WWI Dragon

Branding with longevity - the South Wales Borderers, WWI and beer

Hanging on the wall of the workshop at Red Dragon Flagmakers is a highly unusual framed and rare silk based hand embroidered fabric piece of the twin standards of the 2nd Battalion the South Wales Borderers dated 1914 depicting amongst other detail, a Chinese dragon.

What makes this piece so interesting is that it stands as a reminder to all that 1914 was the time of a World War and incredibly the branding lives on without recognition of its origins in the form of beer. 

WWI Dragon


While much of the British army was desperately fighting the early European battles of WWI, other units of the army were fighting in East Africa against the Germans colony of Tanganyika and also in  South Africa against the German colony that is now Namibia.

What is mostly forgotten from that time is that in September 1914 the South Wales Borderers were engaged in fighting against the German colony of Tsing Tao, then commanded by Admiral Graf Spe. 

Previous to WWI

There were four European occupied enclaves along the Chinese coast.  To the South was Macao (Portugal) then close by was Hong Kong (British); moving further up the coast was the second British colony of Weihaiwei which later handed back to the Chinese in 1934.  Going on up the coast was the head-quarters of the German Pacific Empire (Tsing Tao) also consisting of Islands that today are independent nations.

The plan with our Japanese Allies was for the South Wales Borderers to march north from Hong Kong and attack Tsing Tao and the joint Welsh and Japanese land siege of Tsing Tao was a siege which took some two months to end.  The main point of historical interest of this siege was that the German defenders under the Command of Admiral Graf Spe had one aircraft under their command which in that time before air combat was expected did enable the defenders to keep an eye on what the attacking forces were planning.  This is thought to have been the first use of air power for military use in battle.

By Christmas that year

The Germans had been pushed out Graf Spe who had sailed off to the German controlled Pacific Islands in retreat, but that name appeared again in 1940 when the German battle ship of the same name fought and was scuttled at the battle of the River Plate.

After the victory of Tsing Tao the South Wales Borderers left the Japanese in control which turned out to be the start of the Japanese China war. By 1942 Japan had occupied most of China, going on to defeat the British in both Malaya and Burma.

The only survivor of the battle of Tsing Tao was the German built brewery – today if you go into any of the larger super markets in Wales you will find Chinese beer on display.  What is this beer called? Tsing Tao, the only sign left of this long forgotten outpost of a long forgotten empire.

Tsingtao Beer

How many even remember that WWI was fought in that far away land, that the Kaisers long forgotten ambition of Empire was destroyed into dust by a Welsh regiment, now only visibly remembered by a brewery?


Jo Ashburner-Farr
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Flags for the big screen

Flags for the big screen, make believe and historical

Getting a call from film or TV companies needing our help with flag and banner props, historical and make-believe is one of the highlights of working with flags.

There are two types of flags which most enquiries fall into.  Firstly, the make believe ‘Cinderella’ flags, mythical flags made to the film producer’s imagination and made for special productions and never to be seen again (most like given away as trophies to the cast). A good example of these is the flags recently designed for the Star Wars film (2015).

(Interestingly, since we first posted this blog, a fag retailer has apparently taken our lead and contacted the company who created the designs for the Star Wars flags.  Sadly, as unscrupulous goes, the retailer is now exclusively selling the flags at a premium rather than allowing customers to buy direct from the manufacturer. We contacted the design company to ask if this social enterprise could make and retail the flags for social profit, but the answer was a resounding no....... Well at least we know our blogs are being read and we know well that every good idea will be copied sooner or later!). Feb 2017

Star Wars flags

The second type are those flags to be flown is historical productions and this type of flag, national or military (or even personal) must be accurate to the period in which the flag is set.  For these historical flags we usually avoid researching on the internet, as experience has shown us that you can’t be sure of the accuracy of the information.


Period events sometimes require regular issue national flags, made new and then ‘distressed’ back to show wear.  In the 1970s when Admiralty bunting (bunting is the term used for flag fabric) was made with a combination of nylon and wool fibres this was relatively easy to do as the natural fibres would take dis colourants and bleaching well.  The modern woven polyester MOD spec fabrics are harder to change (which is great if you want your flag to last but not so great if you want to age the fabric).  With this in mind, we have become peculiarly specialist in the margination of flags in good old fashioned NAAFI (or these days - builder’s) tea which works a treat!

When a production focusses on a specific historical period, the flags and standards can be complicated, fairly expensive but beautiful and accurate and in no small part due to a good degree of research.  We hold what is probably the largest flag reference library in private hands (some 2000 books) and are able to reference and put our hands on the details of the appropriate flags for the right time in history which otherwise might not be available through conventional library and internet research.

We long ago learned that procurement for films try to work to a tight budget and want as much as possible for as little as possible, and when this is genuinely the case we do make what is needed and hire the goods out but ultimately the cost may well be as high as if the flags are purchased outright.

As an example we were contacted by a film producer asking for flags relevant to a period of conflict between France and Britain in 1792 in the Caribbean.  The scene was for British Naval Forces against French land forces defending the island in question and we were asked which French Land forces would have been involved and could we make the required regimental standard.

French standard 1792 5th batallion

Having discovered that the French forces in question were republican (as the period covered the early years of the French revolution) the flag bearers could have been supporters of King Louis VI and we advised that the colours of the Fifth Battalion of the Republican Army would be the most likely candidate to fit the bill.  We were trusted on this information and fixed a price for the hire of the flag which would send back after the making of the film going on to make a beautiful French Military revolutionary standard.  The film producers were pleased with what we produced and the the flag played exactly the right part in the context of the film.

Filming over – the flag arrived back through the post and was still on my office floor in a semi unwrapped state when the phone rang and another film company making a film era c.1810 (this time based in Warsaw) asked for the exact same flag.  Napoleon was having trouble with the countries of Austria and Russia on his eastern borders a bit before his 1812 invasion of Russia and we knew that the French units under the flag we had already made would have been appropriate and so we hired the same flags out again.

Napolean's empire 1815

The standard in question duly was returned and is in our stockroom to this day.  With a bit of luck Napoleon will attack again and it will be pulled out to fly once again!

We have very recently made several WWII Nazi Swastika banners and flags - this time for sale rather than to hire – historically the Germans always lost in battles and the flags are sent up in smoke, so we are called upon to make these design of flags more than most. Look out for The 43 on our screen in 2016 ( and for SS-GB in March 2017.

SSGB flags by Red Dragon Flagmakers

Nazi banner
SS-GB flags by Red Dragon Flagmakers  Nazi coffin cover with gold braid
Nazi coffin cover with gold detail and braid
SS-GB flags by Red Dragon FlagmakersNazi Germany banner
Jo Ashburner-Farr
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Flags in Castle

From a hobby to a business and still going strong after 45 years

In my early days as a flag man, it was very much the case of trying to build a business from scratch, and by scratch I mean raise awareness of a product its fair to say consumers don't easily connect with. In the 1960’s there was so little connection that it was almost impossible to buy a flag let alone a flag pole.

Jo Ashburner-Farr
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Flying Welsh Dragon

Dragon is a sign of evil and paganism? How wrong can Rev Hargreaves be?!

A recent tabloid press article referred to a questionable claim by a church cleric that the Dragon is a sign of evil and paganism, and that Wales should change its flag accordingly. 

Ha ha ha. Hang on, let me just pick myself up off the floor.

The Dragon flown in Wales today has a long and interesting history it has absolutely nothing to do with evil and paganism as so randomly suggested by the Rev George Hargreaves, whose credit to the present day church is we would suggest very questionable.

It is important to remember that the Dragon symbol originally came to Europe after the defeat by the Emperor Trojan of the invading forces on the eastern frontier of the then Roman Empire.

Having captured the five toed Chinese dragon the symbol of the invading force, Trojan initiated that while the Eagle was still to be the symbol of the legion, the dragon would for the whole empire be the symbol of the Cohort – and in this case a four toed dragon.

When Attila the Hun – rode rough shod in the fifth century throughout Roman Europe, the remaining regions including the Byzantine European based on Constantinople and the island of Britain, survived not only as Christian domains but as Christian domains with dragon symbols. 

There was also a time when the red dragon was flown in what is now Turkey, as well as in our own Britain.  When the two symbols of the Byzantine Empire fell to the Turks in the 15th Century, the Turks kept the crescent and discarded the dragon leaving only Celtic Britain with the Red Dragon as their national symbol.

There was of course the white dragon of the Saxons – last seen on the Bayeux tapestry falling with King Harold and the basis of Celtic fables of old and the stories of the Battles between the red dragon and the white dragon.

It so happens that the Red Dragon is one of the last remaining symbols of the ancient Christian Church and when it refers to Celtic countries, it is used on a basis of being treasured and promoted. 

When St Augustine brought Christianity to England, Christianity was already in Wales under the symbol of the red dragon and to suggest the dragon represents anything verging on evil is incorrect, sensationalist and wrong.

Have a rethink (or a lie down) Rev Hargreaves.

Jo Ashburner-Farr
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Happy St Davids Day from the Team!

Happy St David's Day!

Red Dragon Flagmakers literally ‘fly the flag’ for Wales

Their hand finished traditional sewn flags are never more evident than on St David’s Day as Welsh flags adorn buildings around the globe.

But last week the Swansea based social enterprise landed one of their largest and most unusual orders to date – a 10 metre by 8 metre Welsh Dragon flag for a car. 

It was a very special car – and a very special occasion. The huge flag was used to wrap and conceal Aston Martin’s new DBX prototype vehicle outside the Welsh Government’s Cathays Park headquarters in Cardiff.

Unveiling the new Aston Martin

First Minister Carwyn Jones and Aston Martin CEO Dr Andrew Palmer unveiled the vehicle following the announcement that the iconic British car maker is to open a manufacturing facility in St Athan creating more than 750 highly-skilled jobs.

Jo Ashburner Farr, boss at Red Dragon Flagmakers said it was a hugely proud moment for her and the team – and also one of their most challenging.

She said: “We were asked by the Welsh Government if we could make a huge flag to cover something - but weren’t told what it was because it was top secret. It also had to be a sewn flag rather than printed as the highest quality possible was required. When we saw the images of the unveiling we were really excited and delighted to have been a part of something so special for Wales.

“It has to have been one of the largest flags we have been asked to make – it took four people three days and two nights working flat out to complete. The weight of the material meant three people had to work together to get it through the sewing machines – it was definitely a challenge – but we pride ourselves on our ‘can do’ attitude.”

“We're so pleased to have been a (small) part of this great event. Bringing manufacturing back to Wales is a subject very close to our hearts here at Red Dragon Flagmakers and as a social enterprise we do everything we can to nurture the skills for sustainable long term employment in our local community.”

First Minister Carwyn Jones said: “I’d like to thank Red Dragon Flagmakers as they were given a very tight deadline and came up with the goods on time and made a great job.  It was a memorable moment when the announcement was made and the car, which was wrapped in a distinctive Welsh Red Dragon flag, was unveiled.”

Jo Ashburner-Farr
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New Aston Martin Reveal

Two degrees of separation between us and the new Aston Martin

We're so pleased to have been a (small) part of this great news. Bringing manufacturing back to Wales is a subject very close to our hearts here at Red Dragon Flagmakers and we're now happily only separated by two degrees from having this dream car.
Jo Ashburner-Farr
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BA tail fin design

British Airways, how we designed the new tail fin.

It is hard to believe that 20 years ago British Airways had a large number of the tail fins on their international aircraft painted with Jungle scenes.

BA had not taken into account that their customers wanted to fly British with the result that the Jungle mixture proved unpopular with the travelling public, a matter made worse by the fact that Virgin Atlantic had chosen the Union flag as their basic design.  Virgin had become more British than the national carrier.

Jo Ashburner-Farr
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Chapel at Westminster

The Palace of Westminster and never having to say 'NO'

With history of nearly 50 years as a flag man it is interesting to look back at some of the more interesting projects I have been asked to undertake over the years. 

Robin Ashburner, President elect of Red Dragon Flagmakers and flagmaker / vexillologist for 50 years remembers.

Jo Ashburner-Farr
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Montgomeryshire flag by Red Dragon Flagmakers

Montgomeryshire and forgetting the flag

Montgomeryshire was one of the very first UK counties to adopt an official flag to represent their region - sadly forgotten by the Flag Institute which does not list it in its directory (as of today).

Montgomeryshire, also known as Maldwyn (Welsh: Sir Drefaldwyn meaning "the Shire of Baldwin's town") is one of thirteen historic counties and a former administrative county of Wales. It is named after its county town, Montgomery, which in turn is named after one of William the Conqueror's main counsellors, Roger de Montgomerie, who was the 1st Earl of Shrewsbury.

Montgomeryshire today constitutes the northern part of the principal area of Powys. Here's one we made earlier!

Montgomeryshire flag by Red Dragon Flagmakers

Jo Ashburner-Farr
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How visible are you image

Linking up to spread the word - Fairwood Park Golf Club chooses Red Dragon Flagmakers

We recently sent out an email to our established customer list and leads, asking people if their own customers could see them?

It went like this:

Can your customers see you?

Like every business, this social enterprise must grow to survive in the tough world of commerce. Rather than bombard you with tech-speak, we'll get straight to the point and ask whether you would be able to have a link put on your website to ours.

Increased awareness of our brand, our mission and the products we make through search engine optimisation on the web will be a game changer. We'll do the same for you. And to say thank you, send you a 30% discount code for the next quality SEWN or PRINTED flag or banner order you place with us.

Oh and tell everyone about your business and the support you've given us. No catch. Just a huge thank you for supporting social enterprise.

The response has been fantastic and first up we'd like to thank Fairwood Park Gold Club on the Gower in Swansea for setting up a link on their webpage and ordering a club flag within a day of our post. 

Fairwood Golf Club (Gower, Swansea) chooses Red Dragon Flagmakers

We love working with businesses who want the same things as we do, very reassuring - thanks Fairwood.

Jo Ashburner-Farr
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Jo Ashburner Farr, Entrepreneur of the Year (Manufacturing) 2015

Social enterprise CEO awarded Entrepreneur of the Year (Manufacturing) 2015

At a glittering awards ceremony at the Cardiff Millennium Stadium on Thursday 12th November 2015, Jo Ashburner Farr – CEO of social enterprise Red Dragon Manufacturing Ltd in Swansea was awarded the coveted title of Entrepreneur of the Year (Manufacturing) 2015.

Jo Ashburner Farr, Entrepreneur of the Year (Manufacturing) 2015

The awards were organised by the Great British Entrepreneur Awards and Fresh Business Thinking, acknowledging the hard work and inspiring stories of Welsh entrepreneurs and business in Wales.

Jo says ‘….really this is a huge achievement for our micro business.  It recognises manufacturing as a viable business model as a whole but the fact that Red Dragon is a social enterprise makes winning even more special. This award was awarded to me (and by definition to the Red Dragon team) over and above larger, more established and non-social profit companies - so for the manufacturing sector as a whole and specifically for the social profit ethos this is great news.

Red Dragon rehabilitates people in the Welsh community through training in practical skills and the medium of traditional sewn flag making. The company has never been grant dependent but relies solely on revenue generated from sales to support the employment of its growing workforce.  The company is one of the few companies remaining in the UK who make this quality product and was official supplier to the NATO Summit Wales in 2014.  The business recently invested funding received from Finance Wales and the WCVA in state of the art digital textile sublimation technology and supplies b2b and b2c worldwide through online sales and referrals.  

Christine Watson MBE, Managing Director of Discovery at Swansea University and Trustee Director of Red Dragon says ‘it is reassuring that the business community, our peers and our customers have embraced what we do with belief in our mission and soul of our products. Jo consistently pushes boundaries to benefit the growth and credibility of the business and manufacturing in Wales and the UK as a sustainable business model’.

Jo says ‘Winning this award over very many other worthy candidates supports my ambition to achieve positive outcomes and sustainable long term employment for a skilled workforce and manufacturing  as whole in the UK.  

Jo Ashburner-Farr
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Red Dragon to the Rescue

Red Dragon to the Rescue

Red Dragon to the Rescue

The flagpole on the tower of Swansea’s St Mary’s Church is back up and running, following an Evening Post appeal.

Less than a week after publishing the church’s call for help to get the flagpole fixed ahead of Remembrance Day, willing volunteers had offered to do the job for free. Uplands-based business Red Dragon Flagmakers saved the day, and the diocesan flag is flying once more.

Rector of St Mary’s, the Reverend Simon Griffiths said: “The flag hadn’t flown from the flagpole for many years. "It’s a thank you to our volunteer steward Darren Jones, to the Evening Post, and in particular to Red Dragon Flagmakers. "The diocesan flag is now proudly flying from the top of St Mary’s once again. It’s quite emotional for us, because it has been a problem for so long.”

Stewart Ashburner Farr of Red Dragon Flagmakers, came across the appeal through the Evening Post, and called in the help of friends Tim and Keith Jones. The desire to repair the flagpole before remembrance events struck a chord with him, because of his wife Jo’s rich family history in the military. He said he was compelled to help for free to support Swansea’s civic church.

“It’s a major church in the city that needed some support and we had the expertise, so were able to come to its assistance,” he said.

Volunteer steward at St Mary’s, Darren Jones, who launched the appeal for a flagpole fix in the first place, added: “It shows the compassion of people to give up their free time for a cause that is going to remember the people that give their lives for us.”

The Reverend Griffiths said that following on from a recent theft at St Mary’s, a gesture such as this shows that good can outweigh the bad in society.

Jo Ashburner-Farr
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