Britain comes through in hour of U.S. sorrow

Royals, commoners alike prove special relationship

Terrorism Strikes America

The World

September 15, 2001|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON - They hailed from the middle of America and the middle of England, bound by sorrow beneath a dome that survived a World War II blitz and which echoed their prayers.

As Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, Prime Minister Tony Blair and 2,600 others gathered yesterday in St. Paul's Cathedral to honor those killed during this week's terror attacks in the United States, there was a sense of a people preparing themselves for a long struggle against terrorism.

It was a day when the special relationship that has tied Britain and the United States through two world wars and a cold war, seemed especially strong, as Blair proclaimed in the House of Commons: "We are talking here about a tragedy of epoch-making proportions."

It was a day when a queen seemed to wipe away a tear as thousands lay dead in America, including at least 100 British citizens. And it was a day when the archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. George Carey, sought to deliver a simple message to America and Americans abroad.

"We hope you know that we are with you in your hour of need," he said during his sermon.

With a hint of autumn in the air, some 8,000 people stood quietly on the pavement just beyond the broad front steps of the 17th-century cathedral, listening to the service relayed on loudspeakers. One man carried a giant American flag. Others brought flowers. Some were dressed in baseball caps and blue jeans, others in their Sunday best. Three British war veterans wore their scarlet uniforms laden with World War II service medals.

Inside the cathedral, the congregation sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic," moments that brought tears to some, while others sang with soaring voices.

In between was a somber service in a cathedral where Winston Churchill was honored with a state funeral and where rest the remains of such British war heroes as the Duke of Wellington and Adm. Horatio Nelson.

There were readings by the queen's husband, Prince Philip, and the U.S. ambassador, William S. Farish.

Afterward, British royalty met with American citizens on the steps of St. Paul's.

"Wasn't it a beautiful service?" the queen asked Marianne Thiel, 21, of Minnesota.

A freckle-faced 8-year-old girl named Elizabeth Woodson of Westport, Conn., came face to face with the elderly queen named Elizabeth, who wished Americans well.

The girl's mother, Jenifer Woodson, said the queen asked if the family knew anyone who died in the attacks; thankfully, they did not. The prime minister, who passed by a few moments later, told the family that Britain would continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with America.

Blair's wife, Cherie, encountered an American who told her that he had been in Britain through two wars, the Kosovo bombing campaign in 1999 and the strike against America.

"Tony, too," Cherie Blair said.

"I hope he does well," the American said.

"He will," Cherie Blair said.

Before the service, the prime minister addressed a packed special session of the House of Commons and spoke of a struggle that lies ahead. Blair said it "will be determined, it will take time, it will continue over time until this menace is properly dealt with and its machinery of terror destroyed."

Blair's words of solidarity and the service of remembrance seemed to boost the large contingent of Americans who live and work in London - and those, too, who were just passing through.

Claire Nelson of Silver Spring was supposed to be on a two-day layover in London, but could be stranded here for a week as trans-Atlantic travel remained slowed.

"This is one of those significant moments in history," she said. "Even coming and standing here feels like you're doing something. I wanted to feel a part of something, to begin to take this all in. We have to move on and not be paralyzed by fear."

Two British secretaries, Julie James and Chris Blows, held white lilies and were poised to climb the steps to the cathedral after the service.

"People were sobbing out here," Blows said.

"There was a feeling that the attack could have just as easily come to London," James said.

Asked if she was prepared for Britain to be involved in a war, James said: "Yes, totally, 100 percent."

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