This picture features twice a flag with a dark border and a light inner: which flag is that?

enter image description here

From left to right we can see:

  • an Italian flag
  • a British flag
  • a striped flag, possibly USA
  • a tricolor flag, possibly French or Irish, doesn't matter
  • the mystery flag
  • a USA flag
  • another USA flag
  • a third USA flag
  • again the mystery flag

The event has been described as "Douglas Fairbanks holding up Charlie Chaplin in front of crowd to promote Liberty Bonds, Lower Manhattan, NYC, 1918"

It looks similar to this one, but it doesn't include the central blue stripes:

enter image description here

I guess it might be something special related to the warbonds, then, does anyone have any info about those special flags?

  • 1
    Perhaps a hint on where and when the picture was taken would assist researchers. Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 14:28
  • @PieterGeerkens added context, HTH
    – o0'.
    Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 16:38
  • 2
    The three stripes signify the 3rd loan, the fourth had 4 stripes and the fifth a V. So this might be a generic "liberty loan" flag or something. Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 17:09
  • 1
    A link to a clearer reproduction of OP's image: ancientfaces.com/photo/… Commented Feb 23, 2014 at 15:08

4 Answers 4


My guess is that they were meant to be service flags. These were usually rectangular flags with a wide red rectangular border and a white middle area. In the middle area, a person would place a number of stars indicating the number of loved ones you had serving (blue star for serving, gold for killed).

enter image description here

For a public (non family) display of such a flag, like say in the middle of Manhattan, placing an appropriate number of stars would have been problematic, so I could see where they might have left the middle blank. These days Congress has solved that problem by prohibiting anyone but immediate family from displaying one. They didn't have that law yet in the '40's though, and the flags were so ubiquitous in homes that I can see where it may have come to be viewed as a general "support our boys" flag.

In fact, I think one can probably view these flags during WWII as announcing "We support our troops", with whatever is placed in the middle designating what the person has invested. This explains why the same motif was used for the Liberty Loan flags you found, as well as for the Victory loans flag.

enter image description here

  • 2
    Here and here's another version of the photography above in higher resolution. Here, it seems that the light inner has about 50+ stars.
    – tohuwawohu
    Commented Feb 23, 2014 at 13:04
  • 1
    @tohuwawohu: Yes, even the far one can clearly be seen to have an array of detail on it, though of exactly what cannot be determined. Commented Feb 23, 2014 at 15:11
  • @tohuwawohu thanks to those higer resolution photos, I'd be inclined to believe the "service flag" might be it, but I'm going to wait some more before accepting, maybe something else will turn out.
    – o0'.
    Commented Feb 23, 2014 at 19:50

There was no Irish tricolour in the First World War as Ireland did not achieve independence until 1922. P Pappa is an innovation in the international phonetic alphabet. It used to be P Peter. That flag is the Blue Peter. It is hoisted by ships in harbour and it signifies "We are about to sail." So, in this context, it means "The Yanks are coming."

  • 1
    Nice phrasing of what I was trying to say in my answer. Commented Feb 23, 2014 at 15:12
  • 2
    This needs references. Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 17:39

It is apparently a flag derived from a generic honors emblem: For comparison, look at these Canadian Victory Loan Flags and those Australian Honour Flags. There are also a similar items (e.g. WWI sons town flag) for sale on eBay.

The designs were apparently all used for public fund raising by the allied powers during WW I and they share the same generic (red) border.

There is also a related article in the New York Times archive ("HONOR FLAG CHOSEN FOR THE LIBERTY LOAN", March 7, 1918) with this explanation:

The third Liberty Loan, which will open one month from today, is to have a distinctive flag of its own. Red borders, white interior field, with three vertical blue stripes -- this is the design for the honor emblem which will be bestowed on each city exceeding its quote of sales of Liberty bonds. If a city doubles its quota a star will be added to its flag, and a tripling of the quota will be recognized with two stars. Among other features of a system of honors devised for the third Liberty Loan and announced by Secretary McAdoo is the plan of giving a window card bearing a reproduction of the flag to each purchaser of a bond, and of establishing honor rolls in each community, or organization of an kind, to bear the names of subscribers.

Notice that the original photo was taken in April 1918.


The mystery flag appears quite similar to the nautical alphabet flag for "P", or papa:: enter image description here

As one can see from the many styles in the samples, the exact shade and dimensions of these flags were not critical, and various organizations (and perhaps manufacturers) styled them slightly differently. They were sufficiently distinct from each other, and other nautical ensigns and standards, as to be easily recognizable regardless of such subtleties. As long as papa, sierra and whiskey are easily recognizable and distinct from each other, communications could be relied upon.

Without knowing more about the context of the picture, it is difficult to guess why a papa flag would be of significance.

Another Nautical Alphabet link

  • 1
    While it matches, I'm not sure it makes any sense. As you suggest, I'll try to dig something more about the context of this picture.
    – o0'.
    Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 16:31
  • The size and proportions are all wrong. Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 17:09
  • @LennartRegebro yes, but he said "the exact shade and dimensions of these flags were not critical". Of course I don't know if that's true, I just know he addressed that issue.
    – o0'.
    Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 17:26
  • 1
    @LennartRegebro: First one and second one are quite different in dimensions, with the second nearly identical to the papa flag I posted above. Just the assumption by Lohoris that they are the same flag makes my point that their dimensions and shape are, for nautical purposes, irrelevant. Note also the signal meaning of a papa flag flying from a ship in port: "All personnel return to ship, departing for sea." Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 23:54

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.