Last modified: 2021-05-20 by rob raeside
Keywords: british arctic territory | hoax |
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Ensign by António Martins, badge by Clay Moss
The BAT story - as best as I can remember it.
I have had a particular interest in British blue and red ensigns ever since I started flag collecting. I believe this interest started when I was a youngster living in Hawaii. I remember seeing a giant sailing yacht anchored in Honolulu. It was flying a large British colonial Fiji red ensign. The ensign was so striking to me, that it sparked me to find out all I could about British territorial flags and ensigns. As I became more intellectually involved in Vexillology and Vexillography, I thought it would be neat to design a colonial British ensign badge. Realistically though, I had two things working against me. First, I wasn't British and had no connection to the Ministry of Defence. Second, the empire was shrinking anyway, and the prospect of designing a colonial badge was remote at best.
However, inspiration for making up a British territory and its flags came to me in early 1995 while I was looking at a rather sizable map of Ellesmere Island, Canada. The north part of the island was basically a territorial park except for a stumpy thumb shaped peninsula sticking out on the north east end of the island. When I saw this peninsula, I knew I had found my territory. I was vaguely aware of grievances Arctic natives had concerning their status as Northwest Territory citizens. Based on what little knowledge I had, I fabricated a story about native desires to rejoin the British empire because the empire had given them more freedom. I went on to say the Canadian Government was tired of the whole issue and was glad to let the "BAT" rejoin the empire. And then of course, I proceeded to create a set of British flags and ensigns. The badge came to me fairly quickly. I was torn between defacing the badge with a polar bear or a narwhal. I determined most people would not know what a narwhal was and decided on the polar bear. The light blue background behind the polar bear represents the clear polar skies while the wavy lines represent the Arctic Ocean.
Now the question was, what to do with all the stuff I had made up. It then
occurred to me. April Fools was just around the corner. Why not publish the BAT
article as an April Fools joke in Hot CofFEE, the quarterly publication of the
Confederation of Flag and Ensign Enthusiasts - Mississippi? When I took the idea
to other members, I got mixed opinions as to whether we should go to print or
not. I said I wanted to print for a couple of reasons. First, it would be fun,
and would get a laugh from anyone with a healthy robust sense of humor. Second,
the organization I worked for subscribed to an information firm. This particular
firm (whose name I will not mention) supplied us with all sorts of up to date
global information relating to our work. It did not take me long to realize that
much of the information we received was erroneous. I suspected our info firm was
doing a poor job verifying information before sending it out. In a nutshell, I
wanted to send the article and newsletter to other vexi-publications as an April
Fools joke, and our info firm to see if they would circulate the BAT story
without getting verification. Everyone agreed to go to print provided I made it
obvious the article was a joke.
This is where I made a mistake. I believed the story in and of itself was so absurd, that no one would fall for it. Thus, I gave very little indication of a hoax except for the date and an archaic British reference to April Fools. As it turned out, I was mostly right about my flag friends being tricked. As soon as my vexillological buddies received the article, inquires began to trickle in regarding the validity of the story. With each inquiry, I was completely candid and told them it was a joke. Bruce Berry, representing the SAVA journal questioned the story as well. I responded to him via fax, as there was no e-mail in those days. I assumed the fax got through since my machine said it did. I found out later my fax never made when SAVA went to print with the story. It was embarrassing for us both, but no permanent damage was done. A few humorless or overly serious flag folk responded to the hoax by articulating their displeasure, but collectively everyone enjoyed it.
As I stated earlier, for 4 days after being asked if my story were true, the British Government would neither confirm nor deny the existence of the territory. The Canadian government contacted me as well, not to tell me I was mistaken, but for verification of the story. The US government also briefly added the BAT to its "official" list of nations and territories. It took quite a bit of effort to convince them the territory didn't really exist. I never dreamed the hoax would have this kind of affect. The only explanation I have for the US government's action is the information firm I referred to earlier. Sure enough, said info firm sent out word that the BAT had in fact been created. I suspect Uncle Sam picked up on it. Our organization soon dropped its subscription.
Since the BAT hoax of 1995, the "territory" has taken on a life of its own. There is quite a BAT cult following. Folks of all sorts have become territorial citizens. There is one perquisite for citizenship. One has to be an all round nice person. I have also gotten a couple of comments on the irony of my making up the BAT story proceeded by the actual formation of Nunavut.
Several flags and ensigns have been added to the original four created in the beginning. There is now a Queen's standard, Lieutenant Governor's flag, Ambassadors flag, and a Naval Auxiliary ensign and a Civil Air ensign. The BAT will not recognize the new "large badge" flag designs the MoD has come up with. All BAT badges will be sized according the traditional 4/9 standard. On the blue ensign, the BAT badge will appear on a disk.
As a side note, the BAT passport is honored provided one is selective with where they use it. Also, my BAT drivers license is honored in quite a few countries I have driven in. In fact, it was the only driver's license I carried the last year I lived in Romania. It worked like a charm. I will put all the BAT's ensigns and flags up on the web sometime soon.
Clay Moss, 15 March 2003
You may like to know the progress of events on this [British] side of the
Atlantic, concerning the BAT. At the time, Clay Moss was producing a flag
magazine called Hot CofFEE. It was the journal of the Confederation of Flag and
Ensign Enthusiasts. In its 1 April issue, it showed the flag of the BAT and
added that there was a Union Flag with the badge in the centre and also a red
Not noticing the date (as it reached me some time after publication) I took the story more or less at face value except for one detail. I found the civil ensign a bit hard to believe, as these are not awarded automatically, as are the blue ensigns. I contacted my naval colleague, Malcolm Farrow (now Chairman of Flag Institute). He had not heard of the place, but contacted the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Their Antarctic Desk had not heard of it either. They then called the Canadian High Commission in case they knew about it, which of course they did not. At about the same time, one of Hot CofFEE's American readers, called the Canadian Embassy and again found no-one who knew of it. Nor did the Canadian Permanent Mission at the UN Headquarters. He contacted the US State Department and of course, they did not know either, but did the sensible thing and called the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
It was two days later before I noticed the date on the magazine and realised
this was a spoof. I at once phoned Malcolm and told him and he passed on the
information. Even so, for about 3-4 days, two foreign offices and part of the
United Nations were chasing each other's tails in ever decreasing circles over
this. Apparently no-one noticed the significance of the date.
Michael Faul, 12 October 2002
Marvellous to see that the bounds of the Empire have, even today, yet
to be set. The British Arctic Territory is a most welcome addition to
Her Majesty's overseas possessions.
One or two queries about the flags, however. I note that they were originally designed in 1995, some four years or so before Graham Bartram, I think it was, was instrumental in designing new flags for the dependent territories. These later flags bear a larger badge in the fly than their predecessors, something which appears not to have been taken on board up there in the Arctic wastes. Secondly, the blue ensign has its badge set in a white disc, a practice long frowned upon officially and, apparently, now only followed in the dear old B.A.T.
Of course, I may well be barking up the wrong iceberg and am, as ever, perfectly happy to stand corrected. Oh, and by the by, it does strike me as faintly eccentric that the B.A.T. appears to be governed from Penang. There again, Pitcairn is governed from Auckland, so what the hell?
My loyal felicitations to His Excellency.
Peter Johnson, 1 April 2005
Ah, through an oversight the Blue Ensign was included in the Statutory
Instrument which established the Territorial Flag and Civil Ensign, and this,
'The British Arctic Territories (Colours) Order 1995', made on 1 December 1995,
laid before Parliament on 7 December 1995 and effective 1 January 1996, showed
the shield on a white disk. Since Article (2) stated that: "The positioning and
proportions of the defacement shall be in accordance with the illustration in
the Schedule hereto", it became and remains the law. Since the flags of the
British Arctic Territories were established by Her Majesty under powers granted
by Act of Parliament, placed before that body and ratified by them, they have
become enshrined in Statute Law in the form originally established, and may not
be altered by any later decision of a Civil Servant or committee.
And I still say there should be a rock below the polar bear's feet.
Christopher Southworth, 3 April 2005
The position taken up by the party opposed to British rule - Independent
People Against Imperial Rule - IPAIR, of which there are naturally only two
members there being only one pair. However, don't be misled (by this small
number) into thinking that British rule is overwhelmingly popular throughout
B.A.T., since the two persons mentioned represent a rather large percentage of
the Territory's indigenous population. It has also been suggested (although by a
person who has since 'been shot whilst trying to escape') that the bear is
standing upon the promises made by Her Majesty's Government with regard to
And to avoid the fate of this latter gentleman, let me stress again that I suggested the bear should stand upon a rock (which let me hasten to say) is how I see the integrity of HMG.
Christopher Southworth, 3 April 2005
Perhaps it should be standing on an ice flow?
James Dignan, 3 April 2005
The iceflow unfortunately melted leaving the poor creature wallowing in mid-air, however as I explained earlier (in order to avoid a midnight visit from the hit men of the Colonial Office) the rock is symbolic of the 'solid' commitment of Her Majesty's Government to (eventual) independence for the British Arctic Territories. In any case, rocks are a stock item at the College of Arms, whereas ice flows have to be ordered in specially.
Christopher Southworth, 3 April 2005
I am deeply deeply crushed that Christopher continues to make fun of such a
sacred emblem as BAT's bear. Tears flow from my eyes as I write this. I don't
know what I was thinking when I made the bear hover, but it's not his fault, so
leave him alone. I now wonder if Britain's heralds of the past were so
incessantly harassed when they failed to have the lions standing on rocks or
something else in the badges of North Borneo, Cyprus, Indian Local Maritime
Government, Kenya, Rhodesia, Rhodesia & Nyasaland, and Tasmania. Or, is it
heraldically permissible to have hovering lions?
Clay Moss, 4 April 2005
I wouldn't have you upset for the world Clay, and hereby unreservedly
withdraw any and all remarks which may have caused you (and the bear) distress.
Christopher Southworth, 5 April 2005
image by Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 1 April 2013
Technically, the BAT Blue ensign may be accompanied by a jack along with the
Royal Fleets Auxiliary ensign.
Clay Moss, 21 October 2008
image by Clay Moss
All right, who pinched the rock from beneath the bear's feet? When I last
paid a ceremonial visit to the Governor there was a rock - not a very big rock
I'll grant you, but a rock nevertheless - and when I asked Sir Peregrine what it
meant he replied (and these were his exact words) "I'm blessed if I know, but
the dratted creature has to stand on something don't y' think?"
Christopher Southworth, 1 April 2005
Now Chris - why did you not suggest to Sir Peregrine that the bear stand upon
an iceberg? Would that not be more appropriate given the climatic conditions
Martin Grieve, 1 April 2005
Strange as it sounds, I did (in fact) make the same suggestion to Sir
Peregrine over dinner that evening, "my dear fella" he replied, "the rock is to
indicate HMG's interest matters geological, and is a punning reference to our
motto 'a rolling stone gathers no moss' don't y' know" - or as I've since
learned to put it more accurately 'a rolling Moss gathers no stone'.
Christopher Southworth, 1 April 2005
image by Miles Li and Clay Moss, 1 April 2011
Today is, of course, British Arctic Territory Day, and I am making my first
ever visit to BAT. In Alert Harbour I have spotted several examples of the BAT
Red Ensign with the shield placed not directly onto the field, but inside a
white disc (a la the BAT Blue Ensign). Baffled by this erroneous variant, I made
my enquiry at one of Alert's flag stores. The store owner told me that there has
been a number of unfortunate incidents in which the official BAT Red Ensign was
mistaken by Canadian authorities as the provincial flag of Ontario or Manitoba,
or even the former Canadian Red Ensign; to avoid further confusions the BAT Red
Ensign now has the shield placed inside a white disc.
"Actually," the store owner explained, "these flags are imported from the Glorious Nation of China. The manufacturers find it easier to simply print the shield onto the white disc and then stitch it onto the good old Red Duster."
Miles Li, 1 April 2011
image by Clay Moss
image by Clay Moss, 8 April 2005
We know the 10th anniversary flag is a defaced Alabama flag or code letter V
flag, and there is some coincidence there. In this particular case, the saltire
represents the Roman numeral 10. This flag will fly below all BAT flags on land
until 31 March, 2006, and will serve as a jack at sea for the same period..
Clay Moss, 8 April 2005
Actually, this is not a BAT flag, but the flag of the Spanish Arctic Regiment
(ca.1613-1649), and follows the Burgundy cross design of most pre-1843 Spanish
Santiago Dotor, 10 April 2005
image by Clay Moss, 31 March 2015
It has been a festive albeit subdued day of celebration among BATters as
tomorrow, we celebrate 20 years as the world's most northerly territory.
The attached 20th Anniversary flag was designed Mr. Harry Thistle, a Scottish gentleman, and thus the Scottish symbolism. However, that is not the entire story. The BAT has just recently found out that if Scotland had voted for independence, and separated from the UK, that Scotland was going to be ceded the BAT, and our new name effective today would have been the Scottish Arctic Territory. The attached flag was still going to be introduced as the territory's 20th Anniversary flag, but our new territorial flag was going to be a Scottish saltire defaced with the BAT shield on a white disk.
Needless to say, that all citizens of the British Arctic Territory are very upset that we were kept in the dark about the very possibility. As I write this, there is talk of a Rhodesian style Unilateral Declaration of Independence. Let's hope it doesn't come to that!
Clay Moss, 31 March 2015
image by Clay Moss, 24 March 2021
The BAT Office of Vexillology introduced the 25th anniversary flag last year
featuring 25 BAT polar bears. The flag will fly through 2022, as it will now
serve as a reminder that the BAT, at the time of the declaration, had gone 25
fortnights Covid-19 free. That's still the case. The BAT has not yet experienced
a case of Covid.
Clay Moss, 24 March 2021
In a news conference today, the new BAT Ambulance Service flag has been
revealed. While it is not based on any Ambulance Service flag from 'Old Blighty',
it does carry a family semblance with the flags of the BAT Fire Service and the
BAT Civil Defence, which are based on their British counterparts.
The new BAT Ambulance Service flag has the Union Jack in the upper hoist quarter, white upper fly and lower hoist quarters, and a blue lower fly quarter bearing the BAT polar bear, itself defaced with the 'Star of Life' emblem (a blue asterisk with a white Rod of Asclepius at the centre), which in recent years has gained popularity as the international symbol of ambulances.
The introduction of the new flag has ended the anomaly of the Ambulance Service as the only emergency service in BAT without its own flag.
Miles Li, 1 April 2018
In Alert, the BATAS is two very athletic orderlies who have 2 choices of
gurney to choose from. One gurney has extra big wheels and is fully loaded with
everything that a properly outfitted ambulance would have. The other gurney,
equally endowed, has skis instead of wheels.
The pride and joy of the BATAS is the Show Beast. It is modeled on air boats such as those used in the Florida Everglades, but is
considerably larger. It cruises on wide planked industrial skis, and can zip across the snow at speeds exceeding 90 kmh.
The RAF has furnished an old Hawker Siddeley 125 modified to serve an an air ambulance and is maintained by the BAAF.
Clay Moss, 1 April 2018