ORIGINS OF THE LANYARD & THE CLASSIC SAPPER LEG-PULL
There has long been a tale-usually told by Sappers-about the Gunners wearing a white lanyard for cowardice, allegedly for deserting their guns. Of course, the story is nothing more than a piece of leg pulling. The tradition of winding up stems from the age-old rivalry between the two sister corps founded under the Board of Ordnance and trained together in Woolwich. However, I am still being asked by ARRSE members whether this story is true, so it is time it was put to rest.
Lanyards associated with dress came into use in the late 19th Century, when field guns, such as the 12 and 15 pounders, used ammunition which had fuzes set with a fuze key. The key was a simple device, and every man had one, attached to a lanyard worn around the neck. The key itself was kept in the breast pocket until needed. The lanyard was a simple piece of strong cord, but it was gradually turned into something a bit more decorative, smartened up with blanco and braided, taking its present form.
Prior to the South African War, Gunners were issued with steel folding hoof picks, carried on the saddle or in the knife. In about 1903 these were withdrawn and replaced with jack knives, which were carried in the left breast pocket of the Service Dress attached to a lanyard over the left shoulder.
In the war years that followed, the lanyard could be used as an emergency firing lanyard for those guns which had a trigger firing mechanism, allowing the gunner to stand clear of the guns recoil.
The question of which shoulder bore the lanyard depends on the date. There is no certainty about this, but the change from the left shoulder to the right probably took place at about the time of the Great War, when a bandolier was introduced, because it was worn over the left shoulder. But there are some who insist that 1924 was the date of change, when sloping of rifles over the left shoulder would soil the white lanyard.
Eventually in 1933, the end of the lanyard was simply tucked into the breast pocket without the jack-knife, though many will remember that it was often kept in place with the soldiers pay book! On the demise of Battle Dress, the lanyard disappeared for a short time, but returned as part of the dress of the Royal Regiment of Artillery in 1973.
It may surprise many readers that this particular piece if leg-pulling is repeated in various forms. The gold stripe in the Gunner stable belt stems from the colours of the uniform at the time the stable belt was introduced. It was not a question, as the jokers would have it, of yellow stripes for cowardice!
Equally ludicrous is the suggestion that the Gunners has seven flames, as opposed to the sappers nine, because we lost two guns at some point in history!
I invite you sappers to produce your evidence. No change to any of the Armys dress regulations can take place without a formal order, and-let us be realistic! it is ridiculous to suppose that the Army Board in its wisdom would countenance the idea of a badge of shame to be worn by any branch of the Service.
It would guarantee that no one would ever join it! And since no such evidence exists, your storys falls flat on their face. One might even ask why other arms and corps wear lanyards?
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!!!