The Sovereign’s Colours

By Bill Davidson


Colours have long been associated with the British Army, having been in use in some guise since the mid-1600s, if not earlier. Approval to use Colours by the Royal Navy was first granted in 1924, despite the Royal Navy having been in existence in some form since the mid-9th century. The Royal Australian Navy was presented with its first Colours, those of King George V, in 1927. This presentation consisted of two sets of Colours: one for use by the RAN Fleet, the other for use by RAN shore establishments. The Fleet Colour was originally held in the Flagship, with custody being transferred to Maritime Headquarters, HMAS Kuttabul, Sydney in recent years. The Establishment Colour has traditionally been held at Flinders Naval Depot, now HMAS Cerberus, where it currently resides.

No study of the RAN's Colours would be complete without an understanding of the Colours’ origin and development from man's earliest times. The history of the Colours is inextricably entwined in the history of the British Army and the Colours carried through so many battles over the past 500 years. It is from this association that we are able gain an insight into the veneration with which a Colour is accorded whenever it is paraded. Sir Edward Hamley's comments about the Colours of the 32nd Foot laid up in Monmouth Church expresses the sentiment true for all Colours and gives an indication of the esteem in which they are held.


The Origin of Colours

The Sovereign's Colours are a development of the banners carried by nobility in medieval times, as are indeed are all Standards, Colours and Guidons used by the World's Armed Forces today. The banners carried in medieval times were in themselves an advance on the ensigns and standards used by the Roman Legions, Greeks and Egyptians to name but a few. The invention of a standard came about by the need for a distinguishing mark, ie. a quick and simple way to identify who was friendly and who wasn't.

If we think back to the early days of man - he looked very much like his neighbour in appearance, had limited clothing with which to distinguish himself and so he needed some way to differentiate between families, tribes and races. Initially man painted himself and his dwelling with a symbol of significance to him. In war this symbol became his badge and was fixed to a pole and held aloft in battle for the dual purpose of indicating his position and acting as a rallying point. Medieval chivalry followed the same idea when armorial bearings were placed on banners and held aloft so as to be seen well above the melee. The loss of the banner often meant the leader was lost and so the banner’s protection became vital to the cause and symbolic of the organisation’s spirit and tradition to which it belonged.


Development of Colours

A Roman Standard.
A Roman Standard.

At the beginning of time man carved totems and painted his device on the walls of his dwelling to identify himself to others. As his knowledge of science evolved he created banners to be flown and standards to be carried by his people. These were often elaborately decorated and became a thing of beauty as much as a rallying point in battle - the Roman Army Eagle Standard is a good example of the merging of art and war. By the middle of the 11th century the development of armour was such that much of the wearer’s body was covered thereby making rapid identification in the heat of battle very difficult. The solution was to fly banners emblazoned with various devices. There were no regulations for a banner; individuality was the key, with banners of all shapes, sizes and designs being used. The Bayeux Tapestry records over 30 different banners being flown during the Battle of Hastings.

By the middle of the 13th century nobility rode into battle almost entirely covered in armour, as were their horses, further increasing the difficulty of quick identification. To overcome this, armorial bearings were placed upon a knight’s surcoat, on their shields and emblazoned on the banners and pennons that flew from the shafts of their lances. It is from these banners that Colours were derived. By the end of the 16th century armies began to adopt a system of standardisation, or regimentation. One of the early pioneers was the King of Sweden, Gustavus Adolphus, who, in the early 1600s, allocated to each unit within his regiments of Horse and Foot, a Standard (Cavalry) or Colour (Infantry). To further distinguish between regiments, each regiment’s Standard/Colour was to be different, and within each regiment these were of the same general pattern.

The first rules for Colours appeared in the early 1620s and these laid down the differences between the various units within a regiment. Although the background was generally the same colour within all regimental units, distinguishing marks were placed on the flag to further identify the rank of the holder. The normal practice at this time was one Standard for each troop of Cavalry and one Colour for each Company within the Regiment.

The Bayeux Tapestry - note the presence of standard bearers.
The Bayeux Tapestry - note the presence of standard bearers.

In 1660, Charles II was restored to the English throne and the following year he established what was to become the present British Army. Four regiments, including what was to become the Grenadier Guards, were established by order of the King and it is here that the first mention of a Royal Badge and later a cypher consisting of the monarch’s entwined initials appearing on a Colour occurs. Early Warrants issued by Charles II to the Colonel in Chief of the various Regiments directed that each Colour and Ensign should be adorned with the Royal Badge. In the Regimental Headquarters of the Grenadier Guards is a sketch purporting to be the original designs for the regimental Colours drawn in 1661. The ‘First or Kings Company Colour’ was white and emblazoned with the Kings cypher ‘CR’ in gold; the remainder were adorned with the Royal Badge. For those regiments not connected with the Sovereign, the Colonels placed their own badges, or armorial bearings, on their Regimental Colours. It should be noted that at this time the Colonels practically owned their regiment so when he changed so did the badges on the regiment’s Colour.

It appears that the first regulations for controlling Colours were issued in 1747 and were applicable to the Regiments of Foot (Infantry) with later regulations being issued for the Regiments of Dragoons and Horse (Cavalry) These regulations did away with the rules issued some 100 years earlier as well as removing the personal adornment placed on Colours by the Colonels of those Regiments not connected with the Sovereign - each regiment was now allocated a specific badge or device, which was to be placed on the second and subsequent Colours. Most importantly the first Colour, Standard or Guidon was to be known as the King’s Colour, while the second was generally called the Regimental Colour, although this was not officially recognised until 1844. In 1751 the regulations were reissued with minor changes under a Royal Warrant. With the issue of this Warrant, and a subsequent one in 1768, the general form and design of Colours had been standardised and all subsequent changes, however issued, have only introduced modifications to the detail of the flag's structure.

The Colours of the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards.
The Colours of the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards.

The advent of a Colour for the Royal Navy, and by association the Royal Australian Navy, came about as a result of difficulties that arose in connection with the paying of compliments on official occasions owing to the fact that the RN, unlike the Army, did not possess Colours. This issue came to a head in 1923 at the opening of the Royal Tournament (Olympia) when a Naval Guard was required to pay compliments to a Military Guard, however as the Navy had no Colour the compliment was not returned. Although the compliment is paid to the Colour, and thus the Sovereign whose Colour it is, rather than the guard who parades it, the Admiralty considered that there would be advantages in having a Colour thereby removing this anomaly.

In February 1924 the Admiralty considered the issue and proposed that a White Ensign paraded by a Naval Guard be considered as a Colour. On 5 March 1924, King George V approved the use of a Service Colour by the Royal Navy corresponding to the King’s Colours as carried by the Military Forces. When paraded ashore they were to be treated in the same manner as the King’s Colour of a regiment. The Colour consisted of a silk White Ensign with a red, white and blue silk cord with gold tassels. It was not until 12 May 1925 that King George V approved the use of the superimposed crown and royal cipher on the Ensign and the title of King’s Colour.

In approving the use of King’s Colours by the Royal and Dominion Navies King George V directed that the Colours were to be neither consecrated nor presented in the way that King’s Colours were presented to a regiment. This order remained in force until 1955 when it was pointed out that since World War II Naval Colours had been presented and consecrated despite the directive of King George V. Much discussion ensued within the Admiralty with directors both for and against the idea of consecration and presentation. Eventually the question was asked whether the laying up of unconsecrated Colours in a church or holy place was appropriate while the Naval Secretary noted that it was hardly possible to have a presentation without a consecration.

At the Sea Lords meeting on 6 December 1955 it was agreed all future Colours would be consecrated and presented. As the precedent had already been established, indeed Queen Elizabeth II as the Princess Royal had presented a Colour in 1951 which had been consecrated, little was said officially and the Palace was not approached. Forms of Ceremony were agreed with the Fleet Chaplain and the regulations updated.


The Significance of a Colour

Colours are memorials to the great deeds of a unit and have become the symbol of its spirit bearing the battle honours and badges granted to that unit in commemoration of the gallantry performed by its members. The first ever battle honour was awarded in 1768 for the Battle of Emsdorf in 1760 and by 1814 the practice was well established. The Commonwealth Navies followed this practice but utilised an Honour Board, in lieu of a Colour, to display the ship’s battle honours. These honours, like those of the Army and Air Force, are passed down from ship to ship as new vessels bearing the name of the ship that earned the original honour are commissioned. This association of Colours with heroic deeds has caused them to be regarded with veneration and the fact that Colours are consecrated before being taken into use, and after service are laid up in sacred buildings, helps to maintain the atmosphere of veneration with which they are surrounded.

The 3rd Regiment of Foot (the Buffs) defending the colours at the Battle of Albuhera.
The 3rd Regiment of Foot (the Buffs) defending the colours at the Battle of Albuhera.

Many an heroic deed has been performed beneath a Colour and a number of gallantry awards have been awarded to members of the Colour Party in recognition of their self sacrifice in the defence of the Colour. An early example of this occurred in 1642 when Charles I’s standard bearer Sir Edmund Verney who, when offered his life in exchange for the Standard by the enemy, replied he would never surrender it while he lived. Suffice to say he was killed but not before taking 16 of the enemy with him. History is littered with similar deeds of self sacrifice in order to defend a Colour: in the Battle of Albuhera in 1811 a 16-year old Ensign gave his life rather than surrender the Colour; in 1879 two Lieutenants were each awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) having given their lives defending the Colour during the Battle of Isandhlwana; and in 1881 during the Boer War, another Lieutenant was awarded a VC in recognition of his great courage and bravery in defending not only the Colour, but also the Colour Officer who had been mortally wounded.

Such was the attachment shown by the troops to the Colour of the British 50th Regiment that when it went missing in 1809 the soldiers were infuriated. It transpired that the two Ensigns entrusted with its protection had been slain during the Battle of Corunna and two Colour Sergeants had seized the Colour carrying it through the remainder of the battle. On completion of the battle the Colour was handed over to an officer who, allowing his concern for the safety of the Colour to over rule his better judgment, had gone to the rear intending to embark with it, even though the regiment was still in place. Although the soldiers were pacified with the return of the Colour, the officer was unable to overcome the stigma that his well meant, but ill-judged action had caused.

The tradition of carrying Colours into action came to an end in 1881 when the British War Office issued a decree that Colours were no longer to be taken with Battalions on active service. This came about due to the increasing range of fire being achieved and growing number of deaths caused as a direct result of defending the Colour in battle. With the exception of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, who carried their Regimental Colour in France during the Great War, no other Colour has been carried into battle since 1881. Notwithstanding this, the Colour remains a reminder to all ranks of their loyalty and duty to the Sovereign, Country and their Service.



The King’s Colour, as first presented to the RN and RAN, consisted of a White Ensign, made of the finest silk, with a Crown and Royal Cypher superimposed, 3 feet 9 inches by 3 feet, with a red, white and blue silk cord and gold tassels 3 feet 6 inches in length. With the exception of the cord, which now consists of gold and blue silk with gold tassels the basic design has not changed since 1927. The Colour was fashioned by hand, from the highest quality banner silks, gold braid and thread; a delicate article requiring very careful treatment at all times. This has been standard for all Monarch’s Colours presented to the RAN and unlike the Colours of the Royal Australian Air Force and Australian Regular Army, which carry battle honours and vary in design from Regiment to Regiment, the Colours of the Royal Australian Navy follow those of the Royal Navy and do not alter from Command to Command.

King George V Colour.

King George V Colour.

The Colour is carried on an ash staff surmounted by a finial or gilt badge consisting of an Admiralty anchor on a three faced shield over which is superimposed the Sovereign’s Crown. The length of the staff and finial was 8 feet 7½ inches. The Colour Officer wears a white patent leather belt over the left shoulder on which is placed a gilt badge depicting a Fouled Anchor surrounded by a wreath of laurel and surmounted by a crown.


Presentation of the Colour

Although made of the finest banner silk a Colour is only expected to last between 15 and 20 years - the more it is paraded the shorter its life will be. Once it is decided that further parading of the Colour will degrade it beyond repair, arrangements for the presentation of a new Colour are made. Approval to replace the Colour is not automatic and the consent of the Sovereign, whose Colour it is, must be gained first. This is the responsibility of the Federal Government of Australia, who seeks approval through the Governor-General. Once approval is granted a suitable person must then be selected to present the Colour.

In the case of the RAN this can only be one of the following personages:

  1. the reigning Sovereign whose Colour it is,
  2. a suitable member of the reigning Sovereign’s family, or
  3. the Governor-General of Australia.

The Colour is not merely a representational symbol of the Sovereign, which in time is superseded and becomes a historical relic; rather it is endowed with marks of character that remain as long as it exists. Four of these qualities are imbued in the Colour at its presentation while those who serve during its life endow the fifth. First, it has the character of the Sovereign whose Colour it is, and that character is given together with the authority to act, so that no action performed under the Colour is contrary to that nature. Secondly, the Colour is consecrated, that is, separated from profane and evil use and can only be used in the character of God. This apparently dates back to the Battle of the Standard in 1138 when the Yeoman of Yorkshire took with them consecrated banners from York Cathedral, and fought so fiercely to save the banners that they were victorious against heavy odds. Next it is blessed, endowing the Colour with holiness, which is the power of God, with which to fight against evil. Fourthly, it is dedicated, and in this the Colour is given a purpose, to be used only in a holy and just cause.

Finally, the Colour is given the character of those who serve it. The deeds of gallantry and suffering, loyalty and faithfulness, of individuals and Ship’s Companies are indelible marks of the Colour. It is this final character that results in the Colour being treated with such veneration whenever it is paraded.


Parading of the Colour

As with many traditions in the Military the times and places for parading the Colour are strictly regulated. In the Royal Australian Navy the Colour is only paraded on the following occasions:

a. for the Sovereign of Australia or any other Member of the Royal Family,
b. for a Foreign Sovereign or for the President of a Republican State,
c. at parades to celebrate the birthday of the Sovereign,
d. for the Governor-General of Australia or a State Governor, and
e. for the funeral of the Sovereign, when it is draped with a black crepe bow.

A Colour Officer parading the Queen's Colour dressed in full ceremonial attire.
A Colour Officer parading the Queen's Colour dressed in full ceremonial attire.

When the Colour is paraded on the occasion of a funeral it is draped with a piece of black crepe, 2.44m (8ft) long, 33cm wide tied in a bow around the foot of the finial in such a manner that the span of the bow is 30.5cm (12”). The ends, which are cut to a single point, hang about halfway down the Colour. This is the only time the Colour is paraded when draped.

Regardless of the occasion the Colour is only ever paraded with an armed Guard of Honour consisting of 102 personnel and a Colour Party of four - the Colour Party being located between the two divisions of the guard. The Colour Officer is either a Sub Lieutenant or Lieutenant, while the remainder of the Colour Party consists of a Chief Petty Officer and two Leading Seaman of equal height known as the Colour Escort. The officer wears white gloves and carries a sword, sheathed with the scabbard hooked up, while the Chief Petty Officer carries a drawn cutlass. The Escort sailors carry rifles with bayonets fixed, although these may be covered with a short sheath so as to avoid damaging the Colour.

The Colour, when carried uncased, is received with the utmost respect, with arms presented, officer’s saluting and the band playing the national anthem. When cased the Colour is neither saluted nor paid any additional marks of respect. Although a cased Colour is not due any additional marks of respect it is provided with an armed escort at all times and is never ‘sent’ anywhere unaccompanied. When transporting the Colour to and from its normal place of residence it is to be escorted, whenever practicable, by the usual Colour Escort who handle the Colours ‘with becoming dignity’. The Colour custodian accompanies the Colour throughout the period it is removed from its normal place of residence releasing it into care of the Colour Officer just before the parade commences. It is recovered by the custodian immediately on completion of the parade and returned, under guard, to its place of residence.

The Colour is only lowered to Her Majesty the Queen, other Members of the Royal Family, foreign Sovereigns, Presidents of Republican States, members of foreign reigning Royal Families, Governors-General, Governors and Lieutenant-Governors or special Royal Commissioners acting on behalf of the Sovereign within their jurisdiction.

Although the Fleet Colour may reside in the Flagship it is no longer paraded on HMA Ships unless specifically approved by the Chief of Navy, and is not paraded in a foreign territory under any circumstances. Such is the veneration afforded the Colour, should the Flagship be deployed on operational or active service while the Colour is embarked it is to be immediately returned to Maritime Headquarters, even in peacetime. As the Establishment Colour represents the shore establishments of the RAN it also is not to be taken overseas under any circumstances.

On those occasions when it is not suitable to parade the Sovereign’s Colour but the occasion is considered of sufficient importance a silk Australian White Ensign may be carried by landing parties, when it is received with the highest respect, arms presented and officers saluting.


RAN Colours

Since being presented with King’s Colours in 1927 the Royal Australian Navy has continued to proudly parade the Colours of subsequent Sovereigns. This continues today with HM Queen Elizabeth II having approved the ongoing use of the two suites of Colours held by the Royal Australian Navy. The current Fleet Colour is held by the Maritime Commander on behalf of fleet units and was presented by the Governor-General in 1989 while the Establishment Colour is held by the Commanding Officer, HMAS Cerberus on behalf of the commissioned shore establishments. HM Queen Elizabeth II presented it during a parade at HMAS Cerberus in 1986.


King George V

In March 1924 King George V granted approval for the Royal Navy to use Colours corresponding to the King’s Colours carried by the Military Forces. Fleet Order 1057/1924, covering their use, was issued and subsequently passed to the RAN in May that year. On 16 June 1924 the First Naval Member, Rear Admiral Percival Henry Hall Thompson CB CMG, RN agreed that King George V should be approached with a view to similar Colours being established for the RAN. The Secretary of State for the Colonies was approached the following month and approval was granted in March 1925. Two King’s Colours, one for the Flagship of the Australian Seagoing Squadron and one for Flinders Naval Depot, were ordered in mid-1925 at a cost in the order of £160, which included the accoutrements and two films showing the procedures for the parading of the Colours. Adam & Lane & Neave of Falcon Works, Copperfield Road, London made the Colours while the crown and cypher were embroidered by the Royal School of Needlework.

The Colours were dispatched from London on 19 October 1926 in SS Moreton Bay and arrived at Flinders Naval Base in mid-November. The Colour destined for the Flagship was then shipped overland to Sydney. Although King George V had directed that the Colours were not to be presented in the way that they were to Military Forces arrangements were made with the Governor-General, His Excellency Lord Stonehaven PC GCMG DSO, to present the Colours in January 1927 on his behalf.

A Colour was presented to Flinders Naval Depot (FND), as the main shore establishment of the RAN, during the forenoon, Saturday 22 January 1927. Some 1500 personnel were on parade, including the ship’s companies of HMA Ships Melbourne and Yarra as well as a full Ceremonial Battalion provided by the ship’s company of FND. Lord Stonehaven presented the Colour to the Colour Officer, Lieutenant John Malet Armstrong, RAN before it was ‘marched in’ to the RAN. It is not certain when the Establishment Colour was laid up, however it is assumed that it was laid up in St Marks Chapel at Flinders Naval Depot in either late 1937 or early 1938.

Presentation of the Establishment Colour in 1927 by the Governor-General Lord Stonehaven PC GCMG DSO.
Presentation of the Establishment Colour in 1927 by the Governor-General Lord Stonehaven PC GCMG DSO.
King George V Colour
RAN King George V Colour.

The second Colour was presented to HMA Squadron in the Domain, Sydney on Thursday 27 January 1927. Some 250 personnel were on parade, including ship’s companies from HMA Ships Success, Tasmania, Sydney, Swordsman, Platypus and Adelaide. The Colour was presented by Lord Stonehaven to the Colour Officer, Lieutenant Frederick Ross James, RAN before being ‘marched in’ to the RAN. On completion of the parade the Colour was embarked in the Australian Squadron Flagship, HMAS Sydney. The Colour was laid up in the Garden Island Chapel on Sunday 5 December 1937 by the Rear Admiral Commanding the Australian Squadron, Rear Admiral Richard Hayden Owen Lane-Poole CB OBE, RN.


King George VI

With the death of King George V in January 1936 and the abdication of King Edward VIII in December that year it wasn’t until 1937 that new Colours were presented. Approval was first sought in July 1936 to replace the Royal Cypher of King George V with that of King Edward VIII, which was subsequently approved in October of that year. With the ascension of King George VI further representation was made in late December 1936 to use the new Royal Cypher on the Colour. On 29 December 1936 King George VI approved the replacement of the KvG cypher with his own and approval was subsequently passed to Australia in January 1937. Arrangements were then made for the purchase of two new Colours at an estimated cost of £36. These arrived in Australia in June 1937.

It is not certain when the Colours of King George VI were presented to the RAN. There is some conjecture that the Colours may have been given, rather than presented, although the existence of instructions for the laying up of the former HMA Squadron Colour, tends to cast some doubt on this theory. It can be safely assumed that a Colour was probably presented to HMA Squadron around November 1937 and that the Colour issued to Flinders Naval Base was presented in the second half of the same year.

RAN King George VI Colour.
RAN King George VI Colour.
The Australian Governor-General, Sir WJ McKell, GCMG, KStJ, inspecting a Royal Guard on the occasion of Navy Day, 4 October 1948.

The Colour held by Flinders Naval Depot was laid up in St Marks Chapel in March 1954. What is not known is what happened to the Colour presented to HMA Squadron in 1937 - it is not laid up with the other Colours in the RAN Chapel on Garden Island nor has there been any indication found in official correspondence as to its final resting place. Of the two finials one is held in the Naval Historical Collection on Spectacle Island, the whereabouts of the second (most likely that from HMA Squadron’s Colour) is unknown.


Queen Elizabeth II - White Ensign

With the death of King George VI in February 1952 and the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June 1953 it wasn’t until 1954 that the first new Colour was presented to the RAN. In May 1952 HRH Queen Elizabeth II decreed that all King’s Colours in the Royal Navy should be henceforth known as Queen’s Colours, and should not be replaced until unserviceable, but when they were, should bear the cypher of the Queen. This was subsequently approved for the RAN in August of that year. The RAN continued with the existing Colours until 2 March 1954 when the Duke of Edinburgh, HRH Prince Philip KG KT OM GBE AC QSO presented Flinders Naval Depot with a new Colour to replace that of King George VI. The ceremony involved the Colour being consecrated, the first time this had occurred in the RAN. All subsequent Colours have been consecrated as an integral element of the overall ceremony. The Establishment Colour was laid up in St Marks Chapel in November/December 1968.

Lieutenant John Forbes RN (later Vice Admiral) accepts the Sovereign’s Colours from the Duke of Edinburgh, HRH Prince Philip during a ceremony at Flinders Naval Depot in 1954. (Forbes Collection)
Lieutenant John Forbes RN (later Vice Admiral) accepts the Sovereign’s Colours from the Duke of Edinburgh, HRH Prince Philip during a ceremony at Flinders Naval Depot in 1954. (Forbes Collection)
RAN Queen Elizabeth II Colour - White Ensign.
RAN Queen Elizabeth II Colour - White Ensign.

The Fleet Colour was presented on 16 October 1957, although again it appears that no formal presentation was made. It was laid up in the Garden Island Chapel on Sunday 1 December 1968. The service was attended by the Flag Officer Commanding HM Australian Fleet, Rear Admiral Gordon John Branstone Crabb CBE DSC, RAN and the Colour Officer was Lieutenant David Norman Petersen, RAN. The ceremony was attended by some 230 personnel, including detachments from the ship’s companies of HMA Ships Melbourne, Yarra, Supply, Stalwart, Vendetta, Stuart, Hobart, Brisbane and Queenborough. The submarine, mine warfare and patrol boat squadrons were also represented.

Queen Elizabeth II - Australian White Ensign

In 1967 the RAN was granted approval by Queen Elizabeth II to replace the White Ensign, which had been flown since the inception of the Australian Squadron, with an Australian White Ensign (AWE). In March 1967 the White Ensign was hauled down for the last time and arrangements were started to replace the Colours as well. On 8 December 1967, HRH Queen Elizabeth II approved a new design, based on the AWE, for the Queen’s Colours. This advice was received in Australia the following January and steps taken to procure two replacement Colours.

The new Colours were presented at a combined parade on 1 November 1968 at Olympic Park, Melbourne by the Governor-General, His Excellency Lord Casey PC, GCMG, CH, DSO, MC KStJ to the Colour Officers, Lieutenants David Gordon Forrest Taylor, RAN (Fleet Colour) and Murray Bruce Forrest, RAN (Establishment Colour) before being ‘marched in’ to the RAN. Some 1950 personnel were on parade, including the ship’s companies of HMA Ships Anzac, Stalwart, Sydney, Queenborough and Vampire as well as a Royal Guard provided by the ship’s company of HMAS Cerberus.

Parading of the RAN Colours after the presentation by Governor-General, His Excellency Lord Casey PC GCMG CH DSO MC KStL
Parading of the RAN Colours after the presentation by Governor-General, His Excellency Lord Casey PC, GCMG, CH, DSO, MC, KStJ.
HM Queen Elizabeth II inspects the Naval Royal Guard, Band and Colour Party on arrival in Australia on 31 March 1970.

Current Colours

In April 1981 the then Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Sir James Willis KBE AO, RAN directed that investigations be made into the presentation of new Colours to the RAN. This was originally planned to be part of the Bicentennial celebrations in 1988. In November that year it was also identified that the Fleet Colour was no longer suitable for parading and that a replacement should be sought. A decision was eventually made in November 1983 that both Colours would be replaced and subsequent discussions identified the possibility of this occurring in 1986 (RAN 75th Anniversary) and 1988 (Australia’s Bicentenary).

In March 1984 it was recommended that a combined presentation take place in 1986 in lieu of the two single presentations in 1986 and 1988, however by the end of the year the joint presentation had been shelved in favour of two presentations - this was due to the AGCF only being able to manufacture one Colour during 1985. The Colour cost approximately $10,000, while two replacement sets of accoutrements, less staffs, manufactured by Hobson and Sons in England cost a further $10,000.

RAN Current Queen Elizabeth II Colour
The current Royal Australian Navy Queen's colour bearing the Royal Cypher of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

By May 1984 Queen Elizabeth II had accepted the invitation to present a new Establishment Colour during her visit to Australia in 1986. The Establishment Colour was presented by Her Majesty to the Colour Officer Lieutenant Steven Bell Hislop, RAN at HMAS Cerberus on Friday 7 March 1986. This is the only time an RAN Colour has been presented by the reigning monarch. HMAS Cerberus provided both the Royal Guard and the Divisions with some 800 personnel on parade. The Officer in Charge of the RAN’s Communications School was given responsibility for the care of the Colour on behalf of the Commanding Officer of HMAS Cerberus. The Colour is currently held in the Maritime Wing of the Defence Force School of Signals, HMAS Cerberus, Westernport, Victoria.

In April 1986 negotiations commenced for the manufacture of a second Colour to replace the Fleet Colour in 1988 during the Bicentenary Celebrations. At some stage this was amended and the Colour was finally presented by the Governor-General, His Excellency Mr WG Hayden AC to the Colour Officer Lieutenant Robert John Cull, RAN, at Fleet Base East on Monday 17 April 1989. Some 450 personnel were on parade, including the ship’s companies of HMA Ships Adelaide, Sydney, Hobart, Jervis Bay, Cook and Waterhen while the ship’s companies of HMA Ships Perth and Torrens provided the Royal Guard. The Fleet Warrant Officer of the CIS category was traditionally responsible for the care of the Colour, which is held at Fleet Headquarters, HMAS Kuttabul, Sydney, New South Wales on behalf of the Fleet Commander.

The Queen's Colour is paraded before the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce AC during the New Entry Officer Course 44 graduation parade, 23 June 2011.
The Queens Colours marches past the reviewing officers in front of Town Hall, Her Excellency the Honourable Quentin Bryce AC, CVO Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia and Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs AO, CSC, RAN for the Combined Navies Parade through the City of Sydney as part of the Royal Australian Navy's International Fleet Review 2013.
The Queens Colour is dipped in salute as the colour party marches past the reviewing officers in front of Sydney Town Hall, Her Excellency the Honourable Quentin Bryce AC, CVO Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia and Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs AO, CSC, RAN for the Combined Navies Parade through the City of Sydney as part of the Royal Australian Navy's International Fleet Review 2013.

Laying up of Colours

Once a replacement Colour has been presented, or the unit possessing a Colour is decommissioned, the old Colour is laid to rest. This is known as ‘laying up’ and usually occurs on the first Sunday following the presentation of the new Colour or decommissioning of the unit. The laying up is not an adjunct to the church service, but rather it is enshrined within the service and indeed is the reason for the service. While the authority endowed in the Colour at its presentation passes to the new Colour, the character with which it was endowed remains with the Colour until it is no more. Since the nature of the Colour cannot be removed it must be placed where it can find sanctuary and protection, thus Colours are normally laid up in one of the following:

a. Naval chapel,
b. Federal/State war memorial,
c. Civic building, or
d. Civil church.

Custom within the Royal Australian Navy is that the Colours are laid up as follows:

a. Fleet Colour - in the Garden Island Naval Chapel, Sydney. Currently three Colours are laid up in the chapel - King George V, Queen Elizabeth II White Ensign and Australian White Ensign.

b. Establishment Colour - in the Memorial Chapel of St Mark, Flinders Naval Depot (HMAS Cerberus). Currently four Colours are laid up in the chapel - King George V and VI, Queen Elizabeth II White Ensign and Australian White Ensign.

Traditionally a symbolic period of laying up of no longer than five years is afforded to the Colour during which time it is hung on its staff before being placed in a glass display case along with the, staff, mount and tassels.

The Establishment Colour was laid up in St Marks Chapel at HMAS Cerberus on Sunday 9 March 1986. The service was attended by the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Michael Wyndham Hudson AO, RAN and the Colour Officer was Lieutenant Daryl Godfrey Legg, RAN.

The Fleet Colour was laid up in the Garden Island Chapel on Sunday 23 April 1989. The service was attended by the Maritime Commander, Rear Admiral Ian Donald George MacDougall, RAN and the Colour Officer was Lieutenant William David Martin, RAN.

A moth-eaten rag on a worm-eaten pole,
Does not look likely to stir a man's soul,
'Tis the deeds that were done 'neath the moth-eaten rag,
When the pole was a staff and the rag was a flag

Sir Edward Bruce Hamley

The Queen’s Colours on parade during Vice Regal Ceremonial Divisions conducted at HMAS Cerberus, Victoria, 25 November 2016.