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Royal Observer Corps (United Kingdom)

Last modified: 2011-03-05 by rob raeside
Keywords: royal observer corps | roc |
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[ROC ensign] image by Clay Moss, 26 December 2009

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Description of the flag

While browsing I.O. Evans's book Flags of the World (1971), I noticed that there are several other flags used by the Royal Air Force. These are (the text is quoted from the book):

Founded in 1925 to identify enemy aircraft, the Royal Observer Corps places its own emblem, instead of the Air Force roundels, in the fly of the Royal Air Force ensign. Its central device, encircled with a wreath of laurel and surmounted by the royal crown, represents an Elizabethan coast-watcher holding up a torch, and it includes the motto "Forewarned is Forearmed."
Dave Martucci, 6 December 1997

There seem to have been three versions of the Royal Observer Corps badge:
1. Tudor crown and gold wreath;
2. St Edward's crown and a green wreath;
3. Tudor crown and a green wreath.

In 1993, when the Ocean Weather Ships were down to one ship (called "Cumulus" I think), the lettering on the badge was changed, without authorisation, from 'Weather Ship' to 'Weather Service'. I don't know if it's still operating.
David Prothero, 7 December 1997

As a former Royal Observer Corps officer, some clarification detail to the points made about the ROC Flag. It is identical in layout and colour to the RAF flag, with the Beacon Lighter, nickname Firey Fred, in place of the roundel. The ROC Association Standards are identical to the ROC originals, but with the word "Association" added after "Royal Observer Corps". (No. 3 Group's ROCA standard is the original group standard with Association added).

The Field Force of the ROC was actually stood down in September 1991, that was the Sector and Group Controls and the Monitoring Posts, i.e. the majority of the Corps. The remainder were stood down in 1994, note stood down, not disbanded, our National Standard is at RAF Cranwell. However it is unlikely that the Corps will ever be re-formed.
Alan Hames, 11 September 2006

A little while ago we discussed variants of the British Royal Air Force ensign and the question was posed as to whether they are still in use. Well, I finally had cause to talk to a colleague at work who is a former Royal Observer Corps (ROC) member and is now a leader in the Air Training Corps (ATC), which is a cadet organisation for young people who are considering a career in the Royal Air Force.

Hhe advised me of the status of the ROC Ensign which is again an air-force blue ensign bearing a fly badge. The ROC badge includes an Elizabethan fire-watcher - these were the men who looked out for the Spanish Armada in 1588 and lit beacon fires to alert the Royal Navy of its approach.) This flag remains an official British flag as the ROC still exists - although only on paper at the present time.

Neville also mentioned that the Royal Observer Corps Association, which is the grouping for former ROC members, has ceremonial flags of its own. The national ensign of the Association is "almost identical" to the ROC Ensign. Unfortunately I did not have time to ask in what way it differs, but I would be willing to bet it probably follows the practice of other ex-servicemen's association flags such as those of the Royal British Legion and the Royal Naval Association by having a much more nearly square field, rather than the 1:2 of most British flags. Neville also mentioned that area branches of the ROC Association parade behind dark blue flags bearing the firewatcher emblem in silver.
Roy Stilling, 11 February 1998

The image at the top of this page is a drawing of a copy of the 1945 approval of the ROC ensign. The original versions had this crown, although it was changed during the reign of our present Queen. In 1991 the last batch of ensigns were made with the old crown. Interestingly, as will be seen from the copy of the Sovereignís Banner, the old crown was depicted on the Banner. This was the case with the original granted in 1966, and the second which was presented in 1991.
Scott Williamson, 21 December 2009

Royal Observer Corps Ensign.
1945. The Commander of the Royal Observer Corps requested an Ensign for the Corps. It would be desirable "partly to foster esprit-de-corps in the post-war period when a direct operational incentive will be lacking." The Air Council concurred.  Design and description obtained from Chester Herald, Inspector of Royal Air Force Badges. Approved by King George VI between 4 June and 25 June 1945. "Of light blue, in the dexter canton the Union, in the centre of the fly the badge of the Royal Observer Corps."
Sizes; 2 x 4, 3 x 6 and 6 x 12 feet. (61 x 122, 91.5 x 183 and 183 x 366 cms)
Scale of issue: one at Headquarters, one at each of five Area Headquarters, one at each of forty Group Headquarters.

5 July 1945. Royal Observer Corps needed a silk ensign for the Review of the Defence Services by the King, before the stand-down of Civil Defence. The National Fire Service and Civil Defence would have ensigns behind the reviewing stand and the Royal Observer Corps felt they too should have one. Cost from Hobson's £75, plus £4-10s for a case. Difference in cost between silk and bunting trifling and over-shadowed by cost of hand production. Handed design should have separate design on each side of the flag.

4 December 1945. Suggestion that a Royal Observer Corps ensign, with '21 Group' added, be presented to Exeter Cathedral. Approved 10 October 1946.
[National Archives AIR 2/6874, T 161/1200]

David Prothero, 26 December 2009

Banner of ROC

[ROC ensign] image by Clay Moss, 26 December 2009

The Banner (not Colour) is three feet square.
David Prothero, 26 December 2009

Royal Observer Corps Banner.
8 July 1964. Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Fighter Command to Air Ministry. Request a Colour for the Royal Observer Corps. 2 September 1964. Air Ministry to Fighter Command. A Colour must be carried on frequent parades, and not merely hung in the officers' mess. You should rethink your request.

6 October 1964. Fighter Command to Air Ministry. Royal Observer Corps meets all the qualifications for the presentation of a Colour. It does not participate in marching ceremonials, but there are many opportunities for static parades, etc.

1 December 1964. Air Ministry to Fighter Command. Colours are only for armed services, and require an armed Colour bearer and escort, as well as an armed escort squadron of at least fifty-two. Perhaps a banner would be more appropriate, following the precedent of the Air Training Corps.

22 December 1964. Fighter Command to Air Ministry. Agree to a banner.

5 October 1965. Air Ministry to J.Heaton Armstrong, Chester Herald. Request a design for a banner. It should be 3 feet square, in light blue, with the badge of the Royal Observer Corps and HM's cipher, with an astral crown finial. Similar in general appearance to Air Training Corps banner.

26 October 1965. Air Ministry to Fighter Command. Formal notification of award.

9 December 1965. Royal approval.

15 December 1965. Air Ministry to Hobsons & Co, W1. Order. Light blue with Royal Observer Corps badge and the Queen's cipher; blue and white fringe. The belt to be blue bound in blue and gold bearing a crown above the ROC badge.

7 January 1966. Banner £400. Belts £75.

24 June 1966. The banner was presented by the Queen as Air Commodore-in-Chief, on the Royal Observer Corps' 25th anniversary.
[AIR 2/17476, AIR 2/17545]

David Prothero, 26 December 2009

I found this particular Royal Observer Corps piece interesting in that it is the only sample of any type of "flag" that I have ever seen with both the St. Edward's Crown and Tudor Crown being displayed together.
Clay Moss, 27 December 2009

Details of the badges

[ROC badge] image by Clay Moss, 28 December 2009

[ROC badge] image by Clay Moss, 29 December 2009