Tales of piracy are brought to the fore in The National Museum of the Royal Navy's newest exhibition, Jolly Roger: A Symbol of Terror and Pride. The new exhibition tells the story of the skull and crossbones flag, commonly known as the Jolly Roger, which has been associated with pirates for centuries.
Known for its bright colour and deadly reputation, the Jolly Roger flag features a skull and crossbones design, striking fear in to all that see it. However, the history of its use by the Royal Navy who started flying the flag from First World War submarines is lesser known.
The tradition began in 1914 in response to a comment that submariners should be ‘hung like pirates’ because of their role in sinking civilian ships. The unofficial practice of flying a Jolly Roger on return from wartime patrol took hold and has continued into the 21st century.
Over time the basic skull and crossbones design has evolved, supplemented with additional symbols which record what happened during their patrol. These flags are an imposing visual record of the submarine’s activity as well as striking pieces of folk art.