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300 miles away from London, residents of Newcastle watch Queen Elizabeth II's funeral


The state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II brought Britain to a standstill today. It took place in Westminster Abbey in London, and it resonated around the entire nation. NPR's Philip Reeves has been collecting reactions from people in the northeastern city of Newcastle.

ROBERT GALLOWAY: I know everybody's got to go sometime. She reached a fair old age of 96. But still, not having her here just isn't a comfort.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Robert Galloway is a retired British soldier. The queen used to be his commander in chief. Yet his loyalty to her is more personal than that. Galloway says she was...

GALLOWAY: Everything, everything. She's all I've ever known. My dad died 4 or 5 years ago. My grandparents died a long, long time ago. So the only thing I ever really knew over and above that was the queen. So she was that matriarch of a family life.

REEVES: We're in a public square in the center of the port city of Newcastle. This place is nearly 300 miles from Westminster Abbey in London. Pigeons swirl overhead. A small crowd stands in silence, watching the queen's funeral on a big outdoor screen. Galloway felt he needed to be here today.

GALLOWAY: Basically, ever since she's died, I've just been stuck indoors, just with my thoughts, just with the memories, just seeing everything about the queen. And I just think, like, today's the day to come out into the fresh air.

REEVES: Tens of millions of people across Britain put their lives on hold to watch their queen's state funeral. History runs deep in this country, especially at Newcastle.

CHRISTOPHER JAMES: The Royals have owned land up here for centuries.

REEVES: Christopher James is 62 and is from Newcastle. He's wearing military medals earned years ago as a gunner with the Royal Air Force Regiment in Northern Ireland and Central America. His commitment to Queen Elizabeth began on the day he signed up, he says.

JAMES: You don't take the oath unless you're willing to, you know, die for it. I was willing to die at the age of 18 for a person I'd never met but a person that I respected, a person that my family respected, you know, and that still stands today. If the king turned around tomorrow and said, we need your help, most of the people who gave that oath will turn around and help because that oath means a lot to us.

REEVES: The crowd watches the screen in silence as the queen's coffin is carried in a slow procession out of Westminster Abbey. Some Britons aren't impressed by these images. They oppose the monarchy or question its scale, especially the young. People worry about the cost of all this pomp and pageantry, says Tom Rogers, who's 32.

TOM ROGERS: Especially with what's going on at the moment in terms of the cost-of-living crisis, I think there are people that would say that, yes.

REEVES: Yet his admiration for the queen remains intact.

ROGERS: Yeah, I do believe that she symbolized unity in this country. She served for a long time. Yeah. And they say the best leaders are the ones that don't want to do it. So I think that's what made her a good leader.

REEVES: Most Britons won't forget today's events. Some compare this with Winston Churchill's state funeral nearly 60 years ago. Yet this day, this collective farewell to the queen also came as a relief, says Megan Montgomery, who's in the square among the crowd. She's 25 and comes from Belfast in Northern Ireland.

MEGAN MONTGOMERY: It gives a bit of closure for everyone, obviously, because, you know, after she died, it's been 10 days since. So it's been a long process, it feels. You know, so it's nice for it to come to a close in a nice way that everyone can cherish together.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Newcastle. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.