With sun rays seeping in through the stained glass windows of Westminster Hall, I stepped into the iconic site that served as the backdrop for some of the world’s most historic events to pay my respects to Britain’s longest-reigning monarch.
Despite the chattering crowds outside that line the streets of London, pushing the wait times past the record-breaking 14-hour mark, you could hear a pin drop inside.
Mourners paying their respects were mostly dressed in black, and many took the opportunity during their three-minute visit to bow to the Queen’s coffin — a gesture of respect passed down for generations.
Other visitors proudly wore their own military honors.
While I’ve never considered myself much of a royalist, I couldn’t deny the sense of gratitude and emotion the Queen’s coffin evoked in me.
Seeing the place that witnessed numerous momentous events over the centuries — including former Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s lying-in-state in 1965, Nelson Mandela’s 1996 address, and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’s lying-in-state in 2002 — the hall served as a poignant reminder of the history that has cemented Britain’s legacy.
After watching the crowd make its way from the south-facing entrance, past the coffin, and over to the north-facing exit, one thing that struck me was the overwhelming sense of emotion.
“When I saw it [the Queen’s coffin], I couldn’t help but burst into tears,” Sharon Martin told The Post. “I still can’t believe our precious ruler is no longer with us.”
Martin was far from the only one to be moved to tears. There are four dedicated stewards placed at each corner of the hall to hand out tissues to distraught mourners, with supplies running out every three minutes or so.
But the 53-year-old royalist, who hails from Essex in England, was one of the lucky few who managed to witness the changing of the guards around Her Majesty’s coffin.
“I felt so lucky to see that happen. I love that about us Brits, we stick to tradition. It’s there for a reason and we should continue to honor it. Simple as.”
Veteran Keith Walsh, who waited just under 10 hours to see Her Majesty’s coffin, said he felt a deep sense of honor waiting in line for the better part of Friday.
“I came here wearing my Northern Ireland medal,” Walsh, 57, told The Post. “I served in the army for five years and I did two years in Northern Ireland in the ’80s.”
“For veterans, first and foremost, we knew her as the boss. She was our boss — commander-in-chief of the armed forces. So there’s more than a tie of nationality to it,” Walsh said.
“It’s the service that we put forward for her, we took an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty The Queen, her heirs, and successors, and for most veterans, that oath will be there ’til the day you pass away. It’s more than respect — there’s that bond that we served for her.”
Her Majesty’s coffin was brought to Westminster Hall on Wednesday, with the procession being led by her eldest son, King Charles III.
Built over 900 years ago by William II, the historic building served what was thought to be the largest hall in Europe at the time.
The landmark opened its doors to the general public Wednesday and will remain open for 24 hours each day before closing at 6:30 a.m. Sept. 19 — the day of Her Majesty’s state funeral.
Each day since the lines began, royal fans ignored warnings of endless wait times as they patiently inched closer to Westminster Hall in a queue snaking around the center of the capital.
“I will wait as long as it takes — I’m not going anywhere,” said Sarah Slater, 67, who hails from Canterbury, England.
“I’ve made a day of it. I knew what I was getting myself into and I’m perfectly happy with that. The wait has been really difficult and I’ve got three more hours to go. But guess what? I’ll wait and wait and wait. It’s the least I could do.”
For many, a chance to spend minutes with the coffin means hours of discomfort in chilly temperatures and rain. Hundreds of mourners aching or experiencing other medical issues from the waits have sought out medics.
“We’ve been very busy today,” a Saint John’s Ambulance medic told The Post on Friday. “I think lots of people experienced severe discomfort, aches, and pain from being in the queue for so long. We’ve had quite a few people feeling faint, and actually fainting today, too.”
But despite the daunting lines, each mourner I spoke with said they would do it again to have the opportunity to pay their respects to the late Queen.
“The Queen was such a strong figure, she proved to me when I was a young girl that anything and everything was possible,” Kam Kaur, 37, told The Post.
“She gave such a huge responsibility at an incredibly young age. But we never heard her complain, never saw her in any distress. Yet still, she did everything with such elegance and grace,” added Kaur, who waited eight hours in line to see Her Majesty’s coffin.
“She was a true inspiration. There will not be another queen in my life but feel beyond blessed to know for 37 years of my life, she was my Queen.”