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British Life and Culture

by Mandy Barrow

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British life and culture - England, Scotland and Wales
How to fly the Union Flag correctly
How can you tell if it is upside down?

Please don't fly the Union flag the wrong way up!

The broader (wider) diagonal white stripe should be at the top on the side of the flag nearest the flagpole.

Union flag the correct way up

Union flag the wrong way up

 Correct Way


Wrong way

The UK flag is NOT entirely symmetrical! You can rotate the flag and it still will be the right way up but you can't invert it (not refective symmetry).

Look at the white diagonals and you will see why.

On the side next to the flagpole, (the hoist side), the thick white band is above the red band on both diagonals, the white band being part of the cross of St Andrew, the Scottish flag and the red band being part of the cross of St Patrick, the Irish flag.

The Union Flag with the St. George's Cross removed
showing how the saltires (diagonal crosses) are counterchanged.

The cross of St Andrew is above that of St Patrick at the hoist because the cross was added to the flag before St Patrick's cross, therefore the cross of St Andrew is entitled to the higher position

On the side that flutters free, the fly side, this is reversed, with the Irish flag being above the Scottish flag.

upside down
This flag is upside down because the narrow white bands are on top.

To deliberately fly the flag upside down is a signal indicating a situation of 'DISTRESS'. It is also "lese Majeste" (which means: insulting the Crown), and is theoretically still a crime in the UK and its commonwealth!

Examples of the Union flag flying upside down

Geoff Charnley sent us a photograph of the Union Flag flying upside down at the monument to Louis Bleriot in Sangatte.

monument to Louis Bleriot  in Sangatte

Upside down Union Flag
Wrong way up!

Corret way to fly the union flag

January 2009
David Webb spotted the Union flag upside down on Channel 4 television.

flag upside down
Wrong way up. Look at the top left hand corner.

February 2009
Steve Lorraine spotted the following upside down Union flag

Wrong way up!
Lord Mandelson and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao signing an agreement.

Click here to see other examples

Questions sent in by visitors

How high is a flag at "half mast"?

It is not half way up the flag pole, as you might have expected, but the height of the flag from the top of the pole.

The practice of half-masting a flag arose to serve cases of the death of a sailor on the ship. The flag was half-masted to inform other vessels that the crew were mourning their shipmate, and hence a polite request that they not be disturbed. After the committal, the flag was raised to full staff, to indicate that the mourning period was ended.

When is the Union Flag Flown?

The Union Flag is flown on government buildings on days marking:

  • the birthdays of members of the Royal family,
  • Commonwealth Day,
  • Coronation Day,
  • The Queen's official birthday,
  • Remembrance Day and
  • on the days of the State Opening and prorogation of Parliament.

It is also flown on St David's Day (Wales), St George's Day (England), St Andrew's Day (Scotland), and St Patrick's Day (Northern Ireland).

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All the materials on these pages are free for homework and classroom use only. You may not redistribute, sell or place the content of this page on any other website or blog without written permission from the Mandy Barrow.

© Copyright Mandy Barrow 2013

Mandy is the creator of the Woodlands Resources section of the Woodlands Junior website. 
The two websites and are the new homes for the Woodlands Resources.

Mandy left Woodlands in 2003 to work in Kent schools as an ICT Consulatant. 
She now teaches computers at The Granville School and St. John's Primary School in Sevenoaks Kent.

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