A distressing flag

Some friends laugh at me because I find this really annoying. To me, it’s important. It is the difference between right and wrong, and if something isn’t right, it’s wrong. When people do that with my flag I find it niggles me.

I’m sure my USA based readers will ‘get it’. They have so much more respect for the stars & stripes than people seem to have about the Union Flag in the UK. When I was out walking the other day I saw this.

Union Flag flown upside down
Union Flag flown upside down

The Union Flag, a proud symbol of the United Kingdom ever since 1801 and the union of Ireland and Great Britain. For those who are not familiar, Great Britain is England, Wales and Scotland. Today the United Kingdom, is more accurately described as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. So that is England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland since the establishment of the Republic of Ireland in 1922.

St Patrick's Cross
St Patrick’s Cross represents Northern Ireland.
St Andrew's Cross
St Andrew’s Cross represents Scotland
St George's Cross
St George’s Cross represents England

The Union Flag, is made up by overlaying the the three flags of St Patrick, St Andrew and St George.

The Union Flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The Union Flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Union Flag or Union Jack?

The Union Flag of the United Kingdom is often erroneously called the Union Jack. The Union Flag is only ever legitimately called the Union Jack when it is flown on a vessel of the Royal Navy.

The name ‘Union Jack’ is believed to be as a result of the heroic actions of a sailor called Jack Crawford at the battle of Camperdown  in 1797. Before the age of modern radio / satellite communication, if the flag ship of the fleet lowered its national flag, that was a signal for all other vessels in the fleet to concede defeat and retreat. So crafty canon crews would often target the flag ship with chain-shot to try and sever the main mast, removing the national flag and encouraging the enemy to retreat before the battle could play out. This happened at the Battle of Camperdown in 1797 when the English Royal Navy were fighting the Batavian Navy. The Batavian Navy targeted HMS Venerable, the flag ship of Admiral Duncan. The enemy consistently targetted the main mast of the flag ship to try and send the national flag into the sea and for the English to retreat. Three times the Batavians were successful in hitting the main mast and knocking the Union Flag to the deck of HMS Venerable. Seeing the risk of the rest of the English fleet retreating, Sunderland born Jack Crawford grabbed the flag and climbed the main mast, using nails and the butt of his flintlock pistol to hammer nails through the flag to re-attach it to the main mast. The accuracy of the Batavian canon crews meant Jack Crawford had to do this three times during the battle. Hence the Union Flag, flown on a ship of the Royal Navy became known as the Union Jack.

It also led to the phrase, when someone was determined to succeed, people would say that he had ‘nailed his colours to the mast’.

Which way up?

So how do you know which way up the Union Flag should be flown? It is acutally quite simple.

The Union Flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The Union Flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The top corner attached to the flagpole should have a broad white diagonal stripe at the top. If the flagpole was on the left and the wind was blowing to the right, you should look at the diagonal white stripes. Going in an anti-clockwise direction, it should be broad, narrow, broad, narrow all the way around the flag.

 When the flag has a narrow white diagonal white stripe to the top next to the flagpole it is being flown upside down. An upside down national flag is a recognised sign the nation is in distress.

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