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Board of Ordnance: War Department Fleet (Britain)

Last modified: 2004-11-13 by rob raeside
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War Department Fleet

A banner of the shield of the Ordnance Board Seal

[A banner of the shield of the Ordnance Board Seal] by Martin Grieve

A banner of the shield of the Ordnance Board Seal; possibly the flag of the Master General. On 30th July 1806 the shield was registered with the College of Arms.
"Azure, three Field-Pieces in Pale Or, on a Chief Argent three Cannon Balls Sable." To it were added: "Crest - Out of a Mural Crown a Dexter Hand holding a Thunderbolt all proper"; together with the motto : "Sua Tela Tonanti." and supporters, "On either side a Cyclops, in the exterior hand of the Dexter a Hammer, in that of the Sinister a Pair of Forceps resting on the shoulder of each respectively all proper."
David Prothero, 18 September 2004

Ordnance ensign 1801-1855; War Department ensign 1855-1864

[Ordnance ensign 1801-1855; War Department ensign 1855-1864] by Martin Grieve

The shield, its colours now defined, continued as the badge on the Red Ensign. The registration of the arms was later found to be deficient and a new Earl Marshall's
Warrant was issued on 16th May 1823. The change concerned only the crest; "Out of a mural crown, argent, a dexter cubit arm the hand grasping a thunderbolt, winged and in flames, proper". The incorrect crest was to become the badge on the ensign of the Submarine Mining Service, and the revised crest the badge on the ensign of the Royal Engineers.
David Prothero, 18 September 2004

War Department ensign 1864-1890

[War Department ensign 1864-1890] by Martin Grieve

Due to its poor performance during the Crimea War the Board of Ordnance was dissolved in 1855, its ships becoming the War Department Fleet based at Woolwich, Portsmouth, Chatham and Devonport. The ensign remained unchanged until 1864, when British maritime flags were re-organised, and ensigns of Public Offices changed from Red to Blue. The Ordnance shield gained a red border to separate the blue ground of the shield from the blue field of the ensign.
David Prothero, 18 September 2004

War Department jack 1868-1890

[War Department jack 1868-1890] by Martin Grieve

A white-bordered Union Jack was designated the jack for Public Service vessels, but changed in 1868 (see note) to a square version of the ensign. J. Steeple wrote in a Mariner's Mirror article that the white-bordered Union Jack of Ordnance had the Ordnance shield in the centre, but this seems to me, to be unlikely.
David Prothero, 18 September 2004

Note : 1868 might be wrong. I had assumed that it was that year because reference to a blue jack does not appear in Queen's Regulations and Admiralty Instructions until they were amended on 1st June 1868. However the Order in Council of 9th July 1864 was promulgated by an Admiralty Circular of 5th August 1864. Another Circular on Colours was issued on 23rd February 1865. I will check the two circulars at the next opportunity to see when the blue jack is first mentioned.
David Prothero, 19 September 2004

The correct date, as far as I can see, is 5th August 1864, the date of the Admiralty Circular Number 35 (Distinguishing Flags and Pennants) that announced the changes introduced by the Order in Council of 9th July 1864.

The Order in Council does not refer to jacks, but the Admiralty Circular, which amends Queen's Regulations and Admiralty Instructions, does. "Reference Chapter 2, Section XII. Colours Not Navy. Article 2. Ships and vessels in the service of any public office shall carry the Blue Ensign and a small blue flag with the union described therein, as prescribed by the said article (2), blue being substituted for red where colour is therein specified."

1st June 1868 was the date of the addenda to QR&AI that included the changes made to distinguishing flags and pennants.
David Prothero, 28 September 2004


Ordnance and Royal Artillery

Ordnance badge as used on Blue Ensign

[Ordnance badge as used on Blue Ensign] 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. The Ordnance badge which appeared in the Admiralty Flag Book of 1889 described as ' War Office ', was amended on 14th September 1891 to read ' War Office : Ordnance and Royal Artillery '.

The Ordnance Ensign was retained for ' boats manned by crews of Royal Artillery or Army Ordnance Corps ', though it probably saw little further use. A 1944 War Office minute observed that, ' the RA and RAOC ensign is rarely, if ever, flown on duty. ' In view of this it seems unlikely that there were any Blue Ensigns with the badge as amended in 1945, when the direction of the cannon was reversed, and when the background colour may have been changed from dark blue to light blue. Last known use of this ensign was on land at the Proof and Experimental Establishment, Eskmeals, in Cumbria.
David Prothero, 19 September 2004

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