Queen’s and Regimental Colours: Battle Honours

artefact

In Military organisations the word ‘Colour’ is used to describe the regimental flags of infantry battalions.

'Colours' are large brocade and embroidery flags which were originally carried into battle so that soldiers of a particular unit could see where the rest of their unit was located at all times and used as a rallying point during the course of the battle. Although the Colours are no longer carried in battle, they constitute the symbol of the Regiments' honour and represent its devotion to duty. As such they are held in the greatest esteem by the soldiers and officers. They are brought out on important parades and regimental occasions and are escorted by a ‘Colour Party’.

The infantry units of the British army each have two Colours: the Queen's Colour, which is a union flag and symbolises the regiment's loyalty to the Crown, and a Regimental Colour which has all the unit's battle honours inscribed on it. Thus a 'stand' or pair of Colours for a regiment normally comprises:

A Queen's Colour: usually with the design of the Union Flag with a gold circle in the centre, within which the regiment's name (and sometimes initials or number) are inscribed. The Queen's Colour of the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment contain the Regiment's Battle Honours of World War I and World War II.

A Regimental Colour: usually a plain flag in the colour of the regiment's 'facings' (traditionally the colour of the lining of the redcoat jacket) or the Cross of St George, with the regiment's insignia in the centre. In the Tiger's case the colour is yellow and lists the major Battle Honours including Tangier1662-68, the oldest Battle Honour in the British Army.

On the Regimental Colour there are also four "Distinctions". Distinctions were awarded prior to the institution of Battle Honours. The first is the "Crossed Cs" of Queen Catherine of Braganza, wife of King Charles II, who brought the Port of Tangier to the British Crown as part of her dowry. The first forebear regiment of the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment,The Tangier Regiment of Foot was raised to protect Tangier.

The second Distinction awarded was the Naval Crown of 1794 awarded in recognition of The Queen's (Second) Royal Regiment of Foot, at that stage acting as marines on HMS Queen Charlotte, Lord Howe's Flagship, during the Glorious First of June defeat of the French some 400 nautical miles (700 km) west of the French island of Ushant.

The third Distinction is the Sphinx of Egypt which was warded for service in Egypt in 1801 to both The Queen's and the 50th (West Kent) following their successful landing at Aboukir Bay, near Alexandra and the subsequent defeat of Napoleon's Army of the East.

The fourth Distinction is the Bengal Tiger awarded in 1826 to the 67th (South Hampshire) Regiment following 21 years of active service in India.

Following the presentation of new Colours, the flags being replaced are not destroyed but are laid up in a regimental museum, church, or other military building with significance to its particular unit.

Both the Sovereign’s (Queen’s) and Regimental Colour are displayed daily within the Officers’ Mess and always within the charge of an officer of the Battalion. The tradition of ‘borne by officers, guarded by soldiers’ remains a zealously guarded tradition within the Regiment. The only exception to this rule being the anniversary of the Battle of Sobraon, 10 February 1846.On this anniversary a sergeant nominated by his peers and approved by the Regimental Sergeant Major and Commanding Officer receives the honour of becoming the custodian of the Regimental Colour for a day. This pays homage to the actions of Sergeant Bernard McCabe of the 31st of Foot who, during the battle seized the Regimental Colour, after all available officers were killed, and planted it exposed on the centre of the Sikh ramparts as a rallying point for his Regiment. Heart was taken, the Regiment redoubled their efforts and the Battle was won despite ferocious opposition.