By Alex Cooper
Twenty years ago, by chance rather than luck, I was in London when Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’s funeral took place. I was a sixth-former taking photos for my A-Level photography coursework under the rubric “candid photography”. I recall running up the Mall behind rows of spectators jumping up and clicking the release of my old trusty 35mm Olympus Back in 2002 I was one of the few individuals experiencing the event through a viewfinder with no guarantee what the outcome would be.
I had the honour and privilege to be involved directly in the funeral procession as a drummer with the London Scottish in the Massed Pipes and Drums.
In 2022 the world was viewing events through the viewfinder of their smartphones, disconnected from the profound reality before them. In stark contrast I had the honour and privilege to be involved directly in the funeral procession as a drummer with the London Scottish in the Massed Pipes and Drums. I knew very well the outcome of our every move as we led Her Majesty’s coffin on the Royal Navy gun carriage from Parliament to Westminster Abbey following a week of intensive drill and musical rehearsals at Longmoor Camp in Hampshire.
Those familiar with Longmoor may be puzzled at my unadulterated joy at returning back to our dilapidated accommodation after a drawn out overnight rehearsal in London. After kipping on mats in full Highland rig on the gym floor in Wellington Barracks, the borstel-like beds of Longmoor appeared like deluxe divans: we had made them our home for the week and it dawned on me in that moment: this is what it is like to embrace the cross. Frustration and ‘suffering’ is turned into real detachment and an ability to be happy with very little. And it was then that we can appreciate God’s bountiful care for us - three hot meals a day and the inimitable camaraderie that such accommodation builds.
That camaraderie, however, was also deceptive - climbing on our MT at the London Scottish HQ in Victoria the experience, at first, seemed like any other band jolly. Even the fact that Operation London Bridge was a dry affair somehow did not dampen that feeling. Only when rehearsing in the most torrential rain at HMS Collingwood with the gun carriage and seeing the dummy coffin for the first time the reality kicked in: we had been tasked with the most solemn duty of leading a Christian soul to its final resting place and help a family start the process of proper grief.
We formally acknowledged all power comes from the heavenly King who is overjoyed to welcome home all his children as simple Christian souls, royalty and commoners alike. May we always live our life in the full knowledge of this beautiful reality that awaits each of us who love the Lord.
Royalty and commoners, we are all equal before Christ and so it made perfect sense to me to make sure that every move was perfect: I would expect the same from the funeral directors and the Church for my own family. Ceremony or, for us Catholics, liturgy is a God-given support system when dealing with grief. Bells, hymns, pipes and drums etc all form the human-friendly interface between this world and the next. At the committal service in Windsor one TV commentator got it spot on: with the removal of crown, scepter and orb from the coffin and placed on the altar of God, Elizabeth embarked on her journey to her Creator. We formally acknowledged all power comes from the heavenly King who is overjoyed to welcome home all his children as simple Christian souls, royalty and commoners alike. May we always live our life in the full knowledge of this beautiful reality that awaits each of us who love the Lord.