It’s the silence that strikes you.
So many people, 10 deep opposite the Navy church of St Clement Dane in the Strand, as they transferred the hearse to the gun carriage, and all so quiet. No one talked. No one exchanged memories, though there were those there whom I recognised who would have had them. A couple of foreign visitors whispered their questions to a woman police officer about how they could get to where they wanted to go.
The bell started tolling at 10:25. The band struck up; some shouted military orders; then silence again, but for the bell. At 10:35, the first chords of the funeral march, and the cortege set off, slowly, deliberately, precisely. At some time, without my noticing, the men doffed their headwear. All of them, the hats, the flat caps and the baseball caps, despite the light drizzle.
Someone in front of me unfurled a small banner: “But we loved her,” it said, in capital letters. He lowered it as the cortege passed, perhaps to the level of the coffin, with its bright flag and white wreathe. It was hard to see. I glimpsed the scenes best from the phones held up by those in front of me, like periscopes.
There was no protest that I noticed, though half an hour earlier in Whitehall, a very few people were holding up homemade placards, blaming “Her” for greed and inequality, some of them misspelt. The police were quiet, at times officious, at times trying to be reasonable. I wished, somehow, that the rank and file cops could have been made to look a bit smarter. I’m sure they did for Kate and William’s wedding. And one of them said under his breath, that if you asked him and he hadn’t been in uniform, he would have been shouting “milk snatcher”.
Aside from the quiet, what struck me most was the heterogeneity of the crowd. In Whitehall, office workers flooded out to boost the crowd just before the hearse passed, adding suits and bright dresses to the dark anoraks and coats of those who had been waiting so long. In the Strand, the crowd was of all ages, all races, and – judging by dress – all estates. Only children were conspicuous by their absence. Perhaps they were at school. The former education secretary would have approved.