Last modified: 2003-04-26 by rob raeside
Keywords: british arctic territory | hoax |
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Ensign by António Martins, badge by Clay Moss
The BAT story - as best as I can remember it.
I have had a particular interest in British blue and red ensigns ever since I started flag collecting. I believe this interest started when I was a youngster living in Hawaii. I remember seeing a giant sailing yacht anchored in Honolulu. It was flying a large British colonial Fiji red ensign. The ensign was so striking to me, that it sparked me to find out all I could about British territorial flags and ensigns. As I became more intellectually involved in Vexillology and Vexillography, I thought it would be neat to design a colonial British ensign badge. Realistically though, I had two things working against me. First, I wasn't British and had no connection to the Ministry of Defence. Second, the empire was shrinking anyway, and the prospect of designing a colonial badge was remote at best.
However, inspiration for making up a British territory and its flags came to me in early 1995 while I was looking at a rather sizable map of Ellesmere Island, Canada. The north part of the island was basically a territorial park except for a stumpy thumb shaped peninsula sticking out on the north east end of the island. When I saw this peninsula, I knew I had found my territory. I was vaguely aware of grievances Arctic natives had concerning their status as Northwest Territory citizens. Based on what little knowledge I had, I fabricated a story about native desires to rejoin the British empire because the empire had given them more freedom. I went on to say the Canadian Government was tired of the whole issue and was glad to let the "BAT" rejoin the empire. And then of course, I proceeded to create a set of British flags and ensigns. The badge came to me fairly quickly. I was torn between defacing the badge with a polar bear or a narwhal. I determined most people would not know what a narwhal was and decided on the polar bear. The light blue background behind the polar bear represents the clear polar skies while the wavy lines represent the Arctic Ocean.
Now the question was, what to do with all the stuff I had made up. It then
occurred to me. April Fools was just around the corner. Why not publish the BAT
article as an April Fools joke in Hot CofFEE, the quarterly publication of the
Confederation of Flag and Ensign Enthusiasts - Mississippi? When I took the idea
to other members, I got mixed opinions as to whether we should go to print or
not. I said I wanted to print for a couple of reasons. First, it would be fun,
and would get a laugh from anyone with a healthy robust sense of humor. Second,
the organization I worked for subscribed to an information firm. This particular
firm (whose name I will not mention) supplied us with all sorts of up to date
global information relating to our work. It did not take me long to realize that
much of the information we received was erroneous. I suspected our info firm was
doing a poor job verifying information before sending it out. In a nutshell, I
wanted to send the article and newsletter to other vexi-publications as an April
Fools joke, and our info firm to see if they would circulate the BAT story
without getting verification. Everyone agreed to go to print provided I made it
obvious the article was a joke.
This is where I made a mistake. I believed the story in and of itself was so absurd, that no one would fall for it. Thus, I gave very little indication of a hoax except for the date and an archaic British reference to April Fools. As it turned out, I was mostly right about my flag friends being tricked. As soon as my vexillological buddies received the article, inquires began to trickle in regarding the validity of the story. With each inquiry, I was completely candid and told them it was a joke. Bruce Berry, representing the SAVA journal questioned the story as well. I responded to him via fax, as there was no e-mail in those days. I assumed the fax got through since my machine said it did. I found out later my fax never made when SAVA went to print with the story. It was embarrassing for us both, but no permanent damage was done. A few humorless or overly serious flag folk responded to the hoax by articulating their displeasure, but collectively everyone enjoyed it.
As I stated earlier, for 4 days after being asked if my story were true, the British Government would neither confirm nor deny the existence of the territory. The Canadian government contacted me as well, not to tell me I was mistaken, but for verification of the story. The US government also briefly added the BAT to its "official" list of nations and territories. It took quite a bit of effort to convince them the territory didn't really exist. I never dreamed the hoax would have this kind of affect. The only explanation I have for the US government's action is the information firm I referred to earlier. Sure enough, said info firm sent out word that the BAT had in fact been created. I suspect Uncle Sam picked up on it. Our organization soon dropped its subscription.
Since the BAT hoax of 1995, the "territory" has taken on a life of its own. There is quite a BAT cult following. Folks of all sorts have become territorial citizens. There is one perquisite for citizenship. One has to be an all round nice person. I have also gotten a couple of comments on the irony of my making up the BAT story proceeded by the actual formation of Nunavut.
Several flags and ensigns have been added to the original four created in the beginning. There is now a Queen's standard, Lieutenant Governor's flag, Ambassadors flag, and a Naval Auxiliary ensign and a Civil Air ensign. The BAT will not recognize the new "large badge" flag designs the MoD has come up with. All BAT badges will be sized according the traditional 4/9 standard. On the blue ensign, the BAT badge will appear on a disk.
As a side note, the BAT passport is honored provided one is selective with where they use it. Also, my BAT drivers license is honored in quite a few countries I have driven in. In fact, it was the only driver's license I carried the last year I lived in Romania. It worked like a charm. I will put all the BAT's ensigns and flags up on the web sometime soon.
Clay Moss, 15 March 2003
You may like to know the progress of events on this [British] side of the
Atlantic, concerning the BAT. At the time, Clay Moss was producing a flag
magazine called Hot CofFEE. It was the journal of the Confederation of Flag and
Ensign Enthusiasts. In its 1 April issue, it showed the flag of the BAT and
added that there was a Union Flag with the badge in the centre and also a red
Not noticing the date (as it reached me some time after publication) I took the story more or less at face value except for one detail. I found the civil ensign a bit hard to believe, as these are not awarded automatically, as are the blue ensigns. I contacted my naval colleague, Malcolm Farrow (now Chairman of Flag Institute). He had not heard of the place, but contacted the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Their Antarctic Desk had not heard of it either. They then called the Canadian High Commission in case they knew about it, which of course they did not. At about the same time, one of Hot CofFEE's American readers, called the Canadian Embassy and again found no-one who knew of it. Nor did the Canadian Permanent Mission at the UN Headquarters. He contacted the US State Department and of course, they did not know either, but did the sensible thing and called the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
It was two days later before I noticed the date on the magazine and realised this was a spoof. I at once phoned Malcolm and told him and he passed on the information. Even so, for about 3-4 days, two foreign offices and part of the United Nations were chasing each other's tails in ever decreasing circles over this. Apparently no-one noticed the significance of the date.
Michael Faul, 12 October 2002