There has long been a tale about the Gunners wearing a white lanyard for cowardice, allegedly for deserting their guns. Of course, the story is nothing more than a myth. However this tale still seems to be told and 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 would hanging loose and soon become dirty and for the day-to-day barrack routine it looked out of place on an otherwise smart uniform, so for peace time purposes, the lanyard was plaited, and blancoed white, to match the white bandolier and the white waist belt worn by the Gunners of the day.
Prior to the South African War, Gunners were issued with a steel folding hoof pick, 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 In about 1903 these were withdrawn and replaced with jack knives, which were carried in the left breast pocket of the Service Dress attached to a lanyard over the left shoulder.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 gun’s recoil.
About the time of the Great War, the lanyard was moved to the right shoulder, simply because of the difficult problem of trying to remove the knife from the pocket underneath the bandolier. By now the bandolier and belt, worn with the battle dress, had long ceased to be white, whilst the lanyard remained so.
The knife was removed in 1933 and then became a straight cord, worn purely as an ornamental item of dress. In 1955 it was, for a short time, re–introduced in the plaited style currently worn today.
Source: The Garrison