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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

British Queen Mother Hits 100

LONDON -- Britain's queen mother became the royal family's first centenarian on Friday and took the nation's 100th birthday salute from the balcony of Buckingham Palace.

A huge crowd f police estimated the figure topped 40,000 f surged toward the Palace gates to hail the House of Windsor's perennially popular matriarch.

The indomitable "queen mum," who has had to steady the crisis-prone monarchy through abdication, war and scandal, was greeted with a roar of delight as she stepped out onto the balcony with her two daughters, reigning monarch Elizabeth and her younger sister Margaret.

She was then joined by her grandchildren and great grandchildren as flag-waving crowds broke into a spontaneous chorus of "Happy Birthday."

It echoed the emotional day in 1945 when she and her late husband, King George VI, stepped out onto the same balcony before massive crowds to mark the end of World War II in Europe.

The day of national celebration began when the queen mother, born when Queen Victoria was still on the throne, took the salute from a troop of mounted soldiers outside her Clarence House residence.

Postman Tony Nichols, 58, then hand-delivered a special birthday card from her daughter Queen Elizabeth, which an equerry opened with a sword. It was signed "Lilibet" f the queen's childhood nickname.

The queen mother then drove to Buckingham Palace with her grandson and heir to the throne, Prince Charles. As she swept onto London's Mall crowds packed 20 deep cheered and waved Union Jack flags in an exuberant celebration of Britain's favorite grandmother.

She smiled broadly and turned from side to side in the carriage to give a regal wave.

Political and personal tributes poured in from Canada to New Zealand.

"What marks her out is this extraordinary sense of duty," British Prime Minister Tony Blair said. "We are honoring somebody who has been a great example to us all of service."

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent congratulations on Friday and said the queen mother's wartime role in rallying opposition to Adolf Hitler had inspired many of his compatriots.

Earlier this year, the queen mother was made an honorary citizen of Volgograd, the former Stalingrad, for her efforts in helping that city during its wartime siege by German forces. "In Russia we highly esteem the kind interest you have shown toward our country and will always remember the support you offered during World War II to the inhabitants and defenders of Stalingrad," Putin said in his message.

"You were a participant in and witness of many important events in relations between Russia and Britain in the 20th century, which laid the basis for the successful development of cooperation on the threshold of a new millennium," he said. "I am convinced that existing ties and new contacts between members of the British royal family and Russia will further help strengthen trust and understanding between our nations."

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a fervent royalist, said: "To reach the age of 100 years is an extraordinary achievement. I salute her on a wonderful life."

And now one of the world's most enduring royal figureheads has her sights set on 2002 when her daughter will have been on the throne for half a century. For she is determined to join in the celebrations, viewed as the next major milestone for the royals in their bid to maintain the affection of their increasingly republican subjects.