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United Nations Organization: Honour Flag

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[Honour Flag] by Jarig Bakker, 17 January 2007

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Description of the Honour Flag

The Honor Flag was an unofficial flag symbolizing the United Nations and related efforts towards world peace, security, and freedom. It was known as the Honor Flag, U.N. Honor Flag, and (1942-1945) the Four Freedoms Flag; to be flown subordinate to any national flag. Optionally the red bars were green or blue.
Effective Dates: 13 June 1943 - circa 1948
Source: Flag Research Center, 1995/10
Rick Wyatt, 31 May 1999

(Submitted by André van de Loo, extracted in part from the SAVA-Newsletter of 30 Aug 2006, part I in a series of III)

During the formation period of the United Nations Organization another flag - the Honour Flag - was used to represent this body of nations and the ideals this new organization stood for.

PLEASE NOTE: Although all the information contained in this story was originally sourced from information supplied to me by the UN Dag Hammarskjöld Library at the beginning of 1998, in a more recent letter dated 24 February 2003 from this same library, it is made clear that the World Flag Encyclopedia is not a United Nations publication, nor was the United Nations Honor Flag Committee a United Nations committee. No current information on the Committee or its member is available.

[Honour Flag] by Jarig Bakker, 17 January 2007

(By Marguerite Sitgreaves, Secretary of the United Nations Honor Flag Committee)

This article appeared in the first edition of the WORLD FLAG ENCYCLOPEDIA by Brooks Harding and was published by the UNITED NATIONS HONOR FLAG COMMITTEE in 1948.

In December 1941, The Right Honourable Winston Churchill, then Prime Minister of Great Britain, was paying one of his celebrated war time visits to The White House. His enthusiasm for the Victory V symbol was known throughout the world and his up-raised, two-fingered salute was a constant front page news flash. This inspired symbolism in the regular course of its travels, touched the town of Gloversville N.Y. buried deep in snow in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. The symbol's courageous concept found and struck a new cord of patriotism within a certain citizen of that small community. The citizen was Brooks Harding, designer and manufacturer of novelty furniture. To Harding's mind, which ran toward the unusual, it occurred that Winston Churchill as well as his host, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, might each appreciate a specially designed copy of the famous Victory V symbol done in red, white and blue leather and embossed with the slogan Absolute Victory. Two such copies were immediately designed in the Harding factory, framed, and forwarded to The White House with appropriate Christmas greetings.

Within several days, letters heavy with all the prestige attached to the stationery of the Presidential home arrived in Gloversville. Mr. Roosevelt, charmingly and graciously, thanked Brooks Harding for his gift. Winston Churchill in his letter included a deeper vibration. There was something about his crisp, well-worded reply that showed special consideration and thrilled the New York designer. The intangible something touched a responsive note and there was born within the heart of the Gloversville manufacturer, a new and burning interest in world-ally symbolism - an interest that was to lead to an Honour Flag to do homage to freedom-loving peoples everywhere. The Declaration by United Nations was signed in Washington on 1 January, 1942. Twenty-six nations with twenty-six different flags were involved. If there was to be an associated effort toward world harmony, why not an associated flag to stand for that harmony and world friendship? During the ensuing nine months, numerous rough sketches were created but no plan to do anything practical accompanied them. In October 1942, Brooks Harding in New York on a business matter, decided to clear up everything by laying his world-symbol ideas in the lap of the proper committee. With a half-dozen different designs made up in cloth, Harding travelled to Washington. His thought was to approach the State Department, turn over his symbol ideas to the committee in charge and go on with his personal business affairs. At this point destiny took a different stand.

The State Department interviewing Mr. Harding indicated that the idea of the symbol for the United Nations seemed practical and desirable. However, there was one big hitch in proceeding with the plan. There was no appropriate committee to which the idea might be submitted. The only thing that could be done was to approach each of the other nations and inquire of them individually as to their attitude toward an Honour Flag. By this time the allied nations had increased to 29. Thinking it would be a quick and easy thing to do, Brooks Harding was persuaded to conduct the interviews as his contribution to the war effort. During the many unofficial conversations which followed at the various United Nations embassies and legations, many Honour Flag designs were suggested and considered. When the Czechoslovakian Embassy was reached, Dr. Vladimir Palic, First Secretary, was particularly interested. As he sat discussing the many angles of the situation with Mr. Harding, Dr. Palic folded one of the flags on the desk before him into smaller and smaller squares. Finally nothing but the canton of the flag was visible. Glancing at it, Dr. Palic froze to attention. Dramatically pointing to the rectangular division, he said, "There, Mr. Harding is your flag!" Four upright pillars, bright red on a field of white, stood out brilliantly against the dark wood of the desk. The design was simple, purposeful, and unforgettable.  The new flag creation was shown immediately to representatives of each United Nation in turn. It was received with instant favour. A design born at the hands of both a war-harassed Czech and a small-town American was given the approval of representatives of 29 nations in conflict, as a symbol of world unity.

As time passed, many checks were made to determine the acceptability of the new Honour Flag design. It was found that it resembled no nation's flag. It was not dependent on colour and was easily recognized and remembered. In printing, the symbol could be reproduced without the necessity of cuts or drawings, as printers' slugs and rulers were sufficient to create the simple, straight-lined design. It could be manufactured easily anywhere in the world, even in the home or school room. The flag could be flown half-size under any country's flag without losing character. Once the Honour Flag design was determined, certain representatives of the United Nations governments felt the flag should not be official. It ought to belong to the people and the member governments, they argued, and be used by common consent. A committee was set up to work toward that end.

On 20 June, 1943, the Honour Flag was raised prophetically to the top of a Flag Pole at historic Dumbarton Oaks under the auspices of the United Nations Club. Military attaches in full uniform were present from all the United Nations embassies and legations. During Atlantic Charter Week, 14-21 August, 1943, the Honour Flag was raised over the principle private buildings in Washington D. C., and secondary to the national emblem, continued to fly from them throughout the war.

As the new Honour Flag gained favour, it was to be seen on display in Washington embassies and legations and in various Congressional, State Department and other governmental offices. Honour Flags were soon being shipped to various United Nations. New Zealand was the first country to officially approve the display of the flag. War Bond literature, War Atlases, newspaper maps, appeared carrying the symbol. British and Free French Governments included the flag design on individual cigarette and pipe tobacco packages distributed to members of their fighting forces.

Inspired by a suggestion from the floor of the United States Senate, made on 20 September 1944, the National Education Association, the National Congress of Parents and Teachers and the U. S. Office of Education, moved to carry out a plan to honour on V-E Day, those who helped make victory in Europe possible. Suggestions for programs which emphasized the Honour Flag were made and distributed throughout the nation. When V-E Day came, thousands of schools and communities flew Honour Flags (many of them home made) and school children everywhere remembered both the living and the dead of other nations who shared in the victory.

[Honour Flag] by Jarig Bakker, 17 January 2007

When the United Nations Conference on International Organization met in San Francisco on 25 April, 1945, the background motif for all plenary sessions was four great golden pillars - the Four Pillars of Freedom. Honour Flags dotted San Francisco and the Bay Region lending their hopeful note for world harmony. At the Conference, certain representatives, in talking with Mr. Harding, expressed a wish that green pillars for the Honour Flag be made optional in order to find wider acceptance in some countries. This was agreed to at the Conference. While red became standard for the Honour Flag pillars, green or blue became optional. However, when the Four Pillars are used other than on cloth to provide a flag no colours or proportions are specified.

[Honour Flag]    [Honour Flag] by Jarig Bakker, 17 January 2007

When the matter of a United Nations Organization to police the world came into being, the problem of a United Nations Organization flag arose. As the United Nations Honour Flag essentially was a flag of the people and the member governments, it did not seem wise to impair its use by flying it as the Flag of Authority of the New Organization of Nations. At this point the idea of two flags to serve the United Nations' needs was born. The United Nations Honour Flag was to continue as it had flown since 1943, a secondary flag to member nations' flags. There it would pay honour and respect to all those who were associated with a given national flag, in the task of creating and maintaining the kind of world to which that flag was dedicated. It would serve as a spiritual- and aspirational symbol and would carry no sovereignty or authority. The Honour Flag displayed next to any Member United Nation's flag would prevent any question of subordination from arising, for the Honour Flag is exclusively a secondary flag.

A second United Nations Flag - a Flag of Authority, would meet the needs of the United Nations as an organization, would serve as a functional and jurisdictional flag and would be displayed without regard for any member nation's flag. Such a Flag of Authority would be flown over the world headquarters and other United Nations installations. It would be displayed by United Nations organs and commissions and be carried by world security forces. It would serve in all places where the world organization might have or might establish domain. The organization flag would not be flown in conjunction with the National Flag of any member nation, thereby avoiding the problem of which flag should be subordinated to the other since both could not occupy the position of honour. At the time of writing, it appears that public sentiment favoured the idea of having no resemblance between the United Nations Flag of Authority and that of the already established United Nations Honour Flag, dedicated by the people and member governments to the cause of world friendship and lasting brotherhood.

Andries vande Loo, 17 January 2007

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