Throughout history, British Armed Forces have rallied around flags,
banners, and other symbols of their regiments or vessels. This tradition
continues today, and there are a variety of banners including Ensigns,
Standards and Colours.
Colours are awarded by the Sovereign to Royal Navy commands, regiments or
RAF formations for valour and distinction. They differ from Standards, as
standards are essentially rallying points for specific units, and usually carry
scrolls showing their battle honours. Colours are highly regarded and revered,
as they are a personal gift from the Sovereign, and only Her Majesty can
decide which formations should hold them. Due to their status as a gift from the Sovereign they are accorded full royal dignity - servicemen are to defer to the Colour, signifying their loyalty to the Crown by saluting it and coming to attention as it passes them.
As an RAF Officer I shall devote my attention to RAF Colours, Army and Royal Navy Colours differ
slightly in design and procedure.
RAF Colours are squares of sky blue silk with silk tassles, approximately
36" x 36". At the top of the hoist (the end of the Colour attached to
the pole) is a Union Flag in silk. At the centre of the Colour is the
formation's symbol, also in silk. The pole is of English oak, and is
surmounted by a gold crown.
Throughout its history the Royal Air Force has been awarded the following
King's or Queen's Colours:
Colours are held for 25 years by the formation, and may only be withdrawn
during that period at the Sovereign's command. After 25 years the Colour is
replaced at a formal parade. The Sovereign must agree to the formation's
continuing right to possess a Colour. They may also be replaced earlier should
they become worn out.
When Colours are withdrawn they are laid up in one of three locations:
A particular distinction awarded to selected officers of the RAF is to be
the Colour Bearer. This individual is totally responsible for maintaining the
safety and dignity of the Colour, and is expected to guard it at all costs. He
will carry a sword when parading the colour, and will be accompanied by a
Colour Guard of three officers with drawn swords or three senior NCO's with
rifles, bayonets fixed. He will wear white kid gloves, and is forbidden ever to
touch the silk of the Colour unless he his holding it to the pole against the
All Colours, apart from the Colour of the Royal Air Force College and the
Colour for the Royal Air Force in the United Kingdom and laid up Colours,
are kept in strong rooms. The Colours for the Royal Air Force College and the
Royal Air Force in the United Kingdom are kept on display in the Dining
Halls of the Royal Air Force College and RAF Uxbridge respectively. Both are
guarded by 8ft tall bronze eagles. In the event of fire, the Colour Bearer, or
Orderly Officer, is to retrieve the Colour unless there is an immediate threat
to his life.
Army Colours are based upon the Union Flag and there are two types; Queen's
Colours and Regimental Colours carrying battle honours. Royal Navy Colours
are based upon the White Ensign, and there are colours for each of the Naval