Abroad in London, Wake Forest students get a front row seat to history

The passing of Queen Elizabeth II has enveloped the climate of the United Kingdom


Courtesy of The Telegraph

Queen Elizabeth II lies in state in London.

Anita Dongieux, Contributing Writer

The news of Queen Elizabeth II’s passing at 96 years old struck the United Kingdom on Sept. 8. People around the world gathered to grieve and in remembrance of her record-breaking 70-year reign as Queen. As many United States citizens found their own ways of mourning the loss of Her Majesty, Wake Forest students studying abroad in England were party to the United Kingdom’s immediate response to their loss.

“There were six of us in a pub ordering dinner when the news broke of her passing,” recalls Junior Sydnie Cockerham, a fellow Wake student that was also in Edinburgh, Scotland, that weekend. Although Cockerham and her friends were not as surprised by her death, due to her age and recent health issues, it was nonetheless impactful to hear as the Queen had been an ever-present social and political figure in their lives.

It has been an incredible first three weeks… we had a new prime minister, and now a new monarch!

— Junior Ellie Casteel

“We all grew up hearing about the royal family and even as Americans we are still trying to process her passing,” Cockerham said.

According to Cockerham, the demeanor of the crowd at the pub was off when the news finally broke that the queen had passed.

“It seemed like no one else in the pub was affected. In fact, there were some anti-royal songs played, like ‘God Save The Queen’ by the Sex Pistols,” Cockerham said.

However, that reaction clearly was not reflected throughout the rest of Edinburgh. Cockerham anticipated that within the next day, many businesses would be shut down as the city prepared for the queen’s arrival to lie in state.

Junior Sydney Bryan, another student abroad from Wake Forest, shared her experience through a different, more up-close, lens. As the Royal Family had always been a “common conservation” in her household growing up, the death of the queen was particularly heartbreaking for her. “When I heard that she would be Lying-in-State at Westminster Hall, I knew I wanted to try and go,” Bryan said.

What she didn’t know at the time was that this endeavor would involve 12 hours of waiting in line. However, Bryan made the best of her time, making new friends and seeing incredible sights as she shifted through the line from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“I watched the sunrise over the River Thames, and St. Paul’s Cathedral lit up at night… the sight from the top of the stairs was pretty overwhelming,” Bryan said. “The hall itself was beautiful but adding in the complete silence and the guards surrounding the queen’s coffin; it was surreal.”

Bryan shares how most people were shocked at her persistence and willingness to stand in line for so long being that she was an American, but she expresses how important it was to her to pay her respects to such an influential figure. Although she understands that the monarchy itself may not be extremely popular, she believes that the Queen was loved and respected for her dedication to her duties and her unifying role in the Commonwealth countries.

Ellie Casteel, a junior studying in London, was on a program trip at the time of the queen’s death but had initially seen the headlines of her declining health on the train ride to Edinburgh. Once she had arrived in the city, news hit at around 6:30 p.m. local time that the queen had peacefully passed.

On that Saturday, cannon shots could be heard ringing from Edinburg castle in recognition of the new King, Charles III.
“It was 11 a.m. I believe, and cannons were fired all throughout the United Kingdom,” Casteel said.

Casteel and her group left Edinburgh before the Queen arrived for her processional, but she did witness that all the flags were at half-mast. The public portrayed their grievances by bringing flowers to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the royal family’s residence in Edinburgh, as they crowded around taking pictures of the death announcement.

Since returning to London, Casteel has yet to travel down to Buckingham Palace; however, she has noted that millions of people are expected to flood the city to see her coffin and pay their respects.

“It was really exciting to come to the UK during a Jubilee year, and it’s very sad to watch people mourn the death of their beloved queen. it’s unforgettable, nonetheless,” Casteel said. “It has been an incredible first three weeks… we had a new prime minister, and now a new monarch!”

Junior Grace Aronofsky, likewise, was in Edinburgh during the news of the Queen’s passing. Aronofsky shares that most of what the students had planned for the day—such as seeing castles— was canceled after the news broke.

“We were able to still do some touristy things, but for the most part everything had shut down,” Aronofsky said.

Aronofsky and her friends had the chance to visit the Holyrood castle where the Queen was set to lie; there was “certainly sadness in the air” as they witnessed many citizens paying their respects and leaving flowers in the Queen’s honor.

Through the eyes of students studying in the United Kingdom, Wake Forest students worldwide can get just a small glimpse of what the scene within the country looked like at this commemorative time; for those within the United States, their stories provide details that illustrate more specific perspectives than what can be witnessed in articles or social media posts.