HUNDREDS of troops took part yesterday in a pre-dawn rehearsal of today’s procession to bring the Queen’s coffin from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall.
Central London was sealed off as Army, Royal Navy and Air Force personnel escorted an empty gun carriage to the sombre beats of Beethoven, Chopin and Mendelssohn marches.
Union Jacks lined the mall as the sound of a thousand boots echoed in unison over the otherwise deserted streets shortly after 4am.
Some 512 soldiers, sailors and aviators in full ceremonial dress took part in the drill, led by Maj Gen Christopher Ghika, commander of the King’s Household Division.
He said: “The eyes of the world will be upon us. I’m expecting everybody on parade will deliver a very spectacular performance which will do tribute to the Queen.”
The Queen’s coffin is due to leave Buckingham Palace at exactly 2.22pm today, with the King, the Princess Royal, the Earl of Wessex, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York and the Duke of Sussex walking behind the gun carriage.
The public can watch it pass down The Mall, across Horse Guards Parade and along Whitehall to Parliament Street and New Palace Yard.
If the area is full, people will be directed to Hyde Park, where a giant screen has been set up.
There will be a 20-minute service at Westminster Hall and lying-in-state will begin at 5pm.
Among those taking part in yesterday’s rehearsals was Royal Marines music director Lt Jason Burcham, who started his military career playing piano for the Queen on Royal Yacht Britannia.
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He recalled how Her Majesty had “eclectic” musical taste and used to “cry with laughter” when one of his bandmates played a bassoon solo in comedy fancy dress, at her request.
Some 6,000 troops are due to take part in the upcoming funeral parades, including elite ceremonial guards who perform and practise drill almost every working day.
Others include Royal Navy diver Tristan Watson, who said he had hardly marched in ten years and had to do some “relearning”. He said: “I learnt to march when I joined the Navy. I haven’t done much since.”
Today’s mile-long march is expected to take around 38 minutes, inching along The Mall at funeral pace. Lt Col James Shaw said troops had worked “round-the-clock” since the news of the Queen’s death “to ensure the highest standards”.
He said: “We are operational soldiers, first and foremost, and the skills we have learnt to plan and organise overseas deployments are the same skills we use to organise an event as big as this.”
The horses have also had extra training to prepare them for the crowds. But Sgt Tom Jenks, from the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, said the biggest challenge for the animals was slowing them down.
He said: “It’s quite a tall order to ask them to walk at a slow pace.”
Guns will fire every minute from Hyde Park and Big Ben will chime throughout today’s procession. Maj Gen Ghika said the parades were the Armed Forces’ “last opportunity to do our duty for our Queen”.