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Numbered Regimental Flags

Last modified: 2011-12-23 by rob raeside
Keywords: regimental flags: numbered |
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I was recently examining a Regimental Flag from Jalalabad, Afghanistan taken from the Taliban era, military. The flag is numbered 170th regiment and I began to wonder.

We now accept numbered unit designations as the norm on military unit guidons, flags, colors and standards; but when and where did this practice start? Great Britain? Germany? France? Russia? Or somewhere else?
Jim Ferrigan, 24 March 2006

I don't know where and when the practice started, but if I have this correctly (and there are several list members more expert than myself in this area) the ordinary foot regiments of the British Army (as opposed to the guards regiments) received a regimental number (that confirmed their place in the line and their seniority) in 1712, with the numbers being officially replaced with regimental names in 1881?
Christopher Southworth, 24 March 2006

In Britain, the date seems to be 1747. There are surviving colours from only two regiments from before that date, and neither bear a number. The colours captured by the French in the Wars of the Spanish and Austrian Succession, that appear in the manuscripts 'Les Triomphes de Louis XIV' and 'de Louis XV', do not have numbers either. Even after 1747, the number only appeared on the colours of regiments that did not have their own badge.

Russian regiments were not numbered until 1864 (although they must have had some kind of precedence order before that); the colours of the mid-eighteenth century simply had the coat of arms of the province or town after which they were named.

Prussian colours were differentiated only by the colour of the cross and field; Hanoverian regiments by the allegorical picture on each colour.

French regiments had a precedence order, but I don't think the number became part of the regimental name until the late eighteenth centruy, and then the names were abolished altogether at the revolution. The number was not borne on the colours. The colours of United Provinces regiments of the early eighteenth century did not bear a number either.

As Chris says, numbers were officially replaced in 1881, but some regiments liked to refer to themselves by the old number even into the 1990s.

Italian colours have never borne the regimental number or name on the sheet, but on a streamer tied to the finial.

There were some regiments raised in the Colonies in the 1740's (Shirley's and Pepperell's, I think) that were taken onto the British establishment and numbered in the British sequence. The 60th (Royal Americans) in the 1750s, and the 100th (Royal Canadians), in the nineteenth century, were raised in the colonies with the intention of placing them on the British establishment.

American Colonial militia were not numbered in the eighteenth century (at least not in a national system - there would be 1st, 2nd, 3rd Regiment of New York Militia, or whatever). I don't know if there was a precedence system amongst the colonies in place - if it was like the British militia, then it changed every time the militia was called out, with the senior position being given to whichever county raised their regiments first.

In the early nineteenth century, Canadian regiments were not numbered either, unless, like some regiments of fencibles, they were taken onto the British establishment. One numbering sequence was introduced in 1867.
Ian Sumner, 25 March 2006