Whilst on a visit to Salisbury I was struck by the visual impact of the torn and battered regimental flags hanging in the beautiful interior of their cathedral. There were plaques that explained where the flags had been taken into battle, how some had been lost and how now they had found their way to a place of reverence. My immediate thought was ‘what stories these flags could tell if only they could speak’. Just looking at the wear and tear got your imagination running wild.
When I got home I started investigating.
Regimental flags are called Colours & Standards and were taken into battles right up until 1882 by the line infantry battalions.
In 1881/1882 it was agreed that the flags were an ‘impedimenta’ and there was an increased likelihood of loss of life due to the altered formations of fighting and extended range of fire. Warfare had changed, flags were part of the old world. Now they are kept with the battalions for official ceremonies only.
My knowledge of wars and warfare is very limited but this did make me think about how, even though we dropped the flags we continued to use traditional line infantry methods right into the first world war and how this outmoded approach caused so many deaths. I’m glad the flags weren’t there to see that story played out.
South Staff’s Regiment
The last flag to be taken on active service were those of the 1st Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment in Alexandria in 1882.
By some strange fluke my Grandfather, who was born in Boningale close to Albrighton had been part of the South Staff’s regiment during the first world war, he had joined as a boy, been booted out and then later signed up and sent out to France. He was one of the lucky ones and came home.
My investigations lead me to find records of my Grandparent’s life including a Google Earth look at the 2 of their homes in London before they returned to Wolverhampton where my mother was born. My mother’s family name is Dimbylow and I remember going as a child to Patshull church where my Granddad was buried for picnics and to see the names of my ancestors who had fought for their country displayed in the church. It’s very sobering to know that 2473 South Staffordshire soldiers died during the first world war, I’m a very lucky girl to be here.
This has now presented me with a dilemma. I cannot handle the flags, the current ones are kept with the regiment and are not an archive textile. I’m not interested in the soldiers uniforms and have racked my brain to think of other linked textiles that I do find interesting enough to study in detail.
The OCA guidance states under the title Engagement & Research that this is developed through:
‘Personal handling, manipulation and transformation of textiles and their components’
I’m not going to be able to do that if I can’t touch them!! So it’s back to the drawing board for me.