Thatcher’s London Funeral Route to Be Lined by 700 Troops

Thatcher’s London Funeral Route to Be Lined by 700 Troops
Flags at half mast for former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Port Stanley, Falkland Islands, on April 8, 2013. Photographer: Tony Chater/AFP via Getty Images

More than 700 troops from U.K. regiments that fought in the 1982 Falklands War will line the route of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral procession, giving the event a martial feel.

During the procession, just short of a full state ceremony on April 17, her coffin will be drawn on a gun carriage of the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery from St. Clement Danes Church on the Strand in central London to St. Paul’s Cathedral with the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force lining the route, said Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman, Jean-Christophe Gray.

Both Houses of Parliament broke their Easter vacation today to pay tribute to Thatcher, who was prime minister from 1979 to 1990. Some lawmakers from the opposition Labour Party refused to attend, citing her record on closing Britain’s mines and unemployment that hit 3 million in the mid-1980s.

Cameron told lawmakers her premiership had “rescued” Britain from economic decline. “They say cometh the hour, cometh the man,” the prime minister said. “Well in 1979, come the hour, came the lady.”

Thatcher “made the political weather. She made history. And let this be her epitaph: that she made our country great again,” Cameron said.

‘Felt Stigmatized’

Labour leader Ed Miliband, while praising her personal qualities and political abilities, said that coalmining communities felt “abandoned” by her policies and that “gay and lesbian people felt stigmatized.”

“Whatever your view of her, Margaret Thatcher was a unique and towering figure,” he told lawmakers. “I disagreed with much of what she did. I respect what her death means to the many, many people who admire her, and I honor her personal achievements. A prime minister who defined her age.”

The U.K.’s only female prime minister, who died on April 8 at the age of 87, will be given the same type of ceremonial funeral as was accorded to the Queen Mother in 2002 and Diana Princess of Wales in 1997. The government has given the funeral the codename “True Blue,” after the Conservative Party’s color.

The occasion, with full military honors, contrasts with lower-key services without a formal military element for previous premiers who served with distinction in wartime, such as Harold Macmillan.

Falklands Conflict

The Falklands War was one of the key events of her first term in office. After Argentina invaded the islands, which it has claimed for more than 150 years, Thatcher sent a task force 8,000 miles to reclaim them. The fighting cost the lives of 255 British soldiers, 649 Argentinians and three women from the islands, killed accidentally by British fire.

Currently at an undisclosed location, Thatcher’s coffin will initially be taken to the Chapel of St. Mary Undercroft, a private church used by lawmakers in the 11th-century Westminster Hall, the oldest part of Parliament.

At the funeral, the gun carriage will be drawn by six horses with a sergeant riding alongside, an officer riding in front and three dismounted troops on foot. Outside the cathedral will stand a guard of honor and the band of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards. While the ceremonial procession takes place, the Honourable Artillery Company will fire guns from the Tower of London.

A bearer party of 10 will carry her coffin into the cathedral. Its members will be drawn from the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and Royal Air Force, as well as Army units that saw some of the fiercest fighting in the Falklands campaign, including hand-to-hand fighting and bayonet charges.

Chelsea Pensioners

Positioned on the steps of the cathedral will be a “step-lining party” made up of 18 service personnel and a contingent of veterans from the Royal Hospital Chelsea, known as the Chelsea Pensioners.

Giles Fraser, a Church of England minister who resigned his position at St. Paul’s in 2011 after the cathedral authorities began legal action to remove anti-capitalist protesters from the building’s precincts, told the BBC that it was “problematic” to hold the funeral there. “St Paul’s Cathedral was designed to be a place of national unity,” he said. “It’s difficult to get the tone right. It can’t be Elgar and flag-waving. It has to be less triumphalistic than that.”

The cost to the public of the funeral will be published after next week’s service has taken place. The Daily Mirror reported today it could reach 10 million pounds ($15 million).

Royal Attendance

Queen Elizabeth II plans to attend the funeral accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, her office said. It is the first time she will have attended a service for a former prime minister since the funeral of Britain’s wartime leader, Winston Churchill, in 1965.

Thatcher’s family is “enormously proud and deeply grateful” the queen will attend, Mark Thatcher, her son, told reporters outside her house in London today. “I know my mother would be greatly honored as well as humbled by her presence.”

Former Labour Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown will attend, their spokesmen said.

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, a man Thatcher said she “could do business with,” won’t be there. “Unfortunately, he can’t come because of his health condition,” his spokesman, Vladimir Polyakov, said today.

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