The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 9 No 5 - June 1994

(incorporating Museum Review)


by J Keene

On Tuesday 26 April 1994, five commando units of the SADF laid up their National Colours at the South African National Museum of Military History. They were the Johannesburg West Commando, East Park Commando, Randburg Commando, Sandton Commando and Wemmer Pan Commando. On 7 May 1994 the South African Naval Staff College handed over their National Colour to the Museum after having laid it up at a ceremony held at Simonstown on 22 April 1994.

The laying up of National Colours followed a decision of the Defence Command Council that this should be done owing to the replacement of the National Flag by a new National Flag on 27 April 1994. The laying up of Colours is, in the life of any unit in possession of Colours, an occasion of supreme historical significance and is usually attended by elaborate ceremonial.

As all of the units in the Republic in possession of National Colours were obliged to lay them up, it was not possible for this to happen simultaneously. It was therefore decided that instead of each unit laying up its Colour at a parade, the ceremony would take place during one symbolic function for each arm of the Service. These ceremonies took place on 22 April 1994.

The SA Army laid up the National Colour at the SA Army College, Voortrekkerhoogte. Three National Colours were laid up at this ceremony; one of a Permanent Force unit (the SA Army College), one of a Citizen Force unit (the Natal Mounted Rifles) and one of a Commando unit (Heidelburg Commando). These units represented all of the units of the SA Army.

The SA Air Force laid up twelve National Colours of various units at the SA Air Force Gymnasium, Valhalla.

The SA Navy laid up four National Colours at Simonstown.

The SA Medical Service laid up four National Colours at Voortrekkerhoogte; they were those of 1 Military Hospital (representing all military hospitals), SAMS Training Centre (representing all SAMS training units), the Institute for Aviation Medicine (representing all SAMS specialist units) and 6 Medical Battalion Group (representing all SAMS Citizen Force units).

A National Colour for units of the SA Defence Force was authorized by the serving State President on 8 March 1988. Its inauguration brought to an end a process which had begun shortly after the adoption of the South African national flag in 1927. The question of replacing the Sovereign's (King's or Queen's) Colour based on the Union flag ('Union Jack') with a Sovereign's Colour based on the South African national flag was raised on several occasions after 1927 and eventually such a Colour was approved by the Cabinet in March 1939. No action was taken on the matter, undoubtedly owing to the outbreak of the Second World War.

During the Royal Tour of 1947, HM King George VI was to present new King's Colours to units of the Union Defence Forces. The question was raised as to whether these Colours would be based on the South African national flag as approved by the Cabinet decision of March 1939. It was decided that the units receiving the new Colours were all in possession of King's Colours and the new Colours were, in fact, a replacement of Colours already in existence. Sovereign's Colours based on the South African national flag were therefore never issued.

When South Africa became a republic on 31 May 1961, the use of Sovereign's Colours became inappropriate and units in possession of them were obliged to lay them up. Until the decision of 8 March 1988 to present National Colours, units carried only a Regimental Colour. The National Colour was accorded the same dignity and ceremonial precedence as the former Sovereign's Colours.

With South Africa having a new constitution, a new national flag and having re-entered the Commonwealth, it is interesting to reflect on the possibility and configuration of new National Colours.

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