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Half-Mast Flags For Mourning, Custom's British Naval Origin

♠ Posted by kayrozz at 2:59 PM


Although we now mourn dignitaries by flying the flag at half-mast on the dry land, all of our sources agree that the custom has British Naval origins. Prior to half-masting, ships would sometimes fly a black flag to honor the death. No doubt the old custom had at least two disadvantages : it necessitated bringing two sets of flags, one of which unlikely to be used ; and it failed in its primary purpose of signalling to others - a ship in the distance was much more likely to recognize a flag sailing at a half-mast than to discern the colour of the flag.

Although there are reports of flags at half-mast as early as the fourteenth century, the first recorded instance of half-masting occurred in 1612. An Inuit killed Englishman William Hall, who was searching for the North-West Passage (in what we now called Canada), and the Royal Navy lowered its flags at sea to honor him.



By the mid-seventeenth century, the Royal Navy had adopted the custom more formally, and its fleet flew its flag at the half-mast annually to honor the death of King Charles I. Later, a commanding officer's death would lead to flying a ship's flag at half-mast, but eventually any crew member's passing would prompt a tribute.

Why honour the dead by lowering the flag? In his 1983 book Sea Flags, British Commander Hillary P Mead speculates that the origins of half-masting date back too a deliberate attempt to make the boat as slovenly as possible, the opposite of shipshape :

"Untidiness and slovenliness of appearance were supposed to the sign of grief, and this writer refers to biblical customs (amongst which may be mentioned sackcloth and ashes), and to the fact that in the Merchant Service ropes are left trailing and yards are scandalised in furtherance of this principle. This idea of slovenliness, at any rate in modern times, has no counterpart on land."

Another theory speculates that in the seventeenth century, regimental flags were placed on the ground when the Royal Family or foreign heads of states were saluted : merchant ships dipped their ensigns to warships. As Mead puts it : "It naturally follows that national flags should be lowered as a salute to the departed, and remained lowered for a length of time proportionate to the importance of the deceased person".

As more countries mimicked the British Custom, half-masting became common on land throughout the world. But not everywhere. The Flag Research Centre, based in Winchester, Massachusetts, mention one exception in its Flag Bulletin :

"Because the religious inscription appearing on the national flag of Saudi Arabia is considered holy, the etiquette of that country forbids that flag being flown half-staff, vertically or upside down. Other forms of mourning have been used for national flags, including the addition of a black stripe at the fly end, a border of black on the three free edges, and the placement of black streamers on the pole above the flag".

Do we still need to follow this custom's in Malaysia after 53 years of Independence??

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Half-Mast Flags For Mourning, Custom's British Naval Origin



Although we now mourn dignitaries by flying the flag at half-mast on the dry land, all of our sources agree that the custom has British Naval origins. Prior to half-masting, ships would sometimes fly a black flag to honor the death. No doubt the old custom had at least two disadvantages : it necessitated bringing two sets of flags, one of which unlikely to be used ; and it failed in its primary purpose of signalling to others - a ship in the distance was much more likely to recognize a flag sailing at a half-mast than to discern the colour of the flag.

Although there are reports of flags at half-mast as early as the fourteenth century, the first recorded instance of half-masting occurred in 1612. An Inuit killed Englishman William Hall, who was searching for the North-West Passage (in what we now called Canada), and the Royal Navy lowered its flags at sea to honor him.



By the mid-seventeenth century, the Royal Navy had adopted the custom more formally, and its fleet flew its flag at the half-mast annually to honor the death of King Charles I. Later, a commanding officer's death would lead to flying a ship's flag at half-mast, but eventually any crew member's passing would prompt a tribute.

Why honour the dead by lowering the flag? In his 1983 book Sea Flags, British Commander Hillary P Mead speculates that the origins of half-masting date back too a deliberate attempt to make the boat as slovenly as possible, the opposite of shipshape :

"Untidiness and slovenliness of appearance were supposed to the sign of grief, and this writer refers to biblical customs (amongst which may be mentioned sackcloth and ashes), and to the fact that in the Merchant Service ropes are left trailing and yards are scandalised in furtherance of this principle. This idea of slovenliness, at any rate in modern times, has no counterpart on land."

Another theory speculates that in the seventeenth century, regimental flags were placed on the ground when the Royal Family or foreign heads of states were saluted : merchant ships dipped their ensigns to warships. As Mead puts it : "It naturally follows that national flags should be lowered as a salute to the departed, and remained lowered for a length of time proportionate to the importance of the deceased person".

As more countries mimicked the British Custom, half-masting became common on land throughout the world. But not everywhere. The Flag Research Centre, based in Winchester, Massachusetts, mention one exception in its Flag Bulletin :

"Because the religious inscription appearing on the national flag of Saudi Arabia is considered holy, the etiquette of that country forbids that flag being flown half-staff, vertically or upside down. Other forms of mourning have been used for national flags, including the addition of a black stripe at the fly end, a border of black on the three free edges, and the placement of black streamers on the pole above the flag".

Do we still need to follow this custom's in Malaysia after 53 years of Independence??

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