The custom of dedicating and laying up Colours in churches and in memorials has its origins in antiquity.
Colours themselves originated from the days of early man who fixed his family badge to a pole and held it aloft in battle to both indicate his position and to provide a rallying point for his troops.
Regardless of origin, design and form, Colours and the insignia are symbolic of a fighting unit’s spirit and a visual record of gallant deeds performed by the members of the unit. These are recorded by reference to the location of the deed and on Colours are called Battle Honours.
The custom of laying up the Colours has dictated that a regiment’s Colours should be preserved in the appropriate church of the town with which the regiment was identified, providing as it were a link with eternity. The visual presence of the Colours in a church make it possible to rally future generations and to remind those who have not had the experience, of the heights to which the human spirit can soar as a group of resolute men channel their convictions into sweat and sacrifice for goals deemed worthy.
Guidons, swallow-tailed pennants borne on a lance or a pike, are the Armoured Corps’ counterpart of Infantry Colours.
The guns of the Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery are the Regiment’s Colours. The rallying point for the gunners has always been the guns and the gunners are instilled with the tradition of serving their guns under fire - to abandon them is still the ultimate disgrace. The Artillery’s guns are accorded the same compliments and respect as the Infantry’s Colours and the Armoured Corps Guidons.
(Above) A Royal Australian Artillery contingent with banners at an ANZAC Day parade.
Associations of returned servicemen have also designed banners which are used as rallying points for ceremonies of significance such as ANZAC Day and other memorial services. These too are symbolic of the unit’s spirit, and its service.
Thanks to the National Support Group of 55/53 AIF for allowing us to use selected information in the text above from their publication “Remember”
There’s Colour in this Tradition
Colours have always had significance for soldiers.
An 18th century military writer recorded the following colours and their military meanings:
YELLOW - Honour, which should never be in question
WHITE - Innocence and truth
BLACK - Wisdom and sobriety
BLUE - Faith and constancy
RED - Justice
GREEN - Good hope
PURPLE - Fortitude with discretion
TAWNY - Merit
In the old tradition, if a mortally wounded ensign wrapped the Colours around his body and died with them, the Colours were not considered lost. The honour of the Colours was carried with the ensign’s soul to heaven “to the possession of the eternal forever” and the enemy was denied the honour of having captured them.
It was a soldier’s duty to pick up the Colours and, at all costs, save them.
“Indeed a greater act of cowardice cannot be found than to suffer the Colours to be lost”, records Francis Grose in his Military Antiquities ( 1786 - 88 ).