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leslie's guiding traditions

From earliest days, units were encouraged to get flags which they could carry in parades and at special events. They were encouraged first to obtain a Union Flag, as this was often used at Promise ceremonies - in many Guide units, the Guide would make her Promise while saluting with her right hand, and resting her left hand on the pole of the national flag. Once a unit had a National Flag, they next sought to fundraise towards getting a Unit Flag.

Prior to the 1930s, the unit flag design was the then First Class badge, on a navy background. The flags were often printed, and were mounted on heavy wooden poles with brass fittings and a brass trefoil as the finial.

With the introduction of the new World Badge, it's design was adopted for Guide unit flags in the UK. In this case the design was appliqued on, as was the lettering. By the late 1990s the charge was £3 per letter, so it paid to have a short name! Over the years the brass trefoil finial varied in design, but always required serious polishing in order for it to pass muster.

The downside of this was that when the design of the World Flag changed, so too did the UK Guide flags have to change. This flag was the result of the redesign.

In 2014 new flag designs were introduced for each section. This saw a return to printed flags rather than appliqued, and the lightweight synthetic fabric made them both lighter to carry, easier to clean, and quicker to dry in inclement weather.

Of course, once you had got your flag, you had to learn how to use it. This topic can cause endless discussions, sometimes arguments, over how things should be done. So I have drawn the information below from two official sources - first the Girl Guide Association's own "Flag Ceremonial" instruction booklet, 1979 edition, and for flag dipping, from the Royal British Legion's instruction manual on flag ceremonial. The first thing to be mastered for flag ceremonial are the positions the flag may be held in.

As soon as the flag is removed from the carrier, it should be treated with respect. So while waiting for the event to start, the Guide should hold the flag at the 'Order'. The Guide should stand smartly upright, with the flag holster worn over the right shoulder so the bucket hangs by her right hip. The flag sits with the base of the pole resting on the ground, and she holds the pole lightly with her right hand. She will find it helpful to hold some of the flag fabric against the pole, to stop it blowing around in her face.

When the ceremony is about to begin, she should lift the flag up into the holster. The holster would normally be worn at hip height, (if you are using a flag indoors in a building with low ceilings or doorways it may be helpful to wear the holster a little lower, especially if the flag bearer is tall, to avoid the risk of damage to light bulbs etc).

This position is known as the 'carry', the flag pole is held by the right hand, with the back of the hand outwards (again, it can be useful to hold the tail of the flag against the pole, especially in windy weather, to prevent it blowing into your face and blocking your view). The left arm is held straight down by the side, and the feet are in the 'attention' position, with heels touching and toes slightly apart.  

Some traditionalists may say that the right arm should be held in a horizontal position, but this can be very tiring, which makes it hard to retain control of the flag. So I'd recommend the elbow being in a lower, more natural angle, as shown.

Although many parades ask for flags to be marched at the 'carry', according to 'Flag Ceremonial' they should be carried at the 'slope'. In this case the right arm is outstretched, supporting the flag, which rests on the right shoulder. The base of the flag is thus naturally held a few inches off the ground. As well as spreading the weight along the length of the arm and shoulder rather than just through the shoulder strap, the other advantage comes when dealing with low ceilings or obstacles.

Again, the flag bearer should always stand to attention when holding the flag in the 'slope' position.

At this stage, we will pause to consider the colour, and the colour party. In this case, the 'colour' is the formal name for a dedicated flag which represents a body of people - in this case, a Guide unit. In a tradition carried over from military days, the colour is carried by the flag bearer, she is always accompanied by two fellow Guides, who stand and march either side of the flag bearer throughout the ceremony, unless space forbids. They are responsible for helping the flag bearer - watching for hazards especially overhead, being ready to help steady the flag in windy weather, ready to take over if the flag bearer were to be injured or unwell. So they need to know the ceremonial as well as the flag bearer does, and be able to march smartly in step with her.

When they have the colour, a colour party may stand to attention, or stand at ease, but may never stand easy.

Another important area to master is how to give and receive a flag. Often this can be part of a ceremony (such as flags being taken from the bearers to put in the flag stand or by the altar during a church service). In such cases it is important to have a smooth, smart process. Although the book does not mention it, in practice we have found that if the flag bearer can kneel on the right knee to receive the flag, then it makes the process much easier for all, especially indoors where ceilings have to be considered. In this case the procedure is that the colour party approach the person receiving the flag. The colour party halt two paces short of the front, then the flag bearer steps forward two paces. She grasps the flagpole and the fly of the flag with her left hand, and moves her right hand to the bucket of the flag holster. She kneels down on her right knee, and eases the flag out of the holster, so the person in front of her can receive it. Once the flag has been handed over, she stands up, about turns, steps forward until she is in line with her escorts. The flag escorts then about turn, and all can forward march to their places.  

For receiving the flag back, the process is reversed, with the flag bearer kneeling down to receive the flag.

Although not included in the flag ceremonial book, at Remembrance parades there may be a request for flags to be dipped. In this case the starting position is from the carry. The flag is tipped forward so the end of the pole can be tucked under the arm, whilst swinging it out to the right slightly, then lowered so the fabric starts to touch the ground. If necessary use the left hand to help support it. The pole is then gently swung across to the front, so the flag is laid spread out across the ground, with the finial touching the ground at the front.  

Once the command is given, the flag is swung upwards into the 'carry' position (again, if need be both hands can be used), then the left hand is lowered back to the side.  

This procedure is only used if the ground is dry. If the ground is wet or muddy, there is an alternative procedure.

If the ground is wet or muddy, then the flag is not laid on the ground. Instead, to dip the flag, from the carry, tuck the flagpole under the arm and hold the flag straight out horizontally. In doing so, the fly of the flag should hang just off the ground.  

Once the command is given, the flag can be swing back to the upright position.  

As colours are dedicated, they have to be treated respectfully at all times, and this includes returning them to the case after use, and storing them. In terms of putting them away in the case, in ceremonial terms the main rule is that the flag does not touch the ground.  

One option is, as shown, for the flag bearer to roll the fabric of the flag round the pole, while one of the bearers holds the flag out smoothly.  

Flags should be kept in a safe pace, with care taken to look after the fabric. If flags need to be laundered, they should ideally be handwashed in mild soap, then dried flat. The pole finial and fittings are brass, they should be cleaned gently, avoid metal polishes which tend to be abrasive. Leather flag holsters benefit from leather food or saddle soap.