Since ancient times, armies have carried flags, pennants, and/or banners into battle. Their purpose was to identify individual units. In the British army, two flags were carried into battle. The first was the King’s/Queen’s Colour. The second was the Regimental Colour. It identified the unit. Generally, it carried emblazoned on it the battles it had fought and won distinction in.
Colours have not been carried into battle since the late 1800s because they suffered grievous destruction in battle. The last British Regiment to carry its colours into battle was the 58th Regiment at Laing Nek (South Africa) in 1881.
For history buffs, the colours of the 4th Regiment, United States Infantry, were surrendered to the 41 Regiment of Foot under the command of Major General Sir Isaac Brock when he captured Fort Detroit on 16 August 1812. These colours were initially placed in the Chapel of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea in London. The colours were subsequently handed over to The Welsh Regiment at a ceremonial parade at the Royal Hospital on 8 March 1961. They are now on display at the regiment’s museum at Cardiff Castle in South Wales.
Not to be outdone, the American Forces invaded and captured the town of York (now Toronto) on 27 April 1813. The Americans occupied the town for some five days before pulling out. On the flagstaff in front of Government House, which was inside the Fort, was a 30 x 24 foot Royal Standard, that of King George III. It was being flown as the personal standard of Major General Roger Hale Sheaffe, General Officer Commanding the Army in Upper Canada. On 1 May 1813, before setting fire to Government House, the Americans removed the flag and took it as war booty. This flag was presented to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis Maryland in 1849 where it rests today in fragile condition. A Union Jack from HMS Duke of York was also taken at York, and it too is now located in the Naval Academy Museum.
The Regimental and Queen’s Colours
The Hastings & Prince Edward Regiment received its first Colours from Lieutenant-General Sir Archibald Macdonnel on 14 October 1934 in Picton Ontario. They were consecrated by the Right Reverend John Lyons, Lord Bishop of Ontario.
In 1960, the Regimental Colours were stolen from the Officers’ Mess in Belleville Ontario. To this day, it has never been found. The staff for it, the Queen’s Colours and its staff were laid up in St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church, Picton, Ontario on 4 October 1964 for safekeeping, until, as is the custom, “in time they are no more.”
The Colours are the special responsibility of the Commanding Officer. When the Regimental Colours were stolen in 1960, the Commanding Officer at the time, LCol Angus Duffy, removed his cap badge in disgrace, vowing never to wear it again until the Colours were returned. Over the years, despite many attempts by various members of the regimental family to convince him otherwise, Col Duffy never again wore his regimental cap badge from that day until he transferred to the White Battalion in 1998.
New Colours were presented to The Regiment on 17 May 1964 by the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, the Honourable W. Earl Rowe, and consecrated by the Command Chaplain, Lieutenant-Colonel J. Anderson.
As previously stated, the Colours are the special responsibility of the Commanding Officer, and are formally surrendered on parade by the retiring Commanding Officer to symbolize his relinquishment of command. They are handed into the charge of the new Commanding Officer as the sign he has assumed command.
Colours are the most prized possession of line infantry units and The Regiment because of they symbolize The Regimental accomplishments. An armed escort always accompanies colours on the parade. The senior subaltern carries the Queen’s Colours, and the junior subaltern, the Regimental Colours and three senior NCOs form the escort.
Colours of Regiments that have been absorbed or amalgamated by The Regiment are:
- Midland Regiment: at St Mark’s Anglican Church, Port Hope.
- Durham Regiment: at St Mark’s Anglican Church, Port Hope.
- Argyll Light Infantry: at St Thomas’ Anglican Church Belleville.
- Prince Edward Regiment: at Picton United Church, Picton.
- Northumberland Regiment: at St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Cobourg.
- Prince of Wales Rangers: at St John’s Anglican Church, Peterborough.