On this day in history : 8th August 1963 – The robbery of £2.6m from a Royal Mail train travelling to London from Glasgow at Bridego Railway Bridge…. It was to become known as The Great Train Robbery….

The locomotive 40126 (ex D326) from The Great train Robbery – Image credit: JohnGreyTurner via Flickr

The train had left Glasgow Central Station at 18.50pm on Wednesday the 7th of August and was due to arrive at London Euston at 3.59am the following morning…. On board the 12-carriage mail train were 72 Post Office employees who had the job of sorting the mail, which was collected at stops en route….

One of the carriages, the second nearest to the engine, carried high value packages and a large quantity of money…. Ordinarily the mail train would carry a sum averaging around £300k; however, because the previous weekend had been a bank holiday the amount onboard was considerably more….between £2.5-£3 million….

Just after 3am the train had to stop at a red signal light at Sears Crossing, Ledbury – which lies between Leighton Buzzard and Cheddington on the West Coast Main Line…. Unbeknown to the train crew the signal had been tampered with…. The fireman, 26-year-old David Whitby, climbed down from the cab to investigate as it was not normal to be stopped at this location at this time in the early morning…. On approaching the line-side telephone to call the signalman he found the wires had been cut; it was then that he was overpowered by one of a gang of robbers….

View towards ‘Sears Crossing’ – Image credit: Sealman CC BY-SA 3.0

The other gang members climbed into the cab of the waiting engine…. The driver, 58-year-old Jack Mills, struggled with one of them before being struck over the head by another with a cosh…. He was left semi-conscious….

The gang had in their midst a retired train driver, the plan was that he would drive the train to nearby Bridego Bridge…. However, it soon became apparent he was unable to fathom out how to drive this newer, more modern train to what he had been used to…. The gang’s only option was to force poor Jack Mills to drive the mail train to their chosen destination….

Bridego Bridge (now renamed Mentmore Bridge)

On arriving they were met by more members of the gang, who were waiting with a truck…. There were no police or security guards on the train and the Post Office employees were unable to put up any resistance…. The gang removed all but 8 of the 128 sacks within the HVP carriage of the train; forming a human chain they loaded their vehicle – taking about 15-20 minutes to do so…. Within 30 minutes of their first stopping the train they were on their way to escape….

15 criminals made up the gang:- Bruce Reynolds, Charlie Wilson, Gordon Goody, Buster Edwards, Roy James, Roger Cordrey, Jimmy White, John Daly, Bob Welch, Tommy Wisbech, Jim Hussey, Ronnie Biggs, Harry Smith, Danny Pembroke and one other who remains unknown…. They were also accompanied by their hired train driver, known as ‘Pops’…. Out of the gang 11 were caught and convicted….

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