Love of Flags Depends on Which Way Wind Is Blowing

Article excerpt

IN JULY 2011 as floodwaters swept the Philippines during Typhoon Juaning the image of a young girl braving the deluge to save the nation's flag went viral on social networks and was broadcast across TV stations.

Janela Arcos Lelis, 12, became the first Filipino child to be given formal recognition by the country's National Historical Commission for an act of bravery normally associated with soldiers.

However, closer to home flags have recently come to symbolise something very different - decades of strife in Northern Ireland where unionist and nationalist emblems now vie for dominance.

But Dr Alastair Massie, of the National Army Museum, said that alongside their association with conflict, flags or colours were for centuries crucial symbols of hope for battle-weary troops to rally around.

He said: "The ultimate disgrace for a regiment was to lose its colours because that was the proof they had been dispersed.

"It (the flag) was there in a localised sense so that the men of a regiment could see where they had to rally to if they got broken in combat.

"That's the purpose of the flag and why it was invested with such significance."

So revered were the King's colours and the separate regimental flags that they would be laid up in churches by members of the Royal family when new ones were presented.

It's on this basis that countless lives have been lost and the military folklore and heroism of saving the flag in battle grew up.

Dr Massie said that although British troops have not taken flags into battle since the end of the 19th century the tradition can be traced to medieval knights displaying banners and further back to the Romans advancing with standards.

Neil Jarman, director of the Institute for Conflict Research, said that throughout history the symbolism of the flag has proved powerful not only for those uniting behind it, but also as the hated emblem of an enemy.

Mr Jarman, whose organisation is based in Northern Ireland where conflict continues to rage over flying the Union flag over Belfast City Hall, said: "You can see this by the way at times flags of opponents have been burnt almost by proxy for accessing the people.

"You see it often on the news when the American flag is burnt in the countries where they've been involved in military activities.

"But equally Americans have struggled over the right of Americans to burn their flag as a form of protest against their government, with one side saying you can't defile the flag and the other saying it's their right to do so. …