Would Someone Please Explain the British Flag to Me?

I have actually wondered this since I was in high school. You see, the British flag is composed of three “crosses”: the cross of St. George (red “+” on a white field, representing England), the cross of St. Andrew (white “X” on a blue field, representing Scotland) and the cross of St. Patrick (red “X” on a white field, representing Ireland, or Northern Ireland now). (Here they are all together.)

My question just involves the cross of St. Patrick. Why is shown off-center like that? Look at the flag again more carefully, and you will see what I mean. I vaguely recall hearing somewhere this is so no cross will take prominence over the others. But what does that mean? Why would putting it off-center prevent this. And why is the cross of St. Patrick the only cross that they do this with :confused: ?

According to this, it is for two reasons. First, so that you can tell if it is upside down (signal of a ship in distress). Secondly,

BTW, this link you provided, while giving a basic idea of the British flag, is an incorrect depiction. Sort of like showing the American flag with, say, 45 stars. You get the idea, but it’s still incorrect.

I have heard that, if the Patrick’s Cross were centered within the white bars of the Andrew’s Cross, those bars would be reduced to a mere bordering around the Patrick’s Cross. This impression was to be avoided.

This page implies that the cross of St. Patrick was placed off-center because otherwise it would be completely superimposed over the cross of St. Andrew. Placing it off-center seems to be a reminder that there are two diagonal crosses on the flag.

Also, your link to the full Union Jack is wrong; the red diagonal stripes on the lower left & upper right quadrants of the flag are on the wrong side of center. This is how it should look.

Surely the logical explanation for that is the other way around…it became a convenient distress signal because the flag is asymmetrical.

To put it another way, the idea is that the white “+” is just the background of the red cross of the flag of England, whereas the white “x” is the actual cross of the flag of Scotland. Without the re-jiggering, it would appear to merely be the background of the red “x” of Ireland.

Yes, if they were the first to use an inverted flag as a distress signal. If, say, the vikings first used it (WAG, I have no idea), then the British navy would have followed custom, and made their flag asymmetrical partially for this purpose.

Which also leads me to wonder how the Japanese navy signalled distress.

Interesting thread. I’d never noticed that the flag was like that.

There was a brief attempt in IIRC the 1700s by Scottish nationalists for Scotland to use a version of the flag which had the white diagonal at the ‘front’ of the design. Can’t find a cite, though…

As far as I can find on Google, only the British ever used this custom, and the US navy followed suit. And it’s never been the way to signal distress - not least because you have to get pretty close to the union flag to see which way up it is (obviously it’s easier with the stars and stripes).

As to the flying of the flag upside down as a marine distress signal, remember that the Union Flag has never been used as a maritime ensign. Rather, the UK (and its predecessors) have used naval and commercial maritime ensigns of red, white or blue with the Union Flag (or various versions) in the upper right corner. The current versions of the Red, White and Blue Ensigns can be seen here.

If a vessel is flying one of the colored ensigns upside down, it is easy to see, just like a upside down U.S. flag.

Why doesn’t Wales get a cross?


There’s a picture of it on this site (which I linked to in my earlier post.) Scroll down about a quarter of the way.

It’s absurd to suggest the cross was off-centred so it could be used as a distress signal. From a distance, the difference between the flag inverted and not inverted would be astoundingly difficult to see and wouldn’t be at all noticeable unless you were looking for it.

Perhaps I read too much into the top half of this link.. Apologies.