Unit Colours

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Traditions of guiding no 2




2. Demonstrate how to carry and present unit colours. Show how to roll, store and care for unit colours.

Unit flags, or 'Colours', are normally carried using a flag holster (leather ones are by far the best, as they last for decades whereas on the fabric ones the buckle tends to slip most awkwardly after a while) - for Guides to carry flags, holsters must always be used, the flags are both far too heavy and too awkward not to! The holder should be adjusted for the individual Guide's height, so that the 'bucket' of the holster hangs down the outside of the right thigh at a comfortable mid-thigh height, making it easier to balance the flag's weight (you may need to adjust to make the bucket slightly lower if the flag is being carried indoors by a tall Guide, in order to reduce difficulties with modern low ceilings and low doorways!). The flagpole should be held by the left hand at around nose height; this hand also holds the bottom corner of the flag against the pole to stop the flag from flapping about the bearer's face and blocking her view whilst on the move (traditionally army flag bearers would also have their left elbow out at right angles, but this can become uncomfortable over time and isn't necessary - better for the elbow to be at the natural comfortable angle). It is best, if at all possible, for the Guide to have a few minutes practice at just walking to and fro whilst carrying the flag, before trying other skills, as it can be a little awkward at first to get used to balancing the weight and judging the extra height against obstructions such as lights.

Once she is comfortable with the basic carrying she can try doorways - slipping the bucket of the holster round to the outside of her right leg with her right hand enables the Guide to lower the top of the flag down to a diagonal, supported by the left hand, so it can go through the doorway trefoil first - but it takes practice to work out how early to start lowering in order to get the flag low enough to pass through without pausing or reversing! (If you regularly have to parade in a particular building with doorways it can be worth setting up a permanent unobtrusive signal, such as a coloured label or ribbon, to indicate to the bearers when to start lowering the flags for the doorway.) To present a flag, the Guide comes to the halt, then when it's her turn to present, kneels down on the right knee (the knee nearest the holster bucket), sliding the holster bucket down to her right side with her right hand as she does so, and when the person receiving is ready, eases the end of the flagpole out of the bucket with the right hand whilst continuing to hold the corner of the flag against the pole with the left hand, so the person receiving it can graps the pole with both hands and lift it up and out. If the flag has loose joints, then the person receiving should be quietly warned of this so they can make sure they grasp the flagpole above and below the joint when receiving it, to avoid embarassments!

For longer parades, the flag should be carried 'at the slope' - the flag leant on the right shoulder - rather than upright - but if others are carrying the flag upright you would follow suit.

Flags should be stored in their cases when not in use, with the flag carefully rolled neatly around the poles to avoid wrinkles. Cased flags should be kept in a safe, dry place where the temperature is reasonably even, care should be taken to exclude moths and rodents (cedar wood or proprietary moth balls should be used to help with this if the flag is liable to be stored in the case for any length of time). If flags are on display then they should be checked regularly, and consideration given to the position in regard to fading. Flags can be hand-washed and dried flat provided they are not in too delicate a condition to stand this, then carefully ironed (on older Guide flags, ironing the apliqued trefoil on one side will automatically put massive wrinkles in the one on the other, it can't be helped!). Older trefoils and pole joints are solid brass, so look good if treated with a little metal polish occasionally - wadding polish (such as duraglit) is usually easier to use than liquid polish, especially for doing the trefoils, as the liquid polish has an awkward habit of gathering in the nooks and crannies of the trefoil! If holsters are leather, a little brown boot polish well worked or melted in helps to keep them supple, shining and smart, brown polish or wax crayon of a suitable shade can be worked into any scratches in the wooden pole, then polished up to a shine, to give it a smart even colour - but be aware that too much furniture polish on the flagpole can make it too slippery to grip properly! If a flag is becoming worn or fragile, consideration should be given to retiring the current flag, and perhaps obtaining a new one, especially if it would be regularly used outdoors in inclement weather - better to make the decision before the flag is damaged by weather, than after. Retired flags must be carefully looked after and treated appropriately, your County Archivist will be able to give suggestions of what can happen to retired flags.

There are many flag customs and rules, (both written and not) used by different organisations - but bascially, so long as the flags are always treated with respect and dignity, you are unlikely to cause any real offence. The most important and relevant custom is that the fabric of a flag should never normally touch the ground - so every effort should be made to prevent this, and the flag escorts (when used) who march either side of the flag bearer are tasked with helping ensure this does not happen. The only exception to flags not touching the ground would be if the flag was being ceremonially 'dipped' (usually only for royalty, though sometimes nowadays done at some Remembrance ceremonies), but this is rare. Flags designed for hoisting on flagpoles should be folded in the hands or on a table, never on the floor/ground. In parades, the Union Flag should always go in front, with unit flags behind or to the left. Custom in parades is that the oldest organisation goes first, hence in youth parades it would be Scouts, then Guides, then Brownies, then Cubs - unless the organisers wish it to be otherwise, or another arrangement suits the participants better

Courtesy of Leslie http://lesliesguidinghistory.webs.com/traditionsbadgeshelp.htm fantastic resource


  • colours
  • flags
  • traditions

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