On 17 April, I was among the millions worldwide who viewed the BBC’s live broadcast of the funeral of Prince Philip (1921 – 2021), Duke of Edinburgh and consort to Queen Elisabeth II, Monarch of the United Kingdom. Prince Philip, who breathed his last on 9 April, would have been 100 on 10 June 2021. His funeral was carefully planned and was the epitome of honour and dignity; it represented his life interests and work, his royal duties, service in the Royal Navy, conservation efforts, and his effort for young people.
Over four hours, the BBC aired the arrangements that preceded the funeral procession, and the official provisions made in tribute to Prince Philip. These included the gun salute at the Tower of London, and the lining up of representatives of the Royal Navy units in which he had served. The BBC also showed other measures that were taken with the aim of paying respects and expressing gratitude and appreciation to this figure who played a substantial role in the British Royal Court since he married Queen Elisabeth II in 1947.
The coffin of Prince Philip arrived in a custom-built Land Rover Defender hearse in military green. The coffin was draped with his personal standard, carried his naval cap and his sword, and had a wreath of white roses and lilies placed on it with a note written by the Queen.
The Duke’s four children, three of his grandchildren, his nephew, his son-in-law, and household staff, walked behind the coffin. They were followed by the Queen in the Bentley State Limousine. Minute guns were fired throughout the procession.
At the western steps of St George’s Chapel, eight pallbearers of the Royal Marines carried the coffin inside for the funeral service to take place.
Finally, the coffin was lowered to the royal vault where it would remain till the Queen’s coffin is lowered there upon her demise, after which they would both be moved to King George VI memorial chapel.
All the events and details of the day were steeped in tradition, reflecting reverence and appreciation of the remarkable Duke. Sorrow for his departure was etched all over the faces of his wife, the Queen, also his three sons, daughter, and grandchildren. The sorrow was visible throughout the silence. A silence so solemn that it added to the sobriety of the ceremony. The only sound that could be heard were the calls of members of the Grenadier Guards as they moved, the sermons said by the religious figures, and the music and hymns during the service.
This was not the first time I had watched funerals of public, political or royal figures in the UK. In 1965, I followed on radio the funeral of UK Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965). The sound of the funerary music that accompanied the procession through the streets of London still resonates in my ears, as well as the majestic silence that prevailed. Everything was so solemn, the radio anchor relaying the scene was so brief and spoke in a voice so low, that listeners could have thought the London streets the procession traversed were empty. Little did they know that these streets were lined full with British people who came to pay their respects to this shrewd politician who led his country to victory in the WWII.
In 1997, I watched the funeral of Lady Diana who had been the wife of Prince Charles, heir to the throne, and was mother of Prince William, second in line to the throne. Even though the widely popular Diana, dubbed Princess of Hearts, died in a tragic heart wrenching accident, the same solemn silence prevailed. Again the funerary procession and all accompanying measures were respected. In 2002, the same mood prevailed when Britain paid its last respects to the Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth (1900 – 2002).
The culture relating to grief and sorrow in our country is quite different from what I have been describing. For us, death is accompanied by a display of emotion that erupts in fits of crying and wailing; a situation which, alas, also applies to funerals of public figures. Sometimes it appears that loose emotions and chaos are the only way to express the gravity of the loss and the great shock it brings, to the point that mourners may hurl themselves upon the coffin of the deceased in an attempt to touch it or help carry it. In truth, however, such chaotic behaviour is usually not displayed by the family of the deceased, who might even be shocked at this unchecked show of emotions, and call on the mourners to show respect for the deceased and the occasion.
I frequently wonder why our grief may not rather be expressed in solemn silence. I will not go through the names of the public figures whose funerals were the scenes of chaos. Let me just say that I thank the Lord every time Egypt offers one of its figures a military or official funeral; in such instances I feel grateful at the honour that these figures get, instead of the strayed public emotions.
23 April 2021