Mountbatten's Last Journey
London Newspaper Group 14-09-1979
The state funeral of Lord Louis Mountbatten
By Christopher Long
It was strange to stand in St James's Park, Westminster, last Wednesday morning and hear no traffic to hear instead the unusual sounds of London, usually swamped by the din of everyday life (writes Christopher Long).
The funeral day of Lord Louis Mountbatten, however, was not an everyday occasion. It was fitting that many thousands of people could clearly hear the quarter hours struck by Big Ben, chimes of the clock over the Admiralty familiar sounds to the man they had come to mourn.
The whole area of Westminster from Victoria to Horseferry Road and Constitution Hill to Trafalgar Square was cordoned off by the discreet presence of five thousand police and security men, filled with brightly-dressed, sun-drenched crowds and uniforms of all descriptions.
The first sign of the massive funeral march the largest since that of Sir Winston Churchill was heard by those of us in St James's Park when the distant, slow thud of the Royal Marines' bass drums echoed across The Mall as the cortège turned into the red-metalled road from St James's Palace.
Soon the whole, spine-chilling band could be heard as it lead the mile-long column to Westminster Abbey, through the Admiralty, past the flags of the British Legion with the coffin on its gun carriage not far behind. Again the chimes of the Admiralty clock struck out.
Ahead, in the Abbey, there were last-minute preparations for the arrival of the Queen and Queen Mother as two limousines drive silently along Birdcage Walk.
Already the 1,800 invited members of the congregation were seated and waiting, including most of the Royal families of Europe, members of the Earl's own family and representatives of all the wide-ranging and varied aspects of the eighty-year life of 'Lord Louis' as he is known to most of them.
From all appearances this was not a congregation of an elite. It was a congregation of diverse people with one thing in common.
Outside in the sunshine the funeral procession arrived followed by male members of the Royal Family and, most poignantly, the 28 year old charger 'Dolly' (official name Octave) with boots reversed in the stirrups.
The crowds were dense. There were fewer tourists than one might have expected and clearly the majority were Londoners and people who had come up to London specially.
In Horseferry Road and Victoria, police were ever-watchful and traffic coped well with the complicated diversions.
The hundreds of sailors, soldiers and marines vanished miraculously as the body was carried into the Abbey for the ceremonial service. The crowds gathered in Parliament Square along with hundreds of pressmen and cameramen.
The sunshine and brightly-clothed crowds seemed at variance with the solemn occasion but was the nearest the Earl got to the 'happy occasion' he had hoped his funeral would be.
Police were unwilling to describe what sort of security arrangement had been made or what particular threat they feared. Certainly there were no parked cars in the area.
From as far away as Lambeth Bridge it was possible to hear the bells of Westminster Abbey ring out, rather muffled, as the service ended and the flag-draped body of the Earl was driven away with a military escort to Waterloo station and its last journey.
It was a sad day. Strange, in the middle of the week, to hear so clearly the sharp military commands to the soldiers, sailors and bandsmen; the bells tolling, striking and finally ringing out a farewell over Westminster.
A day, too, when the crowds had proved that they were as little afraid of the threat of 'Lord Louis's' murderers as he had been of the enemies in two World Wars.
This was written at the last minute when the promised official Royal Rota report failed to appear. The author attended the event with no knowledge that he would need to write about it!
© (1979) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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