The death of Queen Elizabeth II Thursday has kicked off a meticulous and decades-old plan dubbed “Operation London Bridge” to ensure a smooth transition to the throne for King Charles III and to make sure her funeral goes off without a hitch.
The process will begin with Queen Elizabeth’s floral-wreath-adorned coffin being placed in the ballroom of her Scottish castle, Balmoral, where she died, until Saturday, giving her staff a chance to pay their respects, according to the Times of London.
As part of “Operation Unicorn” — a subphase of the main plan that went into effect because Elizabeth died in Scotland — the queen will then be brought to Edinburgh sometime Saturday for her coffin to rest in the throne room of her palace, Holyroodhouse.
On Sunday, the coffin will be carried up the Royal Mile to St Giles’s cathedral for a reception before it is put on board the Royal Train at Waverley station. Crowds of mourners are expected to gather at stations along the journey down the east coast mainline to throw flowers on the passing train. The exact timing of the events was unclear Thursday.
The King is expected to come back to Scotland on Sunday, and he will be given the key to Edinburgh before joining the coffin procession.
Queen Elizabeth’s body will arrive at the throne room in Buckingham Palace sometime Tuesday — with an altar, the pall, the royal standard, and four Grenadier Guards standing watch, according to the plan.
A procession through London will then take her coffin from Buckingham Palace on Wednesday to the Palace of Westminster, with a service at Westminster Hall following its arrival.
The Queen will lie in state for three days, with her coffin on a raised box in the middle of Westminster Hall, open to the public for 23 hours a day, if the plan detailed by Politico via a leaked memo still stands.
Preparations for the Saturday, Sept. 17 funeral will finish up Friday Sept. 16 before Westminster Abbey closes to the public the following day for the event.
The official service is expected to begin around 11am and last until noon. It will be the first funeral of a British monarch in Westminster since 1760.
The same day, her body will be brought to Windsor Castle for a committal service in St. George’s Chapel, and the Queen will be buried in the castle’s King George VI Memorial Chapel.
Most of the country will grind to a halt as it mourns. The London Stock Exchange will cease business and UK banks will close.
With around 60 years of planning, “Operation London Bridge” should ensure the Queen’s send-off goes off smoothly.
It should be a far cry from the shocking car-crash death of Charles’ then-estranged wife Princess Diana in August 1997 — which came as such a shock, the royal family had yet to plan for her possible death.
That instead borrowed “Operation Tay Bridge,” the well-rehearsed plans to send off the Queen Mother, who would not die for another five years.
Upon the last death of a UK monarch — Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, in 1952 — the code words “Hyde Park Corner” were used to prevent switchboard operators from catching on.
Likewise, the death in April 2021 of the Queen’s 99-year-old husband, Prince Philip, had been shared under “Operation Forth Bridge,” while the Queen Mother’s death at 101 in 2002 was codenamed “Tay Bridge.”
The operation’s nursery rhyme-sounding name represents a secret code used to communicate the sad news to the most senior Buckingham Palace staff and members of the government — before it was finally announced to the rest of the world.
To keep the news under wraps, those first alerted were to be told, “London Bridge is down.”
But despite the planned secrecy, the Queen’s code word has long been known — as have the detailed, much-rehearsed plans for the 10 days ahead of her funeral, as detailed at length by the Guardian in 2017.
Politico also revealed further details after getting high-level documents in 2021 — including UK officials’ plans for a possible crisis if London becomes “full” with the flood of expected mourners.
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However, the Guardian noted that the plans have been repeatedly re-evaluated and updated over the years, which means Operation London Bridge may have had last-minute changes.
The plan also includes various details for King Charles, who will travel to Northern Ireland and Wales, and back to Scotland, before the funeral as he assumes the full duties as the reigning monarch.