This page is part of © FOTW Flags Of The World website

United Kingdom: Army

Last modified: 2023-02-25 by rob raeside
Keywords: united kingdom | ministry of defence | army | lion | swords | ordnance | budge flag |
Links: FOTW homepage | search | disclaimer and copyright | write us | mirrors

[Army flag] image by Graham Bartram
Army Badge and Non-Ceremonial Flag in use since 1954

On this page:

See also:

Army Badge and Non-Ceremonial Flag
Introduced in BR20 (1999), but rarely seen in use

[1999 Army badge] image 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.
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

Army Badge and Non-Ceremonial Flag 1938-1953

[Army Flag 1938-1953] 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 swords.
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 General Staff.
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.
Sources: 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

Army "Naval" Blue Ensigns
Flags worn by ships in the Army's service.

[Army ensign] image by Graham Bartram

Graham notes on his website: "Army Ensign worn by vessels commanded by commissioned officer, that the ensign with the Army Badge is not currently in use, following the decommissioning of HMAVs Arakan and Ardennes."
Roy Stilling, 19 December 1996

[Army ensign] image by Graham Bartram

Graham also notes on his website: "Army Ensign worn by all other Army vessels) that the blades of the crossed swords are sometimes shown in yellow."
Roy Stilling, 19 December 1996

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.
Also see Army Service Corps which became the Royal Army Service Corps after 1918.
Roy Stilling, 19 December 1996

General Officer Afloat

[General Officer Afloat] image by Martin Grieve (Source)

In 1869 defaced Union Jacks were introduced for Army Military Authorities when embarked in boats and other vessels.
David Prothero, 22 September 2004

Army Air Corps (AAC)

[Army ensign] image by Pete Loeser, 2 February 2022
based on this photo provided by Angus Murray, 1 September 2010

This flag was seen at "Salute for Heroes" event at Glemham Hall in 2010.
Angus Murray, 1 September 2010

This is one of the flag used by the Army Air Corps.
T.F. Mills, 1 September 2010

[Army ensign] image located by Pete Loeser, 2 February 2022

The Army Air Corps (AAC) was formed in 1942 during the Second World War as a part of the British Army. It is not part of the Royal Air Force (RAF) or part of the Royal Navy air arm. Today there exist seven Regular Army and one Reserve regiments of the AAC, including four Independent "Flights" and two Independent Squadrons which support the British Army operations around the world. They include squadrons that provide the air assault elements of 16 Air Assault Brigade through Joint Helicopter Command.
This is the flag currently used for the Army Air Corps as their "camp" or HQ flag.
Pete Loeser, 2 February 2022

Regulation Sizes of Army Flags

From T. J. Edwards, 1953, pp. 35-37, here's the history of flags, guidons and colour sizes used by the army 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

Field Marshal Flag

[British Union Flag] image by Clay Moss, 16 December 2006
British Army Union Flag, Field Marshal and Commander-in-Chief of Forces in the Field

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 World War I 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

[] image by Miles Li, 19 February 2018
General Officer, Commander-in-Chief or Commanding a Command

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

Army flag at the Cenotaph

[Cenotaph War Memorial, London, UK] image located by Pete Loeser, 2 February 2020

The Cenotaph in London is the official war memorial of the United Kingdom. It is located in middle of Whitehall Street between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and that of the Department of Health. It was built in 1918 for the fallen of the British Empire, but commemorates all who died in the service of the United Kingdom.
Pete Loeser, 2 February 2022

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 specific flag).
Miles Li, 8 September 2005

The UK Ministry of Defence's page about the Cenotaph's flags shows the "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.
Sources: 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

At the Queen's birthday parades in post-WW2 colonial Singapore, the flags of the armed forces and local police service were flown together at the parade grounds (the place is known as "the Padang") with the following order of precedence: the Royal Navy's White ensign, the Union Flag representing the Army, the Royal Air Force ensign, and the colonial Singapore Police Force service flag.
National Archives of Singapore - PICAS
Negatives Numbers:
- A0668/24/13 (1953 Queen's Birthday Parade rehearsal)
- A1653/02 (1956 Queen's Birthday Parade)
- T2001,31650 (1958, Queen's Birthday Parade rehearsal)
[To view the above images, go to the archive's advanced search page and enter the above numbers in the "Negative Number" search field.]
Herman Felani, 2 August 2009

This is the order of precedence still in use today - the Royal Navy is the "senior service" and the RAF the "junior" one, whilst the police force is a civil organization.
Christopher Southworth, 2 August 2009