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Union Jack

 

The Union Jack, or Union Flag, is the national flag of the United Kingdom. The flag also has official status in Canada, by parliamentary resolution, where it is known as the Royal Union Flag. Additionally, it is used as an official flag in some of the smaller British overseas territories. The Union Flag also appears in the canton (upper flagstaff-side quarter) of the flags of several nations and territories that are former British possessions or dominions, as well as the state flag of Hawaii.

The present design of the Union Flag dates from a Royal proclamation following the union of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801. The flag combines aspects of three older national flags: the red cross of St George for the Kingdom of England, the white saltire of St Andrew for Scotland (which two were united in the first Union Flag), and the red saltire of St Patrick to represent Ireland.

Winston Churchill was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and he referred to the flag of the United Kingdom as the Union Jack. In March 1899 Churchill wrote to his mother from India about her plans to produce a new trans-Atlantic magazine, to be called The Anglo-Saxon Review. The drawing at the end of this letter was deliberately mischievous, teasing her for going down-market, and in the accompanying letter he wrote, "Your title 'The Anglo Saxon' with its motto 'Blood is thicker than water' only needs the Union Jack & the Star Spangled Banner crossed on the cover to be suited to one of Harmsworthís [a leading British newspaper owner] cheap Imperialist productions.

The flag does not have reflection symmetry due to the slight pinwheeling of the St Patrick's and St Andrew's crosses, technically the counterchange of saltires. Thus, there is a right side up. The original specification of the Union Flag in the Royal Proclamation of 1 January 1801 did not contain a drawn pattern or express which way the saltires should lie; they were simply "counterchanged" and the red saltire fimbriated. Nevertheless, a convention was soon established which accords most closely with the description.

It is often stated that a flag upside down is a form of distress signal or even a deliberate insult. In the case of the Union Flag, the difference is subtle and is easily missed by the uninformed. It is often displayed upside down inadvertentlyóeven on commercially-made hand waving flags.

This royal flag was, at first, to be used only at sea on civil and military ships of both England and Scotland, whereas land forces continued to use their respective national banners. In 1634, King Charles I restricted its use to the royal ships. After the Acts of Union 1707, the flag gained a regularised status as "the ensign armorial of the Kingdom of Great Britain", the newly created state. It was then adopted by land forces as well, although the blue field used on land-based versions more closely resembled that of the blue of the flag of Scotland.

The current and second Union Jack dates from 1 January 1801 with the Act of Union 1800, which merged the Kingdom of Ireland and the Kingdom of Great Britain to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The new design added a red saltire, the cross of Saint Patrick, for Ireland. This is counterchanged with the saltire of St Andrew, such that the white always follows the red clockwise. The arrangement has introduced a requirement to display the flag "the right way up"; see specifications for flag use, below. As with the red cross, so too the red saltire is separated by a white fimbriation from the blue field. This fimbriation is repeated for symmetry on the white portion of the saltire, which thereby appears wider than the red portion. The fimbriation of the cross of St George separates its red from the red of the saltire.

Missouri Civil War Museum