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“A day I’ll remember all my life”: observations from the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II

Caroline Harper, September 2022

It was the pipers who undid me.

The sound of so many of them approaching the abbey, getting closer and closer as the procession brought Her Majesty the Queen to the service, was utterly magical. This was echoed at the end of the service too, with the lone piper slowly walking away, his notes fading as he did so.

Immediately after his lament died away the procession came down the nave, with the Queen leaving her abbey for the last time. I defy anyone not to have a lump in their throat and a tear in their eye as we watched the family follow the coffin out to the gun carriage, with the piper’s lament still somehow reverberating in the air.

This was a day I won’t forget. Starting out very early to avoid the crowds, the streets of south London were curiously hushed and deserted, with those who were about mostly wearing black, and everyone saying good morning to each other. When I got to the end of Lambeth Bridge I joined the queue with others who were attending – everyone I spoke to was overwhelmed to be there. Being so early, I was sat just a couple of rows from the front in the nave – so close!

Queen Elizabeth's coffin is driven in a black hearse covered in flowers, flanked by Queens Guards wearing bearskins and full red military uniforms, plus officials in dark suits.

We watched as heads of state, former prime ministers, heads of religion and other dignitaries – including holders of bravery medals such as the George Cross and the Victoria Cross – made their way to their seats. Then the pageantry really began, with the Yeoman of the Guard, heralds and many others, all in incredible finery, processing past us. Unmistakeably British tradition in all its glory.

At last the moment all had been waiting for, as the coffin of the Queen was carried past us by some unbelievable strong young men – the Imperial crown on top glittering in the light coming in through the windows. The family were next – grief etched on their faces, slowly walking down the centre of the nave, carefully avoiding the grave of the unknown soldier as they came.

As for the service itself, it is the sublime singing from the choir that will remain with me. It was an instinctive reaction to close my eyes and just feel the music soothe the soul – it was stunning, and did indeed sound like flights of angels singing the Queen to her rest.

I shall also remember the trumpeters playing the Last Post and Reveille, many standing high above us on the quire screen, wearing their bearskins, before we all belted out ‘God Save the King’. Finally we remained standing while the poignancy of the piper’s lament led us to the final procession and goodbye.

This was a privilege and an event I will remember all my life. I was there to represent Sightsavers to honour our departed patron, on behalf of the people we serve, the supporters who make this possible and all our staff across the world.

May she rest in peace and rise in glory.

Long live the King.


Caroline Harper.Caroline Harper
Caroline is Sightsavers’ global CEO, a role she has held since 2005. In 2015 she received a CBE for services to people with visual impairments. More about Caroline

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