Under the reign of George VI, Britons learned to queuetediously and inevitablyfor food, for fun, for clothing, for travel, for life's necessities and life's rewards. Last week they queued for George himself. No one could measure or plot precisely the serpentine columns of human beings that formed and reformed, doubled, branched and coiled back again along London's streets and across chilly Thames bridges, to get a last glimpse of the dead King's coffin as it lay in medieval Westminster Hall. But before the week was out, Londoners had taken to calling it "the Great Queue," marking it as an epochal event, long to be remembered.
Three Flagpoles. There were few tears in Westminster as the endless line of 305,806 people shuffled past the high catafalque, flanked by guardsmen in gleaming cuirasses and Tudor-clad Beefeaters from the Tower of London. On the third night of the watch, majestic Queen Mary came with her eldest son, the Duke of Windsor, to stand stiff and erect for 20 minutes before her son's bier. Early the next evening, Queen Elizabeth, her granddaughter, slipped in with Philip and Princess Margaret. The widowed Queen came a few hours later, and remained for 20 minutes.
During the nine-day period between the King's death and his burial, most Britons had had their meed of public grief. "There is now a widespread feeling that the formal solemnity is being overdone," observed the Manchester Guardian. "Gloom, gloom, gloom drips forth from the BBC," complained London's Daily Express. But as the King's body lay in state at Westminster, Londoners felt a strong sense of history and a deep compulsion to share it. "I said to myself, Elsie, you put on your hat, I said, and take a bus and go up there," explained one member of the Great Queue. "I'm glad I came," said another.
From all over the world, other official mourners poured into London to play their ordained parts in the pageant. U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson and his wife arrived in President Truman's private plane, the Independence. At 3 that same afternoon, the Queen's husband Philip went to London Airport to meet his aunt, the Queen of Sweden, and her royal husband Gustaf Adolf. Exiled Prince Paul of Yugoslavia came, and was whisked off by his sister-in-law the Duchess of Kentjust in time to avoid meeting Yugoslavia's Communist President Ribar. Francisco Franco's Foreign Minister got in from Lisbon just before the Pretender to the Spanish throne. The King and Queen of Denmark steamed into Harwich harbor under an escort of British destroyers. The
Queen of The Netherlands came in a Dakota piloted by her husband. Fashionable Claridge's was so jammed with visiting royalty, ex-royalty and foreign representatives that the management was forced to send out for three extra flagpoles on which to fly their standards.
Thursday saw more celebrities arrive. NATO's General Eisenhower came unofficially, not to march in the procession, but to attend the funeral services as a friend of the royal family.*