Eight soldiers from the Grenadier Guards, an elite unit of the British Army’s infantry, were chosen to carry Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin at her funeral. Five of them were flown in from Iraq just hours after her death was announced. The whole world saw how the soldiers performed their task flawlessly and gracefully. But their mission was not over when the coffin descended into the crypt below St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. Away from the cameras, they still had to interred the Queen with her husband in the King George VI Memorial Chapel, with her parents and sister.
British comedian, writer and actor Stephen Fry thought the bearers of Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin deserved a pint. “Carriers, to the pub, quick march. Porters, lift the mug. Porters, drink beer. You deserved it,” Fry tweeted at 2:38 p.m. our time. But he turned out to be a bit too quick with his tweet. 2.5 hours later, at 5:08 PM, he added: “Oops, I hope they didn’t follow my advice. Do one last shift first.”
Fry intended that the elite soldiers still had to take the Queen along with her husband to her final resting place in the King George VI Memorial, where she was interred with her parents and her sister. This burial vault in St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle had been requested by Queen Elizabeth II in 1962 for her father, King George VI. Seven years later, on March 26, 1969, the burial vault did indeed become George VI’s final resting place. And then in 2002 also his daughter, Princess Margaret, and his wife Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who died seven weeks after her daughter. Princess Margaret – exceptionally for a member of the royal family – was cremated. Yesterday, Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, who died last year, were also interred in the King George VI Memorial side chapel.
That task was the last of a grueling day—starting before 10:30 a.m. local time—for the ten-strong Grenadier Guards deputy who had to look after the at least 225kg box. Eight of them had already lifted, carried and set down Elizabeth II’s coffin flawlessly ten times during the Queen’s final journey from Westminster Hall to St George’s Chapel in Windsor.
The first was when they carried the coffin from Westminster Hall, where the Queen lay in state for four days, and placed it on the ceremonial gun carriage that would carry the Elizabeth II’s remains to Westminster Abbey where the state funeral was to begin. From there, after the service, the procession proceeded via The Mall and Constitution Hill to Wellington Arch, with the coffin back on the 123-year-old cannon base. There the soldiers placed the coffin in a hearse, which they drove to Windsor.
The most difficult part of the trail for porters was probably the steep steps of the more than 500-year-old St George’s Chapel. The eight were assisted at the rear by a ninth soldier from the first battalion Grenadier Guards, 19-year-old Fletcher Cox, from the island of Jersey. He had to keep the oak box from sliding on the slope. At the front, Sergeant Major Dean Jones led the coffin bearers upstairs.
The last image the world saw of the Queen descending from her coffin into the crypt beneath St George’s Chapel, where she was reunited with Prince Philip, her husband who died last year and was given his provisional resting place there. Elizabeth and Philip’s coffins were interred at the King George VI Memorial in a private ceremony that evening, eleven days after the death of Elizabeth II at age 96 in Balmoral, Scotland. The Grenadier Guards were called in again for this. The elite soldiers were on the job for about 12 hours when their shift ended late in the evening.
Also see: Queen’s coffin sinks into crypt in St. George’s Chapel
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