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Last modified: 2022-10-14 by rob raeside
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I have a question that has been unable to be answered even by Royal Navy personnel....some had not even noticed the feature!

I have noticed that Royal Navy flags (ensigns and Jacks) have a wooden dowel inserted along the top 3 or 4 inches of the white binding near the point of the hoist. The hoist is an inch or 2 below on this stiffened part and is different from normal position of the hoist. When flown from a staff it looks a little odd as the top at the hoist looks to bend over slightly. Do you know the reason for this?
Barrie, 26 June 2002

Captain Malcolm Farrow, of the Royal Navy and The Flag Institute responsds thus:

"This refers to the 'headstick', previously wood but now made of black plastic. The purpose of a headstick is to enable the Inglefield clip to be fixed a couple of inches below the top of the flag, which thus enables the top of the flag to be right close up with the top of the pole (actually hard against the crown on the jack or ensign staff) when hoisted. Without a headstick (as in other navies jacks and ensigns) the clip arrangements prevent the top of the flag from being close up with the top of the pole and the top of the flag is therefore some couple of inches below the top of the pole. This is positively the worst thing that can happen bar sinking, and the headstick prevents it. Headsticks are only for jacks and harbour ensigns (sea ensigns worn at gaffs do not have headsticks). The headstick does however result in a slight bending of the top as reported, but this is minimised with the halyard downhaul being hauled really tight. I refer to this in TCOF as a matter of fact. So a flag with a headstick is only suitable for hoisting on a pole with some form of 'topknot' and where the halyard can be hauled really taught - ie not a flimsy plastic job with a stringy halyard. Such a flag is not for hoisting on a gaff of a mast, or on a free standing halyard at a yardarm for instance. Next time you see a US warship look closely at the jack or ensign - tatty hoisting by our standards."
Charles Ashburner, 27 June 2002