It is common practice in the UK to place decommissioned military and other flags in cathedrals and churches – this is called “laying up”.
It is a tradition of the Anglican Church dating back centuries whereby the colours are laid up and never disturbed, allowed to decay until there is nothing left.
The colours should slowly disintegrate rather than be restored and kept pristine. The idea is one of symbolism—that a long-honoured
flag would at last find a resting place to decay quietly and gracefully.
This creates almost a sense of pride in those visiting the cathedral; standing under old, “battered” colours allows us to honour their unique histories and the men that served under them at the time.
The Military Colours in Birmingham Cathedral
1 – Coldstream Guards Colour
This is the oldest regiment in the British Army in continuous active service. It originated in Coldstream, Scotland, 1650 during the English Civil War, and was founded by General George Monck when Oliver Cromwell gave him his permission to form a new regiment. The regiment has earned a total of 117 battle honours.
2 – “Old Contemptibles”
The British Expeditionary Force to France in 1914 dubbed themselves the “Old Contemptibles” as a result of the Kaiser’s alleged reference to them as a “contemptible little army”.
3 – King’s Colour, 2nd/6th Service Battalion, The Royal Warwickshire Regiment
This colour was laid up upon the disbandment of Battalion. The second battalion had been serving since 1931 and was part of the British Expeditionary Force in France and Belgium. They had to fight their way back to the beaches of Dunkirk when the German army launched their Blitzkrieg in 1940.
4 – British Legion – West Midland area
The crosses of St. George, St. Andrew and St. Patrick symbolise unity, chivalry and loyalty to our Sovereign, community and nation. The blue indicates loyalty and fidelity whilst the gold signifies service – ‘as gold is tried by fire’. It reminds us of all those who gave their lives for our country
5 – Queen’s own Hussars Guidon
This was laid up in May 1986, the day that Freedom of the City of Birmingham was granted to the regiment. The home base of the regiment is in Warwick and they recruit from the Midlands area.
6 – Royal Marines Association—Birmingham Branch
7 – Ensign flown by HMS Birmingham (1913)
HMS Birmingham split the German U-boat, U-15, in two after firing and ramming on 9th August 1914. Consequently, the U-15 became the first U-boat to lose to an enemy warship. HMS Birmingham also sank two German merchant ships that year and took part in the Battle of Jutland, 1916, as a member of the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron, sustaining damage caused by splintering during the night of the battle.
8 – Royal Navy Association, Birmingham Central Branch
9 – Royal Navy Association, Birmingham and District (submarine) flag
Command rank flags to denote the commander-in-chief of the English fleet and later Royal Navy were used from as early as 1189.
10 – Flag of the state of Maryland, USA
The original flag was presented on May 30th, 1923, in Birmingham to the Bishop Hamilton Baynes in commemoration of Thomas Bray (1656/58-1730), an English clergyman and abolitionist who helped to formally establish the Church of England in Maryland – Bishop Hamilton had led a mission to Maryland in 1922 prior to the state flag’s presentation.
The difference between
Military Standards and Military Colours
Flags and historic banners are encouraged to be preserved;
They should be kept in the hanging position, ensuring the suspending edge is strong with no weak areas or visible damage.
They should not be hung above radiators or a direct draught.
They should be kept as straight as possible on their poles as creases catch more dust.
Conservation treatment may need to be applied if the material is particularly fragile.
Military Standards, Guidons and Colours are different, however; since they belong to the state, they cannot be disposed of without Ministry of Defence sanction.
Once colours are laid up, they should stay where they are until completely disintegrated.
The remains should then be buried with the staff and lion and crown colour pole mount in consecrated ground without any markings.
Royal British Legion Standards differ again from military Standards; They cannot be removed once laid up but can be conserved.