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Princes William and Harry lead vigil at Queen Elizabeth's coffin

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By Euronews  with AP
William, now the heir to the throne, stood, his head bowed, at the head of the coffin and Harry at the foot.
William, now the heir to the throne, stood, his head bowed, at the head of the coffin and Harry at the foot.   -   Copyright  Aaron Chown/PA

All eight of Queen Elizabeth II’s grandchildren stood in silent vigil beside her coffin Saturday, capping another day in which thousands came to pay their respects to the late monarch.

Members of the public wishing to pay their respects to the late monarch huddled in a line that snaked across London, enduring the city’s coldest night in months on Friday. Authorities warned that more chilly weather was expected Saturday night.

“Tonight’s forecast is cold. Warm clothing is recommended,” tweeted the UK Department for Culture, which is in charge of the line.

Draped in her Royal Standard and capped with a diamond-studded crown, the Queen's coffin is lying in state in Westminister Hall, the oldest part of the British Parliament. Her funeral will take place on Monday, with US President Joe Biden and other world leaders flying into the British capital for the service. 

Tens of thousands of people wanting to say goodbye to Elizabeth II have streamed into the Hall since it was opened on Wednesday. The number of mourners has grown steadily since the public was first admitted, with the queue snaking all the way from central London to Southwark Park in the south. 

Yesterday waiting times hit 24 hours early in the morning, with the line stretching at least 8 kilometres. But it did shorten throughout the day. 

Honouring their patience, King Charles III and his eldest son Prince William made an unannounced visit on Saturday to greet people waiting to file past Elizabeth’s coffin, shaking hands and thanking mourners in the queue near Lambeth Bridge.

Later, all the queen’s grandchildren stood by her coffin. William and Prince Harry, Charles’ sons, were joined by Princess Anne’s children, Zara Tindall and Peter Philips; Prince Andrew’s daughters, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie; and the two children of Prince Edward – Lady Louise Windsor and James, Viscount Severn.

Both princes, who are military veterans, were in uniform. Mourners continued to file past in silence.

Harry, who served in Afghanistan as a British army officer, wore civilian clothes earlier in the week as the Queen’s coffin left Buckingham Palace because he is no longer a working member of the royal family.

He and his wife Meghan quit royal duties and moved to the United States in 2020. The king, however, requested that both William and Harry wear their military uniforms at the Westminster Hall vigil.

Before the vigil, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie issued a statement praising their “beloved grannie.”

“We, like many, thought you’d be here forever. And we all miss you terribly. You were our matriarch, our guide, our loving hand on our backs leading us through this world. You taught us so much and we will cherish those lessons and memories forever,” the sisters wrote.

People queuing to see the Queen represent all ages and come from all walks of life. Many bowed before the coffin or made a sign of the cross. Several veterans, their medals shining, offered sharp salutes. Some people wept. Others blew kisses.

Overnight, volunteers distributed blankets and cups of tea to people in line as temperatures fell to 6 degrees Celsius. 

Despite the weather, mourners described the warmth of a shared experience.

“It was cold overnight, but we had wonderful companions, met new friends. The camaraderie was wonderful, ″ Chris Harman from London said. “It was worth it. I would do it again and again and again. I would walk to the end of the earth for my Queen.”

Simon Hopkins, who travelled from his home in central England, likened it to “a pilgrimage.”

“[It] is a bit strange, because that kind of goes against my grain,” he said. “I’ve been kind of drawn into it.”

Saturday’s vigil followed one on Friday in which the Queen’s four children — Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward — stood vigil at the coffin.

Edward said the Royal Family was “overwhelmed by the tide of emotion that has engulfed us and the sheer number of people who have gone out of their way to express their own love, admiration and respect [for] our dear mama.”

On Saturday, King Charles III was holding audiences with incoming prime ministers, governor generals of the realms and military leaders.

The Metropolitan Police arrested a man on Friday night during the viewing for a suspected public order offence.

The lying-in-state continues until early Monday morning, when the Queen’s coffin will be transferred to nearby Westminster Abbey for a state funeral, bringing 10 days of national mourning for Britain’s longest-reigning monarch to a close. 

After the service Monday at the Abbey, the coffin will be transported through the historic heart of London on a horse-drawn gun carriage. It will then be taken in a hearse to Windsor, where the queen will be laid to rest alongside her late husband, Prince Philip, who died last year.

Hundreds of troops from the British army, air force and navy held an early-morning rehearsal Saturday for the final procession.

As troops lined the picturesque path leading to Windsor Castle, the thumping of drums echoed in the air as marching bands walked ahead of a hearse.

London police say the funeral will be the largest single policing event the force has ever handled, surpassing even the 2012 Summer Olympics and the Platinum Jubilee in June celebrating the queen’s 70-year reign.

Elizabeth, 96, died at her Balmoral Estate in Scotland on 8 September, after 70 years on the throne.