A solemn and dignified farewell

BRITAIN bade a solemn and dignified farewell to Baroness Thatcher yesterday with a full ceremonial funeral that saw the streets of London packed with crowds.

The Queen and the Prime Minister led the congregation at St Paul’s Cathedral which was full of dignitaries from around the world as well as politicians who served under Margaret Thatcher during her premiership.

Fears over large-scale protests proved unfounded as Baroness Thatcher’s coffin was borne through the streets of the capital with full military honours. Applause broke out from onlookers as it passed, and there were only sporadic incidents of booing or protesters turning their backs.

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Britain’s first female Prime Minister, who died on April 8 aged 87, was taken to St Paul’s
on a First World War gun
carriage drawn by six black horses, her coffin draped in the Union flag.

A congregation of more than 2,300 heard Bishop of London Richard Chartres pay tribute to Lady Thatcher’s “perseverance in struggle and courage”.

The bishop deliberately avoided discussing the former Conservative leader’s political legacy in his address, insisting the funeral was “a place for ordinary human compassion of the kind that is reconciling... for the simple truths which transcend political debate”.

But in an echo of one of the phrases most closely associated with her, the bishop focused on Lady Thatcher’s humanity, telling the congregation: “Lying here, she is one of us, subject to the common destiny of all human beings.”

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London came to a standstill for the full ceremonial funeral, with more than 4,000 police on duty and almost 800 military personnel lining the 1.9-mile route of the horse-drawn procession from the RAF church, St Clement Danes, where the coffin was taken after resting overnight at the Houses of Parliament, in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft.

All the servicemen were from units which fought and won the Falklands War in 1982. Big Ben was silenced for the funeral, and only a single, half-muffled bell tolled from St Paul’s as the procession arrived.

Those present included more than 30 former Cabinet colleagues from 1979 to 1990, including Lord Heseltine and Lord Howe, whose challenges to her leadership triggered her removal from power. Former Prime Ministers Sir John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown also attended.

Every member of the current Cabinet attended, led by Mr Cameron, who gave a reading from the Gospel of St John. A clearly moved Chancellor George Osborne appeared to wipe tears from his eyes during the ceremony.

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Baroness Thatcher’s coffin, placed beneath the dome of St Paul’s, was topped by a wreath of white roses bearing the handwritten note “Beloved Mother – Always in our Hearts”, from her children Sir Mark and Carol Thatcher, who were seated across the aisle from the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

Walking ahead of the coffin as it entered the cathedral were Lady Thatcher’s grandchildren, Michael and Amanda, carrying cushions bearing her insignia of the Order of the Garter and Order of Merit. Amanda also gave a reading from the King James Bible.

Although the event was not the state funeral received by Sir Winston Churchill, it was conducted with more pomp and ceremony than any seen in London since the death of the Queen Mother in 2002.

The format of the ceremony was guided by the personal wishes of Baroness Thatcher, who made clear she wanted a religious funeral service rather than a memorial with political eulogies.

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At the conclusion of the service, a blessing was given by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, before the coffin was borne out of the cathedral to three cheers from the waiting crowd.

The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh joined Baroness Thatcher’s family on the West Steps of the cathedral as a hearse took the body away from the grandeur and solemnity of the official funeral to a private cremation at Mortlake in south-west London.