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United Kingdom: Master of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleet (proposed flag)

Last modified: 2017-05-31 by rob raeside
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[Master of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleet] image by Martin Grieve

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About the Ensign

[Master of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleet - detail of royal cypher] image by Martin Grieve

Proposed but abandoned distinguishing flag of the Master of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleet and Royal Cypher of HM Queen Elizabeth II.

The three masted sailing ship "Cutty Sark" was built in 1869 as a tea-clipper, and is now preserved in a dry-dock near the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. In 1954 she was still on the Thames waiting to be floated into the dock on the Autumn high tides, with re-rigging to be completed by Spring 1955. In May 1954 the Cutty Sark Preservation Society submitted a suggestion to the Duke of Edinburgh, Patron of the Society, that the ship should be a memorial to the Merchant Navy, and that the flag of HM the Queen as Master of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleet, (a title introduced by King George V in 1928) should be flown from Cutty Sark's main mast, day and night, after she has been berthed in the dry dock. The Queen agreed to the suggestion, and tentatively suggested that the flag might be the Red Ensign defaced with the Royal Cypher. The Head of Naval Law Branch wrote that the Admiralty had no objection, and that it was in any case not clear that the Admiralty had any say in the matter as Section 73 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 provided for the sovereign to issue warrants authorising flags. However the Head of the Military Branch pointed out that:

  1. Such a flag should be flown only to denote the presence of the sovereign, and suggested that it should be used only on merchant ships or fishing vessels in which HM was embarked.
  2. HM ships passing would be expected to pay respects to a flag bearing the royal cypher. Gun salutes were not fired in the Thames above Gravesend, and the only action that could be taken would be to lower the colours. In the absence of the sovereign herself this would be quite unacceptable. A merchant ship could salute a warship by lowering her colours, and the warship would respond, but a warship would never initiate an exchange of salutes with a merchant ship.
  3. A special flag for the sovereign as Master of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleet would also be a problem when the sovereign was in HMY Britannia and wished to honour the Merchant Navy by flying this flag. It could not replace the Royal Standard, the Flag of the Lord High Admiral or the Union Jack, and finding a suitable position to hoist the flag would be difficult.
  4. Suggested that a Red Ensign with the badge of Cutty Sark (if there was one) would be more suitable.
The proposal was abandoned, as was the idea of flying the houseflags of those merchant ships sunk during the 1939-45 War, on the day of the year that they had been sunk.
[National Archives (PRO) ADM 1/25476]

David Prothero, 14 October 2005