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Board of Ordnance: Army Service Corps (Britain)

Last modified: 2023-07-03 by rob raeside
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Army Service Corps (Royal Army Service Corps after 1918)

Army Service Corps Ensign; Flag Book badge 1890

[Army Service Corps Ensign; Flag Book badge 1890] by Martin Grieve

In 1888 the Army Service Corps, formed in 1869, was made responsible for supply and transport, and took over the War Department Fleet. Its main base was Woolwich, on the Thames east of London, but vessels, manned mainly by uniformed civilians, were maintained at Chatham, Portsmouth, Devonport, Singapore, Hong Kong, Bermuda, Barbados, Jamaica, Nova Scotia, Ceylon, Mauritius, Gibraltar, Malta, and Sierra Leone.

A Military Service Blue Ensign with crossed swords in the fly was authorised, and added to the Admiralty Flag Book on 3rd October 1890 with the note, "For vessels and boats employed by departments of the Secretary of State for War on military service (including staff officers) other than those for which special flags are authorised."

The badge shown in the Admiralty Flag Book is very small and would have been almost invisible on an ensign.
David Prothero, 21 September 2004

Army Service Corps Ensign; probable badge

[Army Service Corps Ensign; Flag Book badge 1890] by Martin Grieve

I think that in practice the badge would have been enlarged to something like this, which is still no larger that the regulation circle.
David Prothero, 21 September 2004

Army Service Corps Ensign; badge by 1941

[Army Service Corps Ensign; Flag Book badge 1890] by Martin Grieve

By the 1940s the swords had been made much larger. This image is based on the photograph of a flag on a launch of No.2 Motor Boat Company, RASC, in 1941. The badge was placed at the beginning of the British Empire section of the Admiralty Flag Book, on the same page as Diplomats, Colonial Governors, and General Officers Commanding, and not at the end of the section, on the page with the Ordnance/Artillery and Engineers badges. Perhaps the inclusion of 'staff officers' in the original title led to this curious arrangement, which continued for two more editions until 1930, when all the military maritime flags finally came together on the same page.

The main water-borne task of the Army Service Corps was routine transport, and the operation of firing ranges. Towed targets were provided for coastal artillery practice, together with safety-launches for all firing ranges. Over the years the scope of its operations expanded, so that whereas in the 1890s, it was transporting guns from the arsenal at Woolwich, down river to the test ranges on the north side of the Thames Estuary, in the 1960s it was maintaining guided missile ranges in the Outer Hebrides.

In Gibraltar, Malta, and possibly some other colonies where the governor was also commander-in-chief, the governor's launch was manned by the army, and flew the crossed swords Blue Ensign, rather than the Blue Ensign of the colony.
David Prothero, 21 September 2004

Minor watercraft operated by the British army fly a Blue Ensign with crossed swords in the fly. Commissioned ships of the Army (i.e. those commanded by commissioned officers) fly a Blue Ensign with the army badge in the fly. The ensign with swords only was once flown by all army-operated vessels; nowadays it is called the Royal Logistical Corps ensign and is restricted to vessels commanded by non-commissioned officers, though it may also be flown over appropriate shore installations. The present army ensign was introduced some time after World War II. My drawings are based on information provided by Bruce Berry and by photographs in Proceedings of the U.S. Naval Institute.
Tom Gregg,
9 February 1997

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