The close ties between Britain and the United States were highlighted anew Thursday when royalty, a former president, and hundreds of friends and relatives of the Britons killed in the Sept. 11 terror attacks mourned together at Westminster Abbey.
Former President George Bush came as envoy for his son. Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Prime Minister Tony Blair joined New York and London rescue workers and relatives who clutched white roses and wore red, white and blue ribbons.
"It is part of the tragedy of so many of those we honor here today that their lives ended far from home," Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey said. "Far from family and friends and all those gathered here today to mourn their passing."
More than 1,000 people--including relatives of many of the 78 Britons killed--filled the abbey, the site of scores of royal weddings, coronations and funerals.
But the strength of the connection between the two nations in the wake of the attacks first became clear Sept. 12 in another historic church.
Sarah Baxter said she got a call on that morning from a musician she had contracted for the noon concert at St. James, a lively, monumental church built 300 years ago that sits on Picadilly Street in the heart of a bustling business section.
Given what had happened the day before, the musician suggested, did she still want to proceed with the noon concert? She had planned piano selections of Shostakovich and Beethoven. Baxter and the musician decided it would be appropriate.
What played out in this tiny bastion of liberal Christianity helps explain why Blair can be so aggressive in his support for President Bush's call for a war on terrorism and why the confident British leader has taken such an active role in rallying the rest of Europe.
Support for the use of British troops in Afghanistan has been running strong since the first polls were taken after the attacks. Thousands of British soldiers have been on standby, and British special forces have been on the scene since early in the campaign.
Support that polls can't gauge
But it has been the outpouring of concern and compassion that provides a more human measure of Britain's response. That was what Baxter saw at the concert the day after the attack and those feelings were on display again Thursday.
"It was remarkable," she said. "The church was fuller than I have ever seen it for a noon concert. We made a decision that we should make a contribution. ... We concluded we would give the money from that concert to the firefighters in New York City. We wanted to show them that we cared, that we were concerned."
Looking back, she believes that a powerful bond developed between the people of Britain and the people of the United States in the first hours after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
"The outpouring of grief was remarkable," Baxter said. "You could see it in people's faces. They just wanted to touch one another, to be with one another."
St. James is not the kind of place anyone would expect to find support for waging war. Heavily damaged during the German air campaign on London in World War II, the church, designed by Christopher Wren, has been meticulously restored.
Baxter said that despite their emotions about the Americans, people in the church have been "very fearful about what would happen to the Afghan people."
Even before the attack, she said, there were growing concerns in the church about the treatment of women by Afghanistan's Taliban leaders. "Is it right, though, to go and try to impose your own values on someone else?" she asked. "People wanted to help but there was nothing they could do. It was so perplexing."
Now it appears the military action that has driven the Taliban from power has addressed some of that problem.
Blair, acting almost as Bush's surrogate in Britain and on the continent, remains a tremendously popular politician, so his advocacy of the military campaign comes with little risk.
He is safe on the conservative side, too, which is so aggressive about the U.S. anti-terrorism campaign that the new Tory leader, Iain Duncan Smith, traveled to Washington to urge the Bush administration to expand the Afghanistan attack to include Iraq and its leader, Saddam Hussein.
Any way the numbers are counted, British support for a military response to the terrorist attack remains almost as strong as it was in the first days after Sept. 11. In five national polls starting Sept. 14, almost three of every four people support the use of British troops in the war in Afghanistan.
Opposition has ranged from 20 percent to 28 percent.
Robert Worcester, the American founder and chairman of Market and Opinion Research International--one of England's most prominent polling companies--said that even though personal support for Bush and Blair have dipped a bit since September, support for military action remains strong.
"I guess at this stage, we're all Americans," he said.
The only substantial opposition comes from British Muslims included in a poll a week ago. Just 20 percent of British Muslims supported using British troops in the war, the research group reported. Some 64 percent opposed that move, and the rest had not made up their minds.
Politics aside, there are other measures of British support for the United States that seem as convincing as the poll results.
Beth Hartnett, who moved to London in August from Portsmouth, N.H., to work in the telecom business with her husband, talked about one of them as she sipped a pint of stout and leaned in the doorway of a friendly pub about two blocks from St. James.
"As an American, all you have to do is let people hear your accent and they just immediately respond to you," she said. "I went to get my shoes fixed, and the minute the guy hears my accent, he says he is so sorry about what happened to all of my people."
Tribune news services contributed to this report.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times