British Imperial Flags

My classroom
A moth-eaten rag on a worm-eaten pole 
It does not look likely to stir a man's soul, 
'Tis the deeds that were done 'neath the moth-eaten rag, 
When the pole was a staff, and the rag was a flag. 
Sir Edward B. Hamley 
But how does the sight of a mouldering flag hanging forlornly in the corner of a classroom stir the souls of students separated from such deeds by time, geography, culture, and language? I teach history in an international school in China’s capital; most of the students are Asian, foreign nationals, and learning in English as a second language. I focus on ensuring my students feel history and not just to articulate it—a key means is through flags.
The most immediate use of flags is as an ensemble; the veritable onslaught of colour in my classroom creates an immediate reaction from students (and parents!). The back wall is a riot of red, made up of communist flags from all over. Red is such a powerful symbol—no matter the weather or environment, it sticks out. Blowing in the wind on a pole outside the class, the country’s flag reminds students of what it had to overcome, what it has achieved, and what it stands for.
Some flags illustrate specific points in lessons. The junks in the badge of the old colonial flag of Hong Kong, with the Chinese dragon losing the Pearl of the Orient to the British lion, recall the “national humiliation” that saw the first of the unequal treaties signed at Nanking in 1842. The bright red maple leaf is used to explain to students the legacy the Battle of Vimy Ridge continues to exert on Canadians. The dozens of ensigns that once represented the nations of the British Empire but today are long forgotten, suggest the vagaries of time and human ambition, whilst the hammers and sickles throughout illustrate the idea of communities over countries. And yet if studying history is little more than reflecting on “the register of crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind”, in China it can be a state crime. Unlike other subjects, history offers students a taste of the forbidden where even possessing a Tibetan flag or that of Nationalist China is illegal. The result is a level of engaging discussion which, with flags, students can follow visually.
For example, one student immediately noticed in a Chinese propaganda poster how the five people shown seem to represent the stars on the Chinese flag, with the largest (representing the Communist Party) in the middle surrounded by smaller people representing the various groups in society. This is the type of analysis I hope students can demonstrate by the end of my course. A girl in my Grade 11 class recently noted how the key symbols shown in a Nazi poster were the very ones adopted for the state flag (suspended above her) of the Communist regime that replaced it.
Through the use of visual stimulus, my students and I engage in a discussion of ideology that transcended anything we could have hoped for through a simple reading of the text. Flags provide other stimuli besides colour and their symbols. Nearly all my flags are vintage, individually- sewn pieces of fabric slowly falling apart, which once represented nations but today register little more than idle curiosity. Compared to cheap, printed, mass- produced flags, the seams and stitches of such old flags add an extra dimension to my class which gives students a subconscious awareness of the traditions and history that went into making such symbols. The musty smell of the heavy fabric adds weight to the history I’m teaching, providing, I hope, the same feeling of wonder one gets by looking at old standards hanging alone in the corner of some old church.

British Empire Flag
Glorious heavy  multi-layered cotton sewn flag measuring approximately 156" (396cm)  x  60" (152cm). Originally constructed for the British Empire Exhibition (1924-1925) held at Wembley, this particular flag is a museum piece that was acquired at the closing of the Uralla War  Museum in New South Wales, Australia in 2013. Many smaller versions (parade flags) exist, but this full sized version rarely comes up for auction. Sometimes unofficially, albeit erroneously, also called the “Dominion Flag” or “British Empire Flag” the flag takes the form of a U.K. white ensign defaced with the arms and attributes of the dominions:


The coat of arms of Australia (formally known as the Commonwealth Coat of Arms) is the official symbol of Australia. The initial coat of arms, as displayed on this flag, was official from 07 May 1908 - 18 September 1912.

The badge featured here displays an earlier Coat of Arms of the country's initial 7 provinces (including the first draft of the Coat of Arms of British Columbia), and was semi-official between the years of 1873-1896.

The Star of India centred on the flag was in place during British rule between the years of 1858-1947.

New Zealand
  A unique representation of New Zealand's Southern Cross.   Although similar to the National Colonial Flag of Australia, the St. George's Cross overlaid with four white stars in the four quarters of the Cross, represents the Southern Cross of New Zealand.  The difference being the number of points on the stars (Australia 7, New Zealand 5).   The Governor of New Zealand flag (1869-1874) also displays the St. George's cross with four 5-pointed white stars in a similar fashion.    

South Africa
This original rendition of the Coat of Arms of South Africa was in place from 17 September 1910 - 1930.      
Flag proposals for the Federal Commonwealth Society. and right  image by Charles Ashburner 
Mrflag is selling this (very expensive for a mere) printed version of the flag:
Rare version with different Canadian shield and star of India used

1897 Golden Jubilee flag
Measuring 30" by 26" and featuring 61 colonies and 11 red ensigns.

Great War Postcards

Flags of the 1914-1918 Allies Cigarette Cards
 United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland,White and blue ensigns
Red Ensign, Commonwealth of Australia and Dominion of New Zealand

British East Africa, British Guiana and the Dominion of Canada
Ceylon, India and Jamaica

Newfoundland, Straits Settlement and Union of South Africa

From The Times History Of War XVII (150)

Sigismund Goetze's Britannia Pacificatrix at the Foreign Office showing Britannia victorious after the Great War, upholding the peace with the aid of Her far-off sons and allies within a marble colonnade topped with a Latin inscription. She shakes hands with America, wearing the cap of liberty and holding the scales of justice. She in turn is flanked by France, grasping a short sword pointed downward at the wreckage of Germany's war machine, and Italy, holding the axe and fasces. All stand on the imperial flag of Germany.
Behind the Mother Country stand the dominions- Newfoundland (holding the trident), and the others holding their red esnigns-South Africa (wearing a lion skin), Canada (crowned with wheat and girded with maple leaves), and Australia (in digger's hat), embracing neighbour New Zealand (in golden fleece). The supporting players are India in suit of armour, Arabia looking like King Feisal, Greece carrying a statue, Romania an oil jar, Japan cherry blossom, whilst a naked black boy supports on his head a cornucopia symbolising Africa's potential. Belgium is seen naked with broken sword clinging to Britannia, but with flag unsullied, and a Serbia being comforted, clinging to Her flag.

Badges of British Colonial Ensigns from Flags of Maritime Nations, 1914
Published by the US Department of Navy

The Flags of the British Empire from 1917, Includes: England. Scotland. Ireland. War. Naval. Wales. Royal Family. Customs. Vessels. Lighthouses. Boats. Gibraltar. Malta. Cyprus. Isle of Man. Alderney. Jersey. Guernsey. Canada. Bermuda. Bahama. Jamaica. Turks and Caicos. Barbados. St. Lucia. Falkland. New Zealand. Tonga. Australia. Borneo. Malay. Pahang. India. Egypt. Nigeria.

1917 National Geographic book "Flags of the World"

  Edward VIII Commemorative Flags
Using the same design featuring the flags of British India, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa for three different sovereigns.

Left: Set of 'British Empire' vintage playing cards featuring the flags of New Zealand, India, Canada, Australia, and South Africa. Right: British flag mascot, dated 1937, made for the Coronation
Edward VIII souvenir plaque for the 1937 Coronation which never took place due to the Abdication, featuring portrait of the King in full military dress framed with a crowned wreath, flags of Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and India around, 152mm. On the right entitled Chamberlain the Peacemaker are shown the flags (from left to right) of New Zealand, India, Dominion of Canada, South Africa and Australia.
"Women Vote Under These Flags": Interesting depiction of flags including use of red Ensign for England as opposed to the St. George flag, an unofficial Irish Free State flag, a non-Scandinavian crossed Finnish flag, unusual Icelandic flag and an early representation of the Welsh flag not to be officially adopted until 1959.

Opening of British Empire Exhibition
 Belfast in 1906 with the Canadian, Australian (earlier version with all stars in the Southern Cross seven-pointed apart from the smallest and the Commonwealth Star which didn't become 7 pointed until 1908) and Irish ensigns and, on the right, at the opening of the British Empire Exhibition in April 1924 in Wembley Stadium. Inexcusably, the Union flag is flying upside down.

Ridgways Tea tin, depicting H.M. King George V and Queen Mary
Canadian ensign (1892-1922), an apparent Indian Viceroy's flag, an unknown African Governor's flag and Australia
British Imperial Flags from the 1936 Olympics
British Empire flags from the set of cards issued for the 1936 Berlin Games produced by Aurelia of Dresden.

With the Canadian flag in front during the Olympics and what appears to be the Bermudan Governor's flag on the right from a National Geographic article in the February 1937 issue titled "Changing Berlin".
Indian flag being hoisted during the Berlin 1936 Olympics and from a screen shot from Olympia 1 Teil - Fest der Völker
Other screen shots From Olympia 1 Teil - Fest der Völker
Canadian Flags, the one on the left showing its shield within a white disc which I have never seen anywhere else.

Left: Governor General of Jamaica (not sure why this would have been flown)
Right: New Zealand RED Ensign (centre) and Malta to its right

FLAGS AND SIGNALS OF ALL NATIONS by Hounsell Brothers, flag manufacturers to the Lords' Commissioners of the Admiralty.
Blue Ensign flag, Union Jack and Red Ensign flag
Royal Standard, Standard of Prince of Wales and Standard of Duke of Edinburgh

Commodore's Broad Pendant flag, Scottish flag, and flag of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland

British Consul flag, British Custom House flag, and Union Jack Merchant flag

Admiralty Flag, Admiral's Flag and White Ensign flag
London, Edinburgh and Dublin

Will's Cigarettes Flags of the Empire

Cadbury's Cigarette cards

Silks Kensitas British Empire Flags

1950s Flags of the Empire bunting

Twenty four small flags from the British Empire, dating from the early 1950's. They are attached to a length of cord which measures approximately 29 feet (8.85 metres) long. Each flag is printed on a loose weave material - probably cotton. There are two each from the following countries: Union Flag, Scotland, Wales, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India, Ceylon, Pakistan, South Africa, Southern Rhodesia and the Gold Coast (Ghana).

Flags of the British Empire
Based on the initiative of John Marwood (Oxford, UK), high-resolution bimap artwork by Roberto Breschi (Lucca, Italy and vector art by Mario Fabretto (Turriaco, Italy)

Flags and Badges of the British Empire
The image on the left is from the Philips British Empire Atlas with the Navy League Crest illustrating the historical development, physical and climatic features, natural resources, trade and economic development, scenery, flags and badges of the British Empire. It was printed in Great Britain in 1924, is 250mm x 195mm and over 80 pages.

circa 1930s

Left: 1895 Chart entitled Flags of the British Empire showing the Blue Pendant & White Pendant and the following flags: Royal Naval Reserve, Lloyd’s ensign, Man o’ War, Board of Trade Marine Department, The Royal Standard, Custom House, Governor General of Colonies, St George’s Cross, British India, Dominion of Canada, Union Flag, Newfoundland, Cape Colony, Natal, Merchant Red Ensign, Commonwealth of Australia and the Dominion of New Zealand. Right:Wills in 1908 entitled Flags & Ensigns. Includes White Ensign, Strait Settlements, Sandwich Islands, Governor General of Colonies, Custom House, British Empire Admiralty Vessels, Board of Trade and Blue Ensign.
From Whitney Smith's book on Flags

James Stevenson & Co's Flags of all Nations

Detailed Inventory of Colonial Discs and Shields

Flags, Badges & Arms of His Majesty’s Dominions Beyond the Seas and of Territories Under His Majesty’s Protection
From French Navy Flagbook

From Marcus E.V. Schmöger's remarkable collection, graciously provided. His own websites can be found at www:

1899 Chromolithographs of World Flags

Massary Zigarettenfabrik 1929

Wer nennt die Länder-kennt die Flaggen. This German tobacco card album was published in 1929 by the German tobacco company Massary in Berlin in 1929 and contains 64 pages with filled with a complete set of 837 1 ¾ x 2 ½ inch cards depicting flags of all the countries around the world including some of their colonies and provinces and over130 cards of the British Empire.

From Die Welt in Bilder Album 7 -Fahnenbilder Aussereuropäische Staaten (The World in Pictures Volume 7 subtitled Flags of the World Outside of European States)
This tobacco card album was published in 1932 by the German tobacco company Cigaretten-Bilderdienst in Dresden(a union of various tobacco companies) and contains 27 pages filled with a complete set of 200 1 ¾ x 2 ½ inch cards with gold borders depicting flags of countries around the world except Europe.

Pamphlets published in the Dominion of Canada during the Second World War
Flags of Empire

Eight-page booklet of WW2 Flags published by Maple Leaf Milling advertising Red River Cereal.
Canada and the United Nations

20 pages, by Gutta, Percha & Rubber Co., lithographed in Toronto, 19 countries listed with leader portraits and scenic illustrations.
Flags of Empire - Flags of Commonwealth
The chart on the left celebrates the first 100 years of the Australian National Flag and the use of the British Union Flag in 30 national, state and vice-regal Flags flown between 1901 and 2001. It also acknowledges the origins of the Australian National Flag, derived from the British Admiralty’s basic design directives for colonial and Dominion Flags, i.e., the Union Flag and a local design feature elsewhere on the flag.
That on the right shows the wrong depiction of the Canadian flag inexplicably.

Australian Disloyalty

From Alfred Znamierowski's The World of Flags (pp.

Canada(1922-1957), Canada (1957-1965), South Africa (1912-1928)
Grenada, Nyasaland, Tanganyika, Gilbert & Ellice Islands, Burma, Sarawak, Fed. of Rhodesia & Nyasaland, Guyana, Solomon Islands, Seychelles, Bahamas, Dominica, Saint Lucia, Barbados, British Honduras, Turks and Caicos Islands, New Zealand (1900-1902), Australia (1903-1908)

British Overseas Territories today

Flags of the 14 Overseas Territories used by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and outside the Millennium Hall in Flore, Northamptonshire.

The flags of the Overseas Territories a Parliament Square and Vice-Regal standards at the Commonwealth Flag Project