The origins of the Gin Pennant are uncertain, but it seems to have been used since the 1940s and probably earlier.
The distillery manager of Plymouth Gin was quoted some years ago as saying that the firm started supplying gin pennants in the 1950s, but usually they were made up on board ship. Some remember using a small green triangular pennant emblazoned with a white wine glass, hoisted rather inconspicuously on an inner halyard. More usually, the green-white-green starboard pennant (the old pennant 9) was used, and no doubt still is, with a green glass in the centre.
Commissioned Signal Boatswain, Bill Trotter, remembers making one up for some RNVR officers when he was a newly fledged Signal Boatswain, in HMS Blenheim, in 1943, and since his RN Captain didn’t go much on it, wonders whether it was `a myth invented by the RNVR in wartime’.
This is certainly not the case – the author amongst many others used it quite regularly in the 1950s, without any prompting by Reserve officers!
The signal means that the wardroom invites officers from ships in company to drinks; it naturally tends to be used when not too many ships are actually present!
A miniature gin pennant is often hoisted above the bar to signify that drinks are `on the house’, or on someone’s wine bill on the occasion of their birthday or promotion.
Commander Bruce Nicolls OBE, RN