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United Kingdom: Ministry of Defence and army

Last modified: 2003-01-25 by rob raeside
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Joint services flag

[Joint services flag] 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 thibgs 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

Army flag and ensigns

1938 badge and flag

[Army flag] by Graham Bartram

In 1926 the Army had considered having a badge or crest that would be their equivalent of the Navy Anchor or Air Force Eagle, but had been unable to agree on a suitable design. The flag that was approved by George VI on 16th April 1938 was for use at the Glasgow Exhibition of that year.
David Prothero, 31 August 2000

The army badge was granted by George VI in 1938, and its flag form was adopted then too ((H. Gresham Carr, Flags of the World, 1961, p. 134 and William Crampton, Observer's Book of Flags, 1991, p. 36). To be honest, I'm not entirely sure when it is used. It is on the Cenotaph, and it is used at ceremonial occasions to represent the army. However, I think an army establishment would fly the Union Flag usually (the Territorial Office I pass on my way into work doesn't have a flagpole even, so I'm really not sure) and army vehicles carry a small Union Jack on their bumper to identify their nationality. The army badge is much in use on army recruitment offices and advertisements though.
Roy Stilling, 19 December 1996

I have the impression that the Army have never taken to the Army Flag and still consider the Union Jack to be the most suitable flag where Regimental or Corps flags/colours are not appropriate. On the Cenotaph (the national war memorial in Whitehall), the Army is represented by a Union Jack not the Army Flag. In 1943, on the 25th Anniversary of the formation of the Royal Air Force, one of the two White Ensigns on the Cenotaph was replaced by an RAF Ensign, but the Army Council declined the opportunity to have one of the two Union Jacks replaced by the Army Flag.
David Prothero, 31 August 2000

Some of the designs for an Army badge or crest considered by the Army in 1926 are in the Public Record Office document WO 32/3218 - mainly variations on the crossed sword theme with a crown or the royal crest (crowned lion standing on a crown). One design had the swords crossed at a very obtuse angle so that there was space to fit a lion passant guardant between the blades. Garter King of Arms suggested, "two swords, one in its scabbard, in saltire, ensigned with an Imperial crown", the sheathed sword symbolising the army's role in peace time. Another had a bushy green wreath bound in blue ribbon around crossed swords, topped off with a crown.

Consideration was given to 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". At that time this was in use as a defacement on the Union Jack of the Army Council. The crest of the same arms; "out of a mural crown, argent, a dexter cubit arm the hand grasping a thunderbolt, winged and in flames, proper", was also considered. This was said to be used by the Royal Military Academy. It had been used as the badge on the Blue Ensign of the Submarine Mining Service and is I understand still used on a Blue Ensign by Royal Engineers Diving Unit.
David Prothero, 1 September 2000

1999 badge and flag

[1999 Army badge] 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 without 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

Naval shore establishments and RAF flags

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

Above the main entrance of the Ministry of Defense building in Whitehall are three flagpoles with the Royal Navy's white ensign, the British Army flag, and the RAF ensign flying in that order (from the observer's left to right).

Joseph McMillan, 23 September

[Army ensign] by Tom Gregg

[Royal Logistical Corps ensign] by Tom Gregg

Minor watercraft operated by the British army fly a Blue Ensign with crossed swords in the fly. Commissioned ships of the Army (i.e. those commanded by commissioned officers) fly a Blue Ensign with the army badge in the fly. The ensign with swords only was once flown by all army-operated vessels; nowadays it is called the Royal Logistical Corps ensign and is restricted to vessels commanded by non-commissioned officers, though it may also be flown over appropriate shore installations. The present army ensign was introduced some time after World War II. My drawings are based on information provided by Bruce Berry and by photographs in Proceedings of the U.S. Naval Institute.

Tom Gregg, 9 February 1997

Sizes of army flags

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

Commander-in-chief of land forces

[Commander-in-chief of land forces] by Tom Gregg

This defaced Union Jack is unusual in that the disk within the garland is dark blue, not white. The badge is the traditional Royal Cypher, not the simple crowned 'E' used for the queen's various personal flags. This flag is hoisted aboard ship when the general officer commanding land forces is present. It is not a rank flag per se, however, since it gives no indication of the commander's specific rank (major-general, lieutenant-general, etc.). 'Command flag' is probably a more accurate term.

Tom Gregg, 20 May 1997

Board of Ordnance - Army Council

Can anyone define the term "Shield of Pretence", which is used in the description of the Army Council Flag? "Union Flag with Arms of Board of Ordnance on a shield of pretence in the centre."
David Prothero, 13 March 2000

Its a sort of bastardisation of "escutcheon of pretence" which is the heraldic term for a shield placed centrally on top of a coat of arms. I think the 'pretence' comes from the fact that the shield normally indicated some country or region that the person whose arms they were was claiming. This usage has broadened over the years.
Graham Bartram, 13 March 2000

In C. Pama 'Heraldiek en Genealogie', 1969, I found the term 'Pretentiewapens' - Arms of Prentence - , arms, of regions to which a prince thought to be entitled to, and which he included in his own arms.
Jarig Bakker, 13 March 2000

The Board of Ordnance were responsible for supplying the Navy and the Army with guns, ammunition, and military hardware in general. In 1791 they also began a cartographic survey of the British Isles so that the army would have accurate maps in case of a French invasion. The definitive sets of British maps are still known as Ordnance Survey maps.
David Prothero, 16 November 2001

Budge flag

[Budge flag]

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 Bejaļa -- 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 Budgee Flag.
Bill Hitchins, 25 September 2000