The Australian Red Ensign

Re: A fitting memorial to those who served Australia in both world wars would be a flag for the Army so that today’s soldiers would honour the first and second AIF by wearing the Red Ensign as their shoulder Badge.
Dear Prime Minister,

Over the last few years I have written to the previous Prime Minister and his various Ministers in an attempt to get some recognition of the part the red ensign played in our history. Unfortunately, communication with those levels of government were sent down the food chain, resulting in one finally receiving a reply suggesting, that the Australian people were confused back then and the great Bob Menzies set the record straight in 1954.
Alas, attempts to stimulate some discussion with your ministers, has received the same responses by (probably the same) bureaucrats.I am now 74 years old, so this is my last shot. I know there are more pressing issues facing your generation and the ones to come. Nevertheless, it would be nice to know that the Fat Blimps like Bob Menzies and their cohorts did not get away with distorting history to suit their short term fear mongering. Particularly as this history is covered with blood of PBI’s (poor bloody infantrymen). The history of the use of our flags has not been frozen in time since 1903. Indeed there continued to be changes right up to 2000 when the Australian Defence Force ensign was proclaimed on 12 April 2000. The People’s Flag – the 1901 flag design competition -was announced on 3 September 1901 and the selected design was subsequently modified and formally adopted from 20 February 1903, with a further change to the current design from 23 February 1908.

Initially the blue version of the Australian flag was limited to government use and the red was only intended for use by private shipping. At sea the use of the Union Jack was prohibited except on warships of the Royal Navy and there was -uncertainty as to whether ordinary people could use the Union Jack on land.
During the 19th century in Britain and other parts of the Empire The practice developed for the British Red Ensign to be used on land when private citizens wanted to fly a flag from a building. This practice explains why the flag of Canada until 1965 was a red ensign. Accordingly, From 1909 to 1954, the Australian Red Ensign was the flag used when businesses and individuals wanted to fly a local flag, either in addition to or in place of the Union Jack. Historically the Australian Red Ensign can be considered to be the, ‘Peoples Flag’ though there was no contemporary use of this description.
Although officially this flag was intended for use at sea only, there was confusion amongst the public about which flag to fly on land, with the red and blue ensigns and Union Jack often being used interchangeably, depending upon the preference of the user.
The Union Jack was the flag used by the Australian forces in the Sudan War (1885), the Boxer Rebellion (1900-1901), and the Boer War (1899-1902, i.e. both before and after Federation). The Union Jack was predominant in the First World War. During the Second World War “there was confusion about the Union Jack, the Defaced Red Ensign and the Defaced Blue Ensign”. In the Korean War, Australians fought under the United Nations’ Flag. As for Australians fighting under the present Commonwealth Flag, “the only war (undeclared) where that was definitively the case was the Vietnam War”.
The previous Australian flag had a federation star comprising six points to represent the six Australian states. In 1906 Australia acquired the Territory of Papua, and to indicate this the number of points on the federation star was increased to seven in 1908 but the remainder of the flag was left unchanged. This design change was promulgated in the Government Gazette on 22 May 1909.
When the Northern Territory and ACT were created as Federal Territories in 1911, a decision was made not to increase the number of points on the Federation Star. Instead, the seventh point would represent all territories and states created after 1901.
Flag Adopted: 20 February 1903Flag Proportion: 1:2Use: Government Flag and Ensign
The design of the Southern Cross on the “official” or Government flag was also changed at the same time.
In 1941, Australia’s Prime Minister Robert Menzies added to this confusion by directing that there should be no restriction on private citizens flying the Blue Ensign, instead of the Union Jack, though most people continued to use the red ensign. Prime Minister Ben Chifley reaffirmed this Government consent in February 1947. However, the so called, confusion really wasn’t ended until the Flags Act 1953 (enacted in 1954) gave legal effect to this directive, with the Red Ensign becoming reserved as the Civil Ensign. Up until April 1954 the Commonwealth Blue Ensign was regarded as an official flag, and its use on land was restricted to government establishments. It was, therefore, the red ensign that enjoyed much use by the public. Red ensigns were displayed in schools, was the flag that the crowd wave when the Queen first stepped ashore in Sydney in 1954. Of course the Blue Ensign greeted her in Melbourne, because ultimately, this was a struggle between Victoria Vs NSW, SA, and QLD. The Australian Red Ensign was used on expeditions, and taken to war by servicemen; When Mawson landed in Antarctica in 1930, the flags he and his men stood under were the Union Jack and the Australian red ensign. The famous Changi Flag, which flew at the liberation of Singapore in 1945, was a Red Ensign. The Victorian RSL president, Mr Bruce Ruxton, bought it in 1998 for $25,000. The Breakwater Battery Museum at Port Kembla, NSW, operated by the State’s Maritime Services Board, displays a red ensign with the sign “Original Australian National Flag… This is the flag our troops fought under in World Wars I and II.”According to Carol Foley in her book, “The Australian Flag”, published in 1996, the RAAF used the British RAF flag in both world wars and the Australian navy fought under the British naval ensign until 1966. From September 1901 Australia had two officially approved ensigns, but since neither was specifically for use by the public, it was not surprising that the popular Federation Flag (used in the movement for the federation of the Australian colonies) was still widely flown, even up into the 1920s. The Federation FlagThe Federation Flag was viewed as “a flag of the people” and continued to be used, especially on public occasions, as well as in literature and advertising. It was even flown at official events, such as the 1907 Melbourne meeting of State Premiers, and during the 1927 visit to Australia of the Duke and Duchess of York (the future King George VI and Queen Elizabeth).In 1924 the Commonwealth government, after much indecision, advised State governments that the Australian blue flag was for Commonwealth use only. Protest forced reconsideration of the issue, and the concession that State governments could use the Australian flag if State flags were not available. However, private organisations and individuals, and even state schools wishing to use an Australian flag were expected to use the red one.
Strangely, the official painting of the opening of Parliament House in 1927 features the red Australian flag.The Victorian Government challenged this direction in relation to State schools in 1938, and, unable to get a response from the Commonwealth, legislated in 1940 to allow schools to fly the Australian blue flag. This increased pressure on the Commonwealth government led it to announce in 1941 and again in 1947 that there was no longer a restriction on the use of that flag.Finally, when arrangements were being completed for the presentation of an Australian flag to every school as part of the Commonwealth Jubilee celebrations in 1951, a decision had to be made as to whether that flag would be blue or red. The Menzies Government in December 1950 proclaimed the blue flag as the Australian national flag, and subsequently prepared the legislation which became the Flags Act 1953. The Prime Minister expected that the practice of flying the Australian flag and the Union Flag together on national occasions would continue. He also ensured that Section 8 of the Act maintained a person’s ‘right or privilege’, defined in Britain in 1908, to fly the Union Flag.However, despite the existence of the two Australian ensigns, the Union Jack remained the national flag of Australia. As the 1939 edition of the authoritative ‘Flags of the World’states: “The national flag of the Commonwealth of Australia is of course the Union, her ensign the Blue Ensign with a large white seven pointed star beneath the Union, and the Southern Cross” (emphasis added). Throughout Australia, in the early part of the century, “the Union Jack was almost as often flown as the Australian flag”, although sometimes with an Australian ensign alongside. Prime Minister Robert Menzies himself spelt out the position of the Union Jack, when he made a radio speech on the brink of the Second World War, declaring that Australia and Britain were “at one”, under “one king, one flag”.In fact, in 1967, Prime Minister Robert Menzies wrote in his book ‘Afternoon Light, Some Memories of Men and Events’ “In the year of my birth 1894 – Queen Victoria was on the throne of the United Kingdom and Ireland and the Dominions and Colonies beyond the Seas… For us, the maps of the world were patterned with great areas of red, at a time when red was a respectable colour.”
The release of Gerard Henderson’s book ‘Menzies’ Child’, has helped confirm the view that the Australian flag as we now know it was not the flag which Australians would have used as their national flag prior to 1954, The Executive Director of Ausflag, Mr Harold Scruby in his media release on Friday 9 December 1994 He made the following points:
· Australians were given a plebiscite for their national anthem in 1977 and a referendum on the republic in 1999. Australians have never had a choice in their flag. The evidence is overwhelming that the blue Australian flag did not come into use, until the Menzies government in the Flags Act of 1953 proclaimed it. Even Then, the Union Jack was flown in the superior position (higher and on the left) to the Australian Flag until about 1964.Towards World War II, the Australian red ensign became popular, although the Union Jack usually flew alone or in a senior position to the red ensign. The blue ensign was rarely seen, its use being restricted to government buildings and schools.
· Bruce Ruxton paid $25000 for the flag kept by the prisoners of Changi. It is an Australian red ensign. Sir Douglas Mawson’s flag in his time capsule in Antarctica is an Australian red ensign.
· When Queen Elizabeth II came to Australia in 1954, she was welcomed by millions of Australians mostly waving Union Jacks and Australian red ensigns. During that visit she proclaimed the current Australian flag, for the first time making the blue ensign the preferred colour.
· The Liberal Party was not formed under an Australian flag; it was formed under the Union Jack.
· It is quite likely that Menzies’ adoption of a blue ensign in 1954 as the Australian Flag in preference to the popular red ensign, without any consultation with the Australian people, was for political purposes. The clues to this can be found in Menzies’ statement in his book “Afternoon Light” relating to “red being a respectable colour” in his youth. This change from socialist red to Liberal Party blue was made during the time when Menzies was campaigning against the communists.
Mr Scruby went on to say, “It was important that Australians were aware of the true history of the current Australian flag. He said the argument so frequently advanced that we should not change it because so many Australians had fought and died under the current Australian flag, was historically and factually incorrect.”
The Australian Army has no separate ensign but has the ceremonial role of protector of the Australian National Flag. The 1954 act gave legal effect to this directive, with the Red Ensign then becoming reserved as the Civil Ensign.
People who deny the role of the Red Ensign in our history say;The public also began using the red ensign on land this is presumably why it was incorrectly substituted for the official Australian Flag.

When you read the signatures on the ‘Kitchener Flag’ (below) you may find it hard to accept that these people believed that the red ensign was not somehow involved in WWI.
Tewksbury, a successful Melbourne businessman, conceived the idea of raising funds for wounded Australian soldiers by raffling a flag autographed by the world’s most famous men, including national and war leaders, Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, Prime Minister W M Hughes and General Monash. This flag was sent around the world to obtain the signatures and 20,000 pounds was raised from the raffle.
The flag was advertised as the ‘Kitchener Flag’.A retired seaman who sold it to Edward Solomon, a Melbourne philanthropist and collector, who had already purchased other autographed flags at fund raising auctions for the war effort, won it. Solomon later presented his entire autographed flag collection, which he had acquired during the First World War, to the Australian War Memorial.
During the Second World War William Tewkesbury again raised funds for wounded soldiers by + raffling an autographed flag known as the ‘Churchill Flag’, and selling badges , this time raising 28,000 pounds.

The ‘Kitchener Flag’ Australian Red Ensign.
A square of white silk has been attached to the flag, signed in indelible pencil ‘George R.I. Mary R’, under the Union Jack, marked ‘THE WHITE HOUSE WASHINGTON’ and signed in ink ‘Woodrow Wilson’. The large Federation star is signed in pencil ‘J.Foch’, the smaller stars, in black ink or pencil ‘D.Haigh’, ‘David Beatty’, ‘J.Joffre’, ‘W R Robertson’, and ‘Jellicoe’. The white stripes of the Union Jack have been signed ‘Rudyard Kipling’, ‘H.H. Asquith’, ‘Devonshire’, ‘J.P. Morgan’, ‘A. Bonar Law’, ‘D Lloyd George’, ‘John Monash’, ‘E. Grey’, ‘Derby’, ‘Roseberry’, ‘Beresford’, ‘Kitchener’, ‘W. Birdwood’, ‘W.M. Hughes’, ‘Randall Cantuar’, ‘W Tewkesbury’, ‘R.W. Ferguson’, ‘Edward Wallington’, ‘Edward P’, ‘Stamfordham’ and ‘Beresford’. The signatures on the flag are those of : His Majesty King George V , King of England 1910-1936; Her Majesty Queen Mary, Wife of the King of England 1910-1936; Edward Windsor, Prince of Wales, later King of England (Edward VIII); President Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States of America 1912-1920; The Duke of Devonshire, Governor-General of Canada 1916-1921;Mr Rudyard Kipling, Author and Nobel Prize winner for literature 1907; The Right Honourable Andrew Bonar Law, Secretary of State for the Colonies 1916-1921; Sir Edward Grey (Viscount Grey), Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs 1905-1916; Lord Rosebery, Prime Minister of Great Britain 1894-1895; The Honourable William Morris Hughes, Prime Minister of Australia 1915-1922;Earl Kitchener of Khartoum and Broome, Secretary of State for War 1914-1916;Lord Birdwood of ANZAC and Totnes, Commander of the Australian Imperial Forces 1914-1919; Lord Stamfordham, Private Secretary to King George V 1910-1931;Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson, Governor-General of Australia 1914-1920; The Honourable Herbert Henry Asquith, Prime Minister of Great Britain 1908-1916; Mr John Pierpont Morgan II, Industrialist said to be one of the world’s richest men; The Right Honourable David Lloyd George, Prime Minister of Great Britain 1916-1922; Lord Derby, Secretary of State for War1916-1918; The Right Honourable Arthur James Balfour, First Lord of the Admiralty 1915-1916; Admiral Lord Charles Beresford, Commander of the Channel Fleet 1907-1909; Sir Edward Wallington, Private Secretary to Queen Mary 1910-1919; The Most Reverend Randall Davidson, Archbishop of Canterbury 1903-1928; Marshal Joseph Joffre, Commander-in-Chief of the French Armies 1915-1917; Earl Haig of Bemersyde, Commander-in-Chief of British forces 1915-1919; Field Marshal Sir William Robertson, Chief of the Imperial General Staff 1916-1918; Viscount Jellicoe of Scapa, Commander of the Grand Fleet 1914-1916; Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Commander of Allied forces Western Front 1918; General Sir John Monash, Commander of the Australian Corps in France 1918;Admiral Sir David Beatty, Commander of the Grand Fleet 1914-1919;Mr William Tewksbury, Originator of the concept for the “Kitchener Flag” .

AWM copyright

First World War, 1914-1918

The Allied Commander Pays The Highest Tribute To The Australian Forces.
On November 7th 1920 the remains of an Australian soldier and a French soldier were buried in the Amiens Cathedral. The Bishop of Amiens and Marshal Foch expressed themselves thus:-
The Bishop of Amiens: “We bow to you, Messieurs les Australians, for the magnificent deeds that you did in those days, now happily at an end, for your country and for France, and for the victory of hope and sanity. The soil of France is transfigured to a new divinity by your sacrifices. In the whole of history we cannot find an army more marvellous in its bravery, and in the war there was none that contributed more nobly to the final triumph”.
Marshal Foch: “We intend today in Amiens to express to you and the Commonwealth of Australia our gratitude……Our aspirations and our will had to be agreed, they could not be too closely allied. Although our task was never easy, it was made less difficult by the patriotism and the passionate valour of the Australians which served as an example to the whole world. That wonderful attack of yours at Villers Bretonneux was the final proof, if any were needed, that the real task of the High Command was to show itself equal to its soldiers. You saved Amiens. You saved France. Our gratitude will remain ever and always to Australia. (Note the Australian Red Ensign).

Gough Whitlam’s speech at the ALP Annual Dinner, Melbourne 11 November 1994”On a visit to Ottawa in June 1964 I was in the gallery of the House of Commons when Prime Minister Lester Pearson introduced the bill for Canada’s new flag. He made the point that the inclusion and position of the Union Jack in the national flag led to confusion with the flags and insignia of countries and units in all parts of the world; the flag failed in the prime requirement of presenting a Canadian identity. This point was brought home to Australians when a later Prime Minister of Canada welcomed Bob Hawke on an official visit to Ottawa; the streets were festooned with the flag of New Zealand”.“ Blimps like Bruce Ruxton bring the RSL into ridicule by claiming that all Australians have fought under the present flag. Even when our soldiers carried flags in World Wars I and II and our airmen in World War II, there were at least as many Union Jacks as Red or Blue Australian Ensigns. The RAN always used the ensigns of the RN until the latter complained during Australia’s, but not Britain’s, hostilities in Vietnam. In April 1967 Prime Minister Holt inserted the blue Southern Cross and removed the St. George’s Cross in the RAN White Ensign. Early last year another member of my old RAAF squadron sent me photographs of two funerals we attended in January 1945. At Gove and Adelaide River Cemetery the coffins were draped in Union Jacks; at the latter the Red Ensign flew from a flagpole.The capital of Australia was moved from Melbourne to Canberra in 1927. The Canberra Times published photographs 60 years later to commemorate the anniversary of the opening of Civic Centre by Prime Minister Bruce; there were many Union Jacks but no Australian flags. I was at school in Canberra from that time till the end of 1934; there were always more Union Jacks than (Blue Ensigns) Australian flags.”
The point I make is that the bulk of those that served in the Army, and indeed their loved ones, felt that they were fighting under the Red ensign. How can we let this fragment of our history just slip away without recognition?

The best indication of what the soldiers themselves thought is in the ensigns that are on display at the Australian War Memorial and the RAAF Museum. In the Australian War Memorial, the red ensigns on display outnumber the blue ensigns in the World War I period, by about ten to one.
At age 74, I had hoped that one day there will be enough interest within the ranks of Australia’s political classes to give recognition to a flag that had played an important part in our history. When I heard that the Labor Government was seeking ideas for a fitting monument to these long gone Australian soldiers, I believed that a fitting memorial would be for today’s diggers to honour the first and second AIF by wearing the Red Ensign as their shoulder flash. The civil flag, having de-facto acceptance by the generations who fought two world wars, was relegated to the dust bin of history by a Prime Minister who treated us all with arrogance and contempt and who used fear of the Red Communist threat from the north, to win his elections. With the help of ASIO to raise fear of communism in the population.

John Ward 20 Grosse Road
Kwan, Elizabeth, ‘Blue over red: Australia’s Victorian flag legacy and Menzies’ decision’, Crux Australia, vol. 13/4, no. 56, February 2000, pp. 158–75.Kwan, Elizabeth, ‘The Australian flag: ambiguous symbol of nationality in Melbourne and Sydney, 1920–21’, Australian Historical Studies, vol. 26, no. 103, October 1994.
The Australian War MemorialA Short History of AustraliaManning Clark, 4th Revised Edition, Penguin, Melbourne, 1995.
What Happened WhenAnthony Barker, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1992.
Crux AustralisAnthony Burton (Editor), Flag Society of Australia, Melbourne, Australia.– “The 1901 Australian Flag Competition: Facts Behind the Myths”, Ralph Kelly, Volume X No 1 January 1994.
Menzies’ book “Afternoon Light”
Extract from Gough Whitlam’s speech at the ALP Annual Dinner, Melbourne 11 November 1994Gerard Henderson’s book ‘Menzies’ Child’1939 edition of the authoritative ‘Flags of the World’Carol Foley, “The Australian Flag”, published in 1996


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