LAST Thursday afternoon I was in Parliament when the news that Her Majesty the Queen had been taken seriously ill began to circulate.

At approximately 6.30pm, the dreadful news broke that we had all been fearing. Her Majesty had passed away at the age of 96.

There are very few left that remember the passing of our last monarch, so long had Her Majesty served as our Sovereign. For 70 years, the Queen was our Head of State, and few could conceive of any other.

In many ways, Her Majesty had become the grandmother of the nation. The Queen was a unifying figure in a way that Presidents tend not to be, and was respected in a way no mere politician ever is, both at home, and around the world.

Over the last week, many stories have circulated about the times the Queen visited the area. In 1977, for her Silver Jubilee, before I was even born, and in 2009, for the opening of Leigh Sports Village, which I was privileged to attend, then as a local councillor.

On both occasions the people of Leigh and the surrounding communities came out in force to cheer Her Majesty in great numbers. God Save the Queen! God Save the Queen! It will be strange not to hear that phrase at civic occasions, one that we have become so used to hearing over the decades.

Last Sunday, I attended the local proclamation of the beginning of the reign of our new monarch, His Majesty King Charles III, at the town square in Wigan, alongside other local dignitaries, including the Deputy Mayor, the Deputy Lieutenant of Greater Manchester, councillors and the other MP's for the borough.

On Monday I was privileged to attend Westminster Hall, where His Majesty the King received the presentation of addresses by both Houses of Parliament. It was striking how there was almost universal attendance by MP's from all parties to hear our new King speak to us, and reassuring that that was the case.

Over the next few weeks, Her Majesty will lie in state in Westminster, and it is a certainty that millions of Britons will file past her to show their respects, as they did for her late mother, the Queen Mother, twenty years ago now.

There will also be the pomp and ceremony of a State Funeral, and it has been rightly observed that this is the sort of occasion that the British rise to like almost no other nation.

Once this is over, and Parliament returns, backbench MP's will swear allegiance to His Majesty the King in the Commons chamber, and in due course, likely next year, there will be the Coronation ceremony.

It is the end of an era for Britain. Her Majesty the Queen oversaw the transition from Empire to Commonwealth. She was the last Head of State to have served in World War Two. It is amazing to think that her first Prime Minister was Sir Winston Churchill.

We now enter a new age, with a new King. Let us start as we mean to go on, with optimism and confidence in the future, just as Her Majesty the Queen and her subjects did after the dark times of World War Two.

God Save the King! It will take time, but we'll get used to it, and we shall say it with pride in our nation, just as before.