‘In the life of the nation a new era has begun; this year has seen the passing of the Great Queen, and on that mournful occasion the Portsmouth High School united with the other schools of the Girls’ Public Day School Company to express its grief and recognition of the debt education owed to Her Majesty.’
What a magnificent spectacle the last crossing of the Queen from her Island home to the mainland presented. What could be more grand, more imposing, that this solemn pageant set off by ten miles of battleships? At an early hour Portsmouth people, and indeed, many from all parts of the country took up their positions on the various sites, and by mid-day beach and ramparts were black with people.
It was somewhat after three o’clock when the first puff of smoke was seen from the battleship nearest Cowes, and the heavy boom of the gun warned us that the ‘Alberta’ had started with its precious burden. All the ships then took up the salute, and minute guns were fired constantly by the ships until the Royal yacht rounded the last battleship in the line and was entering the fairway for the harbour, when the forts continued the last salute to the dead Sovereign.
The afternoon was so bright and peaceful, but for the booming of the guns, that the spectators seemed hardly to realise that they were beholding the last of their beloved Queen. When the ‘Alberta’, preceded by eight torpedo-boat destroyers, and followed by the ‘Victoria and Albert’ the ‘Osborne’ and the ‘Hohenzollern,’ came into sight, the keenest though most reverential interest was manifested and the Royal yacht made her way slowly and silently as a phantom ship. Just as she rounded the ‘Majestic’ the sun shone in all its setting glory, and threw its rays up the catafalque*. Everything that the hand of man could do to make the scene a grand, historical pageant, had been done, but surely that setting sun was God’s work. He put the finishing heavenly touches to the scene of earthly splendour.
As the Royal yachts drew nearer, every detail became distinct. At the prow of each yacht there stood silhouetted against the lovely sky of red and gold, one solitary man, still as a statue. The gaze of all was directed towards the catafalque, each person saw the white satin pall, the crimson velvet cushion and the crown; each silently noted the four figures guarding the beloved remains. Then came the ‘Victoria and Albert’ with the Royal mourners, the King and Kaiser easily to be distinguished on deck; following that he magnificent ‘Hohenzollern’, towering high above the water and perfect in its appointments. Again, as the ‘Alberta’ entered the harbour, the sun illumined the catafalque so noticeably that all present made of it their hearts a beautiful simile – it was like the setting of the good Queen’s life.
The grand old ‘Victory’ boomed forth alone the first of 81 minute guns, as the yacht took up its position near the Clarence Victualling Yard for the night. The crowd then dispersed, all feeling awed and sad after the impressive and soul-stirring scene which had visibly affected them all.
Later on in the evening thousands made their way down to the harbour, which was bright with searchlights. One strong light was thrown upon the catafalque, setting off to perfection the white pall and the four men guarding it, standing like statues with arms reversed and heads bent. That was the last the people of her island saw of the revered Queen.
* a decorated wooden framework supporting the coffin of a distinguished person during a funeral or while lying in state