LONDON — When the Elizabeth Line opened up in May to mark the queen’s 70th jubilee, Londoners hailed the new transport link on the tube system as a way to speed up transportation around the hulking capital city.
But as Queen Elizabeth II lies in state at Westminster Hall, a very different Elizabeth line has formed, with hundreds of thousands of mourners lining up in a quintessentially British and orderly manner to pay their respects.
As the line now stretches for over four miles directly east from the heart of the British government at Westminster all the way past the famous Tower Bridge, a general mood of gratitude and quiet reflection has been displayed across the queue on Thursday.
Ian Jacques, a navy veteran, drove more than 100 miles to London Thursday morning to say goodbye to Queen Elizabeth II in person.
“I served in the Royal Navy for 42 years. The Queen was my boss,” Ian Jacques, from Norwich, England, told ABC News. “I felt I needed to be here. It’s a sense of duty. The services she gave to the country, this is my way of returning what she did. If somebody said to me the queue might be 30 hours long, I don’t care how long it is. I need to come here to pay my respects to somebody who I grew up with.”
Maria Slatter and Imy Stratton, both 23 from Bromley, England, had just left Westminster Hall where the queen is lying in state when they spoke to ABC News after waiting more than six hours to pay their respects to the monarch, who reigned over the U.K. for more than 70 years.
“I just felt everyone felt privileged to be there,” Slatter said. “Even though it was a six-hour queue, no one was complaining, there was no arguing.”
“We even made friends,” Stratton said as she waved goodbye to the people she had just spent the day with.
Though she had never met them before and may never see again, the queen’s death had touched each of those she came across personally.
“We are all going through the same thing and we are all going through the same emotions and we all had our own stories about the queen that we were telling each other in the queue,” Stratton said.
Stuart Chaplin, from Essex, England, arrived in London on Thursday and waited for hours to enter Westminster Hall to get a glimpse of the queen’s coffin with the crown that she wore during her coronation in 1952 resting on top of it. He said the moment he turned the corner into the room where Queen Elizabeth II laid was an emotional experience.
“You feel your heartstrings start to pull,” Chaplin told ABC News. “You make friends with the people in front of you and the people behind you in the queue. But as you go through security and you begin to enter the hall, boom. It really tugs on your heartstrings. All of a sudden you start to think you need to make sure you are looking smart and feeling focused. You get this realization that you are here to pay your last respect to someone who effectively held the Commonwealth together for all these years and is internationally recognized by most people in the world.”
Industry experts predict that an estimated 4.1 billion people — more than half of the global population — could watch the funeral for the late queen on Sept. 19.
“Such is the love and admiration for Queen Elizabeth II around the world that her funeral is destined to be the biggest live TV event in history,” TV analyst Carolina Beltramo of WatchTVAbroad.com told ABC News. “Generations of people across the globe won’t have been alive the last time pomp and pageantry were seen on this scale. While it’s a sad occasion, they can be forgiven for being enthralled by a spectacle that echoes throughout history. For that reason alone they’ll be drawn to witness the dawn of this new age in the billions.”
Perhaps that is why those like Tina Gray, who was accompanied by her friend Annette Penfold MBE, said they were fortunate enough to feel the weight of history in person and did not mind waiting in line to witness this once-in-a-lifetime event.
“It’s absolutely emotional,” Gray told ABC News. “You just walk into the hall and there is this natural hush. You are reminded why you’re here. The first thing you see is the queen’s Diamond Jubilee, which she was only recently given, and then there’s the scepter, the flowers, the flag draped over her coffin. We stood to attention, we bowed our heads and we said our last goodbyes.”
“It was the right thing to do,” added Penfold, who was awarded an MBE title — Member of the British Empire — by the current monarch, King Charles III. “We have this lady and, whatever you think of the monarchy or how our country is run, she is the head of state. This woman did so much. She served her country, the Commonwealth, the world, everybody. She was incredible. I just can’t describe it.”
Queen Elizabeth II will lie in state in Westminster Hall until Monday, when a state funeral will be held and the world will say their final goodbyes to the longest reigning monarch in British history. But, for now, the sense of patriotism, duty, honor and reflection weighs heavily on the minds of the British public as the country prepares to say farewell.
“Our country is a funny little country,” Penfold said. “We’re very tolerant but we have always had her and she has always been constant. Her standards, her values, her openness and her willingness to change and move with the times.”
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