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Board of Ordnance (Britain)

Transport Services

Last modified: 2009-05-18 by rob raeside
Keywords: board of ordnance | ordnance | master general of the ordnance | cannons | cannonballs | sua tela tonanti |
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The Office of Ordnance, created by Henry VIII in 1544, became the Board of Ordnance in 1597. There was no standing army, and its principal duties were to supply guns, ammunition, stores and equipment to the King's Navy. The Great Master of Ordnance ranked immediately below the Lord High Admiral. In 1683 the Board became a Civil Department of State, under a Master General. A shield bearing three field-guns in pale, and three cannon balls in chief was adopted as the Seal of the Board. Being a metal die it was colourless, but paintings of the seal were made in a variety of colours:

[Board of Ordnance shield]   [Board of Ordnance shield]   [Board of Ordnance shield] by Martin Grieve

The seal was used as the badge on the Red Jack of Ordnance Board vessels "...; And that such Ships and Vessels as shall be employed for Their Majesties Service, by the Principal Officers and Commissioners of [ ]Their Majesties Ordnance [ ] shall wear a Red Jack with the Union Jack in a Canton at the upper Corner thereof next the Staff, as aforesaid, and in the other part of the said Jack shall be described the Seal used in such of the respective Offices aforesaid, by which the said Ships and Vessels shall be employed." Royal Proclamation of 12th July 1694.

Possible 18th century ensign/jack

[possible 18th century Board of Ordnance ensign/jack] by Martin Grieve

This was repeated in Royal Proclamations of 1707 and 1801, but the 'Regulations and Instructions relating to His Majesty's Service at Sea' of 1731, stated that the seal could be placed "in the Body of the Jack or Ensign". This probably made little difference to the appearance of the flag. A possible 18th century ensign/jack is shown above.

David Prothero, 17 September 2004

The Board of Ordnance were responsible for supplying the Navy and the Army with guns, ammunition, and military hardware in general. In 1791 they also began a cartographic survey of the British Isles so that the army would have accurate maps in case of a French invasion. The definitive sets of British maps are still known as Ordnance Survey maps.
David Prothero, 16 November 2001

Master General of the Ordnance

[Master General of the Ordnance] by Graham Bartram

I enclose another Army flag related to the Ordnance, the distinguishing flag of the Master General of the Ordnance. This post is now also one of the heads of the Defence Procurement Agency, and the flag is still in use. It is red over blue, as the Army Board flag, but with the arms in an oval shield, surrounded by the motto "Sua Tela Tonanti" ("Their weapons are thunderbolts") and a gold "bound" wreath of oak leaves, with thunderbolts issuing from it at east, south and west. There is a St. Edward's crown above.

The other Army flag with the Army badge on it is the flag of a military attaché who is an army officer. This is the Union Flag defaced by the Army badge (crossed swords with the Royal Crest over them) with a thick red fimbriation around the badge.
Graham Bartram, 17 September 2004

I had not come across this flag which is not mentioned in a 1960 article about ordnance flags. The post of Master General of the Ordnance was abolished in 1855, but appears to have been resurrected as a title for the Fourth Military Member of the Army Board, which replaced the Army Council in 1964. I guess that the flag was introduced after 1964.
David Prothero, 18 September 2004


Information on this page and pages linked from it under the title of "Board of Ordnance" is taken from "The Army's Navy" by D. Habesch, "The Arms and Flags of the Board of Ordnance" by J.W. Steeple in Mariner's Mirror, February 1960, and National Archives (PRO) ADM 1/8574/325, ADM 1/8612/171, ADM 1/21344, ADM 116/353, ADM 116/1063C, MT 9/205, WO 32/10938, WO 32/13221, WO 32/18153, WO 32/19914.
David Prothero, 29 September 2004

Flags that have used the Seal of the Board of Ordnance, the shield, or the crest of its Arms, and other army maritime flags

  • c1683. Seal created for Board of Ordnance.
  • 1694. Seal used as badge on Red Jack and later ensign of Board of Ordnance.
  • 1855. Board of Ordnance abolished and War Department Fleet established with same ensign.
  • 1864. War Department Fleet; Ordnance shield now on Blue Ensign
  • 1869. Military Authorities afloat; Crown and Royal Initials on Union Jack.
  • 1871. Submarine Mining Service, Royal Engineers; 1806 Ordnance crest on Blue Ensign.
  • 1888. War Department Fleet incorporated into Army Service Corps.
  • 1889. Ordnance shield Blue Ensign designated 'Ordnance and Royal Artillery'.
  • 1890. Army Service Corps adopted crossed swords on Blue Ensign.
  • 1891. Naval Ordnance separated from War Office. Ordnance shield and anchor on Blue Ensign.
  • 1904. Submarine Mining Service transferred to Admiralty. Ensign retained for Royal Engineers, Ports Section.
  • 1905. Army Council flag. Ordnance shield on Union Jack.
  • 1914. Inland Water Transport transferred from Army Service Corps to Royal Engineers.
  • 1922. Naval Ordnance ensign phased out.
  • 1924. Royal Engineers Inland Water Transport disbanded.
  • 1939. Royal Engineers Inland Water Transport reformed.
  • 1945. War Department Fleet renamed Royal Army Service Corps Fleet.
  • 1945. Ordnance shield on flags amended to match shield on Arms.
  • 1945? 1823 Ordnance crest replaced 1806 crest.
  • 1945. Royal Indian Army Service Corps Ensign.
  • 1952. Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps Flag.
  • 1964. Army Council abolished.
  • 1965. Royal Corps of Transport Fleet formed by merging RASC and RE Fleets; crossed swords Blue Ensign.
  • 1966. Army Ensign. Crossed Swords and Royal Crest on Blue Ensign for HMAVs.
  • 1993. RCT, RAOC and other corps merged to form Royal Logistics Corps; crossed swords Blue Ensign.
  • 1998. Army Ensign dormant. (The term ' Army Ensign ' is apparently now being applied to the Royal Logistics Corps Ensign. The Army Ensign, crossed swords and royal crest, is dormant. The crossed swords alone, is a Corps Ensign, and is still used by 17 Port and Maritime Regiment of the Royal Logistics Corps.)
David Prothero, 17 September 2004

Style of Cannon on Board of Ordnance Flags

[Style of cannon] by Martin Grieve

The style of cannons are another mystery here - Campbell and Evans have two differently-styled cannons on the same page, one for the Army Council and another for the Ordnance and Royal Artillery. To make matters even more confusing, these cannons are depicted in different forms in many publications over a vast expanse of time. I include a montage from David Prothero and myself in gif-format, based on our research work, illustrating the difference in style in some publications for reference purposes here.
Martin Grieve, 11 June 2005