In this very personal piece Major Magowan reflects on the experience of paying his respects at the Lying-in-State of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, looking back over his own life where the figure of the Queen played an important role.
As a family we travelled down to London on Friday after school to join a line that continued to grow. The news reported 12 hours waiting times, in reality people have been waiting in many cases up to 20 hours. Like the river Thames the queue ebbed and flowed.
Through the straights, twists and turns, and biting northerly winds we witnessed a real global community spirit. People from all over the world occupied the route to Parliament.
We joined the queue at 2100hrs and managed to get into Westminster Hall at 0445hrs, many withdrew for various reasons, the cold, hunger, hotels to check out, transport to catch. Yet we remained in line, I’m glad we persevered, and it was not an easy feat with two children!
As we moved into the shadow of Westminster hall’s entrance, the mood changed completely, a respectful silence and a sombre atmosphere surrounded us on the approach. As we silently walked down the steps the changing of the guard was called with two loud strikes of metal on stone from the Watch Commanders sword. All visitor movement halted, the guards changed their positions, demonstrating befitting ceremonial respect whilst protecting Her Majesty. It was an impressive moment to see, and for me it was a small relief from the impending dread I was feeling, an anxiety that came from never wanting to see this day and knowing I would struggle to manage my emotions.
As a young boy who grew up in Northern Ireland, the Queen was revered in a way not seen elsewhere in the UK. I learned how to play the national anthem on the flute and tin whistle, learnt the words to our national anthem as young as seven and sung it proudly.
As I left behind the troubled island my view points changed but my respect and admiration for Her Majesty only grew, particularly from my experiences within a military context. She was very much a central element of Service life and Ceremonial duties. As a young soldier it was all about “Queen and Country”.
As I approached the coffin of Her Majesty I felt an overwhelming sense of loss. It was the loss of what felt like a relative, a national grandmother, a Commander-in-Chief but also a figure head who led from the front, demonstrated an unrivalled level of Service and someone who was always there. A true heroine of our times and an example that our society and leaders could learn an incredible amount from.
As I walked away it really felt like an end of an era, for me personally and professionally and for the nation. A final look back to say thank you and goodbye was what finally broke me.
As I settle into civilian life outside of HM Armed Forces a new era of Monarchy begins with King Charles III. In the words I learned all those years ago we all wish him to be “…victorious, Happy and glorious, Long to reign over us, God save the King!”