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United Kingdom: Royal Navy Supply & Transport Service

Last modified: 2013-07-30 by rob raeside
Keywords: royal navy | supply & transport service | victualling service | beef flag |
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[Royal Navy Supply & Transport Service] image by Joe McMillan

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About the flag

Image based on a Ministry of Defence poster called Colours of the Fleet.  The complete caption to the flag is, "The civilian manned RNSTS is responsible for the great majority of stores used throughout the Fleet. This flag was granted by the Queen in 1984 and is flown at Naval Stores Depots."
David Prothero, 17 November 2001

Victualling Service

[Victualling Service] image by Miles Li and Joe McMillan, 25 December 2007

The 'Flags and Ensigns' issue of Royal Mail Stamps (October 2001) included illustrations from 'The Maritime Flags of All Nations' (Richard H Laurie, 53 Fleet Street, London, 4 January 1842.) One was the flag of the Victualling Service, a red ensign defaced with the same crossed-anchors badge as used by RNSTS. The Victualling Service (later the Victualling and Transport Service) is presumably the predecessor of RNSTS. Samuel Pepys became its Surveyor-General in 1665.
Stephen Fletcher, 12 August 2004

"Flags of the World: Their History, Blazonry and Associations" illustrated a Blue Ensign with the same badge and usage. Judging from historic precedents, the Blue Ensign would have been the "newer" of the two ensigns. In any case, the Victualling Board had ceased to exist way back in 1832! (
Miles Li, 25 December 2007

The Victualling Board was abolished 1 June 1832 (2 Will.IV.,cap.40) so it is unlikely that the foul anchors in saltire ever appeared on a Blue Ensign. In 1872 when information for Hounsell's Flag Book was being collected, the drawing of a Red Ensign with crossed foul anchors was sent to the Portsmouth Yard, Master Shipwright and Engineer, with a letter asking if this was the "victualling transport flag". He replied that for vessels belonging to the victualling establishment the flag was a Blue Ensign with a gold horizontal anchor, and that the flag in the drawing was not known to him.
[National Archives (PRO) ADM 116/322]
David Prothero, 26 December 2007

Beef Flag

The following is a quote from the memoirs of Rear-Admiral Hugh Rodman[1], USN. Admiral Rodman commanded a squadron of American battleships that was attached to the British Grand Fleet in 1918. British Admiral David Beatty was the Fleet commander, and he and Rodman became good friends:

"There was an occasion when, standing on the quarterdeck of the "Queen Elizabeth," Admiral Beatty's flagship, in company with several other admirals, I noticed the beef-boat going past. She was flying the beef flag. Each type of vessel had a distinctive flag, and that of the beef boat was a white bull on a blue field.

"Pointing to the flag, I said facetiously, "This is the first time I have ever seen the royal standard of Great Britain flying officially - old white John Bull himself, on a azure field" They all caught my meaning and thoroughly appreciated it. But to my surprise I saw later, in the London illustrated papers, photographs of the beef flag, with my picture vignetted in the corner, with this legend: "A queer mistake of the American admiral serving in the Grand Fleet - he mistook the Beef Flag for the Royal Standard." Judging by the number of allusions to the incident from friends in the fleet, they all seemed to be very much amused."

Admiral Rodman also states that the (real) Royal Standard was hoisted at the main masthead of his flagship, the USS New York, when the King visited the ship after the Armistice. He told the King that, "this is a historic day and a proud one for us, for this is the first time in history that the royal standard of Great Britain has ever flown officially over an American man-of-war."

[1] Rodman, Rear Admiral Hugh, "Yarns of a Kentucky Admiral," Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1928, p.278.

Peter Ansoff, 17 April 2008

See note about the Bullock Pendant of the French Royal Navy.
Christopher Southworth, 18 April 2008

The Beef flag was probably a 'one-off'.
1. Although Rodman wrote that, "each type of vessel had a distinctive flag, and that of the beef boat was a white bull on a blue field", he may have been referring to the variety of different British ensigns rather than specific store ship flags.
2. It is unlikely that a store ship would have carried only one type of food at a time. I imagine that even vessels flying the Beef flag also had other provisions on board.
3. When Naval Ordnance was transferred from Army Ordnance in 1891 it was proposed that Naval Ordnance vessels should have a special ensign. D.A.S. (Director Armament Supply ?) wrote a minute in support of the proposed ensign. "Explosives and heavy ordnance require special preparations on the part of the ship receiving them. It is an advantage to know the nature of the stores being carried by a store ship. Victualling Yard vessels carrying beef, fly a flag with a white bullock on a blue ground, and although this is not in flag books it appears to be generally recognised."
[National Archives (PRO) ADM 116/353]

I suggest that if there had been other victualling yard flags he would have made a general reference to them all, rather than restricting his argument to just one example.
David Prothero 18 April 2008