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National Mourning: An Eyewitness Retrospective

As the national psyche celebrates a coronation in the middle of Spring, how did it commemorate a state funeral in the middle of Autumn?

Looking towards Buckingham palace at night, a lone police car holds court over The Mall of Britain.
The Mall and Buckingham Palace

With our focus on mental health coinciding with the Coronation of Charles III and Camilla, we offer a first-hand account of the last major historic royal event, the State Funeral of Elizabeth II, and its effects on collective mental health of the nation's state with the change of its Head of State. In fact, such was the outpouring of grief, the government issued official advice on the matter alongside many other institutions.

Transition Nation

Five days after moving from Scotland to England to continue my tertiary education, Queen Elizabeth II died after 70 years on the throne. In studying journalism as an undergraduate in Edinburgh and now photography as a postgraduate in York, if I were truly serious about practising photojournalism professionally, then it would be remiss of me, I thought if I didn’t travel to London to record (subjectively) the preparations for such breaking news myself. While I couldn’t commit to joining the queue, I could, at least, walk the length of it to ascertain the atmosphere of its participants and the public in the city at large.

Mood Music

From my arrival at London King’s Cross to my departure, I would have 24 hours to write on and capture the scene from my perspective as an (objective) ordinary citizen. What struck me most was the collective sombreness; the sensibility of respect that appeared on the emotional faces of the people I observed in parks, squares and stations, on bridges, embankments and the tube that connects them all.

Green Park was re-carpeted by floral micro-fireworks and those who came to read the accompanying messages of an anonymous grief that somehow articulated their own. Parliament Square Garden was populated by as many international media as foreign languages, whom, despite their multi-culture, were seemingly all united by a similar understanding.

Purple Reign

From journey’s end at Westminster Hall, the line wound itself through Victoria Tower Gardens South, over Lambeth Bridge and past St Thomas’ Hospital. From there it continued alongside the River Thames – and more associated press – passing London Bridge (its tenth) before night fell and lights rose. In honour of the late monarch, the majesty of Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast and the Shard illuminated platinum; a moment in history I was grateful to have witnessed.

To accommodate the additional passenger demand for service and facilities to the capital from across the country, like myself, the train operator London North Eastern Railway (LNER) provided one of their Azuma sets for the weary without accommodation to rest. So, under one of the two great arched train sheds on platform eight in the early morning, I wrote the following poetry to accompany the photography and, hopefully, encapsulate my experience in a more artistic and, therefore, memorable fashion than mere reportage:

A high speed train sits in a deserted city terminus for use as temporary accommodation for additional travellers to the capital.
London King's Cross

Elizabeth Eye

'Elizabeth' and 'Paddington' appear next to each other in signage.
London Marlybone

A changing of the guard has come

for that which never changed.

What in mind was expected

but in heart was not arranged.

A personage so personal

to everyone that came.

For reasons only they will know

beyond that face and name.

Behold the second river

as it flows through city streets.

For hours and miles, through day and night,

the closure that it greets.

A Union Jack flag waves (digitally) the queue for the Queen on below.
London Bridge

Hundreds, thousands, millions queue

to pay their due respect.

To bid farewell to constancy

that's now in retrospect.

Kaleidoscopic scents of spring,

the senses it belies.

It overwhelms solemnity

and halts autumnal breeze.

From palace gates to public parks,

the colours symbolise.

The coats, the hats, the gloves, the scarves -

a well-worn leader wise.

The queue for the Queen heads out of shot into the glare of the sun.

A presence of emotions

quite intangible in size.

A perfect legacy is there -

description it defies.

To read beyond the cover

of the books on the bookshelf.

Be everything to everyone

yet something for yourself.

What happens when the magnet

in a moral compass fails?

One hopes that truth and justice,

faith and unity prevails.

Flags fly half-mast as a mark of respect in the aftermath of the death of the monarch.
Westminster Abbey

Why manifest a destiny

of service to compare?

To talk the talk then walk the walk -

the fact that one was there.

From notes and coins and stamps

the lady peers beyond the throne.

A figure most have never met

but feel they've always known.

What once was held in trust for us,

the face of Britain smiles.

Witness progress in the wreath,

the orb, these sceptred isles.

Technical teams for international news networks report from the scene.
Parliament Square Gardens

Wealthy yet uneasy lies

the head that wears a crown.

Uneasy are its people still

when London Bridge is down.

Keep calm and carry on

as pomp and circumstance save face.

As bells toll out flags fly half mast

and heads; they bow in grace.

Ubiquitous. Ambiguous.

A prophecy foretold

three quarters of a century

a promise to uphold.

Crowds gather at the railings to watch the queue for the Queen as those that joined it leave after paying their respects in person.
Westminster Hall

Iconoclastic. A dynastic

monarchy survives.

One tapestry is now complete -

it wove through all our lives.

Ascension and procession

mark the operatic scale -

the duty bound that marches

on beyond the fairy-tale.

Historic and majestic,

the example that ascends.

As diamonds are forever

though its wearer's journey ends.

Pedestrians walk across a London river footbridge in front of the bright white dome of a city centre cathedral.
St Paul's Cathedral

In these ideals of dignity

and discipline it shone.

Embodying their country

from an age that's now long gone.

In memory, the spirit lives.

The body lay in state.

In reverence, in deference;

Elizabeth the Great.

HM Queen Elizabeth II (1926 - 2022)

HM King Charles (2022 - )

Words and photographs by Adam Zawadzki


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