Weapons and flags for the NBG

When a joint heraldic coat of arms was to be developed for NBG, the lion was a natural symbol, since this king of beasts is included in the coat of arms for all four of the countries around the Baltic. A lion without a crown was used, however, since two of the countries are republics. All of the countries’ flag colours were used. The joint blue colour was put on the shield. The sword and the olive branch were coloured yellow for Sweden. Ireland, however, was a problem.

Flag production was in progress during the entire autumn in the Military Museum’s studios and was completed in late November. Photo: Torbjörn Gustafsson

Heraldry work, as the armed forces in other respects, has now moved to the international arena. This took place 18 months ago when my former K1 colleague Per-Erik Laksjö was summoned to defence headquarters for a meeting with the NBG, the Colonel Karl Engelbrektson.

A request was put forth for a heraldic coat of arms and flag for the NBG, and a command symbol was also mentioned.

Since a coat of arms is the basis for all other heraldry objects, we began there. Four countries, Finland, Estonia, Norway and Sweden were involved, and it was important that all of them should feel a connection to the new coat of arms. It was therefore essential to identify common attributes and colours on which everyone could agree.

We quickly concluded that all four countries had a lion as an important element in their national coats of arms. It was then simply a question of drawing a lion that did not look Finnish, Norwegian, Estonian or Swedish.

The next question was whether or not the lion should be doing anything. After some discussion, it was decided that it would extend a symbol of peace – a palm or an olive branch – with its left paw and hold a raised sword in the right.
The motto would be: We offer peace but are prepared to fight for it.
The lion would be surrounded by the EU ring of stars.

On the matter of the colour of the lion and the shield, all four national flags contained blue, so the shield was made blue. Three of the countries had white in their flags, so that became the colour of the lion, while the sword and the branch of peace were given Sweden’s yellow colour, which also coincided with the EU’s stars.

Norway’s contribution was that the lion’s “armour” – claws, teeth and tongue were made red. Estonia’s black colour was incorporated in that the eyes were made black. The shield could obviously not bear a crown, but a banner with the text “Ad omnia paratus” (Prepared for everything, everywhwere) was placed under the shield. The coat of arms was then drawn by the Swedish Earl Marshal artist Vladimir Sagerlund.

Castrated lion
Thus far, everything had proceeded smoothly and gracefully, but now the problems began. According to the rules of heraldry, a heraldic lion must be male, and this should be apparent. NBG’s female personnel objected, however, and requested a more gender-neutral lion.

The Earl Marshal hit the roof and refused to violate a heraldic rule of over a thousand years. The EU’s Commissioner Solana, however, favoured the proposed alteration, and positions were thus locked.

The lion was castrated by computer, however, and the same operation was performed on the drawing of the flag that was produced by Kristina Holmgård.
Scarcely was this problem solved when the next one arose.

Ireland joined the NBG as the fifth nation, suddenly adding the colours green and orange to the requirements list. The Earl Marshal succeeded in solving this problem, however, by pointing out that Ireland’s coat of arms displayed a golden harp on a blue background!

In the end, the EU stars had to be removed, since it became apparent that it would be possible to deploy the NBG for other peace-keeping missions outside the EU. As a result, the lion was enlarged so that it filled more of the shield/cloth. The final blazonry (description) of the coat of arms should thus be as follows:

“On a blue field, a lion of silver with a black eye and red armour. In the lion’s left, front paw, an olive branch and in the right a sword, both of yellow.”

Flag production began in the Military Museum’s studios on September 20 and was completed by late November.

The description will be: “On a blue bunting, a white lion with a black eye and red armour. In the lion’s left, front paw, an olive branch and in the right a sword, both of gold.”

A special banner will also be produced, since the usual one contains the monogram of King Carl XVI Gustaf.

Command symbol
The most unusual heraldry item, however, was the one that was finished first. Since the late 1800s, senior Swedish military officers have been assigned a personal command symbol. The lowest unit thus far has been a brigade, where a number of commanders were assigned command symbols in the 1940s. These disappeared after a few years, however. Today, only the Supreme Commander, the Head of Operative Mission Command and the service commanders have command signs, following the elimination of those of the district and divisional commanders in 2000.

There was some uncertainty in the Armed Forces Heraldry Council if the NBG Commander could be considered qualified to display a command symbol, but after some discussion, the council decided to approve it. The same symbol type was used as for the former divisional commanders, consisting of a blue bunting divided into blue, yellow and blue fields with a roman numeral in the yellow field. V was chosen as the numeral, since NBG was to be the fifth mobilized combat unit with the EU.

Text: Christian Braunstein