Tuesday, 5 June 2012

A simple guide to spotting bad union flags

Having seen so many union flags done wrong this weekend, here is my simple guide of how to tell a good flag from a bad one. It is not hard to tell once you know, and it is a curse, just like learning correct grammar is a curse.

One issue with spotting a duff flag is that you do not always see all of the flag. Some times you have a stylised design showing part of a flag. Even so, there are clues.

I am not going to try and mention colours (yes, the blue is meant to be quite dark compared to the red), ratios (as the design rules allow for different ratios, and there are several in use, though 2:1 seems "normal"), or try and cover every way it can be wrong, just the main ones. These are all things you can see without needing a ruler (no, I do not mean without a King/Queen, I mean without measuring things).

1. Right way up

The red diagonal cross is not the same as the original St. Patrick flag but sort of shifted anti-clockwise slightly. It means that the red diagonal cross is lower on the left side than the right when viewed with flag pole on the left. When no flag pole you assume it is on the left. Otherwise it is upside down (supposedly a sign of duress).

2. Red at the corner

At each corner one edge the St. Patrick red cross touches the corner exactly. It is either the top or bottom edge depending on the corner (see point 1 above). It is not centred on the corner or missing it at all.

3. White at the corners

The white St. Andrew cross on blue does meet at the corners and is centred on the diagonal. In fact, the white:red:white ratios are 1:2:3 and the total thickness of the white cross is 1/5th of the overall height of the flag (the same as the thickness of the red part of the St. Georges red cross in the centre).

4. Red diagonals meeting the centre

You cannot always see the corners, e.g. when the flag is on triangular pennant or some other stylised version. You can, however, spot simple mistakes. The diagonal lines of the St. Patrick's cross meet the red St. George's cross in different ways depending on the ratio of the flag, but the top and bottom diagonals do not meet in the same way - in fact the top left diagonal must have its right hand edge aligned with the left hand edge of the bottom left diagonal where it meets the centre. i.e.


  1. The image F8 would seem to be incorrect - the red stripes should never form right angles, as the lower diagonal stripe appears to have ;)

    1. According to the details I have read, whilst they would never do so on a 2:1 ratio flag, they can do on other ratios. This happens (just) on the army's 5:3 ratio version of the union flag and any with a squarer ratio than that. It is very noticeable on the 2:3 ratio. Once you get as far as 1:1 you once again avoid the right angle.

    2. Aren't standards great? (flag joke)

    3. The best thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from.

  2. I understand the suttleness in determining if the Union Flag is the right way up conveyed an advantage against attempted rouses in battle. If it was feared "the enemy" were planning to use a fort/castle/etc as a honeypot to attract and sneak attack British troops they'd fly the flag upside down before capture - the enemy wouldn't notice and disaster would be averted by keen eyed British troops.

    Security by obscurity?

    1. Security by pedantry?

    2. Sorry, I mean security by pennantry, obviously.