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leslie's guiding traditions

Another traditional skill which dates right back to the Brownsea Island camp in 1908. Patriotism and 'respect for the flag' has always been a part of Guiding. As a result, many units hoist a flag at the start of unit meetings and lower it at the end - and almost all units take a flag to camp, and hoist it in the mornings and lower it at sundown, or if everyone is going off-site. This could be a national flag, or a World Flag, as the unit wishes.

The way the ceremony is done is that the flag is prepared in advance, rolled up and hoisted to the flag pole in readiness. Only after that has been done will everyone gather to start the ceremony proper. So first, we will look at how to prepare the flag and fit it onto the flagpole or hoist, ready for the ceremony.

The first step is to lay out the flag flat, with the 'toggle' at the top corner and the 'strop' hanging down at the bottom. It can be laid out on a table, or held in the hands, but it can be considered disrespectful to lay a flag on the ground or floor.

The first stage is to fold the flag in half, bottom to top, making sure all seams are even and the fabric is lying flat and smooth.

Then fold the bottom hem up a second time, to create a narrow strip of fabric. (With an especially large flag, you can fold it upwards a third time if you wish, or it would make it easier to handle.

Once you have the flag in a narrow strip, fold the end once towards the toggle end, but slightly short of in half. Many flags have a white canvas strip at the strop & toggle end - if so, fold to the edge of that strip, as shown.

Taking the strop rope, use it to pull the corner of the flag down as you wrap the strop rope tightly around the rolled flag. Then tuck a loop of the strop rope up the loop you have just made, as is shown in the picture on the left.  

Once your flag is rolled and tucked as shown, the flag can be stored in this way, ready for use. So if you know a flag ceremony is scheduled, you can ensure the flags are folded and rolled ahead of time.

It's now time to attach the flag to the flagpole or hoist. The flagpole should have two ropes which run through a pulley, and the two ends wrapped round a 'cleat' near the bottom of the flagpole, in easy reach.

To attach the flag to the flagpole, there are two knots you need to know. The first is the Clove Hitch. This is used to attach one of the flagpole ropes onto the flag. It is tied to the flag immediately underneath the wooden toggle, as shown in the picture.  

The other knot you need to know is the Sheet Bend. At the bottom of the strop there is a loop on the rope. The other end of the flagpole rope is tied through the strop loop using a Sheet Bend, as shown in the picture.  

When handling the flagpole ropes, be careful to keep them wrapped around the cleat until you are ready to use them.

Once the flag has been attached top and bottom, it should form the flagpole rope into a loop. With your rolled-up flag secured, now hoist it to the top of the flagpole, making sure that it is toggle-end-up. Once it is at the top of the flagpole, gently gather together the two ends of the flagpole rope, and wrap them round the cleat on the flagpole, so that the rolled-up flag stays at the top of the pole. It can now stay there until you are ready to begin the ceremony.

As with all ceremonies invoving flags, there ceremony is led by the colour party - three Guides, with the leader in the middle, and her two escorts either side. They should ideally be wearing smart uniform. At camp they may wear navy blue clothes, with Promise badges.

The Guides march into horseshoe, with the flagpole in front of the Guiders, and the colour party marching from the back, so that they end up at the centre bottom of the horseshoe. Once the horseshoe is in position, the Guider will give the command "colour party, unfurl the colour". The Colour party leader will then take charge of the colour party, and will instruct them, "Colour Party, Forward March". The trio will then march forward towards the flagpole. When they are a couple of steps short of it, she will command "Colour Party, Halt", and they will stop on the spot. She will then take two steps forward, towards the flagpole. Without undoing anything, she will tug the looser of the flagpole cords, which will unfurl the flag. (If the weather is still, she may wish to shake the cord slightly to help unfurl the flag if it isn't readily unfolding).

Once the flag is unfolded, she will step back, in line with her two escords. She will then say "Colour Party Salute the Colour" and they will all give the Guide sign. The Guide Leader will then say "Company, Salute the Colour", and all present will give the Guide sign. Then the Colour Party leader will say "Colour Party About Turn" and they will turn on the spot, then "Colour Party Forward March", and they will march back to their places in the horseshoe. When they get there, she will say "Colour Party Halt", and then "Colour Party About Turn".

At unit camps it would be usual for everyone in the unit to attend the colour ceremony each time. At larger camps that is not feasible, so instead a whistle would be blown to indicate when the ceremony was starting, so that everyone can stop what they are doing and stand to attention where they are, while the ceremony is carried out - once it was completed the whistle would blow again to indicate everyone can resume what they were doing. In such cases there would often be no horseshoe, the colour party alone would form up opposite the flagpole, march forward, and unfurl the flag, step back, and salute, to complete the short ceremony.

In the evening, the ceremony to lower the flag is for a horseshoe to be formed, with colour party at the back so they end up in the middle of the horseshoe. As above, the colour party leader instructs "Colour Party Forward March", then when they are a couple of steps from the flagpole, instructs "Colour Party Halt", then steps forward herself. She unwinds the two cords from the flagpole cleat, and holds them together in her hand. She instructs "Company, Salute the Colour", then slowly lowers the flag until the loose end of it comes within reach. She then places the 'fly' of the flag over her left shoulder, so it is draped over her shoulder and does not touch the ground. She undoes the sheet bend and clove hitch, taking care to ensure the flagpole cords do not blow out of her hands. (Her escorts can step forward to help with this if necessary). She then takes the two flagpole cords together and winds them around the cleat, so they are secured.

With the flag still over her shoulder, she steps back into line with her escorts, then commands "Colour Party About Turn", and "Colour Party Forward March". Once they reach their placed in the horseshoe she commands "Colour Party Halt", and "Colour Party About Turn". Once the ceremony is over and the horseshoe has dispersed, the escorts can help the Colour Party Leader to fold up and roll the flag for storage, it can then be put in a safe place (such as the store tent or Leader's tent) until next needed.