing the boots of more than 4,000 members of

the Armed Forces. Great lengths had been taken to ensure that all personnel would march at a precise pace of 75 beats per minute, with Garrison Sergeant Major Andrew “Vern” Stokes, who was in charge of the timings of the cortège, even encouragin­g those participat­ing to download a metronome app in order to get the rhythm exactly right.

But pauses of just a few seconds were enough to throw out even the most careful of calculatio­ns, with Defence sources distancing the military from responsibi­lity. “Clearly it’s not just a military event,” said the source. “You have a huge amount of people involved. They have lost a minute or two here or there so it’s not down to one individual.” Rumours of a spooked horse near a sentry point at Horse Guards Parade were also quickly dismissed.

Not that anyone along the 1.7-mile route minded the slight delays. They had stood in silence, some of them from the very early hours of the morning, others for many days, waiting to catch a last glimpse of the woman who had served them for 70 years. They could wait a little longer now. There was a quality to their silence, a richness to it, broken only by the occasional skein of geese that flew low over The Mall, from Green Park to St James’s, the birds perhaps wondering about the incredible quietness of the crowds below them.

Then, at 10.58am, the silence was broken by the sound of the choir at Westminste­r Abbey, piped through speakers so that mourners could hear the funeral service, if not watch it. That only made it all the more evocative. The crowds bowed their heads respectful­ly, as the King’s Guard lined The Mall in preparatio­n. As the two-minute silence was ended by the Last Post, a low keening sound echoed out from the crowd.

At 12.15pm, the procession left Westminste­r Abbey, making its way on to The Mall not long after. The staff from Buckingham Palace stood stock still as the cortège, led by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, began to stream past them. It was an extraordin­ary sight, beyond the wildest dreams of even the most big-budget Netflix production. There were Royal Marine drummers draped in leopard print, Gentlemen at Arms in red skirted coats and helmets strung with swan feathers. There were Irish Guards, Welsh Guards, Scots Guards, Coldstream Guards and Grenadier Guards. But somehow the most poignant sight of all was the member of the household staff, in her plain black dress, who wiped a tear from her eye as the late Queen’s coffin made its way round the Queen Victoria Memorial, on the State Gun Carriage pulled by 142 Royal Naval Ratings, who also acted as human brakes.

The staff began to bow and curtsey in turn, at first for the late Queen, and then again just a moment later as the new King passed slowly behind. The royal cortège gone, one member of staff collapsed to the ground, overcome with emotion. A nurse appeared, seemingly from nowhere, and helped him to his feet. And then they disappeare­d back inside, as neatly as they had come out, back to the dayto-day grind of their jobs on this most unpreceden­ted of days.

The procession continued down Constituti­on Hill, and up to Wellington Arch. It was perhaps a relief for the Royal family that the final part of the ceremony happened just out of view of the crowds, granting them a moment to gather themselves after the boom of the minute guns ceased and the drummers stopped their beating.

The regiments stood to attention on the green next to the Arch: a great sea of soldiers, every buckle and medal gleaming in the sun which had begun to break through the clouds.

To the left of the Arch, cars pulled up carrying the Queen Consort, the Princess of Wales and her children.

The coffin was transferre­d gently from the State Gun Carriage to the State Hearse. The National Anthem played, Princess Charlotte bobbing up and down to this most familiar of tunes. The members of the Royal family in military uniform saluted, and the hearse began its journey from Wellington Arch to Windsor, followed by the car containing the Princess Royal, accompanyi­ng her mother all the way to her final resting place. As the hearse rounded the corner, a cheer went up, the first moment all morning that the sombre hush in London had been broken by the joyful sound of applause.

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The cortège arrives at Wellington Arch, where the journey of the gun carriage comes to an end
Pause The cortège arrives at Wellington Arch, where the journey of the gun carriage comes to an end
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