Signal Flags

signal flags

Come on own up.  Who has a set of pristine unused signal flags languishing in the bottom of a locker?
Other than the yellow Q flag, how many of the others do you use?  Who can actually  put the correct letter to any of them because quite frankly I don’t have a scooby!!
We only ever use them to “dress” the  boat at special occasions when we festoon the top side with yards of them. I have no idea if they are even the right way up.
The designs of the individual flags are now lost in the mists of time. They were developed separately for various  naval signal codes over the course of the 18th and early 19th centuries.
The most famous of all, “England expects that every man will do his duty” was sent by  Nelson, from his flagship HMS Victory as the Battle of Trafalgar was about to commence on 21 October 1805.
The signal is still hoisted on HMS Victory in Portsmouth on Trafalgar Day every year. Today however the signal flags are displayed all at once, running from fore to aft, rather than hoisted sequentially from the mizzenmast.

Flag Semaphore

Other flag signalling techniques include  semaphore. This  is the telegraphy system conveying information at a distance by means of visual signals with hand-held flags. Information is encoded by the position of the flags.  It is still used by the Navy even today.
As a Brownie in the 1960’s, I was taught semaphore. Not sure what use it was to a five year old in land locked Nottingham. I just thought it was akin to those rubber stick insects competing in the rhythmic ribbon twirling gymnastics event at the Olympics.
Before semaphore the Admiralty use a system of shutters on a large frame. A series of observation towers passed the message on.
But here is a humbling thought. The next time you are on hold for 30 minutes  listening to “please hold your call IS important to us”, remember this.
In 1796 a  message could be sent from Plymouth to The Admiralty and back to Plymouth with  a reply  in 15 minutes.
No on-hold “Greensleeves”, no dodgy mobile signal, no satellite delay echo and no “please leave your message after the beep”. Just great commmunication
pass me those flags……..