Diana 1961-1997: The Cortege - A flower-strewn path leading to the Abbey

Quietly weeping crowds stood 20-deep to watch the coffin pass by. Steve Boggan followed the funeral procession

Steve Boggan
Saturday 06 September 1997 23:02

It was a single word but it reminded a nation of grieving mourners that nothing they felt could eclipse the pain being endured by two young boys. It was the word "Mummy" and it was written on a wreath of white roses on top of the coffin of Diana, Princess of Wales.

The boys who put it there, Prince William, 15, and Prince Harry, 12, cut heroic but sad figures yesterday as they marched behind their mother's body on its journey to Westminster Abbey.

There had been fears all week that the princes would be too upset to walk behind the cortege from St James's Palace to the Abbey, but they would not be deterred. As the procession swept along The Mall on the last leg of its journey, they stepped behind it, flanked by their father, the Prince of Wales, and their grandfather, the Duke of Edinburgh. At their centre was Diana's brother, Earl Spencer.

The princes did not weep but they appeared desperately sad, each boy with head bowed staring intently at the ground. Wearing dark suits, white shirts and black ties, their presence provoked spontaneous applause and, sporadically, disturbing wails of grief from crowds of mourners who were otherwise silent and dignified.

There was wailing, too, at the start of Diana's last journey. It had been a long, cold vigil for the mourners outside Kensington Palace and when it ended, five minutes late, many were overcome with the raw pain of it all.

We had expected Diana's coffin, draped in the Royal Standard and borne upon an unyielding gun carriage, to be met with stunned silence as it passed through the gates.

But, in their grief, some were simply unable to contain themselves. As flowers rained down onto the cortege from bystanders, the sound of shrieks and wailing filled the air. "Diana!" they shouted. "God bless you!"

The streets were packed 20-deep with mourners, many crying unselfconsciously, others simply standing in silence, hugging their loved ones or praying. As the cortege began its two- mile journey to Westminster Abbey, the initial shock of its appearance abated and silence was restored.

It was a journey Diana had made in happier times and it took in all the landmarks of her royal life - Buckingham Palace, the Mall, Hyde Park, St James's Palace - but it was to be her last. And, among the crowds, mourners took consolation from the fact that it was to be made in brilliant sunshine, under blue skies.

"Grey clouds just wouldn't be right," said one pensioner in the throng. "She brought light into so many dark lives."

The cortege was led through the gates of Kensington Palace at 9.13am, by six horses and 10 men from F Section of the King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, commanded by Captain Grant Chanter. They wore their ceremonial uniforms, which are braided in gold with a single gold feather protruding from their caps.

Three men rode ahead of the carriage, with Sergeant Damian Gascoigne, sergeant commanding, at the head of the procession. The lead driver was Lance Bombardier Graham Innes. They were flanked by 12 men from the First Battalion Welsh Guards wearing their trademark red tunics and bearskins.

Eight of the men were later to hoist Diana's coffin onto their shoulders for the walk through the Great West Door into Westminster Abbey.

The load they pulled along the route from Kensington Palace to Westminster Abbey weighed some two tons. Diana's coffin lay on an oak platform suspended above a 13-pounder gun barrel which saw action during the First World War.

It was not the first such journey. It was the funeral of Queen Victoria that saw the establishment of the gun carriage tradition in 1901. Since then, gun carriages have been used at the funerals of Edward VII, George V, George VI, Winston Churchill and Earl Mountbatten of Burma.

On top of the coffin were three wreaths, two from the princes and one, of white lilies, from the princess's brother, Earl Spencer.

The cortege moved sedately past the crowds, along Palace Avenue and through Hyde Park along South Carriage Drive, Hyde Park Corner and Constitution Hill.

And there, at 10.17am, outside the gates of Buckingham Palace, was the unprecedented sight of almost all members of the Royal Family standing together to pay their respects. They had never before gathered like this for this reason and it was deeply appreciated by the mourners. On Friday, the Queen and Prince Charles had been anxious to reassure the nation that they were grieving too. This was an opportunity to show it.

As a lone piper - not part of the official ceremony - played "Abide With Me", the Queen stood silently with the Princess Royal, Prince Edward, Princess Margaret, Princess Alexandra, the Duke and Duchess of Kent and Viscount Linley.

Saddest of all was the Duchess of York, one of Diana's closest friends, who looked forlorn, her right arm draped across the shoulder of her daughter, Princess Beatrice.

And, throughout the journey, the silence was punctuated every minute by the tolling of Westminster Abbey's Tenor Bell, its doleful chime reverberating across the entire route.

Once the princes had joined the cortege, more than 500 people representing 100 charities swung behind for the march through Horse- guards Parade and along Whitehall to the Abbey.

There were people in wheelchairs, blind marchers carrying lilies and the aid workers and victims of illnesses that the princess had supported in life. In short, they were the people she would have wanted in the limelight.

As they reached the Cenotaph, there was more wailing and a single shout of "We love you, Diana," as the crowds continued to throw flowers before the procession.

Finally, the coffin was brought to a halt outside the Great West Door where the bearers removed their bearskins before carrying it solemnly into the Abbey.

And, as they crossed the threshold to be greeted by the Very Rev Dr Wesley Carr, Dean of Westminster, the great bells of the Abbey began to toll.

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