Remembrance Sunday: Flags on the Whitehall Cenotaph

Skærmbillede 2017-11-09 kl. 22.30.02

In London today, members of the Royal Family and a wide range of political, military and religious leaders lay wreaths at the Whitehall Cenotaph together with a large parade of veterans. Every year on the sunday closest to 11 November, the Cenotaph is the centre of a nation’s respect and mourning for its fallen men and women in the two World Wars and other military conflicts.

The Cenotaph on Whitehall in London is the official war memorial of the United Kingdom. It stands in the middle of the street between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department of Health and it has the words THE GLORIOUS DEAD inscribed at both ends.

It was built after WWI for the fallen of the British Empire in this war, but the monument commemorates everyone who has died in the service of the United Kingdom in all wars and military conflicts since then. The different types of service are represented by six flags on the Cenotaph:

On both sides there is a British Union Flag. They represent the fallen of the British Army and civilians who lost their lives in the service of the nation. The official, but non-ceremonial army flag, red with the badge of the British Army, is not used on the Cenotaph.

On the east side the Union Flag is flanked by a British White Ensign and a British Blue Ensign. The White Ensign represents the Royal Navy. The Blue Ensign represents the Royal Naval Reserve, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and other government services like, for example, the police and the emergency services.

On the west side the Union Flag is flanked by the ensign of the Royal Air Force and the British Red Ensign. The Red Ensign represents the fallen of the merchant navy and the fishing fleet.

The Cenotaph was designed by the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. A temporary structure was erected on Whitehall for the celebrations following the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in the summer of 1919. The permanent structure which stands today was built from Portland stone and unveiled on 11 November 1920.

Following WWI, cenotaphs were erected in other cities in Britain and around the British Empire, e.g. in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong. The word cenotaph derives from Greek and means “empty (kenos) tomb (taphos)”.

WWI ended on the Western Front on 11 November 1918 when an armistice was signed between Germany and the Allies in the railroad carriage of Ferdinand Foch, Marshal of France in the forest of Compiègne outside Paris. According to the agreement the armistice went into effect at “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”.

This date has been marked ever since as Armistice Day, but it is also known as Remembrance Day, Poppy Day or Veterans Day. Remembrance Sunday is held on the second sunday of November in the United Kingdom and in other Commonwealth countries. Here, from the beginning of November until Remembrance Sunday many buy and wear small artificial poppies to honour the sacrifice of the fallen and to support veterans in need of help.

On Remembrance Sunday 2017, Queen Elizabeth II will not lay the first wreath at the Cenotaph on behalf of the nation. This duty will be carried out by her son Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales. The Queen and her husband Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, now 91 and 96 years of age respectively, will watch from the Foreign Office balcony.


Trooping the Colour 2017

Skærmbillede 2017-06-05 kl. 23.17.15

The Queen’s Birthday Parade in London on Saturday 17 June is the 65th of her reign. Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Sapphire Jubilee and this year it’s the 1st Battalion Irish Guards which troops its Queen’s Colour in the prestigious Trooping the Colour parade. 

Each battalion of infantry regiments in the British Army has two standards: the Regimental Colour and the Queen’s Colour.

A colour is a flag for military and ceremonial use mounted and fixed to a pike, usually with nails, and adorned with different kinds of embroidery, fringes and tassels, often with gold cords, and usually has a guilded ornament at the top of the pike. A colour is proportioned so it can be carried by one man.

The tradition of military units carrying large, colourful and elaborately decorated standards stems from the time when communication on the battlefield couldn’t be done any other way. “Trooping the colour” originally meant to parade the commander’s standard through the ranks of soldiers to let them know what to look for in the heat of battle.

In the UK there are five Foot Guards regiments: the Grenadier Guards, the Coldstream Guards, the Scots Guards, the Irish Guards and the Welsh Guards. The battalions of these five regiments take turns leading the Queen’s Birthday Parade which always takes place on Horse Guards Parade at St. James’s Park in London on a Saturday in June.

At the centre of this year’s Trooping the Colour is the Queen’s Colour of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards. On the crimson silk standard there are 21 woven battle honours. These are the names of battles and campaigns where the regiment has fought with distinction:

Retreat from Mons. Marne 1914. Aisne 1914. Ypres 1914:17. Festubert 1915. Loos. Somme 1916:18. Cambrai 1917-18. Hazebrouck. Hindenberg Line. Norway 1940. Boulogne 1940. Mont Pincon. Neerpelt. Nijmegen. Rhineland. NW Europe 1944-45. Djebel bou Aoukaz 1945. North Africa 1943. Anzio. Iraq 2003.

The Irish Guards was established in 1900 by Queen Victoria and the regiment has fought in both World Wars and other military conflicts. Guardsmen of the Irish Guard carry out guard duty at the royal palaces but also serve as ordinary infantry soldiers, in the UK and abroad.

The central element on the Queen’s Colour of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards is the crowned royal cypher of Queen Elizabeth II, E II R, surrounded by the collar of the Order of Saint Patrick with Irish harps, gold knots and red-white Tudor roses. The order’s badge, suspended from the collar, has a green shamrock on a Saint Patrick’s Cross i.e. a red saltire on white.

The Order of Saint Patrick was established in 1783 for the Kingdom of Ireland as an equivalent to the Order of the Garter in England and the Order of the Thistle in Scotland. The order still exists, but no knights of the order have been created for more than eighty years. Since the partition of Ireland the Order of Saint Patrick has been dormant and there are no plans to revive it.

The Irish Guard keeps the symbols of this order alive, however. Not only on its Queen’s Colour, but also the regimental badge of the Irish Guards is the star of the Order of Saint Patrick and the regimental motto is the same as that of the order: Quis Separabit? Who shall separate us?

Sapphire Jubilee


65 years ago today, on 6 February 1952, Queen Elizabeth II succeeded to the throne of seven different countries: The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as well as Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan and Ceylon.

When King George VI died, his eldest daughter, 25-year old Princess Elizabeth, had just set out on a royal tour of Australia and New Zealand. She was still in Kenya when the news of the King’s death reached her. The following year on 6 June 1953 she was crowned in Westminster Abbey in London.

British monarchs since the time of Queen Victoria, the first Empress of India, had all been Kings and Emperors. But after World War II the British Empire, spanning dominions, protectorates and colonies on all five continents, entered a period of dissolution. One by one new nations gained independence. In 1947 the Empire of India was partitioned and the main part became the Republic of India.

Pakistan became a republic in 1956. So, at the time of her succession, Elizabeth was also Queen of Pakistan. In 1952 the country consisted of both West Pakistan (present-day Pakistan) and East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh). At the time of partition in 1947, Pakistan was defined as the majority Muslim territories of British India. The flag of Pakistan, adopted in 1947, was inspired by the flag of the All-India Muslim League. Sectarian violence, the Kashmir conflict and other tensions between Pakistan and India led to four wars including the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971.

Ceylon only became a republic under the name of Sri Lanka in 1972. A year before Queen Elizabeth II came to the throne, the flag of Ceylon had been changed to include symbols of all three major religious communities on the island. The maroon colour, the lion and the four leaves represent the Sinhalese majority and the Buddhist faith. The orange stripe represents the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Hindu faith. The green stripe represents the Sri Lankan Moors and the Muslim faith.

The Statute of Westminster in 1931 underlined the equal status of the United Kingdom and all of the so-called Dominions, e.g. Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. Already at the beginning of the 20th Century the nominal independence of these countries had been established.

South Africa was a monarchy in 1952, having been established in 1910 with the unification of four previous British colonies: the Cape, Natal, Transvaal and the Orange River Colony (the former Oranje Free State). The flag of South Africa between 1928 and 1994 put together the British Union Flag and flags of the former Dutch Boer republics. South Africa became a republic in 1961. Princess Elizabeth had visited the country in 1947 with her parents. Not until the end of Apartheid did she revisit. Elizabeth II, the former Queen of South Africa, was received by Nelson Mandela, the first black South African president in 1995.

Canada, Australia and New Zealand remained monarchies. Today, they are among the 16 independent nations where Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state, represented in everyday constitutional life by a Governor-General. The flags of New Zealand and Australia stem from the 1900s. The flag of Canada was a version of the British Red Ensign until 1965 when the red and white Maple Leaf (or l’Unifolié) was adopted.

The British Empire is no more. In its stead, the Commonwealth of Nations unites 52 independent countries, most of which are former British territories. Elizabeth II is the greatly respected head of this intergovernmental organization, a role she has fulfilled for 65 years.