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FIAV 000001.svg St George's Ensign or White Ensign: white field defaced with a thin Cross of Saint George, Union Flag in the first quarter.

The White Ensign or St George's Ensign is an ensign flown on British Royal Navy ships and shore establishments. It consists of a red St George's Cross on a white field with the Union Flag in the upper canton.

The White Ensign is also flown by the Royal Yacht Squadron and ships escorting the Queen.

In addition to the United Kingdom, several Commonwealth nations also have variants of the White Ensign with their own national flags in the canton, with the St George's Cross sometimes being replaced by a naval badge. The Flag of the British Antarctic Territory and the Commissioners' flag of the Northern Lighthouse Board are white ensigns, but omit the red St George's Cross.

Contents

History

Striped ensigns flying on English and Spanish galleons in 1588: (enlarge image for detailed view)
The English White Ensign, 1630-1707.
The White Ensign flying from a Royal Navy vessel.

English naval ensigns were first used during the 16th century, and were often striped in green and white (the Tudor colours), but other colours were also used to indicate different squadrons, including blue, red and tawny brown. (These striped ensigns can be seen in use on both English and Spanish warships in contemporary paintings of the 1588 Spanish Armada battles). Later, there was usually a St George's Cross in the upper canton, or sewn across the field as on the modern White Ensign. These striped ensigns continued in use under the Stuart kings: the Naval ensign of 1623 is described as having "15 horizontal stripes alternately blue, white and yellow with a Cross of St George in the canton", but after 1630, with the introduction of the Red, White and Blue ensigns, the striped ensign with a Union flag in the canton was adopted as the flag of the Honourable East India Company. The 13 Red and White stripes of this flag were copied for the first flag of the United States of America in 1776, and remain in use to the present day. A red, white and blue striped ensign has also been retained as the flag of Hawaii.

The first recognisable White Ensign appears to have been in use during the 16th century, consisting of a white field with a broad St George's cross, and a second St. George's cross in the canton. By 1630 the white ensign consisted of simply a white field, with a small St George's cross in the canton, which was consistent with the red and blue ensigns of the time. In 1707, the St. George's cross was reintroduced to the flag as a whole, though not as broad as before, and the Union Flag was placed in the canton. There was also a version of this flag without the overall St George's cross, which appears to have been for use in home waters only, though this flag appears to have fallen out of use by 1720. In 1801, after the Act of Union 1800, the flag was updated to include the new Union Flag in the canton, and so took on the form as used today. The blue field of the Union Flag was darkened at this time at the request of the Admiralty, in the hope that the new flags would not require replacing as often as the previous design, due to fading of the blue. Throughout this period, the proportions of the flags changed. In 1687, the then Secretary of the Admiralty, Samuel Pepys, instructed that flags be of the ratio 11:18 (18 inches long for each breadth, 11 inches at the time). In the early 18th century, the breadth of cloth had been reduced to 10 inches, so the flags became 5:9. In 1837, the breadth was reduced for the final time to 9 inches, giving the current ratio of 1:2.[1]

Throughout this period, the Royal Navy used the White Ensign in conjunction with the Red and Blue, due to the rank structure employed at the time. Each grade of admiral (rear-, vice- and full) was sub-divided into levels of seniority: red, white, and blue. Ships attached to an admiral's squadron would then fly the ensign appropriate to that particular admiral.

In 1864 the Admiralty decided to end the ambiguity caused by the Red Ensign being both a civil ensign and a naval ensign, and the White Ensign was reserved to the Royal Navy; the relevant Order in Council retained the option to use Red or Blue Ensigns in HM Ships if desired.

Current use

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United Kingdom

The White Ensign flying from St Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square, London.

Royal Navy ships and submarines wear the White Ensign at all times when underway. The White Ensign may also be worn on a gaff, and may be shifted to the starboard yardarm when at sea. When alongside, the White Ensign is worn at the stern, with the Union Flag at the stem, during daylight hours.

The White Ensign is worn at the mastheads when Royal Navy ships are dressed on special occasions such as the Queen's birthday, and may be similarly be worn by foreign warships in British waters when dressed in honour of a British holiday or when firing a salute to British authorities.

The White Ensign may also be worn by the boats of commissioned ships. Ships of the Royal Yacht Squadron and ships escorting the Sovereign are also permitted to wear the White Ensign.

Brunel's SS Great Britain, although a merchant ship, appears to have worn (and still wears, in dry dock) the White Ensign, apparently because its first master (an ex-Royal Navy man) brought it with him.

On land, the White Ensign is flown at all naval shore establishments (which are commissioned warships), including all Royal Marines establishments. Permission has been granted to some other civilian buildings with naval connections to fly the White Ensign.[2] This includes the St Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square, London, which is the church of the parish of the Admiralty. The Ensign is also displayed on the Cenotaph alongside the Union Flag (for the British Army) and the Royal Air Force Ensign.

Special permission was granted to any individual or body to fly the White Ensign to mark Trafalgar Day in 2006.[3]

The US destroyer Winston S. Churchill is the only US warship to fly the White Ensign along with the stars and stripes to honor its British namesake.

The White Ensign is also used by some football supporters, who write the name of their football club along the horizontal arm of the St. George's cross. This was technically illegal, as the White Ensign can only be used with the permission of the Royal Navy, but now the Royal Navy have given permission for this purpose.

Commonwealth of Nations

Canadian seamen proudly display the White Ensign during World War II. The other flag is a Nazi German Reichskriegsflagge.
The Australian White Ensign.

The White Ensign was historically used, in its unaltered form, by the naval forces of Australia, Canada and New Zealand, with the Blue Ensign of each of these Dominions (as they were then known) as a jack.

However, in 1965, with the adoption of the Canadian Flag, Canada stopped using the White Ensign on its naval vessels in favour of the new flag. Following a reorganization of the Canadian armed forces in 1968, a new White Ensign was adopted, incorporating the Canadian Flag in the canton and a badge in the fly. This flag, however, is used not as the ensign but as the jack and also as the basis of the Queen's colour of Maritime Command. Many Canadian veterans' organisations still use the original White and Blue Ensigns unofficially as symbols of history and heritage.

During their involvement in Vietnam, the RAN and RNZN modified the White Ensign so as to avoid confusion with British vessels, which were not involved in the conflict. The modified RAN and RNZN White Ensigns still incorporate the Union Flag in the canton, but with the Southern Cross designs from each national flag (blue stars for the RAN and red stars for the RNZN) replacing the St. George's Cross.

Several other Commonwealth navies also use naval ensigns with a visual connection to the White Ensign. For example the Indian Navy and the South African Navy have both retained a cross on a white field, with their own national flag in the canton, in place of the Union Flag.

Flag Name Country Use
Naval Ensign of Australia.svg Royal Australian Navy Ensign Australia Royal Australian Navy
Naval Ensign of Barbados.svg Barbados Naval Ensign Barbados Barbados Coast Guard
Naval Jack of Canada.svg Canadian Forces Naval Jack Canada Canadian Forces Maritime Command
Naval Ensign of Fiji.svg Fijian Naval Ensign Fiji Military of Fiji
Naval Ensign of India.svg Indian Navy Ensign India Indian Navy
Naval Ensign of Jamaica.svg Jamaican Naval Ensign Jamaica Military of Jamaica
Naval Ensign of New Zealand.svg Royal New Zealand Navy Ensign New Zealand Royal New Zealand Navy
Naval Ensign of South Africa.svg South African Navy Ensign South Africa South African Navy

Non military usage

The Flag of the British Antarctic Territory is a white ensign defaced with the territory's coat of arms. This is the only white ensign in use by a British Overseas Territory.

A White Ensign, without the St. Patrick's Cross, defaced with a blue lighthouse in the fly, is the Commissioners' flag of the Northern Lighthouse Board. This flag is unique as it uses a pre-1801 Union Flag in the canton.

The burgee of the Royal Naval Tot Club of Antigua and Barbuda is sometimes misidentified as a White Ensign; the burgee is a white swallowtail pennant (similar to a Royal Navy Commodore's) with the Union Flag is use until 1801 in the upper hoist canton.

In the 19th and early 20th century, steamers of the Furness Railway on Lake Windemere flew the white ensign "as the admiralty only exercised jurisdiction over the high seas" and "repeated requests from the admiralty to desist were met with polite refusals"[4]

See also

References

  1. ^ United Kingdom: history of the British ensigns. Flags of the World. Retrieved 21 November 2007.
  2. ^ Royal Navy- Colours of the Fleet
  3. ^ Sea Britain 2005
  4. ^ Peascod, Herbert & Quayle (2009) "The lake windemere Cruise" Railway Bylines 15/2 jan 2010, pp54-61

External links


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