Virtually nothing is written in authoritative text that either mentions a dress lanyard or details its early development except in the period immediately after World War Two.
What little is known can be classified as modern myth. For instance such stories have it that the lanyard was developed for the cavalry to bundle fodder for animals and later used by the artillery to hold various implements, when in fact nothing can be found to support these suggestions.
The word ‘Lanyard’ itself is commonly used to describe a short rope to hold something, and can therefore be used to describe various items in use by the military. For instance a lanyard can be used to hold a knife or can opener and can even be part of the trigger mechanism of an artillery piece, but these items are not the forerunner of the modern day Lanyard.
Lanyard of the type worn today are first mentioned in military text within the British Army’s Dress Regulation of 1900, which states , that all Officers of a unit should carry a whistle attached to a silk lanyard the same colour as the coat or jacket except for the Light Infantry which will wear a lanyard of dark green. This first mention gives a clear glimpse of the possible development of the lanyard, given that it was to be made of silk and, for one select organisation, coloured. Given that the lanyard was made of silk, it indicates it was to be worn with dress uniforms to signify status.
The first mention of a lanyard in an Australian manual describes it as an item issued with a military clasp knife to enable it to be secured to the uniform to prevent loss. This type of lanyard was a simple piece of twine looped in the same fashion as a modern lanyard but coloured a natural brown or khaki. These lanyards were still issued to soldiers up until the 1980’s and are not the forerunner of the lanyard used on the dress uniforms in more recent times.
Although not mentioned in the various Dress Manuals from Federation to the post-war period, photographs indicate that some Artillery units wore a dress lanyard as part of their formal uniform.
The lanyard was generally worn looped around the left shoulder with the loose end in the breast pocket. In 1920 the position was changed to the right side to simplify retrieval of the loose end from the pocket when a bandolier was worn.
The practice of wearing lanyards, of various colours, on the right shoulder, applies to all members of the Australian Army except for Infantry Corps units and ‘A’ Field Battery, Royal Australian Artillery who wear their lanyards on the left shoulder. Officer ranks colonel and above and senior regimental sergeant major’s do not wear lanyards.
With the creation of the regular army in 1949, changes were introduced for the new permanent force. These changes included adopting new uniforms, Corps badges and other accoutrements styled on the sister organisations of the British Army.
During the early 1950's, whistles were introduced as an item of general issue to all ranks of the Corps of Staff Cadets and to personnel of the rank of sergeant and above. Whistles were attached to a coloured lanyard and worn round the right shoulder with the whistle placed in the top pocket. With their formal introduction in 1952 , there were only seven different coloured lanyards in total, covering the nine Corps of the day with two being used by the Royal Military College Duntroon.
The number of Corps and Regiments had doubled by 1955 and many more colours were introduced. In the early days, these lanyards were not worn by the junior ranks of the army, however, within a very short period of time they were on general issue to all ranks .
By 1963, the Dress Manual directed that the wearer may at his own discretion attach a whistle to the end of the lanyard that was again to be held in the top pocket. This is a clear link with the origins of the current dress lanyard reaching back in time to the first silk lanyard used for this purpose by the British Army.
Given the available evidence there can be little doubt that the humble dress lanyard started out its military service as a simple cord to neatly secure a whistle to the uniform.
Today's lanyards are worn with some forms of work and ceremonial dress but not all. Lanyards are not worn with field dress except by members of the Australian Army Cadets.
The Black Lanyard
The 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment’s band received its drums on the same day as the death of King George VI. As an enduring mark of respect the drums were coloured black as was the battalion lanyard.