Queens Colours

Queens Colours

The different ceremonial flags (generically termed 'Colours') of the Australian Defence Force, are a Services' most cherished possession.  They arc the embodiment of Service traditions, achievements and history.  Colours are a tangible recognition of the Services' devotion'-to duty, the Sovereign and to Australia.  Most military forces around the world have Colours and attach to them the reverence and ceremony similar to other Commonwealth Forces.

To trace the origin of the custom of carrying Colours, one must go back to the days of early man who fixed his family badge to a pole and held it aloft in battle for the dual purpose of indicating his position in action, as a rallying point should the occasion arise.  Medieval chivalry followed the same idea when they placed their armorial bearings on their banners, so that their symbols would float on high, well above the melee

Once cloth had been invented, totem designs were transferred to the cloth and became flags.  The earliest such flags are recorded in the Bible as belonging to the Children of Israel.  In Genesis chapter 49, the devices are described, while in Numbers chapter 2, the instruction is given that everyone is to pitch their tent near their own standard'.

The first military organisation to adopt a unit device or standard, as distinct from a family or tribal totem, appears to have been the Roman Army.  Their units carried a bronze or silver eagle on a staff and great veneration was given to these devices.  Great shame (as well as physical punishment) was associated with the legion or unit that lost its 'eagle' in combat.

With the disintegration of the Roman Empire, standing armies ceased to be organised by the State.  The armies of the Middle Ages were composed of armed bands brought to the field by nobles, and, military badges reverted back to family devices.

When armies were beginning to adopt a system of regimentation at the start of
the seventeenth century, each company was allotted a Colour; a custom that persisted for a hundred years.  Although Colours of a type were carried at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, it was not until 1661, during the reign of Charles II, when the British Army, as we know it today, first began to take shape that the number of Colours to be carried by a unit was reduced to three, to correspond with the technical arrangements of a battalion for battle.

The Colours were carried into battle in the centre front rank where they could easily be seen and recognised and to act as a guide and rallying point.  Originally, when Colours were carried in companies, they were borne by the youngest officer of the company, who was known as the 'Ensign'.  As the importance of a victory was generally gauged by the number of guns and stands of Colours that were captured, the Colour party became the obvious target and the scene of the most bitter hand-to-hand fighting.  With a view to giving the ensigns some local protection, the rank of 'Colour Sergeant' was introduced in 1813.  The Royal Warrant in respect of this stated "it is His Royal Highness' pleasure that the duty of attending the Colours on the field shall be performed by the sergeants".

This escort to the Colour was formed by five Colour Sergeants, armed with half pikes, and was chosen from the senior and bravest sergeants as they had, to stand in the most exposed places in the field of battle.  'Re practice of carrying Colours in battle gradually came to an end after 1879, when two subalterns of the South Wales Borderers received posthumous VCs for their endeavours to save the Colours at the Battle of Isandhlwana.  The last time a Colour was taken into battle was in January 1881 when Lieutenant Ballie of the 58th Regiment of Foot (The Northampshire Regiment) lost his life while attending the Colour at Laings Nek.  The Colour Party was in the past expected to fight to the death to defend the Colours.  For the same symbolic reason, today, the Colours (carried by a junior officer with an escort of two sergeants and a warrant officer) are paraded in the centre of a Squadron when on the march.

In 1747 the regimental colonel was no longer allowed to put his device on the Regimental Colour.  Up to this time, Colours were personal standards and changed each time the colonel of the regiment was changed.  At about the same time, the number of Colours was restricted to two for each regiment, being a King's or First Colour and a Regimental Colour or second Colour.  In 175 1, a Royal Warrant laid down that the King's Colour was to be the 'Great Union'.  This was the flag of the United Kingdom at that time, since it was not until 1801 that the red saltire of St Patrick of Ireland was added to the red cross of St George of England and the white saltire of St Andrew of Scotland.  'Me Regimental Colour was to be the colour of the facings (the colour of the jacket lining) of the regiment, with a small 'Union' in the canton (first quarter).  The Royal Warrant of 1751 did not apply to regiments of foot guards, whose Kings Colours have always been crimson, while the Regimental Colours are the 'Union Jack'.

An important event in the evolution of Colours was the decision to add battle honours to Regimental Colours.  The first of these distinctions was 'EMSDORF' granted to the 15th Light Dragoons in 1768.  It was to be another 10 years before the second battle honour 'GIBRALTAR' was awarded to those regiments who had served through the siege of 1783-84.


As the Royal Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force had their founding's in the British and Australian Armies, it was only natural that they both should adopt the army custom of awarding Colours.  It was not until 1943, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the RAF, that King George VI announced his intention to award a ceremonial flag (to be known as the 'Standard') to operational squadrons.  Later, the King made it known that there should be Colours for the RAF as well as Standards.  The first Colour was presented to the Royal Air Force College at Cranwell in 1948 and the first Standard was presented to No 1 Fighter Squadron (RAF) in 1953.

The RAAF was the first Commonwealth Air Force to have Colours and Standards awarded.  In 1948 when His Majesty King George VI approved the Ensign for the RAAF, he agreed in principle to a King's Colour for the Service.  The design for the RAAF King's Colour was approved by its Majesty in 1950.  However, before the Colour could be presented the King died.  In May 1952, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth ][I consented to the original Colour, bearing the King's cypher (GVIR), being presented to the RAAF as the Queen's Colour.  The Queen's Colour for the RAAF, as it is now known, was presented to the RAAF on behalf of Her Majesty by the then Minister for Air, the Honourable W. MeMahon MP, on the direct command of the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, Sir William J. McKell GCMG, who was delayed in Canberra at the last moment.  Her Majesty wishes were that no changes be made to the cypher until the Colour wore out and then it should be replaced with a Colour bearing the cypher of the Sovereign of the day.  On 2 March 1982, Her Majesty approved a new design for the Queen's Colour for the RAAF.  This Colour was presented by Her Majesty on 5 March 1986 at RAAF Base Richmond.  The Queen's Colour for the RAAF is illustrated at Annex A.

The original award of the Queen's Colour for the RAAF also saw the creation of a new tradition for Colours for Commonwealth Air Forces.  In approving Colours, because of the distances between RAAF bases and as at that time Colours could only be transported by road, facsimiles of the Colour were also approved.  These facsimiles were accorded the same precedence and ceremony as the original Colour.  The original Queen's Colour (GVIR) is laid up at RAAF Williams, Point Cook, in the Holy Trinity Chapel.  The facsimiles are on display at Air Command Headquarters, Headquarters Logistic Command, the RAAF Museum and the Australian War Memorial.  In requesting approval for the new Queen's Colour for the RAAF, Her Majesty was advised that by tradition and usage, transporting of Colours in Australia was now by Service air.  Facsimiles therefore were no longer required.  When the new Queen's Colour for the RAAF was presented, the use of facsimiles ceased.  When not being paraded, the Queen's Colour for the RAAF is held on display at the RAAF Base Fairbairn Officer's Mess.

The Queen's Colour for the RAAF is to be honoured as a symbol of the trust which the Sovereign reposes in the Royal Australian Air Force and as an emblem of the Service's achievements.  It also symbolises our Service traditions and is a reminder of the devotion and sacrifices of our predecessors, and is an inspiration to those who serve in the Royal Australian Air Force.

A Queen's Colour may be awarded by order of the Sovereign to an establishment or unit but only in exceptional circumstances.  The Queen's Colour is awarded by order of Her Majesty to non-operational units that have completed 25 years of service in the Royal Australian Air Force or the Australian Flying Corps, and have earned the Sovereign's appreciation for especially outstanding service.  Ale first unit Queen's Colour was presented to RAAF School of Technical Training, WAGGA WAGGA NSW, in 1971 and is illustrated at Annex B.

A Squadron Standard is awarded by order of the Sovereign to an operational squadron for having completed 25 years of service in the RAAF or the Australian Flying Corps, or for having earned the Sovereign's appreciation for especially outstanding operations.  The Standard is inscribed with battle honours.  Number 3 Squadron Standard is illustrated at Annex C.

The first Squadron Standards awarded in the RAAF were presented to No 1, 3 and 77 squadrons in 1957.  The order of precedence for RAAF Squadron Standards is shown at Annex F.

Approval for a RAAF ceremonial flag known as The Governor-General's
Banner was announced on 15 January 1981 by His Excellency The Right Honourable Sir Zelman Cowen AK, GCMG, GCVO, KSTJ, the Governor-
General  of the Commonwealth of Australia. The Banner is awarded by order of the Governor-General to non- operational units that have completed 25 years of service in the Royal Australian Air Force or the Australian Flying Corps, or to non-operational units that have earned the Governor-General's appreciation for especially outstanding service.  A Governor-General's Banner is illustrated at Annex D. The order of precedence for RAA.F Governor General's Banners is shown at Annex G.



Colours have always been regarded with great reverence.  Historians record that Colours have been associated with religion from the earliest times.  Israelites carried the social standard of the Maccabees which bore the initial letters of the Hebrew text.  These early associations linking religion with battle flags and standards, have their counterpart in the ceremonial attached to Colours today.  Before a Colour is taken into use, it is consecrated at a special religious ceremony which is usually performed during the parade at which the Colour is presented.

The first recorded consecration of 'British Colours' was in 1138 by the Archbishop of York.  However, the consecration or blessing of Colours, as we now understand the ceremony, dates back to 1634 when it was laid down that, 'the first thing a captain shall do is cause his Colours to be breast'; much later, a standard form of service was laid down by the Principal Chaplain to the Forces.  Today, it is a service carried out by the Principal Chaplains of all denominations.  The procedure for a consecration service is shown at Chapter 13.

Transporting of Colours.  Colours are always accompanied by a Warrant Officer when transported by service air, and by a fully armed escort party when transported by road.

Compliments and Salutes.  Colours are always awarded the highest honors and compliments.  On a parade when a Royal Salute is given the Colour is lowered; and a when a General Salute is given, the Colour is let fly, that is that the Colours are allowed to fly free.  Individual service personnel are always to pay compliments to an uncased Colour.

Point Of War.  The Point of War is a stirring piece of music played by the band after the Colours are marched on.  It dates back to times when Colours were taken into battle, where on attack, musicians would play their instruments as loud as possible to draw attention to the Colours being in danger.

Showing the Colours.  The Colour bearer acts alone and marches along the front rank of the Parade with the Colour free and at the slope, to allow the troops a clear view of the Colour.

Trooping the Colour.  The Colour Party marches through the ranks of the of the Parade at the open order, formed up as a hollow square.  It originated in the procedure of ensuring safe custody of the Colour from the Colonel’s  billet to the Parade.

Laying up of Colours.  A Colour is laid up when a unit is disbanded or when it is due to be replaced through age or wear.  The laying up ceremony is carried out with the same reverence as a consecration.  Once laid up, Colours are put on display in a museum, chapel, or public building.

Reference: DI (AF) AAP 5135.002 Manual Of Ceremonial

Image by Stuart Brown Skipper Press

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