The King’s Banners presented to Australian infantry battalions for service in the Boer War were presented one hundred years ago this year. Sir Edward Hamley’s verse provides a vivid description of the importance of Colours as symbols of the morale and esprit de corps of a battalion or regiment:
Colours & The King’s Banner For South Africa
A moth-eaten rag on a worm eaten pole,
It 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.
In Roman times the eagles of the Legions were symbols that the Legionnaires would fight to the death for. In the Middle Ages, knights and noblemen had their heraldic arms emblazoned on shields and pennants as signs for their followers. At the start of the seventeenth century a system of regimentation was introduced and a colour was allocated to each company. In the 1660s colours within a regiment were made similar so that soldiers could recognise their own regiment. By Royal Warrant in 1743 the present practice of each battalion having only two Colours commenced.
The Colours bear the battle honours granted to the battalion that carries them. Usually, Colours are awarded for heroic deeds carried out by the battalion and the sight of these Colours tends to generate feelings of immense pride in the battalion by its soldiers and ex-soldiers.
The last time that Colours were carried into battle was on 26 January 1881 when the 58th Foot (later 2nd Battalion, the North Hamptonshire Regiment) fought at Laing’s Nek during the Boer War in South Africa
Australian battalions follow the British tradition of carrying Colours, but these Colours have only been used on ceremonial occasions.
Australia’s First Colour
The first Colour, a white ‘Standard’, to be presented to a volunteer force in Australia by the Governor of the Colony of Victoria, Sir Henry Barkly, in Melbourne on 3 July 1858 to Colonel Ross, the Commanding Officer of the Volunteer’s Royal Victoria Yeomanry Cavalry. The final resting place of this Colour is unknown.
The first presentation of Colours to a country Victorian infantry unit took place at Camp Reserve in Castlemaine on 22 November 1861. The Colours were purchased by public subscription and were presented to the 1st Castlemaine Company, The Victorian Volunteer Rifle Corps, by the wife of the Commanding Officer, Mrs J. E. N. Bull. The Regimental Colour is laid up in Christ Church, Castlemaine. The final resting place of the Queen’s Colour is unknown.
Around this time the Imperial authorities decreed that Rifle Corps (as opposed to Regiments of Foot) would no longer be entitled to carry Colours. Consequently, no further Colours were presented in Victoria until after Federation.
South Africa Banners
In September 1903, the Secretary of State for Colonies informed the Commonwealth government that thirty-five Banners would be allocated to each unit of the overseas contingents in the war in South Africa. Of these, five would be presented in Victoria. In November the General Officer Commanding, Major General Hutton, recommended that the first twenty Banners be allocated to the eighteen Light Horse Regiments, the RAA and the AAMC. These Banners were presented on King Edward VII’s birthday, 14 November 1904.
On 14 November 1905, the Victorian Rangers, 273 out of the establishment of 850 who had served in South Africa, were presented with a King’s Banner in Melbourne by the Governor General Sir Henry Stafford Northcote (Baron Northcote of Exeter). This Banner was laid up at Christ Church Warrnambool on 26 April 1926.
Twenty-one Banners had now been presented and the Commonwealth government suggested that the remaining fourteen be increased to twenty-three and distributed to infantry battalions who had at least five per cent of its establishment fight in South Africa. The Military Order released on 6 April 1909 allocated five of these Banners to Victoria:
1st Battalion, 5th Australian Infantry Regiment (Melbourne East)
1st Battalion, 6th Australian Infantry Regiment (Melbourne West)
1st Battalion, 7th Australian Infantry Regiment (Ballarat)
1st Battalion, 8th Australian Infantry Regiment (Castlemaine)
2nd Battalion, 8th Australian Infantry Regiment (Bendigo)
The presentation of the King’s Banners was held in three locations thoughout Australia. The first presentation took place during a spectacular military ceremony on the Perth Esplanade on Saturday 18 February 1911. The Governor, Sir Gerald Strickland, made the presentation in the presence of the members of the Ministry and others to the 1st Battalion, 11th Australian Infantry Regiment.
The second presentation took place in Centennial Park in Sydney on 8 July 1911 when the out-going Governor-General The Right Honourable William Ward, Second Earl of Dudley, presented the banners to the NSW and Queensland Battalions. Over 1400 men were on parade and represented:
1st Battalion, 1st Australian Infantry Regiment.
2nd Battalion, 1st Australian Infantry Regiment.
3rd Battalion, 1st Australian Infantry Regiment.
4th Battalion, 1st Australian Infantry Regiment
1st Battalion, Australian Rifle Regiment.
1st Battalion, N.S.W. Scottish Rifle Regiment.
1st Battalion, St. George’s English Rifle Regiment.
1st Battalion, 9th Australian Infantry Regiment (Queensland).
1st Battalion, Kennedy Infantry Regiment (Queensland).
The third and final presentation was undertaken at Government House, Melbourne on 13 December 1911 when the new Governor-General, the Right Honourable Thomas Denman (Third Baron Denman), presented banners to the Victorian, South Australian and Tasmanian Battalions:
The Victorian Battalions:
1st Battalion, 5th Australian Infantry Regiment (Melbourne) 2nd Lt. A. Henry;
1st Battalion, 6th Australian Infantry Regiment (Melbourne) Lt. H. G. Smith;
1st Battalion, 7th Australian Infantry Regiment (Ballarat) Lt. M. Baird;
1st Battalion, 8th Australian Infantry Regiment (Castlemaine) Maj. R. Gartside, VD; and
2nd Battalion, 8th Australian Infantry Regiment (Bendigo) Lt. D. B. Ross.
South Australian Battalions:
1st Battalion, 10th Australian Infantry Regiment; and
the South Australian Infantry Regiment.
1st Battalion, 12th Australian Infantry Regiment;
the Derwent Regiment; and
the Tasmanian Rangers.
The Governor-General, who wore the undress uniform of a general, in the course of a short address said that in October 1899, an infantry company representing the various infantry battalions of its states was sent from each state, except Queensland, to South Africa. On arrival they were formed into the Australian Infantry Regiment, under the late Sir J. Hoad and served under the command of Lord Methuen. After detailing the engagements in which the Australian troops took part and referring to the deaths of Major Eddy (who commanded the Victorian Company), Lieutenant Roberts (Victoria) and Lieutenant Pearl (South Australia), His Excellency said those particulars would afford some indication of the great services rendered by the corps. Banners, Colours or Standards were no longer used in actual warfare, but they were regarded as honour able insignia which served to commemorate the deeds of the regiments in the wars in which they had taken part and were rightly regarded as most priceless possessions. For two reasons the banners he had presented were memorable. They were the gift of the late King Edward (VII), and whereas most sovereigns were remembered by their conquests, His Majesty the late King would go down in posterity as one who devoted himself heart and soul to the cause of international peace. Again these banners would serve as a reminder of the brave deeds performed by them and their comrades in South Africa, and of the fact that they volunteered to go to the front in a foreign country because their sense of duty prompted them to come forward in England’s hour of need.
The 7th AIR Banner
The Banner, presented in the presence of the CO 7 AIR Lt Col A. Bennett to Lt M. Baird and Corporals Wyley and Snedden, along with the King’s Colours presented in 1914 to the 71st (City of Ballarat) Infantry and in 1915 to the 70th Infantry (Ballarat Regiment), is held by the Ballarat Ranger Military Museum.
The Museum is open by appointment. Contact Neil Leckie 0400 573 802
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