It is said that 305,806 people had filed past King George’s coffin while he lay in Westminster Hall. Now – the morning of Friday 15th February 1952 had, dawned. At 9.30am in a cloudy and misty the mile-long cortege began its slow journey from Westminster Hall as Big Ben tolled fifty-six times – once for each year of the King’ s life. As the cortege moved slowly along an artillery salute of fifty-six guns were also fired in Hyde Park and at the Tower of London.
Along the Mall the cortege passed Marlborough House where Queen Mary watched from a window. The cortege continued via St James’s Palace, Piccadilly, Hyde Park Corner, Marble Arch, Edgware Road and the Sussex Gardens to Paddington Station.
Throughout the journey detachments from the services lined the route and headed the cortege. In the procession walked four field-marshals – Alanbrooke, Ironside, Montgomery and Slim – four Admirals of the Fleet and four Marshals of the Royal Air Force. An escort of the Household Cavalry, pipers and the band of the Scots Guards preceded the Earl Marshal and some of the King’s personal servants, walking immediately in front of the gun-carriage bearing the coffin, on which rested the imperial crown, orb and sceptre.
In a carriage behind the coffin came the Queen, the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret and the Princess Royal shrouded in black, followed on foot by the closest male members of the family – the Duke of Edinburgh, the Duke of Gloucester, the Duke of Windsor (he was in naval uniform, which was acceptable) and the Duke of Kent. Behind them came heads of state, foreign royalties, diplomats and other dignitaries, with more cavalry and detachments from the police and the fire services bringing up the rear.
From Paddington the coffin was taken by train to Windsor for burial in St George’s Chapel, where the King’s father and grandfather, George V and Edward VII, had been buried. It was also the resting place of many earlier predecessors including both King Henry VIII and King Charles I. The government sent a wreath of white lilac and white carnations in the shape of the George Cross with an inscription signed by Winston S. Churchill. At the centre in purple letters were the words ‘For Gallantry’.
It wasn’t until later that I discovered where my father had been on this day. I had not yet aged into double figures and I thought Dad was at work as usual. He wasn’t – he had caught a very early train and was one of the crowd watching Field-Marshals – Alanbrooke, Ironside, Montgomery and Slim go by. He come back quite late; was very quiet and went to bed much earlier than usual. It was some time later that I discovered why he had gone to watch that final procession – during his time in the 2nd World War in North Africa, Italy and Greece my dad had spent some time with both Field-Marshal Montgomery and Slim!