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France: Regimental colours

Last modified: 2002-11-02 by ivan sache
Keywords: army flag | regimental colour |
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Army regimental flags and standards


Regimental colours are called drapeaux (flags) for units "on foot": Infantry (including Marine Infantry, Legion Infantry, Paratroops Infantry), Engineers, Transmissions and Military Colleges.
They are called étendards (standards) for mounted units: Armoured corps and Cavalry (including Dragoon Paratroopers and Legion Cavalry), Artillery (including Marine Artillery, Legion Artillery, etc.), Transportation, Army Aviation, Supplies.

An Army flag is a 90cm x 90cm Tricolore (about 1 x 1yd), while an Army standard is 64cm x 64cm (about 2 x 2ft). Both are square Tricolores set on a 2m stave ended by a pike-shaped finial with a cartouche (one side "RF", the other side: name of unit). A golden fringed tricolour cravate is tied to the pike.

Obverse of a colour

The obverse of a colour carries in gold:



and the unit number or monogram encircled in antique oak and laurel crown, in gold too, in each corner.

Reverse of a colour

The reverse of a colour carries in gold




(honour and fatherland), and unit number or monogram in each corner as on obverse.

Below "honneur et patrie" are:

  • the unit's motto (for example, Polytechnique School : Pour la Patrie, les Sciences, la Gloire [For Fatherland, Sciences and Glory], Saint-Cyr Military College: Ils s'intruisent pour vaincre [They Learn for Victory], the Foreign Legion units: Honneur et Fidélité [Honour and Faithfulness], Paris Fire Brigade; Dévouement et Discipline [Devotion and Disciplin]
  • battle honours (for example, the standard of the 32nd Artillery Regiment has L'Yser 1914 - Verdun 1916 - La Malmaison 1917 - L'Avre 1918 - La Marne 1918.

Pierre Gay, 8 November 1998

Navy regimental flags

National Navy has 11 similar flags for specialized units, such as Marseilles Fire Brigade or Naval Commando Rifles.

Pierre Gay, 8 November 1998

Flag protocole

"When the flag [or standard] must be displayed, a company from the regiment is ordered to fetch the flag. This company, preceeded by the sappers, the drum-major, the drums and bugles of its batallion, marches in 4 columns, without music. When arrived at regimental commander's quarters, the detachment stops and stands as a line, facing front door. Company captain then calls for bayonets (order is baionnette au canon!).
The flag bearer, with the lieutenant and two non-commissioned officers, forms a temporary guard which takes the flag and returns to face the company.

A soon as the flag arrives, the captain, placed before the centre of the company, facing the flag, calls for present arms (présentez arme!), orders "to the flag" honours (au drapeau!), and salutes with sword.
Drums and bugles play three times.
Music plays the refrain of the National Anthem. (Aux armes, citoyens...)

The captain keeps his sword lowered until the music his finished.
Captain calls for arm on shoulder (portez arme!); the flag and its guard place themselves between 2nd and 3rd section; the lieutenant goes back to his place.

The detachment then leaves with the flag, at the sound of music, and proceeds to the assembly ground. It stops when facing the centre of the regiment at about 50 paces. Music stops.

The colonel calls baionnette au canon! for the regiment. He then calls présentez arme!. All watch the flag. Then he approches the flag about 10 paces, orders au drapeau!, and salutes with sword.
Drums and bugles play three times.
Music plays the refrain of the National Anthem. (Aux armes, citoyens...)

The colonel keeps his sword lowered until the music his finished.
After this, he calls for ordering arms (reposez arme!) and disposing bayonet (remettez baionnette!).

The flag bearer takes his place, the two non-commissioned officers return to their company, and the detachment takes its place, skirting behind the regiment.
The flag is returned to the colonel's quarters in the order depicted above, and receives same honours. The detachment then returns without music."

Source: Manuel d'infanterie à l'usage des sous-officiers et caporaux, 366th edition (1915).

Today's protocol hasn't changed much

Pierre Gay, 8 November 1998

Honours on flags and standards

The French Army as a whole does not consider itself as legally continuous to the Royal Army. Such royal land or naval victories like Patay, Fontenoy, Chesapeake or La Praya are not authorized battle honors on flags. But these names, still considered glorious by the modern French Army, are honourd by being given to ships or armoured vehicles, and remembered by anniversaries. Some very old regiments like 6th Queen's Dragoons (which is currently an armourd regiment) still carry on traditions of prerevolutionnary armies, but these are specific cases, not official Army policy as a whole. Such a policy was decided in 1880 (during the 3rd Republic).

The current "Fifth Republic" refers only to specific institutionnal changes : the flag, the anthem, the national symbols do not change. It is considered mythologically as one continuous Republic, from the Revolution to this day. Even the First and Second Empires and the Louis-Philippe monarchy are considered as part of this continuity (The constitution of the First Empire starts as "The Goverment of the Republic is entrusted to the Emperor of the French") : Battle honors on flags therefore include campaigns and victories such as Valmy, Austerlitz, Algeria, Magenta, Crimea, Madagascar, etc. and all these fought and won after the Revolution. If a regiment only has First World War honours, it is because it never fought colonial wars between its creation and First World War.

Pierre Gay, 8 November 1998

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