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
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:
- Australian Aboriginal Flag
- Torres Strait Islander Flag
- Australian Defence Force Ensign
- Royal Australian Navy Ensign
- Royal Australian Air Force Ensign
- flags of Allied nations, such as New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.
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.
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.
- What other ceremonies can you find that involve raising and lowering flags to half-mast?
- Research how other countries include their national flag in commemorative ceremonies. How is that different from what we do in Australia?