Queen Elizabeth II's coffin left Buckingham Palace for the last time Wednesday as it was taken amid somber pageantry on a horse-drawn gun carriage past crowds of mourners to the Houses of Parliament, where the late monarch will lie in state for four days.
Crowds began massing early along the flag-lined road outside the palace for the procession from the monarch's official London residence to the historic Westminster Hall at Parliament. King Charles III and other members of the royal family walked behind the coffin.
Thousands of people gathered on The Mall outside Buckingham Palace and along the banks of the River Thames hours before the coffin procession begins. People in the crowd cheered when Charles waved to them as he drove from his residence, Clarence House, to the palace.
Joan Bucklehurst, a 50-year-old retail worker from Cheshire in northwestern England, said the queen “meant so much for everybody.”
“She was amazing, yeah,” she added, choking up with emotion. "So, we had to be here. We’ve been here a few times when there have been special occasions, but this one, I couldn’t miss this.”
The crowds are the latest manifestation of a nationwide outpouring of grief and respect for the only monarch most Britons have ever known, who died at her beloved Balmoral summer retreat on Thursday at age 96, ending a 70-year reign.
“It’s a very sad day, but it’s our last opportunity to do our duty for the queen and it’s our first opportunity to do it for the king, and that makes us all very proud,” said Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika, of the Household division, who is responsible for organizing the ceremonial aspects of the queen’s funeral.
London’s Heathrow Airport said adjusted timetables to prevent overhead planes from disturbing the procession. British Airways canceled 16 flights as a result of the changes.
The airport said in a statement that the changes would “ensure silence over central London as the ceremonial procession moves from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall.”
Troops involved in the procession have been preparing since the queen died. So have the horses of the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery.
Sgt. Tom Jenks, from the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, said that the horses have undergone special training, including how to handle weeping mourners, as well as flowers and flags being thrown onto streets as the procession passes by.
People stood behind metal barriers or sat on folding chairs, umbrellas at the ready, takeout coffees in hand under gray skies hours before the coffin was scheduled to leave the landmark palace.
Crowds have lined the route of the queen's coffin whenever it has been moved in its long journey from Scotland back to London.
On Tuesday night, thousands braved a typical London drizzle as the state hearse, with interior lights illuminating the sovereign's flag-draped casket, drove slowly from a military air base into the heart of London.
Geoff Colgan, a taxi driver who took the day off to witness the moment, stood stunned in the moments after the queen’s coffin passed.
“It’s one of those things you know would happen, but when it does you can’t believe it,” he said, holding his toddler.
Earlier, in Edinburgh, some 33,000 people filed in silent respect past her coffin as it lay for 24 hours at St. Giles’ Cathedral.
Hundreds of thousands are expected to do the same in London when the queen lies in state at the 900-year-old Westminster Hall, the oldest building in Parliament, for four days before her state funeral on Monday.