Improvisation at a time of national (royal) emergency

Queen Victoria died on 22nd January 1901 at Osborne, on the Isle of Wight. On the day before the funeral, the coffin was taken by Royal Yacht past a line of warships to Gosport. The following day, 2nd February 1901, the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway Royal train was used for the journey to London Victoria station. This included Victoria's GWR saloon number 229 draped with purple and white hangings inside. From Victoria the coffin was taken in a gun carriage procession to Paddington. Meanwhile saloon 229 was taken quickly via Battersea and Westbourne Park to be marshalled into the GWR funeral train which was then drawn into Paddington’s platform 8 headed by 4-4-0 “Royal Sovereign”. Eight sergeants from Guards’ regiments bore the coffin to the train. King Edward VII hurried the German Emperor and other mourners along as the proceedings were twenty minutes behind schedule. Military bands played Chopin's Funeral March until the train had left Paddington and was out of sight. The line to Windsor was guarded by GWR staff from all grades who were stationed 25 yards apart and within earshot of each other for the entire route. At Windsor station, it was extremely cold, the procession had been kept waiting and the hawsers for the gun carriage to carry the coffin had frozen up. Worse still, the eight white horses due to pull the gun carriage were badly affected by the intense cold and became restive and possibly even dangerous. It was quickly decided to have the gun carriage pulled with ropes by Royal Navy sailors – “bluejackets” - but how? Quick thinking provided the answer. Communication cords taken from GWR carriages berthed in sidings at Windsor were quickly stripped and attached to the gun carriage. A problem solved!

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By Mike Peart

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