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The Right Way to Fly the Union Jack

How much do we know about our flag?  Probably not as much as we should.  And what is the answer to the perennial question . . . which is the right side up?

First, a description of the Union Jack, more correctly the Union Flag, symbolizing the union of several countries into the United Kingdom.  The name "Jack" derives from its early use as a 'jack' which is a small flag flown on the bow of a ship.

The colors are red and white on a field of blue.

Red symbolizes hardiness, braveness, strength and valor.

White symbolizes peace and honesty.

Blue symbolizes vigilance, truth and loyalty, perseverance and justice.

The flag starts with the red cross of St. George of England, edged in white . . .

This is superimposed on the diagonal red cross of St. Patrick of Ireland . . .

This is superimposed on the diagonal white cross of St. Andrew of Scotland . . .

Flag etiquette to be remembered at all times . . .

  • A national flag is always treated with dignity and respect.

  • One national flag is never displayed above that of another nation.

  • A flag must never be allowed to touch the ground or become soiled.

  • When displayed indoors on a staff, but not on the speaker's platform, the staff is positioned to the right of the audience as they view the speaker.

  • If several national flags are displayed, the flag of the host nation should appear on the left as viewing the stage.

  • A flag carried in a procession should be free flying, and if it is a national flag, it should be first in the procession.

  • A tattered or faded flag should be removed and replaced with a new flag.

  • A flag is never flown or displayed upside down, since this is the international sign of distress.

S - O - O - O . . . we are back to the basic question. What is the right way up for the Union Jack?

Drum roll, please . . .

Be sure the larger white stripe is above the thin red strip in the upper left hand corner.

Correct way to fly flag, assuming hoist to the left.

Incorrect  way to fly flag, assuming hoist to the left.

A good question is - why is there a right way up?  Why not put all three flags together symmetrically, so there is no right way up? According to the information put out by the Flags and Heraldry Committee of Parliament, the Scottish flag and the English flag were first combined in 1606, and the Irish Flag combined with them all in 1801.  So the placement of the flags together shows that the Scottish St. Andrew's cross takes precedence over the Irish St. Patrick's cross.


Royal Navy Stores Duties instructions, article 447, dated 26 February 1914, specified that the flags condemned from further service were to be torn up into small pieces and disposed of as rags (ADM 1/8369/56), not to be used for decoration or sold.  The exception was flags that had flown in action: these could be framed and kept on board, or transferred to a "suitable place", such as a museum (ADM 1/8567/245.)

Thanks to reader David Spears for the link to the Flag Institute, where you can find just about everything you want to know about the Union Jack, including such issues as how to fold a flag that has draped a coffin, to be given to the next of kin; the occasions for flying the Union Jack at half mast; the precedence of flags at various events; and much more. I highly recommend it.

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