Progress July 20th, 2012

So what’s with this “pennants” thing?

July 20th, 2012

Sledging flags, or pennants, have been part of polar exploration since the 1820s.  They are a particular quirk of British exploratory sledding.  The first pennants used to identify expeditions, sleds, and eventually individual team members were flags originally created for other purposes, such as ensigns, depot flags and of course, the Union Jack.

Until recently polar exploration has been dominated by men of high class, wealth and with a military background – usually an officer of significant rank.  As the first expeditions took place long before aircraft took to the skies, and the army’s skills didn’t run to marching to the launching points, there was a close affiliation between naval flags and the first sledding pennants.

The sleds (or “sledges” as they are called in the UK) were not pulled by dogs as the UK has no tradition of using dogs with sleds.  Instead the individual expedition members pulled their sled behind them, in effect a huge backpack on sliders. The sled flag would serve as a means to quickly visually identify each sled and as their designs developed the flag might include the name of the sled and the badge of the officer pulling it.

The sledding flag of Cecil Meares, the designated dog-handler of the ill-fated 1910 Scott Expedition to the South Pole. The flag is now in the collections of the Royal BC Museum. (Photo credit: © Royal BC Museum.)

In 1850 Captain Horatio Austin led a Royal Navy expedition to look for Sir John Franklin’s missing expedition of 1845 and he insisted on rectangular sledding flags for expedition members “to retain, esprit de corps, and a naval atmosphere”.  One of those members was midshipman Clements Markham who later, as Sir Clements Markham, Honorary Secretary of the Royal Geographical Society, and an enthusiastic genealogist, insisted that the Society’s 1875 expedition to the North Pole include sledding pennants.  Among the most ornate pennants ever designed, he insisted that they resemble medieval standards and bear the heraldry of each officer. All of the flags had the cross of St. George at the hoist to denote that the owner was “first and foremost an Englishman”.  The parallels with medieval chivalry didn’t stop at heraldic design and jingoism , but extended to needlecraft. Typically hand sewn from coloured silk, most sledding pennants were made by sweethearts, wives, mothers and sisters, a practice that mirrored the tradition of medieval knights carrying hand embroidered tokens from female admirers into battle.

Captain Scott’s sledding pennant from his 1910 and last polar expedition.

And all of this has what to do with DOOP?  Well, as DOOP’s primary sponsor, yours truly, is a Brit, it is only appropriate that he follow in the fine tradition of Austin, Markham, Shackleton, Scott and others, and have his own sledding pennant, and here it is.


DOOP’s personal sledding pennant.

Taking a cue from Markham’s taste for elaborate flags, at the hoist are two cantons, the upper one the Union Jack (acknowledging the British tradition of sled pennants and the nationality of the primary sponsor – yours truly), the lower the Stars and Stripes (the home country of DOOP and the project as a whole). The rest of the fly is  bi-coloured (red and black) with a swallow tailed fly end.  Decorating the main field is DOOP’s personal heraldic device, a dog paw print with crossed anchors (it’s actually his late friend Ruby’s paw print – see the video on the main page of the Kickstarter page for the full story:  The crossed anchors are the emblem of the boatswain, a position I hold as a member of the crew of the C.S. Tere, the Artifex Group flagship and primary project.  Lastly, the DOOP pennants (there are two of them, one of heavy fabric for strong winds and one in silk for light winds), are further in keeping with the historic tradition of sledding pennants in that I have hand sewn both of them.

DOOP’s pennant is featured in several of the rewards available in acknowledgment of your donation to the fund raising effort.