Britons mourn loss of their 'Queen Mum'

Monday, April 1, 2002

LONDON -- The great State Bell of St. Paul's Cathedral tolled Sunday in remembrance of the Queen Mother as people across Britain prayed for her at Easter services and admirers lined up at royal palaces to sign books of condolence.

Queen Elizabeth II, who has lost her mother and her only sister, Princess Margaret, within seven weeks, attended a private service at Windsor Castle, grieving a much-loved royal matriarch who died Saturday at 101. Prince Charles and his sons flew home from a ski trip to Switzerland to join the rest of the royal family.

Crowds of admirers gathered outside Windsor Castle's gates, and some left flowers and notes. More than 50 bright bouquets of spring flowers rested against a St. James's Palace wall in central London where hundreds of people lined up on a chilly and overcast morning to sign books of condolence.

Visitors to St. James's Palace underwent stringent security checks before being allowed in the palace's Long Corridor where 16 books of condolence were laid out on tables.

Thousands turn out

More than a thousand visitors had signed the books by lunchtime and the figure had more than doubled by mid-afternoon.

Marion Russell, 59, said she spent the night outside the gates of Buckingham Palace after lighting a candle in memory of the Queen Mother.

"I saw the Queen Mother three or four times in my lifetime and she was a beautiful grand old woman who did so much for this country."

Although the death dominated news headlines, the passing of the Queen Mother at such a great age and after months of illness did not come as a surprise. The number of mourners at the palaces was modest compared to the turnout at the death of her husband George VI in 1952. The fairly muted response across Britain reflected the diminished role of the monarchy.

Some of those who came to mourn the Queen Mother were deeply moved.

"She was a great lady, with a lovely smile," said Londoner Rose Hakim, 57. "She will be deeply, deeply missed. And God bless the monarchy."

'Passing of an era'

Matthew Shearer, holding his two young daughters by the hand, said it was a historic moment. "It is not just her death," he said, "but the change, the passing of an era."

The Queen Mother's Westminster Abbey funeral was set for April 9, following three days in which she will lie in state in Westminster Hall at the Houses of Parliament under ceremonial guard.

Great Tom, the State Bell at St. Paul's, rang for an hour Sunday afternoon to mark the Queen Mother's passing, as it did just seven weeks ago after the death of Princess Margaret.

The bell tolls only for the death of a member of the royal family, a serving dean of the cathedral or a senior national figure.

It was tolled for Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997, for former wartime prime minister, Sir Winston Churchill in 1965, and for the queen's father, King George VI, in 1952.

Flags flew at half-staff from Buckingham Palace to the Murrayfield rugby stadium in Edinburgh, Scotland, 50 miles south of Glamis Castle, the Queen Mother's ancestral home.

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