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Royal Air Force flag proposals

Last modified: 2022-10-14 by rob raeside
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[RAF proposal] image by Martin Grieve

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Description of the flag

Flag suggested for Royal Air Force in 1918.
National Archives (PRO) AIR 5/333 Pt. II
Not apparently ever seriously considered, but it might perhaps have been the inspiration for the RAF rank flags?

David Prothero, 4 October 2004

I think that the plain five-striped design was used as some sort of camp flag by RFC during WW1. This page at has a few relevant images. At the top of the page there is a RFC pennant, which was probably an unofficial novelty flag. A third down the page there is the RFC armband with the five stripes; just below it at the right there is a poster with a tiny flag bearing those five stripes!
Miles Li, 5 October 2004

This was a proposal devised to accompany a submission to the War Cabinet over the design of the RAF flag. Since the RAF and the Admiralty could not agree on a design, someone proposed that the War Cabinet should break the 'logjam'. But the flag was rejected. (My notes say that the decision was made to refer the matter to the War Cabinet in December 1918, but that the proposal was not made until January 1920.)

The original design was used as a headquarters flag for the Royal Flying Corps in the Field in France, set out in a British Expeditionary Force General Routine Order of June 1917 (I have not traced the original of this order yet). The difference was that there was no union jack canton, and the letters RFC were placed on the central red stripe. The colours were also used as brassards by RFC staff officers. This was modified to provide rank flags from the formation of the service (and possibly before, when it was just the RFC). In AIR 2/337, there is a sheet that must have come from an official order, but is now separate. Dated April 1918, it shows rank flags:
- with two red stripes as 'Major General' in ink with RFC HQ deleted
- with one red stripe, swallowtailed 'Brigadier' with Brigade crossed out
- one one red stripe, pennant 'Wing Commander' with Wing crossed out
- with one red stripe and pilot's wings above and a number below, with Squadron, Army Aircraft Park, Aircraft Depot crossed out.

It looks as if there was a move from flags that indicated units, to flags that indicated rank.

Air Ministry Weekly Order 782 of May 1918 amended Wing Commander to Colonel, and instituted two new flags:
- with two narrow red stripes, a pennant, for lieutenant-colonel
- the old squadron flag, for major.

Army ranks were abolished on 15th September 1919, and replaced by the the RAF ranks that are still in use today.

Ian Sumner, 5 October 2004

Possible white ensign proposal

[possible white RAF proposal] image provided by Ian Wilson, 10 August 2012

 I recently acquired a most curious RAF Ensign, curious in that it has a white background. I've tried researching it and during my attempts to gain further information I cam across the "Flags of the World" website. The Ensign measure 48" x 24", and made from what I have been informed is a heavy silk. I have had it the Ensign closely examined and confirmed that the background is, and always was, white. There is also substantial age to it.

Can you, or any of your associates help me identify the possible age/reason for such a Flag. The one theory I've had suggested is that it may be a pre-1920 RAF Ensign used briefly before the Royal Navy objected to the white background being used.
Ian Wilson, 10 August 2012

I can assure you the background is white and not a faded blue. The colour, shade, pigment, material is identical to that of the white of the RAF Roundel. I have looked at both materials under a magnifying glass and there is positively no difference between the two. I have to think that is the most telling feature, the background being identical to the white of the roundel. Although not expert materialogists (if there is such a word), the Flag has also been examined at close quarters by a number of customers and friends I've handed it to, and they're confident the background is white and was never blue.
Ian Wilson, 14 August 2012

I wonder if we are looking at a hand-made one of a kind variant, a prototype, or maybe this was an un-official Commonwealth flag used by, perhaps the Canadian Air Force prior to 1941, for example? I thought the Royal Navy had the white ensign more or less tied down.
Pete Loeser, 14 August 2012

As others have said, this could well be a conventional, if very faded, light blue. There is also a (slight) possibility that it is one of a number of trial designs made up in February 1920 by a company called Edgington's, in London. The idea was to try and (finally) choose a design for the RAF flag. The three choices laid before a committee of senior officers were the RAF roundel on plain light blue, the RAF roundel on plain white, and a smaller roundel on white, but with a dark blue border around the edge of the flag. The committee went for a white flag, with the addition of a Union canton - which is what seems to be in the photo. But the final decision was of course the light blue version. My reading of the document in the National Archives (AIR 5/333 Part II) is that the three designs made by Edgington's were plain flags, without a Union canton, and that no other trial flags were produced, but it is possible, I suppose, that further examples, with a canton were made up, and any documentary record has been lost, but I wouldn't like to put any money on that being the case.
Ian Sumner, 14 August 2012

I think that this is more likely to be a c1919/20 trial flag, though I am not sure that such a flag would have been made-up in silk. Nearly all the Air Ministry's proposals were strongly opposed by the Admiralty. Many different ideas were floated.
David Prothero, 14 August 2012

I'm with David about the fabric - wool bunting would have made more sense under the circumstances. Neither can I see the clips and cord which would be present if it were intended to be actually flown. It makes me wonder if it was intended for interior use only, possibly even as a simple decoration. Then there's always the cock-up theory - it should've been light blue, but someone used white, then thought it was too good to throw away!
Ian Sumner, 14 August 2012

Having looked at the detailed photographs sent by Ian Wilson, I have to agree that this does indeed appear to be a white material, rather than a faded light blue. If so, I can only agree with David on its being a trial design, even if a rather expensive one. Unless there is documentation on this in the RAF Archives, I doubt if we shall make any further progress.
Michael Faul, 15 August 2012

[early white ensign use] image provided by Stefan Spett, 12 April 2018

This picture is of airship R34 at her triumphant return from Canada in July 1919. Doesn´t she have a rather odd flag at the stern?
Stefan Spett, 12 April 2018

This appears to be a white ensign, which would be in keeping with the date, as the RAF ensign was not introduced until 1921.
Rob Raeside, 12 April 2018