Colours, standards and guidons

In military organizations, the practice of carrying colours, standards or Guidons, to act both as a rallying point for troops, and to mark the location of the commander, is thought to have originated in Ancient Egypt some 5,000 years ago. It was formalised in the armies of medieval Europe, with standards being emblazoned with the commander's coat of arms.

As armies became trained and adopted set formations, each regiment's ability to keep its formation was potentially critical to its, and therefore its army's, success. In the chaos of battle, not least due to the amount of dust and smoke on a battlefield, soldiers needed to be able to determine where their regiment was.

In the British Army the medieval standards developed into the Colours of the Infantry, the Standards of the Heavy Cavalry, and the Guidons of the Light Cavalry.

As time passed, Regiments were awarded battle honours, which they emblazoned on their Colours, Standards and Guidons. They therefore became a link to the Regiment's past and a memorial to the fallen, and thus took on a more mystical significance than as mere identifying markers on the battlefield: they became the heart of the regiment, in which all of its history was woven. Such became the significance in this context that, for a regiment to lose its colours was (and still is) a major disgrace, with the capture of an enemy's colours (or equivalent) being seen as a great honour. This is why that, whenever the colours are paraded, they are always escorted by armed guards and paid the highest compliments by all soldiers and officers, second only to those paid to the sovereign.

Colours are consecrated. Consequently they can serve as an altar for a drumhead service. They are never capriciously destroyed - when too old to use they are replaced and then laid-up in a regimental chapel to moulder unto dust. Many cathedrals carry old Colours. However, in most modern armies, standing orders now call for the Colours to be intentionally destroyed if they are ever in jeopardy of being captured by the enemy.

Due to the advent of modern weapons, and subsequent changes in tactics, Colours are no longer carried into battle; instead, they are carried in parades and reviews, and displayed in formations and ceremonies in remembrance of their former presence on the battlefield.


Colors redirects here. For other uses, see Color (disambiguation).

United Kingdom and other Commonwealth nations

The Colours of the Infantry are a set of large flags, unique to each regiment, that the ordinary soldier would be able to identify straight away.

Line infantry and foot guards

In regiments of infantry of the British Army and the armies of other Commonwealth countries, each battalion carries two colours, which collectively are called a stand. These are large flags, usually 36 in × 45 in, and mounted on a pike which is 8 ft 7½ in long; the King's/Queen's Colour (or President's Colour in non-Commonwealth Realms) is usually a version of the country's national flag, often trimmed with gold fabric, and with the regiment's insignia placed in the centre. The Regimental Colour is a flag of a single colour, usually the colour of the uniform facings (collar/lapels and cuffs) of the regiment, again often trimmed and with the insignia in the centre. Most regiments that are designated as 'royal' regiments (that is either have the word 'Royal' or the sponsorship of a royal personage in their name) have a navy blue Regimental Colour. Irish regiments - today the Royal Irish Regiment - have a dark green Regimental Colour.

The colours of the five regiments of Foot Guards have the pattern of the line infantry reversed, with the Queen's Colour being crimson and the Regimental Colour a variation of the Union Flag.

Additional Colours

  • The Guards regiments each have at least one State Colour; this is usually crimson with various regimental devices and honors. They are only used by Guards of Honor, not found by the Queen’s Guard, mounted on State occasions when the Queen is present. They are only lowered to the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and, until her death, the Queen Mother. They are also lowered on other State occasions only when the Queen is present, even if the Guard of Honor is mounted in honor of some other personage.
  • The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment: The 1st Battalion, Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment, as the linear descendant, bears the Third Colour initially born by the 2nd Regiment of Foot, later renamed the Queen's Royal Regiment (West Surrey) which, for one reason or another, was never taken away from the regiment in the 18th century when new regulations on colours were implemented.
  • The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers: The 1st Battalion, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, which is the direct descendant, bears the Drummer's Colour awarded after the Battle of Wilhelmstahl to the 5th Regiment of Foot (Royal Northumberland Fusiliers).
  • The Yorkshire Regiment: The 3rd Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment (Duke of Wellington's), as the linear descendent, carries the honorary Queen's and Regimental Colours that were given to the 76th Regiment of Foot by the Honourable East India Company following their actions at Delhi and Allyghur.
  • The Royal Highland Fusiliers: The Royal Highland Fusiliers (2nd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland) carries the Assaye Colour awarded as an honorary colour to the 74th Regiment of Foot following the Battle of Assaye, which is paraded every year on Assaye Day.

Rifle regiments

By tradition, rifle regiments do not carry colours; this goes back to their formation, when they were used as skirmishers and sharpshooters. While individual units may have had banners or pennants to distinguish themselves from other units, regiments as a whole never needed a full stand of Colours. Today, the two rifle regiments in the British Army, The Rifles and the Royal Gurkha Rifles carry their battle honours on their drums, while the Royal Green Jackets also had theirs inscribed on their cap badge. In place of a Regimental Colour, the Gurkhas carry the Queen's Truncheon.

The Honourable Artillery Company

The HAC is today an artillery regiment and has both a stand of Colours (Queen's and Regimental) and Guns. The latter are also regarded as colours and accorded the same compliments just as the Royal Artillery regard their guns as their Colours.


Woven onto the colours are battle honours; the Queen's Colour has honours from the First World War and Second World War, while the Regimental Colour has honours from other campaigns. The Regimental Colour will also have other distinctions, including antecedent emblems and unique honours; one significant example is the Sphinx emblem carried by regiments who took part in the Egypt campaign of 1801. If the regiment has more than a single battalion, then there will be identifying marks on the colours to show which battalion they belong to. There are various other embellishments that can be added to the colours on various occasions:

In the UK, 41 Commando, Royal Marines and the 1st Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment were also awarded the PUC and permitted to display the streamer of their regimental colours.

Because of their importance to the regiment, prior to a new stand of colours being presented, they are consecrated.

Royal Hospital, Chelsea

The Royal Hospital, Chelsea had neither colours nor other distinctive device during its entire history, until 2002 when Her Majesty the Queen presented the Hospital with the Sovereign's Mace. This is now paraded by a party of In-Pensioners at all of the Royal Hospital's ceremonial events

Royal Marines

The Corps of Royal Marines has a single pattern Queen's Colour, which is the Union Flag with the foul anchor and the reigning sovereign's cypher interlaced in the centre. Above is a scroll with the single battle honour Gibraltar surmounted by St Edward's Crown. Below is the globe (which represents the many Battle Honours the Royal Marines had earned) surrounded by a laurel wreath (which represents the Battle of Belle Isle) and below this is a scroll with the Corps' motto. Each of the three commandos (the battalion-sized formations that make up the bulk of the corps) has a Queen's Colour, with the only difference being the colour of the cords and tassels. Each commando also has its own Regimental Colour. The Regimental Colour is a dark blue flag (because the Corps is classed as a 'royal regiment') with a small Union Flag at the pike head. The Colour carries similar central embellishments as the Queen's Colour, with the exception that the cypher of George IV replaces that of the reigning monarch and the unit numeral is below. The Royal Cypher is at the other corners. The Regimental Colours also have the coloured cords and tassels, which are gold combined with the following colours:

NB: The Fleet Protection Group carries on the traditions of 43 Commando, and has custody of the unit's Colours.

The former 41 Commando was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation for its service in the Korean War, and was thus permitted to carry the streamer on its Regimental Colour.

The Royal Navy

The Colours of Her Majesty's ships in the Royal Navy consist of:

In addition, each principal command in the Royal Navy also has its own Queen's Colour which is a variation of the White Ensign, with its dimensions altered to mirror those of the Colours of infantry regiments. In the centre is the Royal Cypher of the reigning monarch within the Garter, surmounted by the crown.

Unlike the Colours of regiments in the Army, every Queen's Colour of the Royal Navy is identical. The following units hold a Queen's Colour of the Royal Navy:

The Royal Air Force

RAF Colours are made of sky blue silk and measure approximately 36" x 36". The following colours have been awarded:

The Queen's Colour for the Royal Air Force in the United Kingdom is a variation of the RAF Ensign with its dimensions altered. The RAF Roundel is moved to the lower fly, with its place in the centre again taken by the Royal Cypher surmounted by the crown. Other colours feature the unit's badge in the centre with the Royal Cypher and crown in the first quarter.

Australia and Canada

The naval and air forces of both Australia and Canada also have similar Colours based on their own ensigns. Rules stipulated by the Canadian Department of Defence state that the First, or Senior Colours symbolizes the unit's loyalty to the Crown; authorization to possess a Queen's Colour may only be granted, and the Colour presented, by the Queen or her vice-regal representative. The design based on the flag of Canada reflects the custom established for infantry line regiments in the mid 18th century, when the Sovereign's Colour was based on the national flag.

  • Royal Australian Navy: The Queen's Colour of the RAN is a variation of the Australian White Ensign - it is a reverse of the Australian flag (white with blue stars), with the Royal Cypher and Garter band positioned between the Commonwealth Star and the stars representing the Southern Cross. (See former Colours at Naval Chapel, Garden Island NSW)
  • Canadian Forces Maritime Command (the 'navy'): The Queen's Colour of Maritime Command is a variation of the Canadian Naval Jack - it is white, with the Canadian flag in the canton, the Royal Cypher for Canada in the centre and the symbol of the navy in the lower fly. The edge of the Colour is trimmed in gold.

Air Force

  • Royal Australian Air Force: The Queen's Colour of the RAAF is similar to that of the RAF - however, in addition to the RAAF roundel, which is in the lower fly, it has the Commonwealth Star in the lower hoist and the stars of the Southern Cross in the upper fly, with the Royal Cypher in the centre. The flag has a border of golden wattle as well as golden fringe.
  • Canadian Forces Air Command (the 'air force'): The Queen's Colour of Air Command is significantly different from the standard in that it is not based on the ensign but instead is similar to the Queen's Colour of infantry regiments: it is a silk national flag of Canada with a red circlet on the maple leaf inscribed with the name of the command, surrounding the royal cipher, and ensigned with the royal crown. Uniquely among Commonwealth air forces, the Canadian air force also has a Command Colour, analogous to an infantry Regimental Colour. This is light blue with the command badge in the centre and a gold maple leaf in each corner, stems outward.

Sri Lanka

When Sri Lanka declared it self a republic in 1972 the units that had a Queen's Colour retired them. These were replaced by the new President's Colour, which was first awarded in 1972. The following colours have been awarded:Regiments

United States

In the U.S. Army, most regiments, battalions of regiments and separate battalions also have a stand of colours. The first is the National Colour, which is a 36in × 48in version of the national flag trimmed with a 2.5in wide gold fringe, and is the equivalent of the Queen's Colour in the British Army. (NB: In the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps, the National Colour has no gold fringe, and is instead decorated with red, white and blue cords and tassels). The second is the Organizational Colour, which is the equivalent of the Regimental Colour; this is the same dimensions as the National Colour, but is of a single colour representing the branch of the service that the unit is from; each branch also has its own fringe colour, which the Organizational Colour is trimmed with. In the centre of the Colour is the eagle from the Great Seal of the United States, but with the regimental coat of arms in the shield. The eagle has in its beak a scroll bearing the regimental motto, with the crest of the regiment's coat of arms above it and the regiment's name below. The Organizational Colour was carried in lieu of a National Colour until shortly before the Civil War, when the Stars and Stripes became the National Colour.

U.S. Air Force (USAF) groups have the same National Colour as the Army; the Organizational Colour is ultramarine blue, with the group's coat of arms beneath the USAF crest, which is an eagle on a cloud background. The fringe is in gold. The finial is a nickel or chrome plated spearhead for the Army, Air Force and Marines. Battle honours are displayed on the Organizational Colour by the use of various coloured streamers attached to the top of the pike; these can either be War Service streamers, which are in the colours of the appropriate campaign medal and have the name of the campaign embroidered, or Unit Citation streamers, which have the name of the action embroidered and signify that the unit's performance in a specific action has been worthy of special mention. The streamers are 3ft × 2.75in.

  • Service Streamers
    • Revolutionary War: The streamer is red with a single thin white stripe down the centre.
    • War of 1812: The streamer for the War of 1812 is similar to the Revolutionary War streamer, but with two white stipes either side of a centre red stripe.
    • Mexican War: The streamer is identical in layout to the Revolutionary War streamer, but is green rather than red.
    • American Civil War: The US Army awards two different streamers for the American Civil War, one for units that served in the Union (North) Army and one for units of the Confederate (South) Army. Confederate streamers are authorised for use by National Guard units in the states of the Confederacy, and have the recognised Confederate names of battles/campaigns (where the name differs from the one used by the Union, i.e. Sharpsburg versus Antietam);
      • Union Army: The streamer is divided in half with blue over grey.
      • Confederate Army: The streamer is divided in half with grey over blue.
    • Indian Wars: The streamer is red, with thin black stripes towards the edges.
    • Spanish-American War: The streamer has two thick blue and one thick yellow stripes, with two thin yellow stripes at the edges.
    • Philippine-American War: The streamer is blue, with two thick red stripes towards the edges.
    • World War I: The streamer is the World War I Victory Medal ribbon which had a red centre with a rainbow on each side of the centre stripe and a purple edge.
    • World War II Asia-Pacific: The Asiatic Pacific Campaign streamer is yellow with a narrow blue, white and red centre stripe and a narrow white, red and white stripe on each side. The yellow colour represents Asia; the blue, white, and red stripes taken from the American Defence Medal refer to the continuance of American Defence after Pearl Harbor. The red and white stripes are the Japanese colours.
    • World War II Europe-Africa-Middle East: The EAME streamer is green with a brown stripe on each edge. The centre has a narrow blue, white and red stripe. On the upper portion is a narrow white and red stripe with a narrow white, black and white stripe on the lower portion.
    • Korea: The Korean Service streamer is light blue with a white centre stripe and a narrow white stripe on each edge.
    • Vietnam: The Vietnam Service streamer is yellow with three red stripes through the centre. It has a green stripe on each side.
    • Gulf: The Gulf Service streamer has buff stripes at the top and bottom, with a green stripe in the centre. In the centre of the green stripe is a thin black band, while the buff stripes have thin bands of blue-white-red (as seen from the edge of the streamer).
  • Citation Streamers
    • Presidential Unit Citation: The PUC streamer is all blue for the Army and Air Force, and blue-gold-red for the Navy and Marine Corps.
    • Valorous Unit Award/Navy Unit Commendation/Gallant Unit Citation: The VUA streamer has three red and two dark blue stripes, in between which are very thin white stripes. The NUC streamer is green, with thin bands of blue, yellow and red at the top and bottom. The GUC streamer has two main blue stripes, divided by thin bands of red at the top and bottom, and two bands of white/one band of red in the middle.
    • Meritorious Unit Commendation/Award: The MUC streamer is all red for the Army and green with thin bands of gold, blue and red in the middle for the Navy and Marines. For the Air Force, it is known as the Meritorious Unit Award, and has stripes in the order red-white-blue-white-red, with the red stripes divided by thin white bands.
    • Superior Unit Award/Outstanding Unit Award: The SUA streamer is red with a single green stripe down the centre. The OUA streamer has two blue stripes, divided by two white and one red bands in the centre, and with bands of red and white at the top and bottom.

U.S. units are also permitted to wear streamers of overseas awards they may have been presented with. These streamers are in the colours of the appropriate medal ribbon.

In addition to individual regiments and battalions having their own colours, each branch of the services has an organizational colour, which is called the ceremonial flag. Each of these is 4 ft 4 in × 5 ft 6 in, with a 2.5in gold fringe. All of them have attached campaign/battle streamers for actions in which the service as a whole has taken part. The US Army flag, for instance, currently has 178 service streamers. The ceremonial flag is paraded with a National Colour of equal dimensions.

The United States National Colour is never dipped in salute, but remains vertical at all times. The organizational colours and guidons are dipped. When the National Colour is not cased, all persons salute the Colours.


This details the two Chinas (People's Republic of China and Republic of China)

People's Republic of China

The People's Liberation Army is the overall body for the entire armed forces of the People's Republic of China, and is represented by a single flag, which serves as a ceremonial colour for all regiments and larger formations. This is based on the national flag, but has instead of the four smaller gold stars the Chinese characters for the numerals '8' and '1', which stands for the 1st August, which was the date in 1927 that the PLA was founded. When paraded, the flag is fringed with gold, and is mounted on a red and gold pole. However, each branch of the PLA has its own flag, based on the Army Flag:

  • Ground forces: This is the Army Flag with the lower 40% coloured green.
  • Navy: This is the Army flag except that the lower 40% has three blue and two white horizontal stripes of equal width.
  • Air Force: This is the Army Flag with the lower 40% coloured air force blue.
  • Banners of the PLA

Republic of China

The army of the Republic of China (Taiwan) also has a single flag that it uses, which is red, with a blue rectangle in the centre and the white sun from the national flag. It has a red flagpole with silver spearhead finial and red tassels immediately underneath. Individual units use a variation of the Army Flag as their own identifying Colour; this features a white strip next to the hoist, which has the unit's name in black characters, as well as yellow fringe.

European monarchies


In the Dutch armed forces, the Colour is orange. On obverse is the royal cypher of the monarch that gave the regiment its (original) colour, with the unit's name underneath, both in gold; around the four edges is a laurel branch. On the reverse is the arms of the Kingdom of the Netherlands without the mantle. The shield is blue and is strewn with small upright rectangles; the main device is a crowned rampant lion, holding a sword in its upper paw. The lion and rectangles are gold, whilst the blade of the sword is silver. Supporting the shield on either side is a gold rampant lion, facing outwards towards the viewer. There is a gold crown above the shield; whilst below it is a blue scroll with the motto Je Maintiendrai in gold. The shield and lions are surrounded by a wreath of green palm and oak leaves, and there is another wavy gold laurel wreath around the edge. Battle honours are added in the corners of the obverse; if additional honours are awarded, they are placed on streamers that are attached to the pike until the presentation of a new Colour. The Military Order of William or other decorations are attached to the pike when awarded. The pike has a finial of a lion on a block holding a sword and a bunch of seven arrows. Traditionally a colour is 87 cm x 87 cm (with a pike of 2.50 m in length), but armoured infantry regiments carry colours that measure 60 cm x 60 cm (with a pike of 2.20 m in length). Guards regiments carry the same colour, with some differing details.


Infantry units have a drapeau / vlag, a square vertical tricolour of black, yellow, and red within a 15 mm wide gold border, the whole being 90 cm square. The names of battle honours for which the unit was cited are embroidered in gold in French on the obverse and in Dutch on the reverse, in straight lines.


Danish infantry units carry a regimentsfane or bataljonsfane, which measures 105 × 140 cm. The flag is a variation of the Dannebrog, with a curvilinear white Dannebrog cross, set with its center about 1/2 the width of the hoist from the hoist edge. The royal cypher is embroidered in gold over the center of the cross, the unit badge in gold in the upper hoist, and the unit number and/or name in gold in the lower hoist. Some regiments have additional marks in the upper and lower fly. The Prince's Life Regiment, for instance, has Prince Henrik's cipher in the upper fly and the Queen Mother's in the lower, as one of its antecedents was the Queen's Life Regiment. The finial is an ornate gold openwork spearhead with the royal cypher in the center. Attached below the spearhead are one or more fanebander, lengths of red silk with gold fringe at each end, knotted around the pike, with the regiment's battle honors inscribed in gold. The colour is decorated with a gold cord with two tassels and bordered with a thin strip of gold cord. The sleeve holding the colour to the pike is attached with ornamental nails, the first three of which represent the sovereign, the Fatherland, and the Union.

Holy See

The flag of the Swiss Guard, the army of the Vatican City, consists of four quarters. The Coat of Arms of the current pope is in the first quarter, while the arms of Pope Julius II are in the fourth quarter. In the second and third quarters are horizontal stripes of red, yellow and blue, the colours of the unit's uniforms.

The flag also has the coat of arms of the commander within a wreath, on a background of the colour of his canton. The design of the flag changes with the election of a new pope and the appointment of a new commander.


Norwegian infantry units have a stand of colours - the first (King's Colour) is the national flag, while the second (Regimental Colour) is unique to each unit:

  • Infantry: Norwegian line infantry units carry regimental colours, either of a solid colour or divided vertically into two or three stripes, with the Norwegian lion in the centre, the name of the unit, and battle honors embroidered on the field. The colours vary by regiment and derive either from historic associations with predecessor regiments or from the colours of the regiment's oldest known uniform.
  • Guards: The Royal Norwegian Guards regiment has a regimental colour that is all white, again with the lion in the centre, and with the Royal Cypher of the reigning monarch in each corner.


  • Standard Colours: Units of the Spanish Army have a single colour based on the national flag. This has the coat of arms in the centre of the flag, surrounded by the regiment's name in black. Red and yellow tassles are attached to the finial which have battle honours embroidered on them.
  • Coronelas: Up until the early years of the 20th century, some Spanish regiments had a coronela, or King's Colour in addition to their Regimental Colour based on the national flag. Although officially the only colour is the standard one, some older regiments continue to carry a copy of their old coronela which are used on some occasions to maintain regimental traditions. However, the coronelas no longer have any official standing and are not used on official occasions.

European republics


Units of the Bundeswehr have only a single Colour. The Truppenfahne is a square version of the national flag with the Bundesadler (national shield) overall in the center. The flag is surrounded by a black, red, and gold lacework border and edged on three sides by gold fringe. The finial is a gilt bronze openwork spearhead surrounding a black and silver Iron Cross. Below the finial, a streamer is attached with the unit badge at the top and its designation embroidered in gold at the end. These streamers are red for army (Heer) units, blue for the navy (Marine), and white for the air force (Luftwaffe). The streamer is the same length as the hoist of the flag.


Regimental Colours of French Army infantry units are called drapeaux (flags)

  • Foot Units: Infantry (including Marine Infantry, Legion Infantry, Paratroops Infantry), Engineers, Transmissions and Military Colleges.

An Army flag is a 90cm × 90cm Tricoloure (about 1 × 1yd). It is a square Tricoloure set on a 2m stave ended by a pike-shaped finial with a cartouche (one side "RF", the other side: name of unit). A golden fringed tricolour cravate is tied to the pike.

  • Obverse: The obverse of a colour carries in gold the words:

and the unit number or monogram encircled in antique oak and laurel crown, in gold too, in each corner.

  • Reverse: The reverse of a colour carries in gold the words:
    • HONNEUR (Honour)
    • ET (and)
    • PATRIE (Fatherland)

and the unit number or monogram in each corner as on the obverse. Below "honneur et patrie" are:

  • the unit's motto
  • the unit's battle honours


Units of Finnish Defence Forces have a single Colour. The Colours are either active or traditional. An active Colour belongs to a brigade or a separate regiment. A traditional Colour belongs to a battalion or a regiment that has formerly been separate but is now part of a brigade. The difference between an active and traditional Colour is the way of presenting them. The active Colour has always a guard of two officers, while a traditional Colour is borne without one. The military oath is always given in the presence of the active Colour of the unit.

The Finnish military vexillology is a mixture of Scandinavian and Russian tradition. The Colours are usually modelled after Swedish regimental flags of the 17th century, but some units carry flags modelled after Russian or German flags. The Colour usually bears the emblem of the province where the unit is located with an appropriate symbol of the service branch. No battle honours were awarded for units during the Second World War but some units have battle honours from the Finnish Civil War.


The Colour (bandiera di guerra) for army units (other than cavalry) is a square version of the national tricolour in silk, 99 cm × 99 cm. It is mounted on a pike 2.2 m long, made of wood covered with green velvet and decorated with ornate brass nails arranged in a spiral. The pike is topped by a 35 cm high finial consisting of an ornate gilt brass spearhead chased with a five pointed star and the monogram RI (for Repubblica Italiana), which is in turn mounted atop a gilt brass ball on which is the name and date of establishment of the unit. The pike is adorned with two silver cords 67 cm long, each with a 10 cm long silver tassel and a blue silk cravat 8 cm × 66 cm with an 8 cm silver fringe at each end, to which the unit’s decorations are pinned, the ribbons of the decorations overlapping so that the medals hang down the cravat.


All army regiments in Greece have a single colour or war flag. This is blue, with a white cross and features St George and the Dragon in the centre. This has no distinguishing features for individual regiments.


All regiments of the Portuguese Army have a National Colour - Estandarte Nacional - which is based on the National Flag of Portugal. Regiments and battalions also have regimental heraldic colours based on the unit's coat of arms.
National Colours are also carried by major units of the Portuguese Navy, Portuguese Air Force and Portuguese National Republican Guard.
The official standard for the National Colours was established in 1911 and states that they should measure 120 cm in the hoist by 130 cm in the fly, the National Arms being surrounded by two olive branches tied by a scroll with the motto "Esta é a Ditosa Pátria Minha Amada - This is My Loved Happy Motherland".


For many years after the end of the Soviet Union, the military forces of Russia continued to use the old Soviet symbols on their colours, though with the hammer and sickle removed. At the beginning of the 21st century however, moves were made to give the Russian armed forces their own identity separate from the old Soviet era. Initially, the Colour for the whole armed forces was a plain red flag. However, in 2003, a new colour was adopted. This was red, with on the reverse the coat of arms of the Russian Federation, and on the obverse the symbol of the armed forces. Around the edge is a gold border, with a single red star at each corner. Written on the obverse is the motto Fatherland, Duty, Honour In addition, both the Army and the Air Force have their own individual colours; the army's is similar to that of the armed forces as a whole, with the national coat of arms on the obverse and the symbol of the army on the reverse. The air force's is divided into yellow and blue segments, with the symbol of the air force on the reverse.

South American nations


Units of the army of Brazil carry two Colours. The standard of the Army measures 80 × 120 cm, white with the Army coat of arms in the centre, trimmed with gold fringe. The name of the service is inscribed in gold letters on a green scroll beneath the shield. Above the shield is a knight's helmet with red and sky blue mantling. The staff is topped by a nickel-plated lance-head finial, 32 cm high. Below the lance-head, there is a cravat (laço militar) divided lengthwise, sky blue and red, with a gold fringe at the end, tied in a bow and fastened with a cockade of blue with the Cruzeiro do Sul in white stars, red, and blue. Ten red streamers with campaign honors inscribed in sky blue letters are also attached below the lance-head. The staff is 212 cm long, not including the lance-head, and 3.5 cm in diameter. It is covered in sky blue velvet with a red spiral strip. The colour belt is 10 cm in width, covered with sky blue velvet with red velvet stripes.

Brazilian army units also carry the national flag as a Colour. This is in the dimensions 90 × 128 cm. It is mounted on the same size staff and with the same finial as the Army standard, but the cravat is divided lengthwise yellow and green, with a gold fringe at the end, tied in a bow and fastened with a cockade of blue with the Cruzeiro do Sul in white stars, yellow, and green. The staff is covered in green velvet with a yellow spiral strip. The colour belt is 10 cm in width, covered with green velvet with yellow velvet stripes of width and number varying with the rank of the organization's commander.


Units of the Chilean army carry one main Colour, known as the estandarte de combate (combat standard). This is the same as the national flag, but with an embroidered star and with the unit designation, honorific title, founding date and place, and, depending on the unit, other historic information and honours embroidered diagonally across the fly in gold. The flag is also trimmed with gold fringe. It is mounted on a staff with a gilt condor finial; below the finial is a cravat in the national colours with decorations attached. In addition to the military Colour, particularly distinguished units may carry a second Colour known as a bandera coronela (colonel’s colour). This is a red field with a large white five-pointed star. In the angles of the star are the names and dates of battle honors surrounded by laurel wreaths, all in gold, while in an arc above the star is the designation of the unit, also in gold. The flag is surrounded by gold fringe.

Guidons and Standards

United Kingdom and Commonwealth

The Standard is the colours-equivalent for the Heavy Cavalry (ie: Horse Guards and Dragoon Guards). At 27in × 30in, on an 8 ft 6 in long pole, it is much smaller than infantry colours, so that it can be carried by a soldier on horseback.

The Guidon is the equivalent for the Light Cavalry (ie: Dragoons, Light Dragoons, Hussars and Lancers). It is swallow-tailed, 27in × 41in, with an 8 ft 6 in long pole.

The word 'Guidon' is a corruption of the French 'Guide Homme' - 'The Guide Man'. Originally each troop had its own, but this was quickly reduced to a single, regimental one. With the increased dispersion of troops required in the light cavalry role, their operational function had ceased by the 1830s and they were discontinued. The regiment's kettledrums, with the Battle Honours woven onto the Drum Banners (with the exception of 3rd The King's Own Hussars and its successors, where they are uncovered, with the Battle Honours engraved onto the kettledrums themselves) became the focal point of the regiment's loyalty. In 1952 King George VI reintroduced the Guidons of the Light Cavalry for ceremonial purposes.

Both the Standard and the Guidon are usually of crimson trimmed in gold and with the regiment's insignia in the centre. The regiment's battle honours are emblazoned on both the obverse and reverse, up to a maximum of 22 on each side.

United States

In the United States armed forces, guidons are much more prevalent, with units below battalion size being authorized to use them. These are swallow tailed flags that are 20in × 27in, and are in the color of the branch of the service the unit is from, with the branch's insignia the most prominent device. Also on the guidon is included the unit's identifying letter, and the number(s) of its parent unit. War service and campaign streamers are not attached to these guidons, but unit citation streamers can be.

Other nations


Cavalry (armor) units carry an estandart (standard), of similar design to the infantry fane, but smaller and square, with the cross centered on the field. The royal cypher is in the upper hoist and the initials of the regiment in the lower hoist.


In the French Army, mounted units carry étendards (standards). Mounted units include Armoured corps and Cavalry (including Dragoon Paratroopers and Legion Cavalry), Artillery (including Marine Artillery, Legion Artillery, etc.), Transportation, Army Aviation, Supplies. The étendard is a 64 × 64cm square flag identical to the drapeux carried by the infantry.


In the Italian Army, cavalry units carry a stendardo (standard) of the same pattern as the bandiera di guerra, but which measures 60 cm × 60 cm.

The Netherlands

The four Hussar regiments of the Royal Netherlands Army carry a standaard (standard), of similar design to the infantry colour, but smaller (50 cm x 50 cm).


In the Portuguese Armed Forces a flâmula (swallow-tailed or triangular guidon) is used by each unit bellow battalion size. Usually, the color of the field of these guidons is different from unit to unit, identifying it inside the mother battalion or regiment.


In regiments of the (British) Royal Artillery, and artillery regiments of other Commonwealth countries, the guns are afforded the status of colours. This is due to the difficulty of artillery regiments being able to carry flags onto the battlefield, and the fact that the guns themselves were the rallying points for the soldiers manning them. As a consequence, whenever artillery regiments parade, the etiquette that would normally be applied to the colours is applied to the guns. During the Battle of Balaclava, gunners abandoned their guns, causing disgrace, abandoning their colours.

The Honourable Artillery Company, the oldest regiment in the British Army, and not part of the Royal Artillery, is the only artillery regiment to have both colours and guns, which are treated with equal respect.


  • The Regimental Colour (or Standard or Guidon) is always paraded whenever the regiment is on a formal parade. However, the Queen's Colour is only paraded on certain occasions.
  • Compliments (for example saluting and presenting arms) are always paid to the (uncased) Colours.
  • When the Colours are being paraded, they are carried either by a subaltern or warrant officer, dependent on the regiment. On parade, the Colours always have an armed escort, the Colour Party, who would normally be non-commissioned officers. In the infantry this role usually falls to Colour Sergeants.
  • When the Colours are not being paraded, most regiments house them in their Officers' Mess. They are cased and secured every night.
  • When a regiment is presented with new Colours, the old Colours, which will now never again be paraded, are laid up (ie: put on permanent display) in a place sacred to the Regiment (for example the Regimental Chapel).

Ceremonies of Colours

Royal Navy

The British Royal Navy and other navies of the Commonwealth of Nations call the flag-raising ceremony that happens every morning when a ship is in harbour Colours. In British home waters, colours is conducted at 0800 (eight bells in the morning watch) from 15 February to 31 October inclusive, and at 0900 (two bells in the forenoon watch) during the winter.

When sunset is at or before 2100, flags are lowered at sunset at the ceremony of Sunset. When sunset is after 2100, the evening flag lowering ceremony is called Evening Colours and carried out at 2100.


The general procedure for Colours in the Royal Navy is as follows. Note that in most ships Colours and Evening Colours/Sunset are usually conducted without a bugler, band or guard, except on special occasions.

  • Five minutes before Colours the controlling authority hoists the PREP and other ships repeat. The rating manning the ensign salutes and reports "Five minutes to Colours, sir" to the Officer of the Day.
  • Although this is not provided for in BR1834, one minute before Colours, the PREP is commonly moved up and down two to three times, and the rating on the ensign staff salutes and reports "One minute to Colours" to the Officer of the Day. Around this time, the Officer of the Day brings the Colour Party to attention. If a guard is present, the guard commander brings it to attention and orders "Slope arms".
  • At Colours the controlling authority dips the PREP halfway, and the rating on the ensign staff salutes and reports "Eight (or nine) o'clock, sir" (this is the report stipulated by BR1834, but the report is more commonly simply "Colours, sir"). The Officer of the Day orders "Make it so" and the bell is struck eight times, in four pairs of strikes, (if at 0800), or twice (if at 0900).
  • The Officer of the Day orders the "Alert" to be sounded (or the "Still" to be piped, if no bugler is present). If a guard is present, the guard commander orders "General salute – present arms". The upper deck broadcasts "Attention on the upper deck, face aft and salute – Colours". All personnel on the upper deck and not formed up are required to face the ensign and salute.
  • The ensign and jack are then hoisted in silence, or to the "General Salute" (if a bugler is present) or the National Anthem (if a band is present).
  • On completion, if a guard is present, the guard commander orders "Slope arms". The Officer of the Day in the controlling authority orders the 'Carry on' to be sounded/piped and the PREP is hauled down. In other ships, the PREP is hauled down in conformity, and the rating on the ensign staff reports "PREP hauled down, sir", and the Officer of the Day then orders the "Carry On" to be sounded/piped. The upper deck broadcasts "Carry on".
  • If a guard is present, the guard commander marches it off. The Officer of the Day then dismisses the Colour Party.

The general procedure for Evening Colours/Sunset is the same as for Colours (with the replacement of "Evening Colours/Sunset" for "Colours" or "Eight/nine o'clock"), except that the bell is not rung, and the ensign and jack are lowered, in silence or to the sound of "Sunset" if a bugler or band is present. At Ceremonial Sunset, when a band is present, Sunset is usually preceded by an Evening Hymn (e.g. "The Day Thou Gavest Lord Is Ended").

United States Navy

The United States Navy performs the same ceremonies, called "Morning Colours" and "Evening Colours," at 0800 and sunset each day. When Colours is played aboard Navy and Marine Corps bases, those outdoors must stop to render proper courtesies by saluting if in uniform or, if out of uniform, by standing at attention, until "Carry On" is sounded. Marines and sailors driving on base during this time are expected to stop their vehicles and sit at attention until the ceremony is over. The Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 occurred as the fleet was preparing for Morning Colours, though this had no bearing on the success or outcome of the attack.

Yacht Clubs

Many traditional Yacht Clubs worldwide also conduct morning and evening colour ceremonies. At 0800 each morning and at sunset during the club's active sailing season the ceremony is performed by the launchmen or harbormaster.

  • First, a bell is sounded as an alert for all members and guests present to stand at attention.
  • A cannon is then shot and the national ensign hoisted (or lowered if sunset).
  • At the conclusion of the ceremony the most senior officer present says: "As you were" and members and guests may carry on.


In British Army usage, the colours refer to either the flags carried by infantry units and which carry the unit's name, badges, achievements and battle honours. (In the case of cavalry units one speaks of standards or of guidons). Military personnel always accord the colours the greatest respect and salute them when carried uncased. British, Australian, Canadian, and New Zealand infantry battalions (except Rifle Regiments) normally have two colours: the Queen's Colour (the senior) carrying the battle honours from the two World Wars; and the Regimental Colour carrying all other battle honours. One unit, 1st Battalion The Royal Highland Fusiliers carries a third colour, the Assaye Colour, to commemorate participation in the battle of Assaye (1803) in India. The Royal Artillery regards its Guns as its colours and they are accorded commensurate compliments and respect. The Honourable Artillery Company has two sets of colours it has Queen's and Regimental Colours and also Guns.

Modern United States Army battalions carry a regimental colour as well as the National Flag. The regimental colour is a bald eagle with the regimental crest charged upon the eagle on a dark blue background. However, for United States units, the colour which receives honors is the National Flag.

Colours represent the pride of a regimental unit, whether in the army, air force or navy. The concept of colours originated from the Middle Ages, when lords and barons would lead their men to battle. In large-scale military encounters the need arose to establish a rallying point, so commanders used coloured flags to denote rallying points, hence the term "Colours". The concept was carried over into the British Army, where regimental colours were done in the same hue and shade as the "facing colour" (the colour in which uniform jackets were lined, which differed from regiment to regiment) to aid in recognition.

The bravest subaltern carried the colours in battle (the subaltern tradition still continues today) and since the falling of the colours represented defeat of the forces, troops would often attack them. Hence arose a need for escorts, originally pikemen. In modern days, although colours no longer appear on the battlefield, they remain objects of respect, and many of the traditions started during the Middle Ages still exist today.

See also




  • BR1834 – Royal Naval Handbook of Ceremonial and Drill

External links

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