‘Wentworth’ our height indicator flag.
Wentworth flies proudly at the end of the Canal du Nivernais
The Metropolitan Police Special Escort Group where I had the pleasure of working until my retirement in 2008, has the largest collection of car flags in the world. I know this because I looked after them. There are well over two hundred from all parts of the world. Royal, Presidential and Government car flags that have been ‘collected’ by members of the SEG over many years.
I am certain that it is the largest collection because the President of The International Federation of Vexiologists (Flag Spotters) visited us from Germany and he was astounded by them. They line the corridors of our Base and are displayed neatly on ash dado rails with identifying plaques.
A small section of the collection which includes a Papal flag.
Each flag has its own story; from Her Majesty The Queen and most of our Royal family to Presidential flags from the USA and almost every visiting Head of State. Usually they were deemed to have ‘blown’ from the front of the car by a sudden gust of wind en route to one airport or another. Sometimes, as our reputation for ‘recovering’ them grew, they would be presented to us instead by the VIP as a parting gift.
They vary enormously from the standard 10” by 5” ones provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to the much grander (and more valuable) Royal and Presidential type that travel the world with their owners.
Being the ‘curator’ it was my job to ensure that the flags were properly displayed ……just in case any of the owners should be ‘traced’ and also to encourage newer members on the Group to keep up the tradition.
Government chauffeurs, Special Branch Officers and foreign bodyguards were all eagle-eyed towards the end of their visits, but as the years and flags went by they actually became complicit (taking some of the fun out of it as it happens!).
One of my other jobs within the Group was to help organise two of the departments moves, from Barnes to Lambeth and latterly to Bermondsey. Over the years we had been fortunate to welcome a number of Royal and other important visitors to our offices. In addition to the flags we have a large collection of photos and memorabilia.
We thought it would be appropriate for a member of the Royal Family to officially open the new headquarters at Lambeth and Prince Andrew was keen to do so. I suggested that he bring along his own car pennant to add to the collection and he was happy to comply.
Prince Andrew- ever impressed by the motorcycling, would when being escorted, insist on listening and indeed joining in on our private working radio channel. He enjoyed the ‘banter’.
Once the new building was completed and the opening day set, I thought, given the Prince’s love of golf and living in close proximity to one of the most famous courses in the world, it might inject a bit of light humour into the opening occasion if he were to find a Wentworth Pin flag in the place where his was due to be.
I arranged an appointment with the Club’s Secretary and over a cup of tea asked if he could spare a flag, (I think he originally assumed that I was after PGA tickets!) No sooner said, he called in the Greenkeeper and suggested that the flag on the eighteenth hole needed replacing and that the old one should be brought to me. Nice man.
The opening went well and the joke was appreciated. Amongst the invited guests was the Head of the Foreign and Commonwealth Visits Office who, as she came through the door was heard to say “So this is where all of our f…….ing flags have been going!” Such language from such a pleasant and attractive lady made us all fall about.
So there you have it. When I retired I thought I’d keep the flag as a momento – not realising what an important, nay essential job ‘Wentworth’ would end up doing for us.
We’ve become rather fond of him now- rather like ‘Wilson‘ in the film ‘Castaway!‘ He has taken a few bashes and scrapes over the last three years, but all to warn us that our wheelhouse may be in danger.
Wentworth after a hard day.