Operation London Bridge: How life will slow down to honour the Queen

Operation London Bridge: For ten days, how life in our bereft nation will slow down to honour the Queen before state funeral

  • Buckingham Palace’s code for Queen Elizabeth II’s death triggers a period of mourning over the next ten days
  • Operation London Bridge ushers in an official period of mourning that will have an effect on daily life
  • The strategy for the farewell to Elizabeth II will be formally set in motion once approved by King Charles III 
  • It begins with what is described as D-Day to allow the complex arrangements to be put in place 
  • Full coverage: Click here to see all our coverage of the Queen’s passing

‘London Bridge is down’ – Buckingham Palace’s behind-the-scenes code for Queen Elizabeth II’s death – triggers a period of mourning in which normal life in the UK will dramatically slow for the next ten days.

The bereft nation is in shock at the loss of the only monarch many of us have ever known. But the Palace and the Queen herself have been preparing for the aftermath of this inevitable moment since the 1960s.

Behind the scenes, the detailed plan – Operation London Bridge – has already been put into action. It ushers in an official period of mourning that will have an effect on daily life for millions.

The strategy, a major undertaking on an unprecedented stage, for the final farewell to Elizabeth II will be formally set in motion once approved by King Charles III.

The finer details of Operation London Bridge have changed and been updated over the years – but the broad brushstrokes have remained constant.

It begins with what is described as D-Day, or day of death, although for practical reasons the Palace has deemed today is D-Day, to allow the complex arrangements to be put in place.

‘London Bridge is down’ – Buckingham Palace’s behind-the-scenes code for Queen Elizabeth II’s death – triggers a period of mourning in which normal life in the UK will dramatically slow for the next ten days

The Queen attends an audience with Switzerland’s president at Windsor Castle on April 28

The Queen is photographed on June 2, 1953 smiling after her Coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey in London

This may not be easy but . . . spare a thought for Prince Andrew. Spare another for Prince Harry. Whatever loss we may feel at the death of the Queen, theirs will be infinitely greater. Queen Elizabeth is pictured in November 2002

Bells will toll at Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral and Windsor Castle, and gun salutes – one round for every year of the 96-year-old Queen’s life – will be fired in Hyde Park and at other stations.

Floodlighting at royal residences will be turned off, and the public will begin to leave flowers as tributes from around the world pour in.

As Her Majesty’s death occurred in Scotland, a contingency plan known as Operation Unicorn has been triggered. The mythical creature is Scotland’s national animal.

With the monarch spending several months a year at her beloved home in the Highlands, the plans for a Scottish element have been organised for some time.

Part of the long-held London Bridge arrangements, Unicorn sets in motion additional ceremonial events in Edinburgh ahead of the logistics of bringing the Queen back to London.

King Charles and his Queen Consort were staying at Balmoral last night and will return to London today.

Despite his grief, duty calls for the new sovereign and his first audience as monarch with Prime Minister Liz Truss is expected to happen as soon as possible.

Charles will also meet the Earl Marshal – the Duke of Norfolk – who is in charge of the accession and the Queen’s funeral, to approve the carefully choreographed schedule for the coming days.

It may include a period of official Court Mourning lasting a month. Different from national mourning, this will be observed by members of the Royal Family; Royal Households; Household Troops and Her Majesty’s representatives at home and abroad and their staffs.

This involves the wearing of black cloth or crepe bands on the left arms while civilian dress is expected to be dark with black ties for men and black dress for women.

Black-edged notepaper will be used in all Royal Households during this period and all Union flags will fly at half-mast.

A photo at Buckingham Palace to mark the engagement of Princess Elizabeth (later the Queen) and Philip Mountbatten (later Duke of Edinburgh) in July 1947, with Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, King George VI and Princess Margaret

The Queen and Prince Philip wave as they leave Westminster Abbey after Prince William and Kate’s wedding in April 2011

Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary arrived into the world at 2.40am on April 21, 1926, at 17 Bruton Street in London’s Mayfair in the year of the General Strike. Above, the future monarch with her parents at her christening ceremony in May that year

(Left to right) The Duchess of Cornwall, the Prince of Wales, Queen Elizabeth II, the Duke of Edinburgh, and Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at Buckingham Palace on December 8, 2016

The Government will confirm the length of national mourning, which is likely to be around 12 to 13 days, from now up until the day after the Queen’s funeral. They will also announce that the funeral day will be a public holiday in the form of a Day of National Mourning.

Union flags on royal buildings will fly at half-mast. The Royal Standard never flies half-mast. It represents the sovereign and the United Kingdom, and is a symbol of the continuation of the monarchy.

If the new King is in residence at a royal palace or castle, the Royal Standard will fly there full-mast as is the tradition.

Initially, the Queen’s coffin – draped in the Royal Standard with a wreath of her favourite flowers on top – is expected to be at rest in the ballroom of her beloved Balmoral Castle. A service will be held at St Paul’s this evening but bells will toll at midday.

Meanwhile, the formal accession process for a new head of state begins tomorrow. Charles, 73, is King but protocol dictates that he is proclaimed as the new monarch on the day after D-Day – so, tomorrow, at 10am. This will take place at a meeting of the Accession Council, which usually gathers at St James’s Palace in London. The codename for Charles’s accession is Operation Spring Tide. Later in the day the King will meet his Prime Minister.

On Sunday, the Queen’s coffin is expected to be transported by car from Balmoral to the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. The journey will take more than five hours as it passes through a myriad of towns and villages, watched by mourners paying their respects.

On Monday, the coffin is expected to be taken in an emotional procession along the Royal Mile in the heart of Edinburgh’s old town to historic St Giles’ Cathedral, where it will remain for at least 24 hours. Members of the Royal Family will hold a vigil around the coffin in the cathedral.

On Tuesday, Her Majesty will return to Buckingham Palace, with her coffin expected to be flown to the capital.

From Wednesday, a four-day period will see the Queen’s lying-in-state expected to begin in Westminster Hall – Operation Marquee – following a ceremonial procession through London.

The Archbishop of Canterbury will conduct a service, and hundreds of thousands of people will file past the coffin on its catafalque and pay their respects. The management of the queues outside is Operation Feather. Senior royals are expected to pay their own moving tribute, standing guard at some stage around the coffin – the tradition known as the Vigil of the Princes.

All Her Majesty’s children had rushed to Balmoral today after doctors became ‘concerned’ for her health. Hours later she died, surrounded by her family. Pictured: The death of The Queen was announced at 6.30pm today via the Royal Family’s official Twitter account

Queen Elizabeth II, Colonel-in-Chief, Grenadier Guards, inspecting The Queen’s Company before presenting New Colours to Nijmegen Company in the gardens of Buckingham Palace, London

Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh in an official wedding photograph taken on their wedding day in 1947

Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip with their two children Prince Charles and Princess Anne in 1951

Queen Elizabeth’s 70-year reign is unlikely to ever be surpassed by another king or queen of England

Between Friday, September 16, and Sunday, September 18, heads of state from around the world will begin to arrive for the funeral, which is expected to take place on Monday, September 19, at Westminster Abbey.

The original plans are for the Queen’s coffin to process on a gun carriage to the Abbey, pulled by naval ratings – sailors – using ropes rather than horses.

Senior members of the family are expected to poignantly follow behind – just like they did for the funerals of Diana, Princess of Wales, and the Duke of Edinburgh. The military will line the streets and also join the procession.

Heads of state, prime ministers and presidents, European royals and key figures from public life will be invited to gather in the Abbey, which can hold a congregation of 2,000. The service will be televised, and a national two minutes of silence is expected to be held.

The same day as the funeral, the Queen’s coffin will be taken to St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle for a televised committal service. Later in the evening, there will be a private interment service with senior members of the Royal Family.

The Queen’s final resting place will be the King George VI memorial chapel, an annex to the main chapel – where her mother and father are buried, along with the ashes of her sister, Princess Margaret. Philip’s coffin will move from the Royal Vault to the memorial chapel to join the Queen.

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