The Mystery of the Union Flag

Union Flag

Union Flag

Followers of this website will know that the Legion of Frontiersmen has by its nature attracted many strange tales and not a few myths. We have tried to resolve the mysteries and stories in a constant search for the truth. That task has not been made easy as Frontiersmen over their 110 year history have been men of action and few of them have been keen to ensure stories are recorded accurately for the future.

A story that has been passed by word of mouth over the years is about the Union Flag shown here. This is a large flag some 9 feet 7 inches by 5 feet that has been carefully stored and folded with other Legion property for many years. It is very soiled and worn. The rumour has always been that it is the flag that covered the coffin of the Unknown Warrior. This has to be a myth as the flag used on that coffin was the one previously used on the coffins of Nurse Edith Cavell and Capt. Fryatt, both national heroes in their time. The story of the flag that covered the coffin on its journey from France was explained in the magazine Best of British in November 2010 by Douglas Rowden, whose father George was involved in the movement of the coffin from France to England in 1920. A flag in a new condition neatly folded had been found and was used. The flag now displayed in Westminster Abbey is 6 feet by 3 feet.

Frontiersmen Southend

Frontiersmen Southend

A better possible answer to the mystery has been uncovered from the Essex Chronicle of August 26th 1938 in an account of Southend Carnival over the weekend of Friday 19th to Sunday 21st August. As is suggested by the photo here of one Frontiersmen unit, the Legion had a considerable presence throughout the weekend. They put on a number of demonstrations to entertain the crowds. On Sunday 21st a drumhead service was held in Chalkwell Park with several thousands taking part; these included the Mayor and Mayoress and the local Member of Parliament. Other distinguished guests were Brigadier Morton, C.B.E., the Cdt-General of the Legion, and Capt.Roger Pocock, Founder of the Legion, and also the Commandant of Shoebury Garrison, Col. Curtis. “The Colours, including an Ensign which was formerly on the Whitehall Cenotaph, were received and placed on the drums by Archdeacon Gowing”. Here we have a possible explanation: the Union Flag featured as a Standard on the Cenotaph would have been subject to exposure to the weather and would have been replaced when its condition became unacceptable. The Union Flag put in a later appearance in 1972 when, according to Legion Orders:

Laying up of the old Colours Sunday May 14th
… The Ceremonial Officer, Capt McLeod, has issued detail to those engaged in the actual ceremony, including Colour Parties for the Old and New Colours, also for the Union Jack to be laid up, this being one of the two Cenotaph originals, having been presented in succession by King George V as an honour to one who later presented it to the Rev. Peter Royston Ball of Christ Church, the Colour Squadron Chaplain, who has now presented it to the Squadron…

The problem remains that we do not know who was originally given the flag. A Union Flag of such significance would have been in the gift of the Sovereign to dictate to whom it would pass.

Cenotaph unveiling

Cenotaph unveiling

Another word of mouth story has been that the Legion originally led the parade at the Cenotaph in London on Remembrance Day. This has always been discounted as a total fallacy but, as often with Legion myths, there is a grain of truth in the story. Once again we have to look at provincial newspapers to discover that truth. The Dundee Courier prided itself that it had a London correspondent, although they may well have shared him with other journals. In the issue of Monday 12th November 1923 he wrote a long emotional and moving account of the Remembrance Day parade on Sunday 11th at the Cenotaph in London with the Royal family present. This was only five years after the War had ended and almost every family in the land had suffered losses. The country was still grieving for a lost generation. After a description of the tributes of Royalty and the armed forces he continued:

Now begins the pilgrimage of the people. In unbroken procession they parade past the Cenotaph. First the ex-servicemen, their breasts ablaze with hard-earned medals and decorations. Then the Legion of Frontiersmen. Then the brave band of black-robed women, proudly wearing the medals of their departed menfolk, bringing tributes to their memory. Then a party of bruised and battered men in hospital blue – a terrible reminder. Five years since guns ceased fire; and still in hospital blue! Nurses, WAACS, disabled men, the British Legion, Boy Scouts – all bringing tokens of grateful remembrance to old comrades. Here and there a sturdy figure in kilt and tartan remind English eyes of Scotland’s part…

British Legion Festival of Remembrance Nov 36

British Legion Festival of Remembrance Nov 36

What was probably the arrangement was that the Legion was to lead the civilian section of the parade. Although uniformed and wearing ranks, the Legion is indeed a civilian organisation. For many years we have become used to the British Legion taking the lead part, but they were not formed until 1921 and were a new organisation, whereas when the above was written the Legion of Frontiersmen had existed for nearly twenty years. They had a named unit in the First War and many Frontiersmen had fought and died in countless armed forces all round the world, so therefore enjoyed considerable public respect and approval. The Boy Scouts were three years junior to the Legion and had indeed taken on board some of the Legion ideas. Hence the Legion of Frontiersmen could be considered as the senior civilian organisation on parade and could be relied upon to lead the parade with smartness and great dignity. Over the following years, the Frontiersmen co-operated with the British Legion. They were also held in high regard and used on many official occasions. As just one example, the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin gave a major Empire Day speech on May 24th 1929 in front of a crowd of many thousands. The speech was broadcast to many of the Dominion countries. The Daily Express of the following day in a caption to a photograph of the event said that “The Legion of Frontiersmen, bearing the flags of the Dominions, were prominent in this demonstration”. There is a brief British Pathe film showing the crowds in Hyde Park with the Frontiersmen clearly visible at the back bearing the Standards. This can be viewed at:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=nq1Fjy6tGg8

We have proved that they also worked closely with St. John’s Ambulance in the 1930s on training for anti-gas warfare. The Frontiersmen’s co-operation with the British Legion carried on for many years, as can be seen from the photograph showing the Frontiersmen bearing Standards lining the front of the stage at the British Legion Festival of Remembrance at the Albert Hall in 1936.

This is the evidence as it stands. At the moment these explanations can be taken as highly probable, rather than completely proven beyond doubt. When further information comes to light, then the story will be fully featured on this website.


The article above was originally published on http://www.frontiersmenhistorian.info in February 2015 and has since been revised and updated.

© Copyright Geoffrey A. Pocock. All rights reserved.  This article may not be reproduced in any form, in part or in full, without prior permission.

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About Windows into History

Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com Co-writer on junkyardview.wordpress.com Administrator of frontiersmenhistorian.wordpress.com
This entry was posted in Archive Topics, Frontiersmen, History, Legion of Frontiersmen, Remembrance and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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