The Colours

Posted on 02-Oct-2013

Written by Lance Corporal Nathan Chan and Corporal Joshua Ying 10th Kuala Lumpur Compan 

September 16th,  2013

The Colour. Rarely seen and often mistaken for a flag or a decorative object used for ceremonial purposes. Yet why do we pay so much respect to this piece of cloth?

Eons ago, when the Roman Empire was non-existent, life was completely different from what it is now. Yes, they had schools, but you would have to walk there. Yes, they fought wars, but there were no airplanes, no guns, and no radios. It was hard to communicate, especially when the enemy was firing at you as you spoke.

Yet, every soldier that fought, fought with an objective. Whether he was a swordsman, skirmisher or archer, he and everyone else in his unit fought to defend their vexilloid. At first, the vexilloid was what we might today call a standard – just a metal wooden pole with a carving on top. But when the Romans came, pieces of fabric or material were added to some vexilloids for decoration. These looked more like the flags we know today.

These vexilloids were treated with even more respect than how we treat our flags today. In those times, the loss of a unit’s standard would mean that the unit had been defeated in battle. If this happened, the unit's survivors would be distributed to other units, or 'legions'. Soldiers would go as far as risk their own lives to protect their standard. Imagine the shame if their standard was stolen or misplaced.

As time went on, these 'flags' began to evolve. By the medieval times, the flags they rallied around had become more flag-like. Now side mounted, the flags, or more appropriately “heralds”, were used to identify which knights were present in any charge. More than that, they were used to show whether the group was of the royalties, the dukes, barons or any other rank in the English feudal system.

During the peak of the age of sail, it was customary to use flags to denote the nationality of the ship. Eventually, this became a law, and the use of flags was extended to include a basic messaging system. Today, this is known as semaphore, and is the basis of the communication preferred in maritime areas.

Now, flags are more symbolic than practical, because inventions have exploded across the world, improving communication methods we would never have thought of ten years ago. Even so, flags have their purpose in the life we live today. Besides communication in areas where electronic communication is hard to achieve, flags carry a symbolic purpose.

Flags today are treated in a way that would otherwise take many words to express. During wartime, soldiers that wanted to surrender would wave a white flag. This white flag of surrender is internationally known as a gesture of resignation. It is an unspoken agreement that soldiers carrying a white flag should not be fired at. Furthermore, these flags of surrender should not be prepared beforehand, but be made on the spot with whatever materials available.

There is an urban legend that the (what we refer to as ‘crest’) of every flag is hollow. Inside each finial is a flare, matches and a knife. The knife is supposed to allow the last soldier to continue protecting the flag. The flare is supposed to be used to mark the unit’s last stand. If all else fails, the matches are supposed to be used to burn away and destroy the flag. In actuality, the finial is not hollow or empty. However, this illustrates the preference to destroy the flag rather than let it be used against its creators.

Our Boys’ Brigade Colour carries our life, spirit, pride, honour, and strength. We should treat it with the utmost respect, because it represents us as a uniform body. If we let it fall or treat it roughly, we do the same to our souls as Brigadiers. Now that we know its background and purpose, let’s handle it like how we treat ourselves.