As a soldier of the Royal Engineers, Laidley Nelson met Elizabeth II three times. The second time she recognized him. “She said, ‘Aren’t you a corporal?’ Her memory was wonderful. She didn’t disrespect you.”

Nelson, 71, was in the lucky minority. Few of those queuing along the Thames last week had never experienced the beloved Queen firsthand. Westminster to see her lying in her hall would have been the closest they were to her. That was all they left behind.

The queues, which have sometimes meandered to the point of having to temporarily close, disappear entirely early on Monday. It was scheduled to end at 6:30. However, it is likely to be remembered collectively as a pilgrimage to a country that does not make pilgrimages, a spiritual interlude in a rapidly secularizing country.

It helped end not only the Queen’s reign but also the Covid era, when health restrictions prevented sharing grief, most visible at Prince Philip’s funeral in April 2021 .

Was it the most British thing ever, as someone said? At peak times, queues stretched to 4.9 miles and wait times exceeded 24 hours. There was an informal queue to join the queue. While many Americans were once obsessed with his QAnon, the British simply kept lining up.

Former soldier Laidley Nelson holds a medal on his chest in a row

Laidley Nelson, 71, met the Queen three times during his military service © Charlie Bibby/FT

Archival image of Prince Philip and Queen on screen

A large screen showing archival footage of the Queen’s life

On the banks of the Thames, however, the queues were often un-British. It wasn’t the gray, harsh lines you see outside post offices and train stations. People talked to strangers and exchanged phone numbers. “Anyone want a fudge or a humbug?” cried someone near Westminster Bridge.

After seeing the coffin in Westminster Hall, people in line hugged each other and said goodbye. “I hate to say we’ll meet again, but it’s a small world!” one woman told her peers of her past 13 hours.

Indeed, the appeal of the column was that it was unruly, hasty and individualistic, quite unlike Britain in recent years. Kiran Patel said, “We are going through very bad times, such as the energy crisis, but we should never lose hope.

Queues can be unscrupulous. While waiting, there was some chatter about the exact cause of the Queen’s death (which Buckingham Palace did not specify). Bets were spread about how long it would take to get in. Some queues then sold used wristbands on eBay until the company banned them.

People in blankets queuing up before dawn near Tower Bridge
Queues near Tower Bridge early Sunday morning © Reuters

Queuing is an exercise in belief — the belief that following the rules is enough and the system will make it happen. There are alternatives. In 1952, several people died in Argentina when crowds rushed to see the body of the late Mrs. Eva Perón. Britain also had its own tragedy, but the procession, with Portaloos and the repurposing of civil servants and scouts as crowd marshals, inspired confidence and perseverance.

Economists would identify the sunk cost fallacy. There were people with different motives in line, some projecting their lives onto the Queen’s death.

“At first, the procession was the story. The crowd became the story,” said Steven Reicher, a social psychologist at the University of St Andrews. And people’s “fear of missing out” was a big motivator.

A poll by Professor Rob Johns of the University of Essex found 60% voted Remain and 53% voted Conservative, reflecting the predominance of Londoners. There was an officer, a solicitor, an anti-immigrant politician, and a former journalist for the Financial Times.

Start of Southwark Park Queue System

The start of the procession in Southwark Park, about 5 miles and over 12 hours from Westminster Hall © Getty Images

woman wearing union jack

Stories of friendship between people waiting to be paid their respects have become a big part of the story © AFP/Getty Images

Not all queues were exactly the same: MPs could be visited without waiting, with 4 guests each. But a sense of fair play took hold. Television hosts Philip Scofield and Holly Willoughby, who said they visited “in a professional capacity”, were accused of jumping the line, while former footballer David Beckham, by contrast, , was praised for queuing for 12 hours.

Why were people willing to wait to experience what they could watch for free on Internet streams? By the Thames, the question quickly changed to: “Isn’t it a little sad if I can’t give 12 hours of my life to someone who gave me 70 years?” said Amanda, a care worker in Folkestone.

It helped that the news bulletin said little other than the Queen’s funeral and provided comprehensive publicity that even top-level football is not given. By contrast, George V and George VI died in winter. Some of his 305,000 men who saw George V lying had to put up with a light snowfall.

There have been similar moments in modern Britain. Lying Queen Mother in 2002. And this summer’s platinum jubilee. However, many waiters considered this a once-in-a-lifetime experience. A woman who is seven months pregnant was looking forward to telling her baby that she was there.

Not everyone succeeded. Between Wednesday and Saturday, ambulance services provided medical attention to 1,078 patients in line, of whom 136 were taken to hospital.

Westminster Hall and a row of ordinary citizens
The queue reaches its final destination. Nearly silent Westminster Hall where the Queen lies © Charlie Bibby/FT

Inside Westminster Hall itself, the silence was haunting, interrupted only by the sweeping of the soles of the carpet and the clicks of the attendants counting up the numbers. Was it worth it? “Oh yeah. quality myselfsaid Tim Wood, an inland waterway engineer. Don’t ask if he was worth the wait. It was worth the wait.

Meanwhile, crowds were beginning to arrive around the Houses of Parliament on Sunday for the next stage of mourning, the procession of the Queen’s coffin. three lionsIs there a name for an Englishman who would do anything to catch a glimpse of the monarchy? “Crazy!” laughed one woman who was preparing for camp.

Video: Queen Elizabeth II: Farewell to the Monarch

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