LONDON — Britain bade a final farewell to Margaret Thatcher on Wednesday, silencing the bells of Big Ben and mounting a trademark display of sober pageantry for the funeral of a towering leader who, in death as in life, deeply divides the nation.
Although not a state funeral — an honor reserved largely for monarchs — the military honors and pomp unfurled for the event marked the most elaborate goodbye for any elected leader here since Winston Churchill. As the Union Jack flew at half-staff over No. 10 Downing Street, the hearse carrying the flag-covered casket of the Iron Lady wound along a historic two-mile route. For the final leg of the procession, the casket was transferred to a gun carriage drawn by six horses.
Tens of thousands of mourners and 4,000 police officers lined the route, which stretched from the Gothic spires of the Palace of Westminster, through Trafalgar Square and over to St. Paul’s Cathedral, where a service was later attended by more than 2,300 dignitaries and others.
Well-wishers waved flags, both of Britain and the Falkland Islands, the British territory Thatcher went to war to recover after an Argentine invasion. They had come, they said, to honor Britain’s longest-ruling prime minister of the 20th century, a woman whose steely will is credited with rebuilding the country’s global status, accelerating the fall of the Berlin Wall and modernizing the domestic economy.
“She truly was an Iron Lady. She is what made Great Britain great,” said Maureen Mann, 71, whose husband and son fought in the 1982 Falklands War. Mann’s family traveled hours from central England to stand along the procession route. “Thatcher fought fiercely for that little island and the people on it. We feel a great sense of pride in that.”
Margaret Fowler, who, like Thatcher, is a grocer’s daughter, left Oxford for London at 5 a.m. to find a good spot along the route. “She put Britain back on its feet. When you see the people turning out here, you can see the support for her still,” Fowler said.
Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic came to pay their respects, with former U.S. secretaries of state George Shultz, James A. Baker III and Henry Kissinger joining British Prime Minister David Cameron and John Major, one of Cameron’s Conservative predecessors. Continue reading