Thursday, 5 April 2018

Facts about our flag you may not have known...

Many of us have served under the Australian National Flag (ANF), or proudly waved it overseas supporting other Australians… but did you know that the Australian Army’s flag is the ANF and that the Army is the ‘Guardian of the Flag’… and that is why we don’t have a different design like the Royal Australian Navy or Royal Australian Air Force? Or that the first Australian national flag to be flown at war was recently found and restored in Newcastle? Read on for more...

(Image above courtesy DoD)

The flag raised at Sydney Cove on 26 January, 1788, was not the first time it was raised by the First Fleet. On 24 January, at Botany Bay, two French warships tried to enter the bay. Governor Phillip ordered that the British Flag be hoisted urgently to show the French that the land had been claimed by Britain. (Phew! That was close!)

The flag used in 1788 was the flag of the union of England and Scotland denoting the cross of St George and the cross of St Andrew superimposed.  When Ireland joined the union, the cross of St Patrick was added to form the current Union Flag of Great Britain, also referred to as the Union Jack. (A jack is a flag flown from a jackstaff on the bow of a ship, however both the Union Flag and Union Jack are officially recognized names for this flag).
When Australia federated, a competition by a tobacco company looked for a new ‘Australian’ symbol. The rules made it apparent that the Union Flag should appear in the upper left (upper hoist) quadrant. Of all the entries, five were so similar that the design was chosen and the prize money shared between them. The blue ensign was for government use and the red ensign for civil use. The use of the red ensign was commonplace through both World Wars.  Picture from:

General Birdwood, commander of the Australian forces in WWI, was presented with an Australian flag to be flown over his HQ in France to replace the British flag under which we had been fighting. This flag was created by some citizens in Newcastle and is thought to be the first time the flag was used in war. It was returned to Australia and has recently been re-discovered and restored. For a full account, go here:

This image of the capture of the German pillbox known as Anzac House, near Polygon Wood (east of Ypres, Belgium) is more of an artist’s impression rather than an accurate portrayal of the events by 18th Battalion and the raising of the flag by LT Hull. According to the CSM of B Company the signal to HQ was: ‘Objective Reached. Australian flag flying on Anzac House.’  Papers later ran the image and it captured the imagination of the nation. It is unlikely that many ‘blue ensigns’ were used during the war.

The Royal Australia Navy’s White Ensign was approved in 1967, allegedly because of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War. The RAN still flew the British Naval Ensign and because Britain was not fighting in Vietnam, it was thought that a unique Australian ensign should be created for the RAN to differentiate the two navies, thus the RAN’s striking flag was born. Bravo Zulu!  
(Image above courtesy DoD)

Similarly, the light blue RAAF ensign carried the British roundel. In 1948, the Southern Cross was added but still showed the British roundel. When Australia started using the red kangaroo roundel on our aircraft fuselages in 1956, the flag did not change and still had the British roundel. Due to increased operations in South East Asia during the ‘60s, the kangaroo roundel was directed to be applied to the wings as well, but still the design of the flag remained unchanged. Royal approval was not given until 1981 to change the roundel on the flag to the kangaroo roundel. (To accommodate the roundel, the Southern Cross is tilted slightly.) 
(Image above courtesy DoD)

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