Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who ruled for longer than any other Monarch in British history, becoming a much loved and respected figure across the globe, had her final breath at the age of 96, last week; 8 September at Balmoral Castle, Aberdeenshire, United Kingdom. Her reign being 70 years and 214 days in total, Queen Elizabeth II has been in the throne longer than any other British Monarch. Her reign, otherwise the longest in the world, is next to only that of King Louis XIV of France.

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary or Lilibet, the name which was “fondly adopted as a moniker by the Queen’s grandparents and parents during her early childhood when she struggled to pronounce her name, calling herself Lilibet instead,” was born in Mayfair, London. Elizabeth, being the first born of the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, became the heir to the throne as her father acceded to the throne following his brother’s abdication in 1936. She was wedded to Philip Mountbatten, a former prince of Greece and Denmark, in 1947 and continued to live with love and bliss for 73 years of marriage life, until he passed away in April 2021. Her majesty and prince were blessed with four loving children: Charles, Anne, Andrew, and Edward.

Youthful Elizabeth was burdened with the responsibilities of the monarchy, at an age as early as 25, when the king, her father died in February 1952. Since then, she had to bid farewell to the ordinary life style and live up to the standards of a Queen, all according to the customs, traditions and protocols of the royalty. Nevertheless, she was never seen unhappy or distressed, instead she put her maximum to fulfil the duties and responsibilities as the Queen of seven independent Commonwealth countries i.e. the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon (Sri Lanka), as well as Head of the Commonwealth, linking more than two billion people worldwide. She had to face praise and criticism, victory and defeat, joy and sorrow, yet stood with a smile on her face, and served the nation.

London Bridge is down

Operation London Bridge, or as most commonly known by the code phrase ‘London Bridge is Down’, is the pre-planned protocol which includes the information on how to carry out the announcement of the death, the period of official mourning, and the details of the state funeral, in place of the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The plan was established in 1960’s, very early to the Queen’s actual death, and has been revised several times with changes to some parts of the protocol. The exact plan was initiated at the death of Her Majesty.

There have been created several supplementary plans apart from the Operation London Bridge, with the aim to aid the operation of it. Operation Unicorn is one such which details the procedure of the aforementioned events in case her majesty the Queen dies in Scotland. The other plan which runs concurrently is the plan for King Charles III becoming the new king and his coronation which would follow very soon. Numerous Commonwealth countries have made their own plans to detail how they would react to the death of her majesty the Queen.

The plan operates

As per the protocol London Bridge is down, the queen’s private secretary, who will be the first official to announce the death, will soon call the Prime Minister and convey the message by uttering the code phrase. Neither the Queen’s relatives nor the members of her medical team can utter a word to the outside till then. The Prime Minister will then take immediate actions to make the announcement via secure telephone lines. The news will then be sent out from UK to 15 governments for which the queen was also the head of state, and the 30 other members of the Commonwealth. The private secretary will also call the cabinet secretary and the Privy Council Office to inform the death and at the same time, a newsflash should be sent with immediate effect to the UK press association which will share the news to the whole country. All the flags are to be lowered to half-staff and bells of mourning are set to be rung continuously, conveying the death of the Queen.

Government websites and social media accounts as well as the Royal Family’s official website should also be turned black and any non-urgent message should be avoided from being posted on them.

“The media would be informed by announcement to PA Media and the BBC through the Radio Alert Transmission System (RATS) and to commercial radio on the Independent Radio News through a network of blue ‘obit lights’ which would alert presenters to play ‘inoffensive music’ and prepare for a news flash, while BBC Two would suspend scheduled programming and switch to BBC One’s broadcast of the announcement. BBC News would air a pre-recorded sequence of portraits, during which the presenters on duty at the time would prepare for the formal announcement by putting on dark clothing prepared for this purpose. The Guardian has reported that The Times has 11 days of prepared coverage ready and that ITN and Sky News have long rehearsed her death, substituting the name ‘Mrs Robinson’ for the Queen’s’ reports ‘Operation London Bridge: the secret plan for the days after the Queen’s death’.

Next, a dark-edged notice will be demonstrated on the gates of the Buckingham Palace by a footman of the palace and the very same notice is to be published on the official palace website too. All the parliaments of the United Kingdom, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are to meet soon as practical. In case they are not sitting, they should be recalled immediately. Following the procedure, the Prime Minister will address the House of Commons next, preceding the meeting with the new monarch. After that at 6.00p.m. in the evening that follows the Queen’s death, he will address the nation.

Synonymously, Whitehall and local government buildings are instructed to fly flags at half-mast and books of condolence may be opened; ceremonial ornaments, such as ceremonial maces or council chains, are to be put in black purses. A service of remembrance is to be held with participation of the prime minister and other senior ministers at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Add to that, Gun stations will fire gun salutes.

A state funeral will be hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury at Westminster Abbey, on the 10th day following the death of her majesty Queen and the body will be buried in a pre-prepared tomb at King George VI Memorial Chapel in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle; same place where the body of late Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh was buried. The following day will be declared a day of national mourning and a two minute’s silence will be protected across the United Kingdom at midday.

The plan was followed up to today with only two alterations i.e. King Charles declaring the day of national mourning, a bank holiday too and using an aero-plane to bring the body of the queen from Balmoral. The queen’s body will lie in state at Westminster hall till 18 September and on 19 September, her majesty the Queen will be given a state funeral at Westminster Abbey at 11.00a.m. With the burial, marks the end of an epoch which will remain in the hearts of British as well as of billions of others in the world.

Adios, your majesty, late Queen of England, Elizabeth II!

By Induwara Athapattu