The Union Jack
If you look at the Union Flag (or Jack) closely, you
will see that it is actually made up from three different flags! One for
England, one for Scotland and one for Ireland. The English flag of St. George
is a red upright cross on a white background, and was used as long ago as the
13th century crusades.
The flag of St. Andrew of Scotland is a white diagonal
across a blue background and was added to the St. George's flag on the
unification of England and Scotland in 1603.
The flag of St. Patrick of Ireland which is red
diagonal cross on a white background was added on the 'Act of Union' in 1801 -
the three flags forming the Union Jack as we know it today.
The flag is always flown with broader white diagonal at
the top, nearest the top of the flagpole. If it is ever flown upside down, with
the broader white stripe at the base, it is usually taken as a sign of distress!
Usually this only happens on the high seas, but was also widely used in this
manner when forces were under siege, as in the Boer War, or during the fighting
in India during the late 18th century.
Finally, the word 'Jack' when used in connection with
the Union Jack is a reference to the 'jackstaff' or flagpole situated at the
stern of naval vessels from which the flag was flown.