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Swallows and Amazons (Series of Novels)

Last modified: 2022-06-18 by peter hans van den muijzenberg
Keywords: swallows and amazons | ransome (arthur) | swallow | swallows | amazons | siam | elephant | jolly roger |
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Swallows and Amazons is a children's classic by Arthur Ransome. The Swallows of the title are the siblings John, Susan, Titty and Roger, who sail the boat Swallow. (Titty is presumably a nickname for Titania — the book was written in a more innocent age.) As sailors the children refer to each other as Captain John, Mate Susan, Able Seaman Titty and the Boy Roger. Sailing on Coniston Water in the English Lake District (which they simply call the Sea) they meet up with the Blackett girls, Ruth and Peggy. The girls see themselves as pirates and call themselves the Amazons. Their uncle Jim, alias Captain Flint, says that pirates are ruthless, so Ruth goes as Captain Nancy, and her sister is Mate Peggy. The book was originally published in 1930.
Mike Oettle, 26 May 2008

There was also a 1963 TV series Swallows and Amazons (IMDB), still in black and white, and a 1974 Warner Brothers movie (IMDB). A clip from a trailer for the BBC series from 1962/1963 series is posted on YouTube.
António Martins-Tuválkin, 27 May 2008, and Gordon Dyer, 2 July 2011

The Swallow

The Blue Flag

She had fastened it on the little wire flagstaff where the blue flag had been
ppg 20-21 Swallows and Amazons 2001 ed

Frank Pouw, 13 November 2014

So, before the swallow flag, the boat had a blue flag, presumably triangular as well.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 14 November 2014

The Swallow Flag

The Swallow's flag was made by Titty — a white pennant with a blue swallow.
Mike Oettle, 26 May 2008, and Frank Pouw, 13 November 2014

Arthur Ransome's description of how it was made:

Titty had taken the little flagstaff up to the farm, and had cut a triangular flag out of some of the canvas left over from the tents. Mother had drawn a swallow on a bit of paper, and Titty had cut one out of some blue serge that had once been part of a pair of knickerbockers. Then she had put the pattern on the white flag, and cut out a place to fit it. Then she had sewn the edge of the blue swallow all the way round into the place for it in the white flag. When she had done there was a fine white flag with a blue swallow flying across it, and it looked the same on both sides. Then she had fastened it on the little wire flagstaff where the blue flag had been, so that it was ready to hoist to the masthead.
ppg 20-21 Swallows and Amazons 2001 ed

Frank Pouw, 13 November 2014

Well, "it looked the same on both sides" relative to the hoist. The reverse of the flag, would also show the reverse of the swallow.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 14 November 2014

At Wikipedia, the cover of the 1st edition shows what seems to be a white rectangular ~3:5 flag with a large medium blue swallow outline, flying to the bottom fly. However, according to Wikipedia, this cover is by Steve Spurrier, whose illustrations Ransome disliked so much, that the rest of the illustrations went unused. Eventually, Ransom illustrated all his books himself.
António Martins-Tuválkin, 27 May 2008

The Amazons

The Amazons fly a skull and crossbones pennant (white bones on black).
Mike Oettle, 26 May 2008

The 1974 movie Swallows and Amazons (IMDB) shows the Amazons' flag with a ragged fly in the main poster / cover.
António Martins-Tuválkin, 27 May 2008

The Scarab

[Flag of the Scarab]
image by Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 14 November 2014

This is the flag for the Scarab, Dick and Dorothea Callum's boat. The flag was made for them by Nancy for the boat they take ownership of in The Picts and the Martyrs. I've scanned it from the map on the inside cover of the 2002 reprint.
Frank Pouw, 13 November 2014

Faux Siamese flag

[Fictional or erroneous flag said to be the Siamese flag]
image by Eugene Ipavec and Jaume Ollé, 27 September 2006

The third flag (aside from the Red Ensign) that is mentioned in Swallows and Amazons is one that Uncle Jim (Captain Flint) has brought back from Siam: a green flag showing a white elephant.

"Just look at his flag", said Roger, who, as usual, was at his post in the bows.
They had passed the point, and could see into Houseboat Bay. There lay the houseboat, moored to her big barrel buoy, and on her little flagstaff of a mast, accustomed to carry the red ensign, was a large and most unusual flag, blowing out finely in the wind. It was a green flag, and in the middle of it, nearly filling it, was a huge white elephant. The Houseboat Man, Captain Flint, had dug it out for the occasion.
"I know what it is", said John. "It's the Siamese flag."
"I've seen it before", said Mate Peggy. "He brought it back from the East last year."

Uncle Jim lives on a houseboat on the lake, and normally hoists the Red Ensign, but when the Swallows and Amazons declare war on him, he hoists his elephant flag. When the children attack, they haul down the elephant flag and hoist the Jolly Roger instead (a rectangular flag in Uncle Jim's flag locker). It would seem likely that the elephant flag would be of the same design as the red-and-white Siamese flag of 1855-1916 and 1941-45 (as Thailand in those years).
Miroslav Vaverka, 23 July 2005, Mike Oettle, 26 May 2008, and Eugene Ipavec, 30 July 2008

I've checked everything in the Thailand pages and under the keyword "elephant", and the only thing that bears any resemblance is the flag of Nakhon Nayok province. There are some white elephants on blue, but none on green:

I'm inclined to call it either a mistake or a deliberate alteration by the author.
Eugene Ipavec, 24 July 2005

The green elephant flag is a mystery. It seems that of green flags there were precious few (if any) in Thailand back then. Possibly it was an invention of the author's; on the other hand it is remotely possible that he had himself bought such a flag (made for tourists perhaps?) while in Bangkok.
António Martins-Tuválkin, 27 May 2008, and Mike Oettle, 29 May 2008

Combinations of Swallows and Amazons pennants

Crossed Swallows and Amazons pennants

At Kleine Letters and Fantastic Fiction, the cover and title page of a later edition, «illustrated by the Author», show two crossed pennants (i.e. triangular flags): counter-bendwise a classic pirate pattern and bendwise a white flag with "black" (i.e. ink color) swallow silhouette, flying towards the hoist. This image seems to be some kind of logo for the series, judging for the many book covers in which it is at the top: Swallows and Amazons, Great Northern?, Missee Lee.

This same image, but colorized so that the swallow is medium blue, is at the masthead of Mario Becroft's Swallows and Amazons Forever page, where the same image is also made available in other sizes and formats.

The DVD case of a joint edition of two 1984 TV episodes of Swallows and Amazons Forever! — "The Big Six" (IMDB) and "Coot Club" (IMDB) — shows a modified version of the crossed pennants motive, with the swallow with a white belly and flying towards the fly (probably also in the series' merchandise).
António Martins-Tuválkin, 27 May 2008

The logo of the crossed pennants and the inscription "SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS FOR EVER!" appears on the title page of the 1970 Puffin edition I own, below an inscription reading: "Illustrated by the Author with help from Miss Nancy Blackett".
Mike Oettle, 29 May 2008

Combined Swallows and Amazons pennant

At Joseph Kennion's website, can be seen what seems to be a joint pennant for both Swallows and Amazons, in real-life actual cloth! (Black hoist stripe with skull and crossed bones, and fly as described.)
António Martins-Tuválkin, 27 May 2008