I’m an interminable wonderer.  I wonder why people do things.  Why do they fold the American flag like that at funerals? I wonder why there are so many bits and pieces on military uniforms?  I wonder why leaves drop off trees in autumn.  I wonder how animals know stuff.  Yesterday I was watching a dreadful but worryingly enjoyable TV series that my better half just loves to escape into, called Motherland.  (Click the link for a review. Actually it can’t be that bad … they just renewed it for a second season. The first season is on Foxtel in Australia.)

Anyhow, there was a military funeral in the episode we were watching, and I wondered “Why do they fold the USA flag like that?” Without giving too much away, one of the minor characters dies and during their funeral they fold the American flat into quarters and then more quarters – it seems to go on forever – and I wondered if we honour our fallen in this way or is it only done in USA?  So here’s what I discovered, so far.

Our Australian flag can be used to cover the coffin of any Australian at their funeral.

The upper left quarter of the flag should be draped over the ‘left shoulder’ of the coffin to represent the heart and the flag should be removed before the coffin is lowered into the ground, or after the service at a crematorium.

I have copied this information from The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The Australian National Flag (ANF) is not to be subjected to any indignity nor is it to be displayed in a position inferior to any other flag except for Regal and Vice-Regal personal standards. The ANF is to always be flown aloft and free, and is not to touch the ground when being raised or lowered. It is to be handled, flown and treated in a dignified manner at all times. A personal standard or flag of the British Royal Family and flags of Vice Regal personage take precedence over the ANF.

The ANF has three elements on a blue background: the Union Jack, the Commonwealth Star and the Southern Cross. The Union Jack in the upper left corner (or canton) acknowledges the history of British settlement. Below the Union Jack is the Commonwealth Star. The Commonwealth Star has seven points representing the unity of the six states and the territories of the Commonwealth of Australia. The star is also featured on the Commonwealth Coat of Arms. The Southern Cross is shown on the fly of the flag in white. This constellation of five stars can be seen only from the southern hemisphere and is a reminder of Australia’s geography. The ANF takes precedence over all national flags when it is flown in Australia or Australian territory.

There you go … that was more than you ever needed to know about why the Aussie flag is as it is. Now …


The following diagrams show how to fold the flag properly:

A Start like this.

B Fold lengthwise bottom side to topside once and then once again

C Bring the ends together

D Now concertina by folding backwards and forwards towards the hoist edge

E keep the flag bundled by winding the halyard around and under itself.


So this is how to correctly fold our Australian National Flag.  Who knew?

But the UK flag is folded differently.  Here are the details.

As a Pall for a Coffin:

If a national flag is to be used on a coffin, it should be placed so that the top-left corner of the flag is over the deceased’s left shoulder. The flag should be removed before interment or cremation and folded.

If the flag is to be retained by the next of kin it can be folded using the Royal Navy’s method shown here, based on a 1:2 flag (138cm x 276cm) with no fittings (ie. ropes, toggles or clips), or using the method shown above:

A coffin with a fitted cover

(Note: if a flag is used, 1:2 proportions fits the shape of the coffin better.)

Folding the Flag

The Union Flag is pulled taut. The Union Flag is then folded in half, lengthways (Fig. 1).

Keeping the Union Flag taut it is then folded in half (lengthways) a second time (Fig. 2).

A straight fold of 1/14 of the flag’s length (20cm on a casket cover) is taken from the foot of the Union Flag (Fig. 3). This fold may not be necessary, or may need to be a different length, depending upon the shape, size and material of the flag being folded – practise first!

The first triangular fold is made ensuring it is within 5mm of the straight edge.

The triangular folding procedure continue until it reaches the head of the Union Flag.

Any remainder is tucked away into the fold of the triangular shape.

The Union Flag is now ready for presentation. Phew.

Here’s a video on how to fold the Polish flag.

I found a non-confirmed report that this is how you fold the German flag, too.  I don’t know if this is correct but its interesting that the USA flag folding has millions of blogs and you tube videos about it, and the rest of the planet seems to be almost void of the patriotic fervour associated with the flag.  That’s not a value judgement. We should respect cultural differences. I’m not saying its right and I’m not saying its wrong, I just think its interesting.

The anonymous blogger wrote “I’m only a layman, so take this with a grain of salt. There is a special method to do this, but only for the official flag and the Navy jack. The Government has a protocol for it. If you want to do it in a semi-official way, you could follow the following procedure (I read up on it, and this is a suggestion from my understanding of that reading.  I’m not really certain this is good, tho):

  1. Hold the flag vertically (If you’re not outside and the flag can’t get dirty, you could also use a table)

  2. Fold the golden stripe under the red one

  3. Fold the black stripe on top

  4. Divide the remaining top into parts you can comfortably put together so that only black is on the outside.”


OK so as contrast, here are ALL the reasons for the 13 folds that happen when you correctly fold the flag of USA.


If you’ve attended a funeral honoring a veteran who served our country, perhaps you witnessed the folding of the flag that once covered the casket of a loved one. Each of the 13 folds of the flag holds great significance.


Folding the American flag

At the Ceremony of Retreat, a daily observance at bases during which all personnel pay respect to the flag, “The flag is lowered, folded in a triangle fold and kept under watch throughout the night as a tribute to our nation’s honored dead. The next morning, it is brought out and, at the ceremony of reveille, run aloft as a symbol of our belief in the resurrection of the body.” The folding regime is very specific as to meaning:

  1. The first fold of our flag is a symbol of life.
  2. The second fold signifies our belief in eternal life.
  3. The third fold is made in honor and tribute of the veteran departing our ranks, and who gave a portion of his or her life for the defense of our country to attain peace.
  4. The fourth fold exemplifies our weaker nature as citizens trusting in God; it is to Him we turn for His divine guidance.
  5. The fifth fold is an acknowledgment to our country, for in the words of Stephen Decatur, “Our country, in dealing with other countries, may she always be right, but it is still our country, right or wrong.”
  6. The sixth fold is for where our hearts lie. It is with our heart that we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
  7. The seventh fold is a tribute to our armed forces, for it is through the armed forces that we protect our country and our flag against all enemies.
  8. The eighth fold is a tribute to the one who entered into the valley of the shadow of death, that we might see the light of day, and to honor our mother, for whom it flies on Mother’s Day.
  9. The ninth fold is an honor to womanhood, for it has been through their faith, love, loyalty, and devotion that the character of the men and women who have made this country great have been molded.
  10. The 10th fold is a tribute to father, for he, too, has given his sons and daughters for the defense of our country since he or she was first-born.
  11. The 11th fold, in the eyes of Hebrew citizens, represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon and glorifies, in their eyes, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
  12. The 12th fold, in the eyes of a Christian citizen, represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in
  13. their eyes, God the Father, the Son, and Holy Ghost.
  14. The last fold, when the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our national motto, “In God We Trust.”  for more information in this vein please read link here.

One of the things that interests me is how these layers of meaning are not necessarily traditional, and some have been added more recently. For example, “In God We Trust” has not always been the motto of the United States – in fact, it was only adopted at the height of the Cold War in 1956, as part of a general swing towards conservative values in the fight against communism, which was atheist, of course.

You can see an Honor Guard in this video doing properly!

We’ve seen it hundreds of times in movies and TV shows, but I could find very little to zero information as to WHY we fold our flags so differently from one country to another.

Here’s a link to a video of how the Canadian flag is folded: it requires 8 people to fold it correctly!  It ends up with a corner of the maple leaf still showing.  As shown here in a box frame with relevant medals.


By the way, before we get “all flagged out”, I can’t forget the Australian Aboriginal Flag.  Did you know there is one?

Australian Aboriginal artist Harold Thomas

This unusual and rather beautiful flag was designed by artist Harold Thomas and first flown at Victoria Square in Adelaide, South Australia, on National Aborigines Day in July 1971. It became the official flag for the unofficial Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra after it was first flown there in 1972. Since then, it has become a widely recognised symbol of the unity and identity of Aboriginal people and an integral part of Australia’s modern identity too.

In view of the flag’s wide acceptance and importance in Australian society, the Commonwealth took steps in 1994 to give the flag legal recognition. After a period of public consultation, in July 1995 the Aboriginal flag was proclaimed a ‘Flag of Australia’ under the Flags Act 1953. And in 1997 the Federal Court recognised Harold Thomas as the author of the flag.

Form and symbolism

The Aboriginal flag is divided horizontally into halves. The top half is black and the lower half red with a yellow circle in the centre of the flag.

The meanings of the three colours in the flag, as stated by Harold Thomas, are:

  • Black – represents the Aboriginal people of Australia.
  • Yellow circle – represents the Sun, the giver of life and protector.
  • Red – represents the red earth, the red ochre used in ceremonies and Aboriginal peoples’ spiritual relationship to the land.

Please feel free to let me know if you have more information you’d like me to share about Vexillology. Yes, that’s the science and art of flags, flag design and flag usage!

Talk soon, and as always thanks for reading.



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