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‘Living through history:’ Senn family vacation takes twist in London

Laurens Mayor Nathan Senn was an American in London this past week when he found himself amidst one of the biggest news events in the world.

The death of Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday rocked Great Britain as it ended 70 years on the throne for the British monarch.

A crowd begins to gather outside Buckingham Palace as the condition of Queen Elizabeth II worsened. The 96-year-old British monarch died Thursday. (Nathan Senn photo)

Senn, who was vacationing with family in England, said he found a pub to get out of a steady rain and watch news reports after initially hearing that the 96-year-old Queen’s health had taken a downward turn.

As the BBC and other television news channels announced her passing, Senn had a front row seat to a nation flung into mourning.

“There was a collective gasp in the pub,” Senn wrote in an email in response to questions about the ensuing events in London. “That and the next few moments were one of the most memorable of experiences of my life. The screen of the television when black, and a picture of the Queen in her imperial state crown and ermine-lined robes then appeared against that black background.  As the image slowly panned across her portrait, the national anthem, ‘God Save the Queen’ played.  Everyone in the pub stood up. Most shed tears.”

Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the British throne in February of 1952 as a 26-year-old and eventually surpassed Queen Victoria to be coming Britain’s longest-reigning monarch.

Laurens Mayor Nathan Senn

Senn said that the Queen’s “constancy” was among the reasons why the British people were reeling, despite months of speculation surrounding her declining health.

“Their grief also seems to be tied to the loss of her constancy. “In United States, we replace our President every four or eight years,” Senn wrote. “There is no national figure of dignity and constancy which has led us for anything close to 70 years. In fact, she saw 13 U.S. Presidents come and go, and met her 14th with President Biden. She also invited 15 British Prime Ministers to govern in her name. The relationship between the monarch and people of Britain is less like that of a politician and their constituents and more like that of a parent (or grandparent) and child. There is a certain ability to weather storms if you know someone will be with you no matter what. Death is the only thing that can end that constancy.”

As crowds of mourners and throngs of journalists gathered outside Buckingham Palace, Senn, a noted history buff, snapped a photo of the famed royal residence and posted it on social media – something done by millions of tourists over the years, but this was different.

“All this has definitely thrown a wrench into plans I had for my vacation, but it seems wrong to complain, and I am struck by a sense that I am living through history – history which is every bit as significant as any I would see in an artifact in a museum,” Senn wrote. “Every paper. Every digital display on every bus stop. Five days later, almost every television program is still a memorial to the Queen. There is nothing in this country right now that has not been affected by her death.”

Queen Elizabeth II’s service to her country began before she took the throne. She joined the British military as an 18-year-old, working as a mechanic and driver. Though the British Monarchy’s history is complex and not without its criticisms politically and within the family itself, Senn said the grief of the country is palpable.

But even that sadness that is complicated.

“Since the initial shock, their has been a strange mix of emotions which is unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed,” he wrote. “There is still an underlying grief, but that seems to be tempered with a sense of gratitude for the Queen’s 70 years of service to the nation and the dignity with which she served, and her faith.

“I have heard many people say that she was representative of her entire generation, the World War II generation that defeated the Nazis and won the Battle of Britain. Losing her has reopened old wounds for the loss felt when their own parents and grandparents passed.”

A state funeral, which will be attended by U.S. President Joe Biden and an American delegation, is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 19 at Westminster Abbey.

While attended by dignitaries from across the globe, the funeral will also be a chance for the British people to mourn.

“I think the British public respects her for that impeccable service, which she carried out without complaint or fuss,” Senn wrote.

“She did so out of a sense of duty, not because it was easy or because she got to wear crowns and live in fancy palaces.  She spoke openly of her faith in Christ, even when it was not fashionable to do so in a nation. She did it because her father taught her it was her duty to serve the nation. I think an important lesson for us to learn, as Americans, is that lives of service, kindness, humility and humor, dignity, duty and faith still matter. They are still honored. Perhaps we will all strive to be a little bit more like the Queen, or more accurately, like her Savior – the model which Elizabeth herself sought to follow.”

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