Last modified: 2006-01-07 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 things 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
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
A Union Flag is the rank flag of a Field Marshal in the British Army. It is
the only rank flag in the British Army, the others being post or appointment
flags, which also include the Union Flag as the flag of the Commander-in-Chief
Forces in the Field. Incidentally if you want the source for this information,
it was one of the corrections Field Marshal HRH The Duke of Edinburgh made to
the draft of my book [British Flags and Emblems]!
(See page 46).
Graham Bartram, 29 August 2005
During WWI era, it was common for general officers of the British Army to
participate in parades (on horseback) with a tiny Union Jack (carried by an
officer also on horseback) behind him. This of course was not a rank flag as
such, but a distinguishing flag for the commander-in-chief in the field.
Miles Li, 30 August 2005
What does actually constitute a 'commander-in-in chief the field' in these
circumstances? The BEF (British Expeditionary Force) in 1918 was (without
looking it up) composed of five Armies (perhaps six), each composed of two or
more Corps and each commanded by a full General, but these were not independent
commands as I understand the term. If an order for an attack was passed by the C
in C (Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig) to one of these officers, did that
particular general then become the commander-in-chief in the field for the
period of the resulting battle? As a matter of interest, I know of two instances
(and there were almost certainly more) when the C in C had an escort of lancers
whilst conducting a ceremonial inspection, and a fine sight it must have been.
Christopher Southworth, 30 August 2005
Haig was the C-in-C in the field. He commanded the British Expeditionary
Force, and the various army commanders were his subordinates. Similarly,
Montgomery was C-in-C in the field in 1944-45, with two armies under him. I'm
not sure about the status of Alexander, as Supreme Allied Commander in the
Mediterranean at the same time. I assume he would also be entitled to the UJ.
Mountbatten as Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia, had a UJ with a
formation sign and inscription in the centre (but then he was always showy!). I
guess you could describe the post as the one directly responsible to the chiefs
of staff / government for the conduct of the campaign.
Ian Sumner, 30 August 2005
by Graham Bartram from http://www.flags.net
Graham notes on his website: "Army Ensign (worn by vessels commanded by commissioned officer) [1:2] The ensign with the Army Badge is not currently in use, following the decommissioning of HMAVs Arakan and Ardennes."
by Graham Bartram from http://www.flags.net
Graham notes on his website: "Army Ensign (worn by all other Army vessels) [1:2] The blades of the crossed swords are sometimes shown in yellow."
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 Bejaïa -- 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
Bill Hitchins, 25 September 2000
Looking at pictures, I see a Union Flag at the center on each side. On one
side it's flanked by an Air Force Ensign and a Red Ensign; on the other it's
flanked by a White Ensign and a Blue Ensign. Wikipedia states "It is flanked on
each side by the flags of the United Kingdom, the Royal Navy, the British Army,
the Royal Air Force and the Merchant Navy."
Nathan Lamm, 8 September 2005
The Blue Ensign is for the Royal Naval Reserve. The Union Jack is for the
Army (when the Cenotaph was first built the Army as a whole did not have a
Miles Li, 8 September 2005
The UK Ministry of Defence's page about the Cenotaph's flags (
"Six flags fly from flagstaffs on the sides of the Cenotaph. The flagstaffs are 15' in height and the flags 12' x 6'. They are placed in the following order:
Home Office Side (West)
North End RAF Ensign
Centre Union Flag
South End Red Ensign
Richmond Terrace Side (East)
North End Blue Ensign
Centre Union Flag
South End White Ensign"
Jan Mertens, 8 September 2005
The original cenotaph was a temporary wood and plaster structure erected in
connection with a saluting base for the Victory Day parade of 19 June 1919. The
flags were chosen as being a suitable selection, without any thought as to what
individual flags represented; two Union Jacks, two White Ensigns, a Blue Ensign
and a Red Ensign. When, in 1920, a permanent version of the Cenotaph became a
public memorial to those killed in the war, the same flags were used, but there
was no account of what the flags represented, and no instructions about their
relative positions on the Cenotaph.
In 1929 it was pointed out that the flags on the Cenotaph in Hong Kong, which was a copy of the Cenotaph in London, had Union Jacks in the centre of each side, flanked by Ensigns, while on the Cenotaph in London, White Ensigns were in the centre, flanked by a Union Jack, and a Red or Blue Ensign. The Office of Works found that the arrangement on the model of the Cenotaph in the Imperial War Museum, which was the model submitted to, and approved, by the War Cabinet in 1919, was similar to that in Hong Kong. Major Charles Foulkes, Curator at the Imperial War Museum was asked how the flags should be arranged. He replied that, "the original arrangement does not seem to convey any particular idea of precedence. The flags, from their position sloping outwards, suggest that they are borne by standard bearers with their backs to the Cenotaph. In the centre should be the Union Jack, the Flag of the Empire. The place of honour to the right would
be the White Ensign and to the left the Red Ensign or Blue Ensign." On 3 August 1929 the flags were changed back to their original arrangement with Union Jacks flanked by Ensigns.
After the introduction of the Royal Air Force Ensign in 1921, sporadic attempts were made to have it added to the Cenotaph. Considerable resistance came from some quarters on the grounds that the Ensign had never been used in the 1914-1918 War, that the RAF had been formed only a few months before the end of the war, and had its own memorial on The Embankment. After the Battle of Britain in 1940 pressure for RAF representation on the Cenotaph increased, and it was agreed by the Admiralty and War Office that an RAF Ensign should be added to the Cenotaph. At the same time the question of whether the new Army Flag, approved by King in 1938 should also be added or substituted. Sir Edwin Lutyens, the architect of the Cenotaph suggested that RAF Ensign should replace one White Ensign, and pointed out that if the Army Flag replaced one Union Jack, no flag would be duplicated. There were artistic objections to increasing the number of flags. The Prime Minister was not in favour of any changes. He reluctantly agreed to the RAF Ensign replacing one White Ensign, but not to the Army Flag replacing one Union Jack. At the Admiralty's request the substitution was made unobtrusively, without ceremony, just before dawn on 1 April 1943, the 25th Anniversary of the formation of the Royal Air Force.
National Archives (PRO) ADM 1/12550, AIR 2/512, AIR 2/6698, HO 45/20446, PREM 4/3/12,
WORK 20/139, WORK 20/226, WORK 20/305.
David Prothero, 9 September 2005