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Disposal of flags

Last modified: 2012-01-13 by rob raeside
Keywords: disposal |
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Disposal in USA

The US Flag Code states that burning is the preferred method of disposal for a dishonored flag (one too tattered or soiled to be displayed).

Disposal in UK

A directive about the disposal of flags in the Royal Navy was issued on 26 Feb 1914 as Stores Duties Instructions, article 447. Royal Standards, British or foreign, the standards of all members of the Royal Family, flags (silk or bunting) personal to other distinguished personages, on being condemned for further use in HM Service, were not to be used for decorative purposes, nor to be sold out of the Service as old flags, but were to be torn up into small pieces and disposed of as rags.
Similar ruling for condemned foreign ensigns. [ADM 1/8369/56]

Flags that had been flown in action were not destroyed. War Order 2886 of 30 August 1919, incorporated into October Monthly Orders, directed that personal naval flags including the commanding officer's pennant could be retained. Ensigns should be framed and kept on board whilst the ship was in service, and then transferred to a museum or other suitable place.
[ADM 1/8567/245]

Ships could present a Battle Ensign to a town with which it was associated. In 1949 Admiral Sir W. Tennant offered the Union Jack, that had been flown as a Battle Ensign by HMS Nottingham at the Battle of Jutland (1916), to Nottingham Cathedral, noting that, "At Jutland we all flew very large Union Jacks from each masthead." [ADM 1/21533] 

The main Battle Ensign flown by HMS Exeter at the Battle of the River Plate remained in the possession of the commanding officer, and then passed to the Maritime Museum, while the second Battle Ensign went to the City of Exeter. [ADM 1/10456]

Some warships were presented with sets of silk flags for use on ceremonial occasions, and an effort was usually made to find a home for them when the ship was scrapped. The battleship HMS Malaya which was paid for by the Council of the Federated States of Malaya had a set of silk flags presented by the European Ladies of the Federated States; a 30 foot White Ensign, a 15 foot Union Jack, a 15 foot Malayan Jack, and two miniature Malayan Jacks for the ship's chapel. They were to be flown whenever HM the King visited the ship, and on 31st May, the anniversary of the Battle of Jutland. The Malayan jack was flown at the foremasthead. [ADM 1/8692/250]

The directive was changed in 1943 after torpedo coupling screws had been sent to the United States wrapped in parts of an American flag. Following a complaint from the American Embassy, Stores Duties Instructions were amended. "In future all national flags are to be destroyed and not used as 'bundling (bunting old)'". [ADM 1/12955]
David Prothero, 2 February 2002