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White Ensign

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Title: White Ensign  
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Subject: Flag of the United Kingdom, Red Ensign, Q-ship, Royal Navy, UKFlags
Collection: Flags of the United Kingdom, Heraldry, Maritime Flags, Naval Flags, Vexillology, White Ensigns
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

White Ensign

The White Ensign: white field Union Flag in the first quarter.

The White Ensign, at one time called the St George's Ensign due to the simultaneous existence of a cross-less version of the flag, is an Union Flag in the upper canton.

The White Ensign is also flown by the Royal Yacht Squadron and ships of Trinity House escorting the reigning monarch.

In addition to the United Kingdom, several other nations have also have variants of the White Ensign with their own national flags in the canton, with the St George's Cross sometimes being replaced by a naval badge omitting the cross altogether. Yachts of the

External links

  1. ^ Farrow, Malcolm. "The Colours of the Fleet" (PDF). The Flag Institute. p. 19. Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
  2. ^ This is a historical relic of the Royal Navy where its personnel can only be required to serve 'afloat'. Personnel deployed to non naval establishments are allocated to the crew of HMS Victory.
  3. ^ "Indian Navy to finally include Satyameva Jayata below national emblem on its flag and crest". IndiaToday. 8 August 2014. Retrieved 8 August 2014. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Peascod, Herbert & Quayle (2009) "The lake windemere Cruise" Railway Bylines 15/2 jan 2010, pp54-61


See also

In the 19th and early 20th century, steamers of the Furness Railway on Lake Windemere flew the white ensign "as the admiralty only exercised jurisdiction over the high seas" and "repeated requests from the admiralty to desist were met with polite refusals"[5]

The burgee of the Royal Naval Tot Club of Antigua and Barbuda is sometimes misidentified as a White Ensign; the burgee is a white swallowtail pennant (similar to a Royal Navy Commodore's) with the Union Flag is use until 1801 in the upper hoist canton.

A White Ensign, without Saint Patrick's Saltire, defaced with a blue lighthouse in the fly, is the Commissioners' flag of the Northern Lighthouse Board. This flag is unique as it uses a pre-1801 Union Flag in the canton.

The Flag of the British Antarctic Territory is a white ensign defaced with the territory's coat of arms. This is the only white ensign in use by a British Overseas Territory.

Non military usage

Aside from being flown by the Arleigh Burke class destroyer Winston S. Churchill, the British Naval Ensign is authorized to be used at the HMS Seraph memorial on the campus of The Citadel.[4] The White Ensign also flies over the British Cemetery on Ocracoke, North Carolina, which contains the remains of several seamen from HMT Bedfordshire, as well as a memorial to the lost naval trawler, which was sunk off the coast of Ocracoke Island in May 1942.

United States

Flag Name Country Use
Royal Australian Navy Ensign Australia Royal Australian Navy
Bahamas Naval Ensign The Bahamas Royal Bahamas Defence Force
Barbados Naval Ensign Barbados Barbados Coast Guard
Canadian Naval Ensign Canada Canadian Forces
Fijian Naval Ensign Fiji Republic of Fiji Military Forces
Indian Navy Ensign India Indian Navy
Jamaican Naval Ensign Jamaica Military of Jamaica
Malaysian Naval Ensign Malaysia Royal Malaysian Navy
Royal New Zealand Navy Ensign New Zealand Royal New Zealand Navy
Nigerian Naval Ensign Nigeria Nigerian Navy
South African Navy Ensign South Africa South African Navy
Sri Lanka Navy Ensign Sri Lanka Sri Lanka Navy

During Australia's involvement in South African Navy have both retained a cross on a white field, with their own national flag in the canton, in place of the Union Flag. The Royal Indian Marine (Royal Indian Navy from 1934) used the unaltered White Ensign as its ensign from 1928 until 26 January 1950, when India became a republic within the Commonwealth. After that date, the RIN became the Indian Navy and the Union Jack in the canton was replaced with the Indian Tricolour. Apart from a brief period from 2001-2004, the Indian Navy has retained its variant of the White Ensign with one minor modification: the addition of the Lion Capital of Asoka crest in gold at the centre of the cross. Effective from 15 August 2014, the Indian national motto "Satyameva Jayate" ("Truth Alone Triumphs") will be added in gold script below the crest, correcting a long-standing omission.[3]

The White Ensign was historically used, in its unaltered form, by the naval forces of Australia, Canada and New Zealand, with the

The Australian White Ensign.
Canadian seamen proudly display the White Ensign during World War II. The other flag is a Nazi German Reichskriegsflagge.

Commonwealth of Nations

The US destroyer Winston S. Churchill is the only US warship to fly the White Ensign along with the Stars and Stripes to honour her British namesake.

Special permission was granted to any individual or body to fly the White Ensign to mark Trafalgar Day in 2006.

On land, the White Ensign is flown at all naval shore establishments (which are commissioned warships[2]), including all Royal Marines establishments. Permission has been granted to some other buildings with naval connections to fly the White Ensign. This includes the St Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square, London, which is the church of the parish of the Admiralty. The Ensign is also displayed on the Cenotaph alongside the Union Flag (for the British Army) and the Royal Air Force Ensign.

Brunel's SS Great Britain, although a merchant ship, appears to have worn (and still wears, in dry dock) the White Ensign, apparently because its first master (an ex-Royal Navy man) brought it with him.

The White Ensign may also be worn by the boats of commissioned ships. Yachts of the Royal Yacht Squadron and the Trinity House vessels when escorting the Sovereign are also permitted to wear the White Ensign.[1]

The White Ensign is worn at the mastheads when Royal Navy ships are dressed on special occasions such as the Queen's birthday, and may be similarly be worn by foreign warships in British waters when dressed in honour of a British holiday or when firing a salute to British authorities.

Royal Navy ships and submarines wear the White Ensign at all times when underway. The White Ensign may also be worn on a gaff, and may be shifted to the starboard yardarm when at sea. When alongside, the White Ensign is worn at the stern, with the Union Flag flown as a jack at the bow, during daylight hours.

A Royal Marine holding up the White Ensign aboard HMS Pegasus, during the Battle of Zanzibar (20 September 1914).
The White Ensign flying from St Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square, London.

United Kingdom

Current use

White Squadron Ensign1702-1707
White Squadron Ensign
British White Ensign1707-1800
British White Ensign
Tudor Ensign1485-1603
Tudor Ensign
Stuart Royal Navy Squadron Ensign1620
Stuart Royal Navy Squadron Ensign
English White Ensign1630-1707
English White Ensign

In 1864 the Admiralty decided to end the ambiguity caused by the Red Ensign being both a civil ensign and a naval ensign, and the White Ensign was reserved to the Royal Navy; the relevant Order in Council retained the option to use Red or Blue Ensigns in HM Ships if desired.

Throughout this period in the history of the Royal Navy, the White Ensign was one of three ensigns in use, with each one being assigned to one of the three squadrons of the navy, according to its colour (red, white and blue, with red being the most senior and blue the least). Ships flew the colour of ensign corresponding to the squadron to which they were attached, which was in turn determined by the seniority of the admiral under whose command the ship sailed (a rear admiral of the red was senior to a rear admiral of the white).

The first recognisable White Ensign appears to have been in use during the 16th century, consisting of a white field with a broad St George's cross, and a second St. George's cross in the canton. By 1630 the white ensign consisted of simply a white field, with a small St George's cross in the canton, which was consistent with the red and blue ensigns of the time. In 1707, the St. George's cross was reintroduced to the flag as a whole, though not as broad as before, and the Act of Union 1800, the flag was updated to include the new Union Flag in the canton, and so took on the form as used today. The blue field of the Union Flag was darkened at this time at the request of the Admiralty, in the hope that the new flags would not require replacing as often as the previous design, due to fading of the blue. Throughout this period, the proportions of the flags changed. In 1687, the then Secretary of the Admiralty, Samuel Pepys, instructed that flags be of the ratio 11:18 (18 inches long for each breadth, 11 inches at the time). In the early 18th century, the breadth of cloth had been reduced to 10 inches, so the flags became 5:9. In 1837, the breadth was reduced for the final time to 9 inches, giving the current ratio of 1:2.

English naval ensigns were first used during the 16th century, and were often striped in green and white (the Tudor colours), but other colours were also used to indicate different squadrons, including blue, red and tawny brown. (These striped ensigns can be seen in use on both English and Spanish warships in contemporary paintings of the 1588 flag of the Honourable East India Company. The 13 Red and White stripes of this flag were copied for the first flag of the United States of America in 1776, and remain in use to the present day. A red, white and blue striped ensign has also been retained as the flag of Hawaii.

The White Ensign flying from a Royal Navy vessel.
Striped ensigns flying on English and Spanish galleons in 1588: (enlarge image for detailed view)


  • History 1
  • Current use 2
    • United Kingdom 2.1
    • Commonwealth of Nations 2.2
    • United States 2.3
    • Non military usage 2.4
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


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