Web Page No 2242
4th March 2016
Top Picture: The site of the Great Train Robbery
Third Picture: A different Great Train Robbery
The Great Train Robbery
Just as we were leaving school one of the most audacious robberies of all time took place the Great Train Robbery. A robbery which stole substantial sums of money from a Royal Mail train heading between Glasgow and London in the early hours of Thursday 8th August 1963 at Bridego Railway Bridge, Ledburn nearMentmore in Buckinghamshire.
After tampering with line signals, a 15-strong gang of robbers led by Bruce Reynolds attacked the train. Other gang members included Gordon Goody (who has recently released a DVD of his memories), Buster Edwards, Charlie Wilson, Roy James, John Daly, Jimmy White, Ronnie Biggs, Tommy Wisbey, Jim Hussey, Bob Welch and Roger Cordrey as well as three men known only as numbers '1', '2' and '3'. A 16th man, an unnamed retired train driver, was also present at the time of robbery.
With careful planning based on inside information from a postal worker, Patrick McKenna, known as 'The Ulsterman' they got away with over £2.6 million (the equivalent of £50 million today). The bulk of the money was never recovered. Though the gang did not use any firearms, Jack Mills, the train driver, was beaten over the head with a metal bar and these injuries were severe enough to end his career.
After the robbery the gang hid at Leatherslade Farm. It was after the police found this hideout that incriminating evidence would lead to the eventual arrest and conviction of most of the gang. The ringleaders were sentenced to 30 years in jail.
The plan to stop and rob the overnight Glasgow to London mail train required had detailed knowledge of the money carried on Mail trains. McKenna was introduced to two of the criminals who would carry out the raid — Gordon Goody and Buster Edwards — by a London solicitor's clerk, Brian Field. The raid was devised over months by a core team: Goody and Edwards along with Bruce Reynolds, Charlie Wilson and Roy James, Reynolds being the "mastermind". This gang had been successful in the underworld, had no experience in stopping and robbing trains. So they enlisted of Tommy Wisbey, Bob Welch and Jim Hussey, who were already accomplished train robbers, also Roger Cordrey –a specialist in signals to stop the train. Other associates including Ronnie Biggswere added and the final gang who took part in the raid consisted 16 men.
At 6:50 pm on Wednesday 7th August 1963, the travelling post office (TPO) set off from Glasgow Central Station to Euston Station scheduled to arrive at 3:59 am. The train was hauled by an diesel-electric locomotive and consisted of 12 carriages and carried 72 Post Office staff who sorted mail during the journey.
Mail was loaded at Glasgow, other station stops and from line-side collection points. The second carriage behind the locomotive was known as the HVP (High Value Packages) coach, which carried large quantities of money and registered mail. Usually the value of the shipment was about £300,000, but because there had been a Scottish Bank Holiday weekend on the day of the robbery there was between £2.5 and £3 million.
In 1960, the Post Office recommended the fitting of alarms to all Traveling Post Offices with HVP carriages. This recommendation was implemented in 1961, but HVP carriages without alarms were retained in reserve. By August 1963, three HVP carriages were equipped with alarms, but at the time of the robbery these carriages were out of service so a reserve carriage without alarms had to be used..
Just after 3:00 am, the driver, Jack Mills stopped the train on the West Coast Main Line at a red signal light at 'Sears Crossing', between Leighton Buzzard and Cheddington. The robbers had covered the green light and connected battery powered the red light. The locomotive's second crew- David Whitby climbed down from the cab to call the signalman from a track-side telephone but found the cables cut. As he returned he was grabbed and overpowered. Meanwhile, the driver, waited in the cab when gang members entered as Mills attempted to force them off but was struck from behind with a cosh, rendering him semi-conscious.
At this stage the robbers moved the train to a suitable place to load their ex-army truck with the stolen money. Bridego Bridge, now known as Mentmore Bridge was half a mile along the track and was the chosen location.
An experienced train driver was employed to move the locomotive and the first two carriages from the signals to the bridge.
On the night hired train driver was unable to operate this type of locomotive so with no other alternative available to them, it was decided that Mills would have to move the train to the stopping point.
The train was stopped at Bridego Bridge and the robbers' attacked the HVP carriage. Frank Dewhurst was in charge of the three other postal workers in the HVP. Thomas Kett, assistant inspector in charge of the train. Dewhurst and Kett were hit with coshes when they made an attempt to prevent the storming of the carriage. Once the robbers were inside the staff could put up no resistance and there was no security guard to assist them. The staff were made to lie face down on the floor in a corner of the carriage. Mills and Whitby were then brought into the carriage, handcuffed together and put down beside the staff.
The robbers removed all but eight of the 128 sacks from the carriage, in about 20 minutes. The gang departed 30 minutes after the robbery had begun. The gang then headed along minor roads and arrived back at Leatherslade Farm at around 4:30 am. Here they counted the proceeds and divided it into 16 full shares and several smaller sums for associates. From their police-tuned radio, the gang learned that the police had calculated they had gone to ground locally.
There is some uncertainty regarding the exact cash total stolen from the train. £2,631,684 is a figure quoted in the press, although the police investigation states the theft as £2,595,997 10s, in 636 packages, contained in 120 mailbags—the bulk of the haul in £1 and £5 notes (both the older white note and the newer blue note, which was half its size). There were also ten-shilling notes and Irish and Scottish money. Because a 30-minute time limit had been set by Reynolds, eight out of 128 bags were not stolen and were left behind. It is alleged that the total weight of the bags removed was 2.5 tons.
And the rest is history.
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