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Chief of Defence Staff

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[Union-Castle Line houseflag] by Graham Bartram, 17 December 2002

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Description of the Flag

The British chief of defence staff flag was a development of the 1956 car flag of the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, whose name was changed to Chief of Defence Staff in 1959. The flag then was a horizontal tricolour, dark blue (Navy) over red (Army) over pale blue (Air Force) with proportions of 1 x 2. The badge in the centre had a white and blue eagle, two crossed red swords, and a dark blue foul anchor on a white disc encircled by yellow laurel leaves, surmounted by a royal crown in colour. The badge, known as the 'unified device', appears to have been a refined version of the Combined Operations Headquarters badge introduced in 1940. That had an eagle, a clear stockless anchor, and a sub-machine gun, all in red on a blue circle.

On 4 August 1965 the Chief of Defence Staff proposed that his flag should be changed and suggested the new Chief of Defence Staff badge in gold in the centre of the Union Flag. The new badge was an oval version of the unified device encircled by a garter and surmounted by a crown. The idea was submitted to the College of Arms. Garter King of Arms, Sir Anthony Wagner, did not approve. He wrote that it was bad heraldry to deface the Union Flag. The only exceptions should be Queen's and Regimental Colours. Any defaced Union already in existence (e.g., Chief of the Imperial General Staff flag) had not been sanctioned by the College of Arms and in strict sense was illegal. Additionally defaced Union Flags were not sufficiently distinctive and could be confused. He suggested Chief of Defence Staff badge on a white flag, or some other plain colour. Other suggestions were flags with a Union canton and the Chief of Defence Staff badge in the fly. Red, white, blue and six striped flags were rejected in favour of what was essentially the 1956 flag with a Union canton and revised badge moved into the fly.

The draft warrant 12 October 1965 states "Argent an Anchor Azure with a Cable Azure and Argent surmounted by two Swords in saltire Gules over all an Eagle volant affronty the head lowered and to the sinister of Royal Air Force the whole encircled by the Garter ensigned by the Royal Crown proper." Flag. "Tierced fessewise of Royal Navy Blue, Gules and Royal Air Force Blue a canton of the Union."

Sources:  Public Record Office document DEFE 24/178, Carr (1961), and Cole's 'Heraldry in War'.

David Prothero, 17 December 2002

Sir Anthony's position that defaced union jacks were illegal (and bad heraldry) seems a bit quixotic considering the number of defaced union jacks that had been approved (by the Admiralty, I guess?) as governors' and diplomats' flags.

Joe McMillan, 17 December 2002

In the letter I think he had only army flags in mind. All the diplomatic, consular and gubernatorial defaced union jacks were covered by an Order in Council of 7 August 1869. The CIGS flag he quotes was not covered by it. General Officers Commanding, when afloat, have a properly authorised union jack with the royal cypher and crown on a blue disc surrounded by a laurel leaf garland, but the car flag of the Chief of the (Imperial) General Staff, royal crest on a union jack, was, from an heraldic point of view, possibly adopted without official authorisation.

David Prothero, 18 December 2002

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