Regimental colours

Regimental colours

Regimental Colours is the name for the ceremonial flags bearing the symbol of a military infantry regiment.

In some countries, such as the United Kingdom and the United States, each infantry regiment has two colours: the first, known as the "Queen's Colour" or the "National Colour", has the basic design of the national flag, and represents the military's loyalty towards the sovereign and the nation. The second colour, known as the "Regimental Colour", usually has a plain colour field, and bears emblems and battle honours representing the traditions of the regiment itself.Historically, their roots can be traced back at least as far as the Roman Empire. Traditionally, in British military history their custody is assigned to the most junior officer in the regiment.

British and Commonwealth traditions

Most infantry regiments and battalions in the British Army and Commonwealth countries hold official colours.

Originally, they were carried in battle to distinguish one regiment or battalion from another, and to be used as a rallying point for the regiment's/battalion's soldiers while in garrison or in battle. They were also used to display the regiment's/battalion's battle honours or military accomplishments.

In British Army and Commonwealth tradition, only infantry or line regiments carry Regimental Colours. Armoured, and cavalry regiments carry an equivalent item known as the Regimental Guidon. The Royal Artillery's guns are its Colours (and as such it is the only regiment which still takes its Colours into battle). Other arms and services such as the Royal Army Medical Corps or the Royal Engineers do not carry Colours at all.

Apart from the regimental colour, a regiment or a battalion would also carry a King's (or Queen's) Colour. Together, these two Colours constitute the regiment's "stand of colours." However, several infantry regiments carry a third colour that is permitted to be paraded on special occasions.

The term "regimental colour" was first mentioned in historical military document in ca. 1747. According to a document known as the "Regulations for the Uniform Clothing of the Marching Regiments of Foot, Their Colours, Drums, Bells of Arms, and Camp Colours, 1747", a Regimental Colour is:

* Also called the Second Colour of a regiment or battalion as it is second in seniority to the King's or Queen's Colour
* Its appearance should be constituted of the colour of regiment's facings [The colour of the inside edging of the redcoat jacket, seen when the lapels are turned back] with a Union Flag on its top left hand corner
* In the centre of the Colour is a stylized version of the regiment's crest with its ranking number in Roman numbers

The practice of adding a regiment's or a battalion's battle honours onto its Regimental Colours came into existence around 1784. At the time it was a way to show a regiment's military accomplishments to its enemies and thus intimidate them. Since nowadays regiments no longer carry their colours to battles this tradition has become a means for the regiments to show off their past military achievements to its own members, the public as well as other regiments.

In general British and Commonwealth infantry or line regiments have battle honours only on their Regimental Colours. Exception is made to regiments of the Foot Guards where battle honours can be seen on both their Regimental and King's or Queen's Colours.

A Regiment Colour, like the King's or Queen's Colour, is a highly revered object in the military. Any military personnel who comes across a Regimental or King's or Queen's Colour must salute to it. This is a tribute paid not only to the Royal monarch's authority but also to the regiment's past accomplishments as well as those who have died for them.

A Regimental Colour is normally presented to a regiment or a battalion by the British sovereign or an agent (e.g. a Governor-General) in a high-profile military parade ceremony. The presentation of a new Regimental Colour and King's or Queen's Colour is normally performed in a regiment once every few decades, and the old or retired Colours are safe-kept in the regiment's church or chapel for public display. An old Colour is never destroyed because of its historical value and the Royal Authority that it represents.

While Colours remain important for ceremonial use, they are no longer carried into battle. The last occasion on which they were present in action was in 1881 at Laing's Nek, when they were carried by the 58th Foot. [Haythornthwaite (1995), p. 35]



* Haythornthwaite, Philip J. (1995) "The Colonial Wars Sourcebook", London: Arms and Armour Press, ISBN 1854091964

See also

* Colours, standards and guidons
* Battle honour

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