Big Ben had a continuous presence in the background of Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral on Monday. The iconic clock, which is part of the Palace of Westminster in London, tolled once every minute for 96 minutes — symbolizing the 96 years of the queen’s life.
As the queen’s coffin made its way from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey for a service, then to Hyde Park to a hearse, and its final journey through London, the bells of the clock chimed.
“Big Ben ringing behind us, and you will hear that every minute,” CBS Evening News anchor Norah O’Donnell said as King Charles III and Prince William arrived at the funeral service together.
“For the next 96 minutes,” CBS Mornings co-host Gayle King added.
At 11:55 a.m., the bell tolled to signify a two-minute nationwide moment of silence to honor the queen.
On Sunday, just one day before the funeral, the bell experienced a “minor technical issue,” but Parliament officials were confident it would be fixed for the procession, BBC News reported.
When Queen Elizabeth II’s father, King George VI, died in 1952, the bell tolled 56 times — once for every year of his life. At that time, the bell was manually struck by a team that included Ron Witty, BBC News reports. The retired clockmaker, who is now 92, said the head of London Dent, which made Big Ben, counted down the seconds for the next chime.
“When there were 10 seconds to go, he said, ‘life,’ and we lifted and when it got to five, he would go, ‘Five, four, three, two, one,’ and we let go,” Witty said. “It was very, very crude actually the way it was done but that was the only thing we could do.”
He said the “atmosphere was fantastic.”
For Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral, Army Signallers will make sure the proceedings are running on time — down to the second, the British Army said.
Not only do Big Ben’s chimes mark the time during the funeral, but a gun salute marks the beginning and end of the funeral procession.
Soldiers from the 10 Signal Regiment, which specializes in communication, stood at the top of Elizabeth Tower, where the clock is. From there, they synchronized the chimes of Big Ben with the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery‘s gun salutes using secure telecommunications and flag signals during the procession.
They use flag signals, instead of waiting to hear the chimes, because “perfection is the only option. Reacting to Big Ben’s famous toll would mean being a stroke too late,” the army said.
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