The Scout’s Guide to Patrol Flags
If you've been involved in Scouting for any length of time, you've probably heard the term “Patrol Spirit”. Simply put, Patrol Spirit is a culture of teamwork and camaraderie that develops among the members of a Patrol that is run according to the principles of the Patrol System. Patrol Spirit is what makes a group of boys a real Scout Patrol rather than just a convenient division of a Troop.
A lot of little things which develop Patrol Spirit were already built into Scouting by the founders. Unfortunately, a lot of times these little things are forgotton or overlooked. One such feature of Scouting is that of the Patrol Flag.
The Purpose of the Patrol Flag
The Patrol Flag is a unique standard designed and crafted by the members of the Patrol to represent themselves during activities. It should be carried with the Patrol during all Scouting activities that the Patrol participates in. It should accompany the Patrol on camping trips and hikes, mark the Patrol's rallying point during games, and be kept prominently in the Patrol Den/Patrol Corner when not in use.
There are a handful of ways that using a Patrol flag raises Patrol Spirit. To start with, the making of the flag itself is a group effort. Every single Scout in the Patrol will have a hand in making it. Because of this, it helps set the right tone for the Patrol: that every individual Scout is necessary the make the Patrol a good one.
In addition, it is a unique visual symbol of the Patrol. Just as Scout uniforms help set apart Scouts and become symbols of what Scouting stands for, so Patrol flags become special standards which set apart the members of different Patrols. This visual symbol has a strong psychological effect. If you are patriotic and love your country, the sight of your country's flag involuntarily triggers an emotional response in you that reinforces your feelings toward your country. It is no different with the Patrol flag. The Patrol flag stands for everything good about a Patrol, and each member can call it his own.
Lastly, the Patrol flag is a powerful way of building a unique Patrol culture. You see, a real Scout Patrol isn't simply a two-dimensional group of boys with just a special name to set them apart. A real Scout Patrol is a living and breathing team that develops a whole sub-culture of its own. Each Patrol does things a little differently. They develop their own routines in setting up Patrol camps; they have their own traditions that they carry on; and they have certain Scouting skills which they specialize in. Most importantly, each Patrol develops a unique character that is grown out of the combination of individual personalities which make it up. The Patrol flag's design represents all of this. It helps to solidify this Patrol culture and pass it down to younger Scouts.
Creating the Flag
Creating the Patrol flag seems very simple, and it really is! A Patrol drafts a design, then crafts it from raw materials. However, because of the significance of the Patrol flag, it isn't something that can be done carelessly. Designing each part of the flag is a series of decisions that must be made by the Patrol as a group. Each aspect of the flag must be decided upon carefully.
There are very few rules as to what the flag can look like and be made of. It may not even look like a flag! One rule that must be followed, though, is that every member in the Patrol must have a hand in making it. The Patrol's leader's job is to make sure each of the Scouts participate in areas they are strong in. One Scout might get the fabric, one Scout may draw out the chosen design, one Scout may get the pole, another may sew it together, and etc.
One cool way of getting all of the Scouts involved in the design process is by holding a competition. Every member of the Patrol should draw a design (despite their protestations of “I can't draw!”), in the end, the Patrol votes on which design is best. They can then take some of the best ideas from the other drawings and incorporate them into a final design.
It can be a crowded and intricate design, or it can be something simple and bold. It can have just words, or just symbols, or both! It can mainly represent the skills of a Patrol, or it can represent the character that they want to achieve. There really is an infinite number of options. Whatever you do, though, don't gloss over the design process or rush it through. The attitude that must be avoided is, “We're the Owl Patrol, so just slap a picture of an owl on a pillow case and be done with it!”. Impress upon the Scouts in your Patrol the importance of the flag and the care that should be taken in it's design.
Besides the main design of the flag, another decision that must be make is what material it will be made of. If your Patrol wants a more traditional looking flag, there are many different types of fabric you can use. Try, though, to pick out a fabric which is very durable. You want this flag to last many years, so plan accordingly. One of the members of your Patrol might have some good fabric already. If not, then you can probably find what you are looking for at a sewing store, thrift shop, or craft shop.
If your Patrol wants to make a flag which isn't like a traditional flag, you can use other materials as well. You can use leather, metal, wood, or whatever else serves the purpose well. Just make sure whatever it is does the best job of representing your Patrol. Also, make sure its portable! If you can't take it on a five-mile hike, then you need to trim it down a bit.
When you think of a flag, you probably think of the traditional rectangular shape. However, your Patrol flag doesn't have to fit this mold. Many Patrol flags have been triangles, squares, and many other shapes. You can put notches or streamers at the end. You can make the shape a silhouette of your Patrol symbol. Make sure, though, that whatever the shape is, it can be firmly attached to your pole. And that brings us to the last decision:
In the past, many Patrol Leaders made their Scout Staff higher than necessary. This was so they could attached the Patrol flag to it and carry it more easily on hikes and camping trips. Some flag designs, on the other hand, require a specially shaped pole. It may be that the flag design requires a symmetrically shaped fork at the end of the pole. The most commonly used material for the flag pole is wood, but it could also be metal if it was light enough.
If wood is used, I highly recommend finding a good hardwood tree which you have permission to cut on and cutting your own pole from a long, straight branch. You can leave the bark on, or you can strip it off. You can carve the pole or leave it plain. You can treat and stain the wood, or you can keep it bare. The options are limitless!
Call to Action
The Patrol flag is such a great builder of Patrol Spirit that it is little wonder why the founders considered it a necessary accessory to a true Scout Patrol. Do all the Patrols in your Troop have a Patrol Flag? If so, was it put together by all of the members with care, or was it thrown together haphazardly by the Patrol Leader?
If you are a Patrol Leader, make sure your Patrol has a good flag. If you don't, or have one that was poorly crafted, get your Patrol together, impress upon them how important it is, and together design a new one. Be sure that every member of your Patrol is involved in the making of it. Make sure to carry it with you on camping and hiking trips, and always treat it with pride and respect.
If you are a leader of a Troop, make sure that every one of your Patrols have a good flag this month. You can make an inter-Patrol contest and give a special privilege to the Patrol with the best flag. You can also do the same with the flag's attendance to meetings and camping trips.
Here are some photos of historical Patrol Flags to start your creative juices flowing.
Here are a couple of images I found on the internet of scanned scrapbook pages with ideas on how to make a Patrol Flag. I am unsure of their original creator:
Here is a similar image by Inquiry.net that illustrates some different flag designs:
All pictures in this post are from historical issues of Boys' Life Magazine.
Thank you for reading this post! I hope you found it useful. The real use of Patrol flags seems to have been forgotten by many Scout Troops I've seen. Patrol Flags are excellent at developing Patrol Spirit, and for that reason it is very important that they are Rediscovered by modern Scouting. I'll leave you with a quote on Patrol Spirit from a little 1960 book called “The Patrol System”.
“Patrol spirit doesn’t spring up like a mushroom overnight. It can’t be made to order. But it can be developed in the same way that a small tree can be helped along by giving it rich soil in which to grow, by tending it faithfully, by letting plenty of sun and air get to it, by pulling up the weeds that threaten to choke it.
Patrol spirit grows in the things that distinguish your Patrol from the others in the Troop; your Patrol name, your flag, your emblem, your call, your song and yell. Patrol spirit grows in the things that you make for your Patrol: your Patrol corner or Den, your Log Book, your camping equipment, your Patrol Box, the unique way that you decorate your Patrol flag and staves. Patrol spirit grows by the things that you do together: your Patrol meetings and hikes and camps and your taking part as a unit in the activities of your Troop.”