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The Canadian Army Flag

September 26, 2013

by Clive M. Law

Although many Canadians of a certain age may remember the fierce flag debate of the early 1960’s few are aware that the Canadian search for a national flag that pre-dates the selection of the modern version.

Coloured interpretation of the Canadian Army 'Battle Flag'.

Coloured interpretation of the Canadian Army ‘Battle Flag’.

In 1926, Colonel A. F. Duguid, DSO, Director of the Historical Section and author of the official history of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, submitted a design to the Deputy Minister of National Defence for a national flag. No action was taken at that time by the Deputy Minister and the first attempt at a national flag was quietly set aside by the government of the day.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, and following Canada’s decision to embark troops for overseas, it was decided by the Army that a flag was required which would suitably identify the Canadian Active Service Force (CASF). However, it was decided by the Prime Minister that the Union Jack, then the official Canadian national flag for Canada, would continue in use although the Red Ensign would be flown at Canadian establishments in the UK in order to identify the Canadian contribution to the war.

Nonetheless, Duguid’s design was resurrected and its use was recommended by then Major-General Andrew McNaughton as the identifying flag of the senior formation of the CASF in his 27 November 1939, letter to the Minister of National Defence. In describing the flag McNaughton referred to a memo by Duguid which outlines the design as including “three maple leaves proper, conjoined on a white field, the correct device for Canada. Great Britain is represented by the union, in a canton next to the staff. Old France is represented by three gold fleur-de-lis on a blue background, within a circle. The latter device indicating ‘an ancient and honourable connection’ ”. All of the elements of the flag were adapted directly from the Armorial Bearings of Canada as assigned by Royal Proclamation of 21 November 1921, and were in keeping with the rules of heraldry. The design was approved by the Cabinet and Militia Councils on 7 December, 1939.

Colonel Duguid's original drawing, submitted in the 1930's as the Canadian national flag to replace the Union

Colonel Duguid’s original drawing, submitted in the 1920’s as the Canadian national flag to replace the Union

When the 1st Canadian Division sailed for England in December, 1939, the flag was flown from the ship carrying the Divisional Commander with the approval of the Admiral in charge of the movement. During this voyage it was consecrated in mid-Atlantic. On 24 January 1940, the flag, which had unofficially become known as the Canadian Battle Flag, was flown at the Royal review of the 1st Canadian Division where the King expressed approval of the design and accepted a miniature replica presented to him by the Divisional Commander.

As the flag was always intended to be flown by the Commander of the senior CASF formation – often known as the Senior Combatant – it had been predicted that, should a Canadian Corps be formed, the flag would pass to that Commander. Ultimately, the Canadian forces overseas grew to an Army and it was the Army Commander who held the flag. In fact, when McNaughton handed over command of the First Canadian Army to Lieutenant-General Harry Crerar, in January 1944, he sent the flag with a short memo which stated “On relinquishing Command of the First Canadian Army I hand over to you the Canadian Army Flag with my very best wishes to you and all who serve under your Command.”

This war-time drawing demonstrates that the flag was considered as the 'Army' flag and is shown here alongside the Union and the RCN and RCAF flags.

This war-time drawing demonstrates that the flag was considered as the ‘Army’ flag and is shown here alongside the Union and the RCN and RCAF flags.

Little is known of the whereabouts of the original flag although many examples were produced, in a variety of sizes. The design was often used in Canadian Army publications and the author holds examples of the flag on a Christmas card as well as on a match-book cover. Photos of the flag in use, as well as photos of the flag itself would be welcomed.

Library and Archives Canada, Record Group 24, Volume 1882, File HQ-9-8-3 and HQ-54-27-91 (various folios)

From → Flags & Pennants

One Comment
  1. I loved reading about this WWII Canadian Army Flag. Our museum here in Argyle, Manitoba, Canada has two copies of this flag (one contemporary, one replica) that we have on display. We are home to the country’s 2nd largest flag collection – over 1,100 flags to date, and growing!

    Thank you for posting this information!

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