Operation London Bridge
|Part of a series of articles|
|Death and state funeral|
of Elizabeth II
Operation London Bridge (also known by its code phrase "London Bridge is down") is the funeral plan for Queen Elizabeth II. The plan includes the announcement of her death, the period of official mourning, and the details of her state funeral. The plan was created as early as the 1960s and revised many times in the years before her death in 2022.
The phrase "London Bridge is down" would be used to communicate the death of the Queen to the prime minister of the United Kingdom and key personnel, setting the plan into motion. Bodies involved in preparing the plan included various government departments, the Church of England, Metropolitan Police Service, the British Armed Forces, the media, the Royal Parks, London boroughs, the Greater London Authority and Transport for London. Some critical decisions relating to the plan were made by the Queen herself, while some were left to be determined by her successor. Reporting on the preparations, The Guardian described them as "planned to the minute" with "arcane and highly specific" details.
Several other plans were also created to support the implementation of Operation London Bridge, such as Operation Unicorn, the plan that details what would happen if the Queen were to die in Scotland. Running concurrently with Operation London Bridge are operations concerning King Charles III's accession to the throne and his coronation. Several Commonwealth realms developed their own plans for how to react to the death of the Queen.
Funerals and coronations of members of the Royal Family are typically organised by the Earl Marshal and the officers in the College of Arms. Preparations for Elizabeth II's death and funeral have also been made by the Cabinet Office.
Pre-determined phrases have typically been used as "codenames" for plans relating to the death and funeral of a royal family member. Initially, codenames were used by key officials in an effort to prevent Buckingham Palace switchboard operators from learning of the death prior to a public announcement. When King George VI died in 1952, key government officials were informed with the phrase "Hyde Park Corner."
Several codenamed funeral plans for royal family members in the late-20th and early-21st centuries have used the names of prominent bridges in the United Kingdom. Operation Tay Bridge was the phrase used for the death and funeral plans of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, which was rehearsed for 22 years before its eventual use in 2002. The funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, was also modelled after Operation Tay Bridge. As of March 2017[update], the phrase Operation Forth Bridge referred to the death and funeral of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who died in 2021, while Operation Menai Bridge referred to the funeral plan for King Charles III. All coded operations for members of the royal family, including the plan for Elizabeth II, form a part of Operation Lion, an overarching plan for any royal death.
Preparations for Queen Elizabeth II's death and funeral date back to the 1960s, with the plan having undergone multiple changes in the decades since. The plan was updated three times a year through a meeting involving government department officials, the police, and broadcasters. The plan that outlines the process between the death of the Queen and her funeral is codenamed Operation London Bridge.
On the death of the Queen, her private secretary would be the first official (i.e., not one of her relatives or part of a medical team) to convey the news. Their first act would be to contact the prime minister, where civil servants would convey the code phrase "London Bridge is down" to the prime minister using secure telephone lines. The cabinet secretary and the Privy Council Office would also be informed by the private secretary. The cabinet secretary would then convey the news to ministers and senior civil servants. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office's Global Response Centre, based at a secret location in London, would communicate the news to the governments of the 14 other countries of which Elizabeth is queen (the Commonwealth realms), and to the governments of the other countries of the Commonwealth of Nations. Government websites and social media accounts, as well as the royal family's website, would turn black, and the publication of non-urgent content must be avoided.
The media would be informed by announcement to PA Media and the BBC through the Radio Alert Transmission System (RATS) and to commercial radio on the Independent Radio News through a network of blue "obit lights" which would alert presenters to play "inoffensive music" and prepare for a news flash, while BBC Two would suspend scheduled programming and switch to BBC One's broadcast of the announcement. BBC News would air a pre-recorded sequence of portraits, during which the presenters on duty at the time would prepare for the formal announcement by putting on dark clothing prepared for this purpose. The Guardian has reported that The Times has 11 days of prepared coverage ready and that ITN and Sky News have long rehearsed her death, substituting the name "Mrs Robinson" for the Queen's.
A footman would pin a dark-edged notice to the gates of Buckingham Palace. At the same time, the palace website would display the same notice. The Parliament of the United Kingdom and the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish parliaments would meet as soon as is practical or be recalled if they are not sitting. The prime minister would address the House of Commons. The new monarch would host a meeting with the prime minister and then deliver a speech to the nation at 6 pm, the evening following the Queen's death. Whitehall and local government buildings would fly flags at half-mast and books of condolence may be opened; ceremonial ornaments, such as ceremonial maces or council chains, are to be put in black purses. Gun salutes will take place at saluting stations and a service of remembrance, to be attended by the prime minister and senior ministers, will be held at St Paul's Cathedral.
Ten days after the Queen's death, a state funeral led by the Archbishop of Canterbury would be held at Westminster Abbey. Her body would then be buried in a prepared tomb at King George VI Memorial Chapel in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, alongside Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, whose coffin will be moved from the Royal Vault. A committal service would be held at St George's Chapel before the burial. As agreed by the Queen and the prime minister, the day of the funeral would be declared a day of national mourning, although a bank holiday would not be granted. A two minutes' silence would take place across the United Kingdom at midday and processions would gather in London and Windsor.
Operation London Bridge included several ancilliary and supporting plans, such as the plans for the arrangements at Westminster Hall. This includes Operation Marquee, a plan that covers the ceremonial, service and vigil aspects of the Queen's lying-in-state inside Westminster Hall; and Operation Feather, which concerns the logistical details with the public outside building.
Several plans were also created that outlined the arrangements for moving the Queen's coffin, depending on where she died. In the event she had died at Windsor Castle or Sandringham House, the coffin would have been taken by Royal Train to St Pancras railway station in London, where the prime minister and cabinet ministers would be waiting.
Operation Overstudy was the plan to be followed if the Queen had died outside the UK. If she had died overseas, the coffin would have been brought by No. 32 (The Royal) Squadron to RAF Northolt and then by hearse to Buckingham Palace. In all cases, the coffin would be taken to the Throne Room at Buckingham Palace. Five days after the Queen's death, the coffin would be moved to Westminster Hall and, after a service, the Queen would lie in state for three days.
Operation Unicorn is the plan for handling the Queen's death in Scotland. Details about Operation Unicorn were first reported to the public in 2019, although mention of the codename was first made in the Scottish Parliament's online papers in 2017.
The plan for Operation Unicorn would see Holyrood Palace, St Giles' Cathedral, and the Scottish Parliament serve as the focal point of gatherings, with a condolence book open to the public at the latter location. Parliamentary business would be suspended immediately for at least six parliamentary days, to allow authorities to prepare for the funeral. The parliament would then prepare a motion of condolence within 72 hours of reconvening. The Queen's coffin would first lie in repose at Holyrood Palace, followed by a service of reception at St Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh. Following this the coffin would be transported to Waverley station and taken by the Royal Train to London, if possible. Otherwise, the coffin would be taken by aeroplane to London, and received by the prime minister and cabinet ministers; this was part of Operation Overstudy.
The plans for the event of the Queen's death and funeral would occur concurrently with other related plans, including the plans for the accession of King Charles III to the throne, Operation Spring Tide, and his coronation plans, Operation Golden Orb.
Operation Spring Tide
The Queen's death and funeral plans work concurrently with Operation Spring Tide, the plan for the accession of Charles III to the throne. One day after the Queen's death, the Accession Council would meet at St James's Palace and Charles would be proclaimed king. Parliament would meet that evening when MPs would swear allegiance to Charles III and express condolences for the Queen's death. Most parliamentary activities would then be suspended for 10 days. At 3:30 pm, Charles III would host the prime minister and the cabinet for an audience. Two days after the Queen's death, proclamations for the King would be made by the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish administrations.
On the third day after the Queen's death, Charles III would receive the motion of condolence at Westminster Hall in the morning and then depart for a tour of the United Kingdom. Charles III would visit the Scottish parliament and attend a service at St Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh. On the next day, Charles III would visit Northern Ireland, where he would receive a motion of condolence at Hillsborough Castle and attend a service at St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast. Seven days after the Queen's death, Charles III would visit Wales, receiving a motion of condolence at the Welsh parliament and attending a service at Llandaff Cathedral in Cardiff.
Supporting plans exist within Operations Spring Tide for specific arrangements in each constituent country in the UK; including Operation Shamrock for Northern Ireland, Operation Kingfisher for Scotland, and Operation Dragon for Wales.
Although the Queen did not die overseas, an aeroplane – the RAF's C-17 Globemaster – was decided upon on security grounds, as officials feared that a train would become the target of protesters or delayed by well-wishers dropping Union Flags onto the official train from bridges.
Officials from Buckingham Palace and Clarence House, known as the Inter-Realm Working Group, would brief representatives of the Commonwealth realms about the funeral and succession plans surrounding Operation London Bridge. The governments of the Commonwealth realms were informed of the monarch's death from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office's Global Response Centre. These realms had devised their own plans for what happened in their respective countries in the days after Elizabeth II's death, which run concurrently with Operation London Bridge.
The prime minister was informed of the Queen's death approximately an hour prior to its formal announcement. The prime minister wears a black tie immediately after its announcement, with the staff of recent past prime ministers having carried a black tie in preparation for the news. The prime minister and governor-general returned to Canberra to make their statements before departing for London with the Royal Australian Air Force. If not scheduled to sit, the Parliament was recalled to meet to pass a condolence motion. Plans have the governor-general issuing the Australian proclamation for the accession of King Charles III and his Australian titles at an appropriate ceremony.
A flag notice was issued instructing flags to fly at half-mast immediately for the next ten days, except on the day the accession of Charles III is proclaimed. Australia will observe a national day of commemoration, which may be declared a public holiday. A state funeral and special Anglican service will be held. The Australian Defence Force organised several gun salutes coinciding with events in London and participated in ceremonies in the United Kingdom.
The Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom observed the Accession Council. In addition, Australian members of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom are entitled to sit on the Accession Council. As reported by The Australian in 2022, four official Australian state guests are expected to attend the funeral in London, with an additional 12 Australians also being invited.
In Canada, preparations were made as early as 2002, during Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee. Consultations over the plans have been made with the Canadian Armed Forces, the Canadian Privy Council Office, the Canadian secretary to the Queen, the Department of Canadian Heritage, the office of the governor general of Canada, and the office of the Earl Marshal in the United Kingdom. The federal government's planning for the death of the Queen was somewhat reliant on what was outlined in the Manual of Official Procedure of the Government of Canada, a document produced by the Privy Council Office in 1968. In addition to the federal government, provincial governments have also implemented their own contingency plans for the death of the Queen, and the accession of Charles III.
After receiving the news about the Queen's death, the governor general would recall the Cabinet to Parliament Hill and proclaim that Canada has a new "lawful and rightful liege." The Privy Council for Canada had convened to proclaim Charles III in Canada. The Manual of Official Procedure of the Government of Canada states the prime minister is responsible for convening the Parliament, tabling a resolution of loyalty and condolence from the Parliament to the next monarch of Canada, and arranging for the motion to be seconded by the leader of the Official Opposition. The Prime Minister will then move to adjourn Parliament. The Canadian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom is expected to represent Canada at the Accession Council.
An official mourning period for Elizabeth II would take place, the length of said period to be determined by the federal government; and issued by the governor general and the Department of Canadian Heritage. During the mourning period, a national memorial parade and service was to be held in Ottawa. Additionally, ceremonial maces, portraits of the Queen, and flagpoles at Government Houses across Canada were draped in black fabric. A book of condolences was to be laid out near the front entrance of the Government Houses, with previously planned events cancelled. The death of the sovereign is considered a mandatory half-masting event for the Canadian government. Flags on all federal buildings and establishments in Canada and abroad were flown at half-mast from the notification of death until sunset on the day of the funeral or memorial service.
Specific attire would be worn during the official mourning period. All staff of the governor-general, provincial lieutenant governors, and territorial commissioners would be immediately issued black ties and black armbands. Other government officials would also wear a black armband. However, some legislative employees have to wear additional attire during the official mourning period. This includes the sergeants-at-arms, who are required to wear black gloves, piqué bow ties, and carry a black scabbard and sword; and pages, who are required to wear black cravats, armbands, and ribbons.
The death of the sovereign is considered a "Broadcast of National Importance" by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), and a regularly updated plan is maintained. Regular programming was cancelled, advertisements were halted, and all CBC television and radio stations had shifted to a 24-hour news format. The CBC also has a specially picked squad of broadcasters on call to come to the news desk at the time of the sovereign's death.
New Zealand was to receive the news of Queen Elizabeth II's death via established communication channels between the Royal Household and New Zealand. Once informed, the head of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage had to request the flying of the flag of New Zealand at half-mast on government buildings and other chosen facilities up to the day of the funeral, excluding the date the new sovereign is proclaimed. Twenty-one gun salutes will also be ordered "at appropriate times." A state memorial service is expected, although decisions on accompanying events, as well as government protocol, will be determined by the prime minister. New Zealand Defence Force personnel would participate in overseas ceremonies.
Radio New Zealand (RNZ), the state-radio broadcaster, followed a set of guidelines and instructions regarding the death of the monarch of New Zealand. Across all RNZ stations, broadcasters broke regular programming to announce the death of the Queen, with rolling coverage. RNZ stations stopped playing punk music, or songs by the band Queen during this period.
- Knight, Sam (16 March 2017). "Operation London Bridge: the secret plan for the days after the Queen's death". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 27 May 2019. Retrieved 17 March 2017.
- "About Us". College of Arms. 2019. Archived from the original on 12 July 2019. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
- Wickham, Alex (3 September 2021). "Britain's plan for when Queen Elizabeth II dies". Politico. Archived from the original on 3 September 2021. Retrieved 3 September 2021.
- "What happens when the Queen dies – 'Operation London Bridge' explained". The Independent. 8 September 2022. Archived from the original on 8 September 2022. Retrieved 8 September 2022.
- Oppenheim, Maya (16 March 2017). "This is the secret code word when the Queen dies". The Independent. Archived from the original on 24 May 2022.
- "A week of mourning for the last empress". The Guardian. 1 April 2002. Archived from the original on 22 March 2019. Retrieved 17 March 2017.
- "The Insider – Paul Routledge". New Statesman. 17 June 2002. Archived from the original on 15 April 2020. Retrieved 17 March 2017.
- "All the coded operations triggered by the Queen's death". www.walesonline.co.uk. Media Wales Group. 8 September 2022. Archived from the original on 8 September 2022. Retrieved 9 September 2022.
- "Operation Unicorn: the secret strategy for the Queen dying in Scotland". The Herald. Glasgow. 7 July 2019. Archived from the original on 1 September 2022. Retrieved 8 September 2022.
- Hepburn, David (1 September 2022). "What are Operation Unicorn, Operation London Bridge and Operation Spring Tide? The secret plan outlining what would happen if the Queen dies in Scotland – and what happens next". The Scotsman. Archived from the original on 1 September 2022. Retrieved 7 September 2022.
- Bowden, George (16 March 2017). "5 Things We've Learned About 'London Bridge' – The Queen's Death Protocol". Archived from the original on 12 June 2018. Retrieved 16 March 2017.
- Gogarty, Conor (7 July 2018). "Operation London Bridge: This is what will happen when the Queen dies". Gloucestershire Live. Archived from the original on 21 December 2019. Retrieved 26 August 2018.
- "Protocol for Marking the Death of a Senior National Figure Operation London Bridge" (PDF). Fremington Parish Council. 5 June 2019. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 March 2021.
- Wheatstone, Richard (29 June 2018). "What happens when the Queen dies? From 12 days of mourning to final resting place". The Mirror. Archived from the original on 12 August 2022. Retrieved 7 September 2022.
- Tonkin, Leigh (16 April 2021). "Where was Prince Philip buried after his funeral service?". ABC News. Archived from the original on 3 September 2021. Retrieved 3 September 2021.
- "Annex A, Section 19". Resilience Board (PDF). Scottish Parliament (Report). 25 October 2017. p. 4. Leadership Group LG (2017) Paper 084. Archived (PDF) from the original on 28 November 2021.
- Harris, Nigel, ed. (30 December 2020). "Royal Train: a brief history". Rail Magazine. No. 921. Peterborough: Bauer Media. p. 21. ISSN 0953-4563.
- "The Accession Council". Privy Council. Archived from the original on 13 September 2016. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
- "Queen Elizabeth II: Plans for her lying in state and funeral". BBC News. 8 September 2022. Archived from the original on 9 September 2022. Retrieved 9 September 2022.
- "Bank holiday approved for day of Queen's funeral". BBC News. 10 September 2022. Archived from the original on 10 September 2022. Retrieved 10 September 2022.
- Ryan-Parson, Layton (13 September 2022). "The plane flying the Queen's body to London for her funeral rescued thousands from Taliban". i. Retrieved 13 September 2022.
- Clatworthy, Ben (13 September 2022). "Officials feared trespassers might block the royal train". The Times. Retrieved 13 September 2022.
- Bramston, Troy (8 April 2017). "Till death us do part: secret plans fit for a Queen". The Australian. News Corp Australia. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
- Young, Ryan (18 June 2022). "Leaked plans reveal how Australia will respond to news of the death of Queen Elizabeth II". news.com.au. Nationwide News. Retrieved 18 June 2022.
- Wu, Crystal (18 June 2022). "Leaked funeral details reveal Australia may get another public holiday and will observe 10 days of mourning after Queen's death". skynews.com.au. Nationwide News. Archived from the original on 18 June 2022. Retrieved 18 June 2022.
- Hopper, Tristan (5 January 2017). "What happens to Canada should Queen Elizabeth II die: The behind-the-scenes plans". National Post. Retrieved 8 December 2018.
- Campion-Smith, Bruce (30 July 2017). "Ottawa's secret plan for what to do when the Queen dies". Toronto Star. Torstar Corporation. Archived from the original on 12 April 2021. Retrieved 8 December 2018.
- Karadeglija, Anja (21 December 2021). "Will Canadians want Charles III on our banknotes when he becomes King?". National Post. Postmedia Network. Retrieved 9 February 2022.
- Gollom, Mark (8 September 2022). "With Queen Elizabeth's death, Canada prepares for an official mourning period". www.cbc.ca. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Archived from the original on 9 September 2022. Retrieved 9 September 2022.
- French, Janet (9 November 2019). "Bill to automatically change court's name in event of Queen's death". Postmedia Network. Archived from the original on 6 March 2021. Retrieved 29 October 2020.
- "Queen's Privy Council for Canada". canada.ca. Government of Canada. 4 January 2022. Archived from the original on 3 February 2022. Retrieved 6 February 2022.
- Davis, Henry F.; Millar, André (1968). Manual of Official Procedure of the Government of Canada. Ottawa: Privy Council Office. p. 575. doi:10.7939/R37M0403B. Archived from the original on 18 June 2021. Retrieved 29 October 2021.
- "Rules for half-masting the National Flag of Canada". canada.ca. Government of Canada. 16 August 2021. Archived from the original on 4 November 2021. Retrieved 4 November 2021.
- "Plans in the event of The Queen's passing". fyi.org.nz. New Zealand Defence Force. 13 January 2022. Archived from the original on 19 January 2022. Retrieved 19 January 2022.
- Wong, Simon (4 April 2017). "How NZ will respond to Queen Elizabeth II's death". Newshub. MediaWorks New Zealand. Archived from the original on 9 December 2018. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
- McQuillan, Laura (31 March 2017). "What will happen in New Zealand when the Queen dies? Here's the plan". Stuff. Archived from the original on 9 December 2018. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
- "Half-masting the New Zealand Flag". mch.govt.nz. New Zealand Government. 6 March 2020. Archived from the original on 30 October 2020. Retrieved 4 November 2021.