When the Big Ben strikes 9

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By Suhani Srivastava | May 03, 2021

Prince Philip’s Death

His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, passed away on 9th April at the old age of 99. Queen Elizabeth II’s husband of 73 years, the Prince was the longest serving royal consort. Keeping the coronavirus pandemic in mind, his funeral, which took place on 17th April, was attended by thirty mourners only. Just as his royal ceremonial funeral got underway at the St, George’s Chapel at the Windsor Castle, a one-minute silence was observed throughout Britain in honour of the late Prince.

Prince Philip was buried in the Royal Vault at St. George’s Chapel, but it is not his permanent resting place. After the death of Queen Elizabeth II, she and Prince Philip are to be buried together, in the Royal Burial Ground at the Frogmore Estate, half a mile south of Windsor Castle. In recent times, it has become a custom for senior royal spouses to be buried together as the Queen’s father and mother, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother were buried together at St. George’s Chapel too.

Prince Philip’s death does not impact the line of succession because marriage to a royal does not determine a ranking in the hierarchy to the British throne. But this demise surely leads to another question, i.e., what if the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Island, the Head of Commonwealth were to pass away? The changes would be massive.


Operation London Bridge

For some, it’s the unimaginable question- what happens once the longest reigning monarch of the country passes away? Well, for a few civil servants, it’s their job to draw up plans for what will happen when the Queen dies.

Even though the Buckingham Palace is highly secretive about the plan, courtesy of a Guardian Investigation carried out by Sam Knight, everyone knows what will happen. The plan for what shall be the course of action in the United Kingdom after Queen Elizabeth II passes away is called ‘Operation London Bridge’ (commonly known by its announcement code, ‘London Bridge is Down’). The codename primarily refers to the events that would take place in the United Kingdom, as well as the Commonwealth states where the Queen is recognised as the monarch, when the Queen takes her final breath. These states have developed their own plans for what will happen in the days after her death, which are planned to run concurrently with Operation London Bridge.

The Queen ascended the throne in 1952, and since then she has seen fourteen US Presidents, a dozen UK prime ministers, nearly 20 summer Olympics, and over half a dozen popes take their seat, rule and then pass it down to their successors while she remains tall. She is fundamental to the Commonwealth, the patron to almost 600 organizations and charities, and plays a key role in the UK's alliance with many countries. When people think of a contemporary royal death, the controversial case of Princess Diana comes to mind. The passing of the Queen will be much more tremendous in comparison. It may not be as emotional as Diana’s death was, but its reach will be wider, and its effect are more substantial. Her passing is set to bring about a lot of change, not only for the United Kingdom, but potentially the world.


Events that’ll take place once the Queen dies

According to the Guardian, the first official to know about the Queen’s demise would be her private secretary, Sir Edward Young. It will be his duty to contact the Prime Minister and convey the code, ‘London Bridge is Down’ on secure lines. These codenames are used to prevent the switchboard operators at the Buckingham Palace from finding out (The one for Prince Philip was ‘Operation Forth Bridge’). Before the news is disclosed to the general public, the news will go out to the 15 governments (Australia, New Zealand and Canada to name a few) outside the UK where the Queen is recognised as the head of state, and the 36 other nations of the Commonwealth for whom she has served as a head over the years. The news will be communicated to these places from the Foreign Office’s Global Response Centre, which is situated at an undisclosed location in London.

With the Governments made aware, the announcement of the Queen’s demise will go out as a newsflash to the Press Association and global media outlets simultaneously. At the same instant, a footman in mourning clothes will pin a black-edged notice to the gates of the Buckingham Palace, and the palace website will be transformed into a toned down, single page, showing the same Black-edged notice on a dark background. Government officials and ambassadors will wear black armbands measuring three-and-a-quarter inches wide on the left arm. The BBC will activate RATS- Radio Alert Transmission System, an intricate structure designed to spread the word for the death of major royal personalities, something most of the staff has only heard about or seen at practice during drills and rehearsals.

After the announcement is made, a huge scramble for media coverage is expected. Newspaper outlets like The Guardian and The Times already have stories pinned in their offices, ready to be published for this event. Sky and ITV have been using the codename, ‘Mrs. Robinson’ for plans surrounding the Queen’s death for several years. Royal personalities and experts have already made deals and signed contracts, years in advance, to speak on channels. For people in traffic or who just like to listen to the radio, the British commercial radio stations have a network of blue “obit lights”, which are supposed to light up in the event of a national catastrophe, to alert the DJ to switch to the news at the earliest, and play sombre music in the meantime. Every station, down to hospital radio, has prepared playlists of songs to play in case of a sudden mourning. When the Queen falls, all scheduled televised programs will be terminated. At BBC, reporters will wear black clothes and black ties as the national anthem plays in the background. The royal standard will be displayed on the screen.


Having such well-placed plans for deaths of leading royal family members, and practicing them from time to time, makes some people quite uncomfortable. Their feelings towards the entire ordeal are somewhat justified, as the environment of such rehearsals is always eerily quiet, for the media outlets regularly imagine different death scenarios and formulate plans for each and every situation. 

When Queen Elizabeth II dies, both the Houses of the Parliament (The House of Commons and the House of Lords) will be summoned, people will go home early from work, and airline pilots will alert the passengers about the momentous news. Her death will come as an end to an era. Operation London Bridge is drawn keeping in mind every predictable and unpredictable situation. If the Queen dies abroad, a BAe 146 jet from the RAF’s No 32 squadron, known as the Royal Flight, will take off from Northolt, at the western edge of London, with a coffin on board. Such a coffin is known as a “first call coffin”, as told by the royal undertakers, Leverton & Sons. No matter where and when the Queen dies, her remains are determined to be brought back to the throne room in Buckingham Palace. There will be an altar for the Queen’s coffin, and four Grenadier Guards (The red coat soldiers), their renowned hats inclined and rifles pointing towards the floor, out of respect for the Queen. The 18th Duke of Norfolk, the Earl Marshal, will be in charge of the Queen’s funeral as the Norfolks have overseen royal funerals since 1672.

 Although in theory, everything is settled; there are some details which will be decided by the Duke of Norfolk and the to-be-King (Prince Charles). There will be two things happening simultaneously, the demise of the head of state and her funeral, as well as the making of a King and his coronation. One of the most heavily tasked office will be the Foreign Office, which will be required to deal with all dignitaries and personalities coming to the capital from all corners of the world, escorting them to and from their place of residence in London.

The current plan holds that Prince Charles will be making his first address as the King on the evening of his mother’s death. The day after the Queen’s death (known as D+1), Prince Charles will be proclaimed as the King at 11 a.m. BST. He will speak his first words as the monarch at St. James's Palace. From there, the Garter King of Arms and a few heralds will travel to the statue of Charles I at Trafalgar Square, the central point of London. There they will proclaim the news of Prince Charles’ ascension to the throne. A 41-gun salute of seven minutes will be fired from Hyde Park.

On D+4, four days after the Queen’s death, her body will be moved to the Westminster Hall to lie in state for four days. Inside the hall, the orb, the sceptre and the Imperial Crown will be fixed in place and the soldiers will stand guard. The doors will be opened to the general public, which is estimated to be half a million. The wreaths on the coffin will be renewed with the fresh flowers every day. Once their presence has been announced, the Queen’s children and grandchildren will be allowed to enter the hall and stand watch. On the day of the funeral (D+4), the crown jewels will be taken off and cleaned. The stock market and regular shops will be closed.  There are also plans to open up the football stadiums for memorial ceremonies if deemed necessary.

One of the most remarkable and poignant moments of Operation London Bridge would be when the Big Ben strikes at 9 am BST. The bell’s hammer will then be covered and rung in muffled voices. At 11 am, the Queen’s coffin will reach the Abbey, indicating the entire country to fall silent. Royal family members may leave some personal notes on the Queen’s coffin. In 1997, on Princess Diana’s coffin, it was the word “Mummy” on the wreath, decided by her two sons, William and Harry. Inside the Abbey, Archbishop Justin Welby will conduct the royal funeral. After that the coffin will be moved from the Abbey to Windsor Castle. The royal family will be standing outside on the grass, waiting for her. Then the gates will be closed and cameras will stop broadcasting. Inside the chapel, the lift to the royal vault will descend, and King Charles will drop a handful of red earth from a silver bowl, signalling the end of the entire process.


Prince Charles- the Next Monarch?

After Queen Elizabeth II, the next in line to the British throne is Prince Charles, the Queen’s eldest son. Charles will be followed by his eldest son, Prince William, followed by Prince George, the eldest son of Prince William and Duchess of Cambridge, Catherine. Provided the Prince bears no heirs, he will be followed by his siblings, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis respectively. Even after Megxit, Prince Harry is still in line to the throne, coming after his nephew, Prince Louis.

Although Prince Charles is next in line, the general public and experts alike are not in favour of him becoming the King, and want to give the title to his son, Prince William instead when the time comes. This is because the Queen is currently ninety-five years old and has no plans of abdication. She hopes to rule until the very end. On the other hand, Prince Charles is seventy years old, and is getting older by every passing day. Only because his mother lived so long, doesn’t mean that he will too. If he is to be King, many fear that his reign would be very short lived, causing great instability and inconsistency. It is simply rational to give the throne and all its powers and responsibilities to a younger and much more capable heir, Prince William and his partner, Duchess Catherine.

“I have to be seen to be believed”, is what Queen Elizabeth II famously says. Even at the golden age of 95, she continues to fulfil her duties and responsibilities with joy and mindfulness. She continues to be an inspiration and source of comfort for many people. Her kindness, compassion and love have knocked the hearts of her subjects over many years. She became the Queen at the tender age of twenty-five, and since then, although her reign has been long, she has reigned well, ushering Britain into the 21st century. Queen Elizabeth II’s demise will surely be a great loss for Britain and the world alike.