In military organizations, the practice of carrying colours, standards or guidons, both to act as a rallying point for troops and to mark the location of the commander, is thought to have originated in Ancient Egypt some 5,000 years ago. The Roman Empire also made battle standards a part of their vast armies. It was formalized in the armies of Europe in the High Middle Ages, with standards being emblazoned with the commander's coat of arms.
THE COLOURS THEN
Every company of Regiment of Foot would have an ‘ensign’ or ‘colour’, made of painted silk and around 6 1/2 feet square (around 2 sq metres). These ‘flags’ were a powerful symbol for the Regiment and each company, and signified their individual identity. There was a ‘system’ of the use of symbols to identify each company within a Regiment and the rank of the officer who commanded the company. The actual colour itself also signified particular ‘virtues’ such as justice, faith or honour. Some went even further and emblazoned them with devices and rallying cries. When ‘flourished’ in front of your enemies it made a clear statement about who they were facing and if you had a fearsome reputation this may have a damaging effect on their morale, even to the point of them withdrawing.
The loss of the ensign or colour was the worst possible disgrace. They were defended to the upmost and their capture could only signify the severity of the defeat. Such was their value that they were entrusted to the responsibility of an officer, called an Ensign. Whilst it was the most junior rank and hence often held by a young ‘gentleman’, it was nevertheless a great honour to carry the colour. It would have required great courage too. You were the focus of your comrades, who would look to follow you in attack or rally around you in defence and the focus of your enemies too, whose aim it was seize the colour from you and against whom you would defend
it with your life.
THE COLOURS TODAY
Carrying the regimental colours is an honour that is bestowed on individuals that have excelled in their chosen arm. The standard bearers lead the regiment into battle and act as a reform point during the battle itself. The standard bearers will also flourish the colours as a reminder to the troops who they are fighting for, and as a warning to the opposition as the standard will identify who they will be fighting against!