Last modified: 2007-07-28 by rob raeside
Keywords: united kingdom | ministry of defence | army | lion | swords | ordnance | budge flag |
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image by Martin Grieve, 4 June 2006
This image is based on that depicted in
Flaggenbuch (1939) for the British army
flag which was adopted in 1938 and first hoisted in Glasgow's Bellahouston park.
This image is inaccurate, as the Lion straddles the crossed swords instead of
the Tudor crown - something I had not noticed until I was way too far down the
line with the drawing, but decided to complete anyway. This is most surely
incorrect, as the Lion should stand upon the arches of pearls and not the
The flag was changed in 1953 when the Tudor-style Lion and crown were replaced with the present-day Edwardian version of the Royal crest. Flaggenbuch shows the flag in the aspect ratio of 2:3, but I think this may just have been 1:2, and so have left this in the ratio depicted.
Martin Grieve, 4 June 2006
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
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
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 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
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