by Lieutenant-Colonel Christian Braunstein
119 pages - all in full colours
"With flying colours, burning match and a bullet in your mouth" was an often used wording in the old times to indicate that a march off after a capitulation had been made with all military honours. It is no chance that the colour then is mentioned first in this phrase to show an intact fighting spirit. A military
contingent at the battlefield fights through a combination of the effect of weapons and movements. Even with a small number of forces, this demands resources for identification. Today electronic communication is used but formerly colours, were the principal things. Death, as a possible and often probable result of the battle, gave the colours a distinct symbolic significance and often an almost sacred character.
The colour with its large cloth was originally used by the infantry. The cavalry had standards which are much smaller and furnished with fringes at the three open sides. Dragoons were at first mounted infantry and their sign - the guidon - is somewhat larger than the standard and two-tailed but also provided with a fringe.
At the beginning of the 20th century and above all after the Great war, as a result of the technical development of arms, the fighting was no longer done with regiments and battalions in serried ranks. The colour gradually lost its practical function at the battlefield. Up to the Great Northern War 1700-1721
every Swedish company presented its own colour. In 1731 the number was reduced to two per battalion and in 1818 to one.
From 1904 only one colour is paraded at the regiment and after the 2nd World War it is no longer part of the fieldkit.
During the later part of the 18th century the Swedish Army organized light troops both on foot and on horseback which usually operated in extended order. These troops didn't need any colours for fighting. The same was valid for artillery, engineers and support troops. During the reign of HM King Oscar Il
the symbolic meaning of the colour as an emblem of the unit was emphasized. As a result the hussars of the light cavalry received regimental standars around 1870. The engineers and the Service Corps did not receive colours until 1935 and the artillery got their standards as late as 1938. At the same time the wings of the air force received their first colours. The regi-
ments of the Coastal Artillery were presented colours in 1944. The navy has from tradition used the double swallow-tailed Swedish flag so there the colour is still called a flag.
Flags and colours are often mixed up. The words are not synonymous. The difference is how they are used and how they are regarded as symbols. A flag is hoisted and lowered at a flagstaff, aboard a ship or a boat called ensign-staff. A colour (as a standard and a guidon) is permanently attached to a short staff and is carried by a colour bearer. The flag is a general symbol, of course a very essential one for the country when it
concerns the blue and yellow Swedish flag and it is found in many identical copies. A colour is unique and the symbolic gathering sign for e.g. a military unit, a school or a society.
The Swedish military colours of today are formed according to a long and almost intact tradition. Consequently the Royal Household Troops carry white colours and standards with the the Royal coat of arms of Sweden which they have done since the later part of the 1700th century, at the beginning only the
first company, the Life company, while the other companies carried the monogram of the ruling king. From the same time our old provincial infantry and cavalry regiments use the coat of arms or badge of the respective province on their colours.
When the other army units were to be presented with colours too, the Minor coat of arms of Sweden, three open crowns, was chosen as a central motif but with the provincial or sometimes the town badge in the first corner. The same thing became valid also for the Air Force and the Coast Artillery but here with the badge of the fighting service respectivly of the
service arm as the central motif.
The blue and yellow streamers on colours, the cravats, were introduced during the time of HM King Karl XIV Johan but the strings with tassels have belonged to the standards and the guidons since the 1700th century. The double swallow-tailed flag used as colour is not provided with a cravat as the cloth also is a national symbol of its own.
During the reign of HM King Oskar I battle honours began to be attached to the cloth of colours and standards. They are the names of those battles the unit has taken part of and actively contributed to a Swedish victory. As the colours of today are made according to the basic heraldic rules, the cloth represents the shield. According to these rules no letters are allowed on the shield so normally the battle honours are placed on an edging at the upper part of the cloth and have reversed color of the main color of the cloth. Exceptions from this rule are the colours
of the Household Troops and a few others like the honourary presented to the Wendes Artillery regiment in 1816 and the central colour of the Swedish Homeuard.
Command flags has an almost as long story as the colours with a break from about 1630 to the last decades of the 1900th Contrary to a colour or a standard which are the symbol of a unit, the command flags are personal signs for certain high ranking officers. In the navy special signs for some
commanding officers are used on board since several centuries.
Different technics of manufacturing have been used during the centuries. During the 1700th century the colours were normally painted but from about 1730 embroidery has been predominant with a short break during the rein of HM King Oskar II.
The standards have normally always been embroidered but sometimes during time of war it has been necessary to use painting by reasons of time and money. Up until 1990 the colours and standards were always embroided by hand but it became too
expensive so now a mixture of embroidery by machine and by hand is used.