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Royal Flying Corps

Last modified: 2005-03-12 by rob raeside
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[Royal Flying Corps Pennand] located by Ian Sumner

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Description of the flag

At is a command pennant that the site claims dates from 1915. It is similar to that of a modern Group Captain, but longer, with the dark blue lines parallel to the red, rather than following the edges to a point. It is embroidered with the letters RFC and a set of pilot's wings, in white.

Further down the page, there is a reference to the book by Hering on Customs of the RAF, concerning the adoption of the three colours of dark blue, light blue and red. When the RAF enquired of the War Office if they had any information about the choice of colours, the reply was in the negative, but an order of July 1917 was quoted, which stated that a flag in the three colours, with the letters RFC in black on the red stripe, was adopted for the headquarters of the RFC in the Field. The design of the flag was based on the brassards (armbands) worn by RFC staff officers. But if the date of the pennant shown is correct, then the date for the introduction of the colours must be at least two years earlier.

On the page showing RAF rank flags on, Roy Stilling suggests that the choice of light blue reflected the colour of the RAF's full dress uniform. In fact, this uniform was introduced only in the early summer of 1918, and abolished in July of the same year. Given the existence of the Order of 1917, and this pennant in the photo, the uniform cannot be the source of the colour.

If I were to guess, I would say that the dark blue and red almost certainly did come from the colours of the RFC's pre-war uniform, which was dark blue with red facings. The current grey-blue uniform dates from September 1919.

An RFC order, current in March 1918, gave the rank flags as -

RFC HQ: two red stripes
Brigade HQ: one red stripe, swallow tailed
Wing HQ: one red stripe, triangular pennant
Squadrons, Army Aircraft Parks, or Aircraft Depots: one red stripe,
pilot's wings above, squadron number below

This was changed on 1 April 1918 for the RAF to Major General, Brigadier and Wing Commander respectively. There was no provision for squadron commander's flags until May 1918. In other words, the flags had changed from indicating a headquarters to indicating rank. Air Ministry Order 782 of 1918 changed Wing Commander to Colonel. Lieutenant-colonels were given a pennant with two narrow red stripes; the old squadron commander's flag was now a Major's. Army ranks were replaced by Air Force ones on 15th September 1919.

The flags for Air Marshal, Air Chief Marshal and Marshal of the RAF were not introduced until 1927 (Air Ministry Weekly Order 8).

I've no info on when the device on the squadron commander's flag changed from the pilot's wings to the eagle. The drawings that accompany Orders on the subject change shape gradually, as if the artist did not know what he was looking at.

Ian Sumner, 15 February 2005