Last modified: 2023-07-03 by rob raeside
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by Tom Gregg
Recently I came across a picture of the badge of the British Ministry of Defence: it's a crowned 'combined services' emblem (crossed swords, eagle and anchor). Can anybody tell me if this badge is used on flags? I'm guessing that the Minister of Defence would have a Union Flag defaced with this badge, while defence establishments not service-specific would use a blue ensign with this badge in the fly.
Tom Gregg, 18 December 1996
Strictly speaking, the badge is termed the 'joint services' badge. A slightly similar badge for 'combined operations' was used in World War II, with a tommy gun representing the Army. I don't have a reference for the date the current badge was first designed, but I presume it was sometime after the war when thibgs had settled down and the College of Arms could 'correct' the crude design adopted by the military.
A flag for the Chief of the Defence Staff was first approved in 1956 (H. Gresham Carr, Flags of the World, 1961, p. 133) - this was a horizontal tricolour of dark blue (Royal Navy) over red (Army) over air force (light) blue (Royal Air Force) - the order of seniority of the services - with the joint services badge overall. Originally the white circular background of the badge was surrounded by a gold cordon. The garter that is currently used was added when Lord Mountbatten was appointed Chief of the Defence Staff in 1965.
However, in 1964 when the unified Ministry of Defence was formed the 1956 flag was adopted as the joint services flag. It flies from the Ministry of Defence building along with the three services' flags, but I don't think it is the Ministry of Defence flag per se - it is meant to be flown wherever the three services have headquarters together. The Chief of the Defence Staff, having lost his flag, was given a new one - still the same tricolour and badge, but with a Union Flag in the canton and the badge shifted to the centre of the fly (William Crampton, Observer's Book of Flags, 1991, p. 33). As to the Secretary of State for Defence, I think he is entitled to fly the joint services flag from his car, but I don't have a reference to support this.
Roy Stilling, 19 December 1996
In a question directed to the UK government it was determined that no Cabinet offices except the Ministry of Defence has its own specific flags. However, I believe the Ministry of Defence flag is made only in miniature as a car flag, but even that is exceptional. In Britain it has never been considered necessary for ministerial cars to have flags. At Imperial Conferences in the 1930's, flags were supplied to the delegates of other participating governments, but not for the cars of British ministers. [National Archives (PRO) DO 35/132/3]
The provision of a car flag for the Minister of Defence was the result of a problem that arose when visiting military establishments with an accompanying officer who was entitled to a car flag. On these occasions the officer displayed his flag on the car, and it was argued that salutes given, on the arrival or passing of the car, were to the flag displayed, and not to the minister. After one Minister had improperly used the Combined Operations Flag on his car, a special flag was devised and approved by the Queen on 10 May 1957. [National Archives (PRO) DEFE 7/569]
Apart from the Admiralty, War Office, and Air Ministry, British Government Departments have not had land flags. A Public Office was entitled to a Blue Ensign, with its badge in the fly, for any boats or ships it operated, and did not need to obtain approval for it, although the Admiralty were often consulted in those cases where the design of the badge, or the right of a department to be classified as a Public Office, was in doubt. These Blue Ensigns were not flown on land, except by Customs and Excise who by tradition flew their Blue Ensign on Customs Houses.
In 1960 the Ministry of Transport asked if it could fly its ensign from its offices in London. It was told that the approval of the Lord Chamberlain would be required if they wanted to do it on other than appointed "flag flying days". On those days the Union Jack should be flown in addition to the Transport Ensign. Since this would have involved putting up additional flag poles the idea was abandoned. The Ministry was also told to stop flying its flag on the Sea Transport Offices in Aden and Singapore, but allowed it on Coastguard Stations, and colonial lighthouses. [National Archives (PRO) MT 45/580]
David Prothero, 16 April 2003
Since 1964 when the Ministry of Defence was created and the Board of Admiralty abolished, the old 17th century Navy Board flag (three vertical plain yellow anchors on maroon) has been used by both the Navy Board and the Admiralty Board (Navy Board plus Government Ministers), and often known as the Admiralty Board Flag. It was decided that the old Navy Board Flag should be used by only the new Navy Board, and that the Admiralty Board should have its own flag, a yellow vertical foul anchor on a maroon field. It was designed earlier this year by the College of Arms.
David Prothero, 1 October 2003
by Graham Bartram
In January 1926 designs for an Army badge or crest were considered by the Army Council. It was to be the equivalent of the anchor of the Royal Navy, and eagle of the Royal Air Force. The first choice was the shield of the arms that had been granted to the Board of His Majesty's Ordnance, 16th May 1823; "Azure, three field pieces in pale, or, on a chief argent three cannon balls proper". The Army Council had used this shield as a defacement on the Union Jack since 1904. However the shield was also used by the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, who had adopted it as a button badge in 1896, when the Army Ordnance Department was established. Another design considered was the crest of the same arms of the Board of Ordnance; "Out of a mural crown, argent, a dexter cubit arm the hand grasping a thunderbolt, winged and in flames, proper". It was used as the badge of the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, but adopting it as an Army badge would have created fewer problems than would the RAOC badge. The Royal Crest, (royal crown ensigned with a crowned lion) was also considered. It was used by the Army Sports Central Board, some cavalry regiments, and was associated with the General Staff.
In April, Sir Henry Burke, Garter King of Arms, was consulted. He suggested, "two swords, one in its scabbard, in saltire, ensigned with the Imperial crown", the sheathed sword symbolising the army's role in peace time. He thought that the royal crest was inappropriate as it represented nothing but the royal family. If it were chosen however, he would not formally object .
The Army Council preferred the Royal Crest, and thought that Garter's proposal looked more like a 'Skill at Arms' badge. The Marksman's Badge, for example, was crossed rifles beneath a royal crown. In October 1926 the Army Council wrote to Garter, thanking him for his assistance, and informing him that it had been decided that "things had better be left as they are."
An Army Crest was finally agreed twelve years later. "Design originated in 1935 as a device indicative of the British Army for a stained glass window in Ypres Cathedral in memory of King Albert. Approved by HM King George V. A simplified design secured Royal Assent in 1938 as the Army Crest, and was adopted in lieu of the Royal Arms on the Army List. The Army Crest on a red background was approved later for a flag that was flown over the Army Pavilion in the Glasgow Exhibition of 1938." "Two swords in saltire proper pommels and hilts, surmounted by the royal crest, on a red background." The India Office asked for a drawing of the flag in November 1938, and probably introduced a similar flag for the Indian Army [see Army flag of India].
In 1939 the Army Council gave approval for the flag to be flown at Command Head Quarters and at Recruiting Centres. Opinions of General Officers Commanders in Chief and General Officers Commanding were obtained on the use of this flag, and in March 1939 the Honours and Distinctions Committee concurred in Commands' unanimous opinion that the Army Flag should be flown on special occasions, of a purely army character, as decided by General Officers Commanding. It was not to be flown at Flag Stations, nor at Military Funerals. The Cenotaph in Whitehall (the national war memorial) originally had two Union Jacks, two White Ensigns, a Blue Ensign and a Red Ensign attached to the sides. In 1943 when it was decided that a Royal Air Force Ensign should replace one of the two White Ensigns, it was suggested that the Army Flag should replace one of the two Union Jacks. Sir Edwin Lutyens, who had designed the memorial, pointed out that if this were done no flag would be duplicated. Winston Churchill, who was against any alterations to the flags, finally agreed to the introduction of the Royal Air Force Ensign, but not to the Army Flag replacing one of the Union Jacks.
National Archives (PRO) PREM 4/3/12, WO 32/3218, WO 32/4632, WO 32/15019.
David Prothero, 4 August 2004
The Royal Website notes: "As an emblem of 'Her Majesty's Service', the Union Flag is the flag of the Army, which unlike the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force,
does not have its own ensign." This refutes the idea propagated by Smith (1975) and other sources that the British Army flag (red with crest and swords) is a "war flag." The British war flag is the Union Flag (Union Jack).
Joe McMillan, 4 December 2003
by Graham Bartram
Whilst preparing Change 5 of BR20 "Flags of all Nations" in 1999 I had done a new drawing of the Army flag, using the official drawing of the Royal Crest and St Edward's Crown. Before we went to press, however, the Army's PR department announced a new Army flag. This used the Army's logo version of the Royal Crest, complete with several heraldic mistakes (gold pearls on the crown, gold blades on the swords, the area under the arches filled in white rather than being transparent), and a really cuddly lion. Just to add insult to injury they included the word "ARMY" in gold underneath the logo.
The MoD decided to go with this version (I argued against it and suggested including both or a note to the effect that the logotype version existed). So BR20 was published with the logo flag and that was the image I had on my website (shown above).
Since then I have kept my eye out for a single example of this new (and heavily criticized both within and outside the MoD) flag but I have never seen it in the flesh. Throughout all this time the old flag continued to fly over the MoD in Whitehall and the final straw was when I attended the Royal Military Tattoo along with HM The Queen. There above the Royal Box were the flags of the Navy, Army and Air Force and the Army flag was the old design (but obviously a brand new flag)! Since the event was organized by an experienced and well-respected Army officer (Major Sir Mike Parker) I decided that the Army just didn't use the logo version. Graham Bartram, 31 August 2000
The flag referred to by Graham has been flying outside Falklands House, Oxpens Road, Oxford for at least six months. Falklands House is a purpose built building in the centre of Oxford and is the headquarters of several detachments of Oxford University cadet forces. There are four flag poles at the front of the building, adjacent to the wall which borders the Oxpens Road and, usually they will fly (from left to right, as you face the building) the RAF Ensign, the Army flag as referred to above and the White Ensign. The fourth flag pole is nearly always empty but does fly the Union flag on occasion. It has also on occasion flown a flag on a dark blue background combining the joint serviced badge and the logo of the university; I have never seen this last flag anywhere else other than on this building.
Colin Dobson, 16 January 2003
The Red British Army flag is officially called the "British Army Non-Ceremonial Flag" and is mainly used in recruiting and military events and exhibitions. Actually the Army have been offered an ensign to replace the Non-Ceremonial flag so that they are on equal footings with the other two services. The flag is royal crimson (the dark red used in the Royal Standard) with the Union flag in the canton and the Army badge of the Royal Crest on Crossed Swords filling the fly. The proposal is currently stalled, mainly because I've been working on too many other things to concentrate on it properly.
Graham Bartram, 5 December 2003
The usage of the Union Flag against the Army flag seems to be at the discretion of the Camp Commander or the highest ranking Officer - some camps will even fly an Army flag at the entrance, and a Union Flag elsewhere. It is not uncommon for the old Army flag to be used. Last week I visited Warcop camp in Cumbria and came across an interesting sight - both the old and new flags used in the same area. At the Guardhouse the 1938 flag flew, while at the Headquarters it was the modern version that flew alongside the camp flag. Apparently I was the only person that cared.
It strikes me that the MOD, although they have changed the flag, aren't too bothered to tell people they have - I talked to one of the guards (Part of the MOD Police Force I believe) who told me he was unaware of any change. It's my suspicion that the MOD simply don't want to stump up money to replace every flag around the country, and hope that over time the newer flag will replace the worn older flags. In saying that however, it does seem that the older flags are still being produced. Given that it's already been five years since the flag was introduced, it strikes me that it might be some time before the old flags are phased out.
Jim McBrearty, 2 July 2004
Naval shore establishments and Royal Air Force bases fly their services' ensigns, but of course these contain the Union Flag in them, which the army flag doesn't. Crampton, p. 36, mentions an army ensign - a blue ensign with the army badge in the fly, but this is only worn by ships in the army's service.
Roy Stilling, 19 December 1996
In 1963 the Australian Army Head Quarters, Canberra, asked the War Office for information about the origin, tradition and names of Flag Stations in London. It
was understood by them that Flag Stations were the only locations at which the National Flag was flown officially, and that they were normally Forts, Barracks
etc., implying that these official sites were protecting the nation's flag.
The War Office replied that the Flag Stations List was first published in Queen's Regulations in 1873. "The following is a list of Stations at which the National Flag (Union Jack) is authorised to be hoisted. (a) On anniversaries only, or when specially required for saluting purposes. (b) On Sundays and Anniversaries. (c) Daily."
It was thought that it was issued in 1873 to give formal authorisation to an existing practice. The only variation since 1873 was that almost all stations listed flew
the flag daily. There was no firm criterion as to what Residencies, Stations or Head Quarters were put on the List. It depended upon their military status and
importance. As Army Stations disappeared, they were deleted from the list, and fresh ones added as they arose.
There was nothing historical or traditional in having a List of Flag Stations. It was purely utilitarian. The Army's flag was the Union Jack, and those places listed
in the appendix were issued with it. Those places who wished to fly it, and were not listed, had to purchase it.
In the 1996 Queen's Regulations sixty-three Flag Stations are listed, ten of them outside the United Kingdom. Two sizes are specified 12ft x 7.5ft and 6ft x 4 ft,
(3.66m x 2.29m and 1.83m x 1.22m) the larger size being for Sundays and anniversaries.
The quotation from the 1873 Regulations is perhaps the earliest official reference to the Union Jack as the National Flag?
David Prothero, 30 July 2004
The 1873 Queen's Regulations, Section 3. Honours and Salutes, combines the three types of Flag Station in one list. Here they have been made into three separate lists, Daily, Sundays and Anniversaries.
Daily Flag Stations
"The following is a list of stations at which the national flag (Union Jack) is authorised to be hoisted daily. The Royal Standard is only to be used on Royal anniversaries and State occasions at the stations marked with an asterisk."
Dover, Castle Keep*
Dover, Drop Redoubt*
Pembroke Defensive Barracks
Europa Flagstaff *
David Prothero, 10 February 2005
Sunday Flag Stations
Queen's Regulations 1873. Section 3. Honours and Salutes.
The following is a list of stations at which the national flag (Union Jack) is authorised to be hoisted on Sundays and anniversaries. The Royal Standard is only to be used on Royal anniversaries and State occasions at the stations marked with an asterisk.
Liverpool North Fort
Perch Rock Battery
Paull Point Battery
Office of G.O.C. Camp, Colchester
New Tavern Fort
Fort Block House
Cliff End Fort
Flags in Portsmouth Lines and Gosport Forts specially hoisted
during the stay of the Queen in the Isle of Wight.
Royal Military Academy
Royal Military College
The Tower of London.
Torry Point, Aberdeen
Charles Fort, Kinsale
Ned's Point Fort
Pigeon House Fort*
Queen's House, H.Q.
Office of G.O.C.
Cape of Good Hope.
King William's Town
David Prothero, 10 February 2005
Anniversary Flag Stations
Queen's Regulations 1873. Section 3. Honours and Salutes.
"The following is a list of stations at which the national flag (Union Jack) is authorised to be hoisted on anniversaries only, or when specially required for saluting purposes. The Royal Standard is only to be used on Royal anniversaries and State occasions at the stations marked with an asterisk."
Dover, Archcliff Fort
Practice Range, Plumstead
Fort Chateau l'Etoc
Fort Ive's Point
David Prothero, 10 February 2005
From T. J. Edwards, 1953, pp. 35-37, here's the history of the sizes of the army's going back to the mid-18th century:
|1768 Clothing Warrant||27 x 29 inches|
|1873 Queen's Regiments||27 x 30 inches|
|1898 Queen's Regiments||26 x 29 1/2 inches|
|1936 Clothing Regiments||26 x 29 1/3 inches|
|1768 Clothing Warrant||27 x 41 inches|
|1936 Clothing Regiments||27 x 41 inches|
|1747 Regiments at Windsor||74 x 78 inches|
|1768 Clothing Warrant||72 x 78 inches|
|1855 Submission||61 x 72 inches|
|1858 Submission||42 x 48 inches|
|1868 Queen's Regiments||36 x 45 inches|
|1936 Clothing Regiments||36 x 45 inches|
Lances for cavalry standards and guidons were nine feet long until 1873, when they were shortened to 8 ft 6 inches. Pikes for infantry colours were 9 ft 10 inches until 1873, when they were shortened to 8 ft 7 in, then increased by 1/2 inch in 1898. The royal crest finial replaced the spearhead on both lances and pikes in 1858. Standards and guidons always had fringes, but colours have had them only since 1858, to offset the "poor effect on Parade" caused by the reduction in their size.
Joe McMillan, 19 May 2000
The Budge Flag and the 18th century British army flag had a similar design though the army version was not called a Budge Flag. This design of the army flag was said to have been used by Cornwallis when he surrendered to Washington. It shows up in several American histories, including on the Web. My drawing is based on some photographs and drawings of this type of flag.
When used by privateers (until 1856 when privateering was abolished), it was called the Budgee (or Budge or Bugee) Flag. There was apparently quite some variation of the flag with some examples in which the canton takes up three quarters of the flag, the red thus becoming a mere border along the lower and fly edges. The privateers were required to use the Red Ensign, but the Budgee was used as a jack. (David Prothero says that the word "budgee" comes from Bugia, -- Bougie in French, modern Bejaļa -- Algeria.)
Bill Hitchins, 20 September 2000
Since sending the Budge Flag (also spelt Budgee and Bugee), I have learnt that it was a privateers jack. The flag appears to be confused by some sources with the Meteor Flag (I only have AMERICAN sources for that name). The design of the two flags appears to be identical. Some Internet sources (found by entering "meteor flag" in a search engine) state that the Meteor Flag was an ARMY flag others state that it was the British Red Ensign and used on ships. This may possibly be the confusion with the Budgee Flag.
Bill Hitchins, 25 September 2000