White Lanyard & The Origin of St Barbara


The lanyard first came into use in the Artillery at the end of the nineteenth century, and consisted at that time of a simple piece of string about four feet long, whose purpose was to secure the jack knife which all gunners were required to carry. The spike of the jack knife was used as a hoof pick to remove stones from horses hooves, and the blade was used in emergency to cut loose horses which became entangled in the head ropes and heel ropes on the picket lines. The lanyard was also used to secure the fuse key used to set the fuses for shrapnel shells.

The jack knife and fuse key were carried in the right breast pocket of the Service dress jacket because the bandolier then worn in the Artillery made it difficult to extract articles from the left pocket. The lanyard was therefore worn on the right shoulder by gunners. The string lanyard soon became dirty and looked unsightly when hanging loose. This did not matter in war, but in peacetime it was plaited and blancoed white to make it look smarter and to match the white waist belts worn in those times. For this reason members of the artillery corps to whom the lanyard was issued as an article of military use, still wear white lanyards, whereas other regiments and corps, who have adopted the lanyard purely as an adornment, wear coloured lanyards.

Thus the lanyard has an honourable and useful history, and we can be proud to wear it white and not coloured.


The patron saint of artillerymen is Saint Barbara. Her feast day in the Orthodox calendar is 4th December. There are several legends about her life and martyrdom but most share several common elements.

She was a Greek living in Heliopolis, Egypt in the 3rd or 4th century AD, and converted to Christianity against her father’s wishes. Some legends say that her father, Dioscorus, presented her with a prospective husband whom she refused to marry, as he was not a Christian.

He had a tower built for her, either to imprison her or to house her hammam, but she ordered three windows to be made in it, as a symbol of the Holy Trinity and an outward demonstration of her faith. Her father was angered and had her beheaded (some say he carried out this act himself). Suddenly, a violent storm broke out and he was struck by a bolt of lightning, which killed him, outright.

Barbara seems to have been canonized by the 7th century and her story introduced to Britain during the time of the Crusades. Saint Barbara was invoked to grant safety from lightning, later becoming the Patron Saint of gunners, who were at risk from fiery elements.

*With thanks to Bty Sgt F O’Connor