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History and meaning of Guidons as used by Horse & Armoured Regiments

The Guidon of the 6th Light Horse Regiment: Laid up at Holy Trinity Church Orange NSW. (photo Alan Kitchen)

A GUIDON is an heraldic banner carried by cavalry regiments, the equivalent of the colours borne by regiments of line infantry.  Until about a century ago, guidons and colours were taken into battle as the distinguishing symbols and rallying points for fighting units.

The word derives from the Italian guidone meaning 'guide' or 'marker' and/or the Middle French corruption guyd-hommes, hence it is the focus for soldiers in battle.  There developed for this precious symbol of unity a reverence for its own sake, endorsed by the religious practice of blessing a banner before it was carried into battle.  That the Roman legions fought fiercely to protect their eagle standards and suffered disgrace for their loss illustrates just how highly prized such things became.  For a very long time, soldiers have given high regard to these talismans of corporate identity, and so it is today.

Traditionally, the carrying of a Guidon or Colour remained the exclusive privilege of those who fought face to face with the enemy, namely the Cavalry and the Infantry. 

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Guidons of the 1st and 15th Royal NSW Lancers

Guidon of the 10th Light Horse Regt

The Guidon now occupies the sacred ceremonial place in a mounted Regiment that The Colours do in an Infantry unit. It was not always so. Originally they were battle flags, carried by the headquarters staff to show the position of the King or Lord or General  or other person that was in command. For that reason they were always cut with the swallow tail design so that they would flutter better in the breeze. After all, a flag you cannot see is as bad as no flag at all. It is a tradition that has been followed by most nations with their mounted units . . . even General George Armstrong Custer went to the Little Big Horn River flying a swallow tail guidon of the famous/infamous United States 7th Cavalry . . .

Two of the three flags of Colonel George Armstrong Custer and the Seventh Cavalry at the Battle of Little Big Horn (Custer's Last Stand). This was the standard Cavalry guidon of that era, 1876. Custer also had a personal headquarters flag, it was swallow-tailed of equal horizontal stripes of red over blue with two crossed white sabres in the centre. This flag was made by the Colonel's wife. Both the Guidon and the personal flag were carried into the battle. The third flag was the regimental standard. This flag resembled the modern state flag of North Dakota, with the exception of the inscription in gold on the red ribbon which read, 7th U.S. Cavalry. That flag was not carried into the battle.

and before you pour scorn on your humble webmaster for introducing a non appropriate matter please remember that the US 7th Cavalry fought alongside Australians in Korea. They still fly a swallow tail guidon and they now refer to themselves as "Custer's Own". They also led the charge into Iraq in the War to Liberate Iraq, 2003.

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Guidon of the 13th Light Horse Regt (Donor W. Hoare) Guidon of 2nd Cavalry Regiment RAAC

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Brisbane, Qld. 1972-08-20. Guidons Of The 2nd Light Horse Regiment (Moreton Light Horse Queensland Mounted Infantry (QMI)) And The 14 Light Horse Regiment (West Moreton Light Horse QMI) Being Carried Into The Cathedral Church Of St John The Evangelist, Ann Street, Brisbane The Laying Up Of The Guidons . Anzac Day 2001. The Guidons were carried with a mounted escort of 16 riders from the QMI historical troop and the 2ic and the Adjutant of the Regiment.
The German Army still uses Guidons. The colour varies depending on the branch of service.