Flags as a symbol of commemoration in Australia

 

We lower flags to half-mast at the start of commemorative ceremonies and services as a sign of remembrance and mourning.

History of its symbolism

A formal commemorative service with 4 flags flying at half mast and servicemen in designated positions

Flags flying at half-mast during a national commemorative service to mark the 75th anniversary of Australian work on Hellfire Pass and the completion of the Burma-Thailand Railway. Held on Tuesday 16 October 2018 at the Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial, Ballarat

The origins of flags being used as a symbol of commemoration and the lowering of flags as a sign of remembrance possibly date back to the time of sailing ships.

As a sign of respect and honour, sailing ships would lower their sails. In turn, this would slow the ship down to allow for other ships to pull alongside and for important people to board if they wished.

The lowering of sails was also a show of respect to important people who were viewing a naval procession from land.

Over time, this custom changed from the lowering sails to the lowering of only the ship's flags.

At some stage, this practice was adopted for military ceremonies and processions on land too.

What it means to us today

The most prominent flag to be flown during ceremonies is the Australian National Flag.

The Australian National Flag can be flown alongside other flags on Anzac Day, Remembrance Day and other important days. Other flags you might see include:

The Australian Army does not have a separate ensign, but it's the ceremonial protector of the Australian National Flag.

Read about flag protocols for commemorative events in our Anzac Day Kitbag.

Engage more with this topic

Watch our 1-minute video, which supports learning in the Here They Come big book for primary school students.

This video focuses on flags flown at half-mast. This is a commemorative symbol that means we are remembering someone who has died. On Anzac Day, the Australian flag is lowered for a period of time and raised again during the ceremony as a sign of remembrance. The video is part of a series developed to support our Here They Come—A Day to Remember picture book and animated video, designed for lower primary school students. 

Enquiry questions

The Australian National Flag is raised every morning at the school in Villers-Bretonneux in France. This is done in memory of the thousands of Australians who fought and died in the battles to liberate the small village in 1917, during World War I.

  1. What other ceremonies can you find that involve raising and lowering flags to half-mast?
  2. Research how other countries include their national flag in commemorative ceremonies. How is that different from what we do in Australia?

Last updated: 20 August 2021

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2021), Flags as a symbol of commemoration in Australia, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 27 November 2021, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/commemoration/symbols-of-commemoration/flags
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