The Great Train Robbery is the name given to a £2.6 million train robbery committed on 8 August 1963 at Bridego Railway Bridge, Ledburn near Mentmore in Buckinghamshire, England. The bulk of the stolen money was not recovered. It was probably the largest robbery by value in British history.
The train robbers gang consisted of 17 full members who were to receive an equal share, including 15 people who were at the actual robbery and two key informants.The Train Robbers, Their Informants and Associates
The gang of 15 men from London was led by Bruce Reynolds, who was ably assisted by Gordon Goody, Charlie Wilson and Ronald “Buster” Edwards, with Roger Cordrey their key electronics expert who was an accomplished train robber already. The two key informants who brought the idea to robbers’ attention were Solicitor’s Clerk Brian Field and the unknown “Ulsterman” who was never identified or caught. The most famous member of the gang, Ronnie Biggs, had only a minor role, which was to bring the replacement train driver (who, it turned out, failed at his task).
The unofficial leader of the gang and the undoubted brains behind the strategy to rob the train, Bruce Richard Reynolds was born on 7 September 1931 at Charing Cross Hospital, the Strand, London, to Thomas Richard and Dorothy Margaret (née Keen). His mother died in 1935, and he had trouble living with his dad and stepmother, so he often stayed with either of his grandmothers. He was jailed for three years for several counts of breaking and entering, and upon his release quickly started re-offending. He quickly joined a gang with future best friend Harry Booth and future brother-in-law John Daly. Later on he did some work with Jimmy White and met Buster Edwards at Charlie Richardson’s club. Richardson in turn introduced him to Gordon Goody.
Douglas Gordon Goody
Douglas Gordon Goody is often described as the gang’s deputy leader, and he was definitely a key organiser. He was born in Putney in March 1930, and was of Irish descent, and in the early sixties he joined Buster Edward’s gang and helped rob various easy targets.
Charles Frederick (Charlie) Wilson
The most dangerous of the Great Train Robbers, ‘the Silent Man’ Charlie Wilson, was also the most popular. A biography has been written of Wilson: Killing Charlie (2004) by Wensley Clarkson, first published by Mainstream Publishing Co (Edinburgh) Ltd (ISBN 9781845960353).
With a heavy build and handsome appearance with piercing blue eyes, Charlie was an intimidating presence at an early age. He was born on 30 June 1932 to Bill and Mabel Wilson in Battersea. He was childhood friends with Jimmy Hussey and Tommy Wisbey and also with Bruce Reynolds and Gordon Goody. Later on he met Ronald ‘Buster’ Edwards and youthful driving enthusiasts and car thieves Mickey Ball and Roy James. From 1948 to 1950 he was called up for National Service, and in 1955 he married Patricia (Pat) Osbourne, with whom he had three children. From an early age he turned to crime and spurned his father’s legitimate but low-income wage. While he did have legitimate work in his in-laws’ grocer’s shop, he also was a thief and his criminal proceeds went into buying shares in various gambling enterprises. He went to jail for short spells for numerous offences, and on one occasion befriended Jimmy Rose who became a lifelong friend. In 1960 he began to team up with Bruce Reynolds and plan to make the criminal big league.
Ronald Christopher Edwards was born in 27 January 1932 at Lambeth, the son of a barman. After leaving school he worked in a sausage factory, where he began his criminal career by stealing meat to sell on the post-war black market. During his National Service in the RAF he was detained for stealing cigarettes. When he returned to south London, he ran a drinking club and became a professional criminal.
He married June Rose in 1952. They had a daughter, Nicky.
Brian Arthur Field was a solicitor’s managing clerk for John Wheater & Co. Although he was only 28 at the time of the robbery, he was already much more successful than his boss, John Wheater. Field drove a new Jaguar and had a house, “Kabri” (an amalgam of Karin and Brian Field), with his wife in Pangbourne, West Berkshire, while his boss owned a battered Ford and lived in a run down neighbourhood. Part of the reason for Field’s success was not that he was not averse to giving Goody and Edwards information about what his clients had in their country houses, making them prime targets for the thieves. On one occasion he described the contents and layout of a house near Weybridge where wife Karin had once been a nanny.
Prior to the robbery Field had represented Buster Edwards and Gordon Goody. He had arranged Buster’s defence when he had been caught with a stolen car, and had met Goody at a nightclub in Soho. Field was called upon to assist in Goody’s defence in the aftermath of the “Airport Job”, which was a robbery carried out on 27 November 1962 at a branch of Barclays Bank at London Airport. This was the big practice robbery that the South West Gang had done before the Great Train Robbery. Field was successful in arranging bail for Goody and Charlie Wilson.
Field was born on 15 December 1934 and was immediately put up for adoption. He served two years in the Royal Army Service Corps, seeing service in Korea. When discharged from the military it was with ‘a very good character’. The Korean War lasted from 25 June 1950 until an Armistice was signed on 27 July 1953, with 63,000 British troops involved (part of over a million troops on the South Korean side). Field was 18 when the war was over. While the Service Corps were considered combat personnel, they were primarily associated with transport and logistics.
|Name (Nickname)||Role in the Gang||Association|
|Bruce Richard Reynolds||Leader of the Gang||Leader of the South West Gang|
|Douglas Gordon (Gordon) Goody||Deputy and Organiser||Member of the South West Gang|
|Charles Frederick (Charlie) Wilson||“Treasurer” and Organiser||Member of the South West Gang|
|Ronald Christopher (Buster) Edwards||Organiser||Member of the South West Gang|
|Brian Arthur Field||Key Informant and Organised the mock purchase of Leatherslade Farm, the gang’s hideout||Solicitor’s Clark and organised the defense of Gordon Goody and Buster Edwards in previous court cases.|
|The Ulsterman||Key Informant and Organiser||Contact with Gordon Goody and Buster Edwards arranged through another man who contacted Brian Field.|
|Roy James||Getaway Driver and Carriage Uncoupler||Example|
|John Daly||Train Stopper and Getaway Driver||Brother in Law of Reynolds and associate of South West Gang.|
|Bill “Flossy” Jennings||Carriage Uncoupler||Associate of South West Gang|
|James Edward (Jimmy) White||Quartermaster and Carriage Uncoupler||Generally solitary thief who knew Reynolds|
|Alf Thomas||Muscle||Associate of Jimmy White.|
|Roger John Cordrey||Electronics Expert and Train Stopper||South Coast Raiders|
|Bob Welch||Organising and Muscle||South Coast Raiders|
|Thomas (Tommy) Wisbey||Muscle||South Coast Raiders|
|James (Big Jim) Hussey||Muscle||South Coast Raiders|
|Frank Monroe||Muscle||South Coast Raiders|
|Ronald Biggs||Contact for Replacement Train Driver||Associate of Reynolds|
The Great Train Robbery
The robbery was planned by several parties with no overall mastermind, although the robbery operation itself was planned and executed by Bruce Reynolds, the target and the information came from an unknown individual dubbed the “Ulsterman”. The key field organisers were Gordon Goody, Buster Edwards, and Charlie Wilson, with Brian Field being the key link between the robbers and the informant.Planning the robbery
According to one account by Piers Paul Read (1978), in January 1963, shortly after the furore of the Airport Job had died down, Brian Field called Gordon Goody to a meeting at the Old Bailey and asked him whether he was interested in a large sum of money that only a large gang could steal. The following day, Goody and Edwards met with Field at his office at James and Wheater (New Qubec Street near Marble Arch). There they met with Field and another man called “Mark” who was well dressed, aged around 50, with hair turned silvery grey and who spoke with a smooth accent. “Mark” then convinced them to meet the actual informant and drove Edwards and Goody to Finsbury Park where they met another man they nicknamed the “Ulsterman”, who was a slightly balding middle aged man, who spoke with a Northern Irish lilt (where Goody had grown up). The “Ulsterman” told them about the night mail trains doing runs between London and Glasgow with large amounts of money. Edwards and Goody then went and discussed the matter with Reynolds and Wilson and it was agreed that they should make a serious attempt. In the meantime they would recruit others and do practice train robberies. On 31 July, Goody and Edwards met with the “Ulsterman” for one last strategy meeting in Hyde Park. They agreed that his share of the loot would be delivered at Brian Field’s house. It is at this meeting that Gordon Goody claimed that when he was in the toilet, Goody checked the pockets of his suit jacket and saw the name and address of the owner, presumably the “Ulsterman”.
The Royal Mail train
At 6:50 p.m. on Wednesday 7 August 1963 the travelling post office (TPO) “Up Special” train set off from Glasgow Central Station, Scotland en-route to Euston Station in London. The train was hauled by an English Electric Type 4 (later Class 40) diesel-electric locomotive numbered at the time as D326 (later renumbered 40126). The train consisted of 12 carriages and carried 72 Post Office staff who sorted mail.
The mail was loaded on the train at Glasgow and also during station stops en-route, as well as from line side collection points where local post office staff would hang mail sacks on elevated trackside hooks which were caught by nets deployed by the onboard staff. Sorted mail on the train could also be dropped-off at the same time. This process of exchange allowed mail to be distributed locally without delaying the train with more frequent station stops.
The second carriage behind the engine was known as the HVP (High Value Package) coach where registered mail was sorted and this contained valuables including large quantities of money, registered parcels and packages. Usually the value of these items would have been in the region of £300,000, but because there had been a Bank Holiday weekend in Scotland, the total on the day of the robbery was £2.6 million—worth a little over £40 million in 2010.
Stopping the train
At just after 3 a.m. the driver Jack Mills from Crewe stopped the train on West Coast Main Line at a red signal light in Ledburn, at a place known as ‘Sears Crossing’ between Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire and Cheddington in Buckinghamshire. However, unknown to him, the signal equipment had been tampered with by the robbers. The robbers had covered the green signal light and connected a six-volt Ever Ready battery to power the red signal light. The locomotive’s second man, 26-year-old David Whitby (also from Crewe), climbed down from the cab to call the signalman from a railway trackside telephone, only to find the cables had been cut. Upon returning to the train, he was thrown down the embankment of the railway track by one of the robbers.
The robbers now encountered a problem. They needed to move the train to a location where they could load their ex-army dropside truck with the money and had decided to do so at bridge No.127 (known as ‘Bridego Bridge’) approximately half a mile (about 800m) further along the track. One of the robbers had spent months befriending railway staff and familiarising himself with the layout and operation, but it was decided instead to use an experienced train driver to move the train from the signals to the bridge after uncoupling the unnecessary carriages. However, the person they selected (later referred to as “Stan Agate”) was unable to operate the English Electric Class 40 mainline diesel-electric locomotive, because he was only experienced with shunting (switching) type locomotives on the Southern Region. It was quickly decided that the original locomotive driver Jack Mills should move the train to the stopping point near the bridge which was indicated by a white sheet stretched between poles on the track. Mills was initially reluctant to move the train so one of the gang struck him on the head. Since Ronnie Biggs‘ only task was to supervise “Stan Agate’s” participation in the robbery, when it became obvious that Stan was not needed to drive the train, he and Ronnie were banished to the waiting truck to help load the mail bags.
At Bridego bridge the train was stopped and the robbers’ assault force attacked the High Value Packages (HVP) carriage. Frank Dewhurst was in charge of the three other postal workers (Leslie Penn, Joseph Ware and John O’Connor) in the HVP carriage. Thomas Kett, Assistant Inspector in charge of the train from Carlisle to London Euston was also in the carriage. Both Dewhurst and Kett were hit with various coshes when they made a vain attempt to stop the robbers’ storming the carriage. Once the robbers entered the carriage, the postal workers were quickly detained in a corner of the carriage and made to lie face down on the floor. There was no real violent resistance however and there was not a single police officer or security guard in charge of securing nearly £3M pounds. Mills and Whitby were then brought into the carriage, handcuffed together and dropped beside the sorters.
The robbers removed all but 7 of the 128 sacks from the HVP carriage, which they transferred quickly in about 25 minutes to the waiting truck by forming a human chain. The gang departed 30 minutes after the robbery had begun and in an effort to mislead any potential witnesses, in addition to their Austin Loadstar truck, they used two Land Rover vehicles both of which had the registration plates BMG 757 A.
The getaway and the clean up
They then headed along back roads listening for police broadcasts on a VHF radio and arrived at Leatherslade Farm between Oakley and Brill in Buckinghamshire, which was a run down farm 27 miles from the crime scene that they had bought two months earlier as their hideout.
At the farm they counted the proceeds of the robbery and divided it into 17 full shares and several ‘drinks’. The precise amounts differs according to the source, but the full shares were around 150,000 pounds.
It quickly became apparent that the police believed that they were still in the area rather than fled to London, so the plans changed from leaving on Sunday to leaving on Friday, and the vehicles they had at the farm could no longer be used because they had been seen by the train staff. Brian Field came on Thursday and took Roy to London to pick up his share of the loot and to take Roy James to London to find an extra vehicle. Bruce Reynolds and John Daly picked up cars, one for Jimmy White and the other for Bruce, John, Ronnie Biggs and the replacement train driver. Brian, wife Karin and his associate “Mark” brought the vans and drove the rest of the gang that remained to ‘Kabri’ to recover. This was far from ideal as he had not planned to get this involved, but his pretty wife Karin cooly accepted the change in plans.
The clean-up of the farm had been arranged with “Mark” by Brian Field to be carried out after the robbers had left (although the robbers spent much time wiping the place down to be free of prints). According to Buster Edwards, he nicked 10,000 pounds in ten shilling notes to help pay “Marks” drink. On Monday however, Charlie Wilson rang Brian Field to check whether the farm had been cleaned, and did not believe Field’s assurances. He called a meeting with Edwards, Reynolds, Daly and James and they agreed that they needed to be sure. They called Brian Field to a meeting on Tuesday where he admitted he could not be sure that the farm had been cleaned. Wilson would have killed him there and then but was restrained by the others. By the time they got ready to go back to the farm however, they heard some bad news.
£2,631,684 was stolen from the train. The bulk of the haul was in £1 notes and £5 notes (both the older white note and the newer blue note which was half its size). There were also 10 shilling notes and Irish and Scottish money.
Raising The Alarm
The robbers had cut all the telephone lines in the vicinity, but one of the trainmen caught a slow train to Cheddington, which he reached at 4:30 a.m. to raise the alarm.
The Aylesbury investigation
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At 5 a.m., Chief Superintendent Malcolm Fewtrell (1909–2005), head of the Buckinghamshire Police Crime Investigation Department (CID), arrived at the abandoned postal carriages, the crime scene, where he supervised evidence-gathering. He then went to Cheddington Station where statements were taken from the driver and postal workers. One member of the gang had made the mistake of telling the postal staff not to move for half an hour and this suggested to the police that their hideout could not be more than 35 miles away. Upon interviewing the witnesses, it appeared that about 15 hooded men dressed in blue boiler suits were involved, but there was little extra that could be gleaned.
By lunchtime of the following day, it became obvious to Fewtrell that extra resources were needed to cope with the scale of the investigation and the Buckinghamshire Chief Constable referred the case to Scotland Yard. George Hatherill, Commander of the C Department and Earnest (Ernie) Millen, Detective Chief Superintendent, and Head of the Flying Squad were initially in charge of the London side of the investigation. They sent Detective Superintendent Gerald McArthur and Detective Sergeant John Pritchard to assist the Buckinghamshire Police.
The police then undertook a major search, fanning out from the crime scene after having failed to find any forensic evidence there. A watch was put on the seaports. The Postmaster General Reginald Bevins offered a £10,000 reward to “the first person giving information leading to the apprehension and conviction of the persons responsible for the robbery”.
Discovery of Leatherslade Farm
Following a tip-off from a herdsman who used a field adjacent to Leatherslade Farm, a police sergeant and constable called there five days after the robbery. The farm was deserted but they found the truck used by the robbers which had been hastily painted yellow, the Land Rovers, a large quantity of food, bedding, sleeping bags, Post Office sacks, registered mail packages, bank note wrappers and a monopoly set.
It was determined that while the farm had been cleaned for fingerprints, there were some finger and palm prints found (presumably of the robbers), including those on a ketchup bottle and a Monopoly board game (which was used after the robbery but with real money).
The London investigation
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The London side of the investigation then continued under Detective Chief Superintendent Tommy Butler who replaced Ernest (Ernie) Millen as the head of the flying squad shortly after Millen became promoted to Deputy Commander to George Hatherill. On Monday, 12 August 1963 Butler was appointed to head the Police investigation of the London connection and quickly formed a six man Train Robbery Squad.
With Leatherslade Farm finally found on 13 August 1963, the day after Tommy Butler was appointed to the head the London investigation, the police were confident of a breakthrough. Unfortunately the decision to publish photos of the wanted suspects was already made by Hatherill and Millen, despite strong protests from Tommy Butler and Frank Williams. This resulted in most of the robbers going to ground.
Tommy Butler the Thief Taker
Tommy Butler was a shrewd choice to take over the Flying Squad and in particular the Train Robbery Squad, and became arguably the most renowned head of the flying squad in its history. He was known variously as “Mr Flying Squad”, as “One Day Tommy” for the speed with which he apprehended criminals and as the “Grey Fox” for his shrewdness. He was Scotland Yard’s most formidable thief taker, and as an unmarried man who still lived with his mother, he had a fanatical dedication to the job. Butler worked long hours and expected all members of the squad to do the same. The squad later had to work out rotations whereby one member would go home to rest as otherwise they were getting only 3 hours of sleep per night and no time to eat healthily or see their families. When the squad tried to get him to ease off on the working conditions, Butler was enraged and threatened to send them back to their normal roles. Butler was very secretive, with Jack Slipper claiming in his book ‘Slipper of the Yard’ (1981) that “he wouldn’t even tell his own left hand what the right one was doing”. This meant that often the Train Robbery Squad were dispatched on specific errands with no knowledge of how they fitted in with the overall investigation.
The Train Robbery Squad
The six man Train Robbery Squad was: Detective Inspector Frank Williams, Detective Sergeant Steve Moore, Detective Sergeant Jack Slipper, Detective Sergeant Jim Nevill, Detective Sergeant Lou Van Dyck and Detective Constable Tommy Thorburn. Frank Williams, a quiet man, was the senior officer and his specialty was dealing with informants, and had the best working knowledge of the South London criminal fraternity in the force. One of the squad, Jack Slipper would later became Head of the Flying Squad, and would still be involved in the case many years into the future.
Capture of Roger Cordrey
The first gang member to be caught was Roger Cordrey, who was with his friend, William Boal, who was helping him lie low, in return for the payment of old debts. They were living in a rented fully furnished flat above a florist’s shop in Wimborne Road, Moordown, Bournemouth. The Bournemouth police were tipped off by police widow Ethel Clark, when Boal and Cordrey paid rent for a garage, three months up-front, all in used 10 shilling notes in Tweedale Road off Castle Lane West.
Their arrests were made by Sgt. Stan Davis and Probationary Constable Gordon ‘Charlie’ Case.
Capture of the Others
Other arrests soon followed and eight of the gang members and several associates were caught.
On 16 August 1963, two people who had decided to take a morning stroll in Dorking woods discoved a brief case, a hold all and a camel skin bag, all containing money. They called police, who also discovered another brief case full of money in the woods. All up there was 100,900 pounds. They also found a camel skin bag with a receipt made out in favour of Herr and Frau Field by the Cafe Pension Restaurant, Sonnenbichel, Hindeland, Prov. Allagaen. The Surrey police delivered the money and the receipt to Fewtrell and McArthur in Aylesbury, who knew by then that Brian Field was a clerk at James and Wheater who had acted in the purchase of Leatherslade Farm. They quickly confirmed through Interpol that Brian and Karin Field had stayed at the Pension Sonnebichel in February that year. In addition they knew that Field had acted for Gordon Goody and other criminals.
Several weeks later, the police went to “Kabri” to interview Field who calmly (for someone whose relatives had dumped a large part at least of the loot) provided a cover story that implicated Lennie Field as the purchaser of the farm and his boss John Wheater as the conveyancer. He admitted to visiting the farm once with Lennie Field, but assumed it was an investment of his brother (Alexander Field) who Brian Field had unsuccessfully defended in a recent court case. Field, not knowing of the receipt, readily confirmed that he and his wife had been to Germany on a holiday and gave them the details of the place they stayed. On 15 September 1963 Brian Field was arrested, with his boss John Wheater arrested on 17 September. Lennie Field had already been arrested on 14 September.
- Charlie Wilson (22 August 1963)
- Ronnie Biggs (4 September 1963)
- Jimmy Hussey (7 September 1963)
- Tommy Wisbey (11 September 1963)
- Brian Field (15 September 1963)
- Gordon Goody (10 October 1963)
- Bob Welch (25 October 1963)
- John Daly (3 December 1963)
- Roy James (10 December 1963)
Jack Slipper (who later became Head of the Flying Squad), was involved in the capture of Roy James, Ronald Biggs, Jimmy Hussey, and John Daly which he describes in detail in his autobiography.
1964 Aylesbury Trial of the Great Train Robbers
The trial of the robbers began at Aylesbury Assizes, Buckinghamshire on 20 January 1964. Because it was necessary to accommodate a large number of lawyers and journalists, the existing court was deemed too small and the offices of Aylesbury Rural District Council were specially converted for the event. The defendants were brought to the court each day from Aylesbury Prison in a compartmentalised van, out of view of the large crowd of spectators. Mr Justice Edmund Davis presided over the trial which lasted 51 days and included 613 exhibits and 240 witnesses. The jury retired to the Grange Youth Centre in Aylesbury to consider their verdict.
On 11 February 1964, there was a sensation, when John Daly was found to have no case to answer when his councel, Mr. W. Raeburn QC claimed that the evidence against his client was limited to his fingerprints being on the monopoly set found at Leatherslade Farm and that he went underground after the robbery. He went on to say that Daly had played the Monopoly game with his brother in law Bruce Reynolds earlier in 1963, and that he had gone underground because he was associated with people publicly sought by the police. This was not proof of involvement in a conspiracy. The judge agreed, and the jury were directed to acquit him. Frank Williams was shocked when this occurred, because due to Tommy Butler’s refusal to share information, he had no knowledge of the fact that his prints were only on the monopoly set. If he had of known this, he could have asked Daly questions about the monopoly set and robbed him of his very effective alibi. Daly was also clever however, in avoiding having a photo taken when he was arrested until he could shave his beard. This meant that there was no photo to show the lengths he had gone to, in order to change his appearance. No action was taken against Butler however, for his mistake in not ensuring the case against Daly was more thorough.
On 15 April 1964 the proceedings ended with the judge describing the robbery as “a crime of sordid violence inspired by vast greed” and passing sentences of 30 years imprisonment on seven of the robbers.
The eleven men sentenced all felt aggrieved at the lengthy jail time, particularly Bill Boal and Lennie Field who were innocent of the charges against them. The other men (aside from Wheater) were aggrieved at the excessive nature of the sentences, which were worse than what many murderers were given. At that stage there was no parole system in place and so sentences tended to be shorter, but the prisoners served 100% of the sentence.
|John DALY||?||?||N/A – No Case To Answer|
|Ronald Arthur BIGGS||34||Carpenter||30 years (25 years for Conspiracy to rob and 30 years for Armed Robbery)|
|Douglas Gordon GOODY||34||Hairdresser||30 years (25 years for Conspiracy to rob and 30 years for Armed Robbery)|
|Charles Frederick WILSON||31||Market Trader||30 years (25 years for Conspiracy to rob and 30 years for Armed Robbery)|
|Thomas William WISBEY||34||Bookmaker||30 years (25 years for Conspiracy to rob and 30 years for Armed Robbery)|
|Robert WELCH||34||Club Proprietor||30 years (25 years for Conspiracy to rob and 30 years for Armed Robbery)|
|James HUSSEY||34||Painter||30 years (25 years for Conspiracy to rob and 30 years for Armed Robbery)|
|Roy John JAMES||28||Racing Motorist and Silversmith||30 years (25 years for Conspiracy to rob and 30 years for Armed Robbery)|
|Roger John CORDREY||42||Florist||20 years (20 years for Conspiracy to rob and various receiving stolen goods charges)|
|Brian Arthur FIELD||29||Solicitor’s Clerk||25 years (20 years for Conspiracy to rob and 5 years for obstructing justice)|
|Leonard Denis FIELD||31||Merchant Seaman||25 years (20 years for Conspiracy to rob and 5 years for obstructing justice)|
|John Denby WHEATER||41||Solicitor||3 years|
|William Gerald BOAL||50||Engineer||24 years|
July 1964 Appeals
On 13 July 1964, the appeals by Lennie Field and Brian Field (no relation) against the charges of Conspiracy to Rob were allowed. This meant that their sentences were effectively reduced to 5 years only. On the 14th July 1964, the appeals by Roger Cordrey and Bill Boal were allowed, with the convictions for Conspiracy to Rob quashed, leaving only the receiving charges. Justice Fenton Atkinson concluded that a miscarriage of justice would result if Boal’s charges were upheld, given that his age, physique and temperament made him an unlikely train robber. Luckily as the oldest robber, Cordrey was also deemed to be innocent of the conspiracy as his prints had not been found at Leatherslade. Brian Field on the other hand was only reluctantly acquitted of the robbery with Justice Atkinson stating that he was not surprised if he was not only part of the conspiracy, but also one of the robbers. The charges against the other men were all upheld. In the end Lennie Field and Bill Boal got some measure of justice, but it was not enough – Boal died in prison in 1970 after a long illness.
Escape of the Great Train Robbers
Immediately after the trial, two of the Great Train Robbers, Charlie Wilson and Ronnie Biggs escaped from captivity.
On 12 August 1964, Charlie Wilson escaped from Winson Green Prison in Birmingham in under 3 minutes, with the escape being unprecedented in that a 3 man team broke into the prison to extricate him. His escape team were never caught, and the leader nicknamed “Frenchy” disappeared from the London criminal scene by the late 60s. Two weeks after his escape Wilson was in Paris for plastic surgery and to grow out his prison haircut. By November 1965, Wilson was in Mexico City visiting old friends Bruce Reynolds and Buster Edwards. Wilson’s escape was yet another dramatic twist in the train robbery saga.
Eleven months after Wilson’s escape, in July 1965, Ronnie Biggs escaped from Wandsworth Prison, only 15 months into his sentence, with a furniture van parking alongside the prison walls and a ladder dropped over the 30 foot wall into the prison during outside exercise time, to allow four prisoners to escape, including Biggs. The escape was planned by recently released prisoner Paul Seaborne, with the assistance of two other ex-convicts Ronnie Leslie and Ronnie Black and support from Charmian Biggs. The plot saw two other prisoners interfere with the warders, and allow Biggs and friend Eric Flower to escape. Seaborne was later caught by Butler and sentenced to 4 and 1/2 years and Ronnie Leslie 3 years for being the getaway driver. The two other prisoners who took advantage of the Biggs escape were captured after 3 months. Biggs and Flower paid significant money to get smuggled to Paris for plastic surgery. Biggs said he had to escape because of the length of the sentence and the severity of the prison conditions.
The escape of Wilson and Biggs meant that five of the robbers were now on the run, with Tommy Butler in hot pursuit.
On The Trail of the Great Train Robbers
With the other four robbers on the run fled out of the country, only Jimmy White was left in the United Kingdom.
Jimmy White was a renowned locksmith/thief and had already been on the run for ten years before the robbery, and had “a remarkable ability to be invisible, to merge with his surroundings and become the ultimate Mr Nobody.” He was a wartime paratrooper and a veteran of Arnhem. According to Piers Paul Read in his 1978 book “The Train Robbers”, Jimmy White was a solitary thief, not known to work with either firm, he should have had a good chance of remaining undetected altogether, yet was known to be one of the Train Robbers almost at once – first by other criminals and then by the police. He was unfortunate in that Brian Field’s relatives dumped luggage containing 100,000 pounds only a mile from a site where White had bought a caravan and hidden 30,000 pounds in the paneling. In addition, a group of men claiming to be the Flying Squad, broke into his flat and took a brief case with 8,500 pounds in it. Throughout his 3 years on the run with wife Sheree, and baby son Stephen he was taken advantage of or let down by his friends and associates. On 10 April 1966 a new friend recognised him from photos in a newspaper and informed police. They arrested him at Littlestone while he was at home. He only had 8,000 pounds to hand back to them, with the rest long gone. He was tried in June 1966 at Leicester Assizes and Justice Nield only sentenced him to 18 years jail (far less than the original terms of 30 years).
Charlie Wilson took up residence outside Montreal, Canada on Rigaud Mountain in the upper-middle-class neighbourhood where the large, secluded properties are surrounded by trees. Wilson lived under the name Ronald Alloway, a name borrowed from a Fulham shopkeeper. He joined an exclusive golf club and participated in his local community activities. It was only when he invited his brother-in-law over from the UK for Christmas that Scotland Yard was able to track him down and recapture him. They waited three months before making their move, in hopes that Wilson would lead them to Reynolds, the last suspect still to be apprenhended. Wilson was arrested on 25 January 1968 by Tommy Butler. Many in Rigaud petitioned to allow his wife and five daughters to stay in the Montreal area.
The last of the robbers to be caught was the mastermind, Bruce Reynolds.
Bruce Reynolds was released from jail on 6 June 1978 after serving 10 years. Reynolds, then aged 47, was helped by Gordon Goody to get back on his feet, before Goody departed for Spain. By October 1978, day release ended and he had to report to a parole officer. Frank Monroe, one of the three robbers who was never caught, temporarily gave Reynolds a job, but did not want to attract undue attention by keeping him on for long. Reynolds later got back together with his wife, Angela and son Nicholas. He was arrested in 1983 for drug related offenses (Reynold denies having any involvement) and was released again in March 1985, and dedicated himself to helping his wife recover from a mental breakdown. In 2001, with son Nicholas travelled with The Sun to take Ronnie Biggs back to Britain. In 2010 he wrote the afterward for Signal Red, a novel based on the Great Train Robbery and he regularly comments on the robbery.
Douglas (Gordon) Goody
He was released from prison on 23 December 1975, aged 46 years old and went to live with his ill mother in her small cottage in Putney. Unlike the other robbers, Goody was exceptionally lucky in that the man he left in charge of his affairs was exceptionally loyal and successful so he was able to live a relatively well-off life. He later moved to Majorca, Spain, where Goody bought property and a bar and settled down, believing it safer to be out of the United Kingdom.
Edwards was released from prison in 1975 and became a flower seller outside Waterloo Station. He committed suicide in November 1994, perhaps fearing arrest for alleged involvement in a crime. His family continued to run the flower stall after his death. The story of Ronald “Buster” Edwards was dramatised in the 1988 film, Buster, which starred Phil Collins in the title role.
After being sentenced on 16 April 1964, Field served 4 years of his 5 year sentence until being released in 1967.
While Brian Field was in prison, his wife Karin divorced him and married a German journalist. Karin wrote an article for the German magazine Stern. She confirmed that she took Roy James to Thames Train Station so he could go to London and that she led a convoy of two vans back to Kabri, where the gang were joined by wives and girlfriends to have a big party.
When Bruce Reynolds returned to Great Britain in 1968, he tried to get in contact with Field who was the only way he could get in touch with the Ulsterman. It seems that Field was ambushed upon his release from prison by a recently released convict “Scotch Jack Buggy” who presumably roughed up or even tortured Field with an eye on getting some of the loot from the robbery. Subsequently Field went to ground and “Buggy” was killed shortly after. Reynolds gave up trying to find him.
Field changed his name to Brian Carlton, in order to disappear. He died aged 44 years, in a car crash on a motorway in May 1979, a year after the last of the robbers had completed their sentence.
The Rest of the Robbers
Roy James (born August 1935), following his release on 15 August 1975 went back to motor racing, however he soon crashed his cars and his chances of becoming a driver quickly faded. After the failure of his Formula One career, he went back to being a silversmith. He produced trophies for the Formula One World Championship due to his acquaintance with Bernie Ecclestone. In 1982, he married a younger woman, but the marriage soon broke down. By 1983, James with Charlie Wilson had become involved in an attempt to import gold without paying the excise. Roy was acquitted in January 1984 of his part in the scam. In 1993, he shot and wounded his father in-law and pistol whipped and partially strangled his ex-wife, after they had returned their kids for a day’s outing. He was sentenced to 6 years in jail.
In 1996, James underwent triple bypass surgery, and was subsequently released from prison in 1997, only to die almost immediately afterwards on 21 August after another heart attack. When James died he was the fifth of the Train Robbers to do so, despite being the youngest.
The South Coast Raiders did not fare too well in general. Bob Welch (born March 1929) was released on 14 June 1976 (the last of those convicted in Aylesbury to be released). Bob moved back in with his wife June and his son. He had to threaten the man left in charge of his money to retrieve the remainder of his share of the robbery loot. A leg injury sustained in prison saw him undergo several operations until he was left semi-crippled as a result. Frank Monroe, who was never caught, worked as a film stunt man for a while before starting a paper and scrap metal recycling business. Jim Hussey was released on 17 November 1975 and married girlfriend Gill (who had met just before the robbery). His share of the loot had been entrusted with a friend of Frank Monroe and had been squandered despite Monroe periodically checking on its keeper. Roger Cordrey (born May 1922) was the first of the robbers released, but his share of the money had almost entirely been taken by the police. He went back to being a florist at his sister’s business upon his release.
Tommy Wisbey (born April 1930) was luckier than most of the others, in that his share had been entrusted to his brothers, and when he emerged, he had a house in South London and a few other investments to keep him going. Unfortunately during his prison stint, his daughter Lorraine had died in a car accident and his stint in prison was the most traumatic of the robbers. He took a while to learn how to live harmoniously with his wife Rene (his daughter Marilyn moved out upon his return). Shortly after his release Wisbey was imprisoned on remand over a travellers’ cheques scam, where the judge acknowledged the minor nature of the role.
Thomas Wisbey and James Hussey fell back into crime and were jailed in 1989 for cocaine dealing, with Wisbey sentenced to ten years and Hussey for 7 years. In her book Gangster’s Moll, Marilyn Wisbey recounts that on 8 June 1988, after returning home from a visit to the abortion clinic and lying down for a nap they got raided by the Drugs Squad. Her parents were staying with her and her son Jonathan while their tenants moved out of their house (they had been away on a long trip to the USA). The raid uncovered 1 kg of cocaine, and Rene and Marilyn Wisbey were arrested along with Jimmy Hussey who had been spotted accepting a package from Tommy Wisbey in a park. Wisbey himself was captured a year later in Wilmslow, Cheshire (allegedly staying with another woman to the shock of his wife and daughter). In return for Hussey and Wisbey pleading guilty the two woman were unconditionally freed. Upon their release from prison, both retired from work.
Tommy Wisbey later explained: We were against drugs all our lives, but as the years went on, towards the end of the ’70s, it became more and more the ‘in’ thing. Being involved in the Great Train Robbery, our name was good. They knew we had never grassed anyone, we had done our time without putting anyone else in the frame. On 26 July 1989, the two men pleaded guilty and admitted at Snaresbrook Crown Court, London that they were a part of a £500,000 cocaine trafficking ring. Wisbey’s grandson has also had trouble with the law in Cyprus.
In later years, the Robbers generally came together only for the funerals of their colleagues. At Wilson’s funeral on 10 May 1990, Reynolds saw Roy James (who got into a verbal stoush with the press), Buster Edwards, Bob Welch (hobbling on crutches) and Jimmy White (who went unnoticed by most due to his ability to blend into the background). At Edward’s funeral in 1994, Reynolds only saw Bob Welch there, with Hussey, Wisbey and James all in prison.
John Wheater was released from prison in February 1966, and managed his family’s laundry business in Harrogate. He later wrote two articles in the Sunday Telegraph.
Lenny Field was released in 1967 and went to live in North London. He disappeared from the public eye.
The replacement train driver was never found. He had no criminal record and in the end Mills drove the train anyway, with police having no reason to suspect the other’s involvement.
Biggs fled to Paris, where he acquired new identity papers and underwent plastic surgery. In 1970, he quietly moved to Adelaide, Australia, where he worked as a builder and lived a relatively normal life. He was tipped off by persons unknown and moved to Melbourne, later escaping to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, after police discovered his Melbourne address. Biggs could not be extradited because there was no reciprocal extradition treaty between Britain and Brazil, a condition for the Brazilian process of extradition. Additionally, he became father to a Brazilian son, which afforded him greater legal immunity (which a daughter would not have conferred). As a result he lived openly in Rio for many years, untouchable by British authorities. In 1981, Biggs’s Brazilian son became a member of the successful band Turma do Balão Mágico, bringing a new source of income to his father. In a short time, however, the band faded into obscurity and dissolved, leaving father and son in relatively dire straits again. In May 2001, aged 71 and having suffered three strokes, Biggs voluntarily returned to England. His son, Michael Biggs, said in a press release that, contrary to some press reports, Biggs had not returned to the UK simply to receive free health care. According to Michael, health care was available in Brazil and he had many friends and supporters who would certainly have contributed to any such expenses. Biggs’s stated desire was to “walk into a Margate pub as an Englishman and buy a pint of bitter“. Biggs was aware that he would be arrested and jailed. After detention and a short court hearing he was sent back to prison to serve the remainder of his sentence. On 2 July 2009, Ronnie Biggs was denied parole by British Justice Secretary Jack Straw, who considered Biggs to be still “wholly unrepentant.” Biggs himself has stated that the thirty-year term was “out of order” for the crime committed, and that is why he planned an escape.
On 6 August 2009, Ronnie Biggs was granted release from prison on “compassionate grounds” due to a severe case of pneumonia, after serving only part of the sentence imposed at trial. Ronnie Biggs’ son has said publicly that his father expressed remorse for the robbery, but not for his life on the run.
Legacy of the Great Train Robbery
The legacy of the Great Train Robbery of 1963 is in many ways a sad one. Very little of the money was ever recovered and the driver Jack Mills suffered greatly as a result of the robbery. While his death in 1970 was nothing to do with the head injury he sustained, he got very little compensation for putting up a fight and was often accused of exaggerating the severity of the injury.
Very few of the robbers got to enjoy their share of the money with most of it either lost, stolen, spent on lawyers, or on escaping justice. Once most of the gang were sentenced in 1963, their associates stopped paying their expenses with the stolen loot. Many of the robbers re-offended when they were released, and Reynolds, Wilson, James, Hussey and Wisbey were all jailed later on in life.
The robbery and the aftermath were yet another scandal for an already scandal-plagued Macmillan government.
Jack Mills – Victim of the Robbery
Mills had constant trauma headaches the rest of his life. He died in 1970 from leukaemia. Mills’ assailant was one of three members of the gang who was never identified. Frank Williams (at the time a Detective Inspector) claims that at least three men who were directly involved are still at liberty and enjoying to the full their share of the money stolen and the profits from the way they invested it. One of them is the man responsible for the attack on the train driver. The train driver’s assailant is not some phantom figure lurking in the criminal underworld. Williams traced him, identified him and took him to Scotland Yard where, with Tommy Butler, Williams questioned him. They were certain of their facts but he could not be charged because of lack of evidence suitable for presentation in a court; he had left no fingerprints or identifiable marks anywhere. None of those arrested informed on him although he had completely disobeyed instructions and used violence during the robbery.
After his success in securing White and Edwards, Tommy Butler got Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Joseph Simpson to suspend his retirement on his 55th birthday so he could continue to hunt the robbers which paid off with the arrests of first Wilson, then Reynolds. When asked by a reporter after the sentencing of Reynolds whether that was the end of it, Butler replied that it was not over until Biggs was caught. In 1969 he was finally forced to accept compulsory retirement, and later died in 1970, aged 57 years (ironically on the same days, Biggs’ memoirs were published in the Sun).
Frank Williams, Butler’s deputy was overlooked to be his replacement as head of the Flying Squad because of his deal with Edwards (which he thought would seal his promotion) and his deal with another of the robbers who was never caught. Following being overlooked for Butler’s position he left the force to become head of security for QANTAS. He wrote his autobiography “No Fixed Address” which was published in 1973.
Jack Slipper of the Metropolitan Police was promoted to Detective Chief Superintendent (known in the press as “Slipper of the Yard“), became so involved that he continued to hunt many of the escaped robbers in retirement. He believed Biggs should not be released after returning to the UK in 2001 and he often appeared in the media to comment on any news item connected with the robbery before his death on 24 August 2005 at the age of 81.
Detective Chief Superintendent Ernest Malcolm Fewtrell, Head of the Buckinghamshire Crime Investigation Department (CID) was born on 29 September 1909, and died on 28 November 2005, aged 96 years. He retired on the last day of the trial after the verdicts were handed down (at the then compulsory retirement age of 55). This allowed him (with Ronald Payne of The Sunday Telegraph who was involved in the paper’s coverage of the case) to be the first of the investigators to write a book ‘The Train Robbers’ on the robbery investigation in 1964. In the book he expressed some frustrations with some of the Flying Squad although he mostly had praise for individual officers. His one regret is that he had the search for the hideout done from the scene of the robbery outwards rather than an inwards search from a 35 mile perimeter. He worked as an Accommodation Officer for Portsmouth Polytechnic before retiring to live near Swanage by the sea. He continued to express disgust at any film that he felt glamourised the robbers. It has been said that he bore a striking resemblance to John Thaw who was the star of Inspector Morse, which, perhaps coincidentally was a television series about a detective in the Thames Valley Police Force (the modern day successor to Buckinghamshire Constabulary).
George Hatherill (1898–1986) had his service extended by one year because of the need to complete the investigation of the Great Train Robbery. He visited Canada and the USA as a lecturer on police matters. He died on the 17th June 1986 at the age of 87.
Gerald MacArthur died aged 70 years on 21 July 1996. He was famous for breaking up the Richardson Gang at a time when many London based detectives were known to be corrupt.
Ernest (Ernie) Millen (1911–1988) was regarded as one of the finest detectives from Scotland Yard ever by the time of his retirement.
The Crime Scene
One of the Post Office carriages involved is preserved at the Nene Valley Railway at Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, and is being restored. The locomotive was no. D326 (later no. 40126). It was involved in a number of serious operating incidents throughout its operational life. The retrieved Monopoly board used by the robbers at their Leatherslade Farm hideout, as well as a genuine £5 note from the robbery, are on display at the Thames Valley Police museum in Sulhamstead, Berkshire.
The audacity and scale of the robbery was yet another controversy that the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan had to cope with. Macmillan resigned in October 1963, claiming poor health. He did not re-contest his seat at the next election in September 1964, where the Labour Party claimed victory under Harold Wilson.
Ronnie Biggs was twice made example of, largely for embarrassing the authorities. He got 30 years for being a minor player in the robbery and despite living a crime free life after his escape from prison he served another 8 years upon his return to the United Kingdom. By the time he was released he had served more jail time than any of the robbers, despite his relatively minor role.
What Happened to the Money ?
£2,631,684 pounds was stolen from the train (although the police report claims that £2,595,997 was the actual amount stolen). The bulk of the haul was in £1 notes and £5 notes (both the older white note and the newer blue note which was half its size). There were also 10 shilling notes and Irish and Scottish money. The five pound notes were in stacks of £2,500 and the one pound notes were in stacks of £500 and the ten shilling notes in stacks of £250. With the exception of a few ‘drinks’ for associates, the loot was split into 17 equal shares of around £150,000 each (George Hatherill claims that there were 18 shares).
While within 6 months of the robbery, 10 of the robbers were locked up awaiting trial and 3 others were wanted criminals on the run, very little of the money had actually been recovered. This has caused speculation that there is a great fortune of robbery loot still out there. While it was a fortune in today’s terms (the approximate equivalent of £40M pounds or $63M), the money was quickly spent and stolen by predatory gangsters and greedy associates, relatives and lawyers. So the proceeds of the greatest cash robbery in British history were quickly used up, with few robbers actually benefitting in the long run from the stolen money to any great degree.
How Much Was Recovered ?
Less than £400,000 pounds was eventually recovered with bulk of the money being the shares of Roger Cordrey (£141,017 pounds) and (allegedly) Brian Field (£100,900 pounds). A further £36,000 was recovered from Jimmy White’s caravan. Roy James was carrying £12,041 when captured. The final major sum recovered was £47,245 that was found in a telephone box, in Great Dover St, Newington, South London.
The Telephone Box Controversy
The £47,245 recovered from a telephone box, included 57 notes whose serial numbers had been recorded by the bank in Scotland. This money was allegedly as part of a deal struck with Frank Williams by ‘Alf Thomas’. In the Train Robbers by Piers Paul Read, he claimed that the police were feeling the pressure because while they had caught many of the robbers, they had failed to recover much of the money. While no evidence had been found against Alf, who only had a reputation as a minor thief, some of the identifiable bank notes had been traced back to him through his friends who were charged with receiving. Given they had no evidence against Thomas, either at Leatherslade Farm or connections with either of the two gangs, Butler was prepared to let him go. Williams convinced Butler to pull “Alf” in for questioning and in return for releasing him and not charging his friends with more serious crimes, £50,000 was to be returned. On 3 December 1963, which happened to be the same day that Roy James was taken into custody, the police received an anonymous tip directing them to the money in the phone box. The money was driven up to Aylesbury and taken into custody by Detective Superintendent Fewtrell who wondered how his London colleagues could know how much money there was. He had to bring in bank clerks to count the damp and musty money to determine the final sum.
Williams however made no admission to the money being a result of a deal with “Alf Thomas“. Despite claiming that his negotiations were responsible for the return of this money, Williams in his book ‘No Fixed Address’ (1973) claimed not to know the identity of who had returned the money, although he made mention of several robbers that he had offered deals to through intermediaries. He did note that it seemed that Butler was sceptical of his efforts and that at the press conference Hatherill and Millen did not reveal the circumstances behind the find and that he was never asked to talk with them about it. Despite Alf Thomas being the man identified as the assailant of the Train Driver by Bruce Reynolds (albeit indirectly), Williams only makes mention of the assailant once in his book. In this section (often quoted by other sources), he confirms that with Tommy Butler he questioned the man they knew to be the assailant but that they had no evidence to convict him. Strangely however, he makes no further mention of him, which seem to lend credence to the claim that a deal done with “Alf Thomas” was done which caused outrage amongst the hierarchy later on. It is hinted in several of the books that the deals done by Williams were responsible for him being overlooked for promotion and Williams was aggrieved that his efforts were not being openly recognised by Butler who he claimed hid them from superiors.
For his part George Hatherill, in his book “A Detective’s Tale”, states that the motive behind the return of the money was not known for sure but that his theory was that the money was returned by “one about whom extensive inquiries had been made and who in fact was interrogated at length. But in spite of our strong suspicions, nothing could be proved against him and so no charge could be brought. My belief is that he thought we knew more about him than we did, and thinking things were getting hot, he decided to get rid of the money to avoid being found in possession with it”Hatherill does not mention Williams at all in his book, and retired on the last day of the Trial at Aylesbury.
How Easily Traceable Was the Actual Money ?
The money was quickly laundered or divided by friends, family and associates of the robbers with a few notable exceptions. A great deal was laundered through bookmakers (Wilson and Wisbey were themselves bookmakers), although in fact astonishingly only a few hundred pounds were identifiable by serial number so the robbers could have spent the money without fear of being traced. There were 1,579 notes whose serial numbers were known and the rest of the fortune was completely untraceable.
The five pound notes on the train were of two different kinds, because in 1957 the British Government had begun to replace the extra large white notes with smaller blue ones, with the final changeover not yet complete at the time of the robbery. The white notes quickly became far more conspicuous to use, making it harder for them to be spent.
The Legal Fees
For the 17 principal gang members, the ten who were arrested within three or four months after the robbery, each had to spend a fortune on legal fees (approximately £30,000). This meant that one-fifth of their shares was spent on lawyers shortly before nine of them were sentenced to lengthy jail terms. Ironically several associates of the robbers were charged with receiving several hundred pounds of the money, when the lawyers defending the robbers got many times more money.
Money Spent on the Run
The robbers who spent much time on the run overseas – Reynolds, Wilson and Edwards had very little left when finally arrested, having spent the money to avoid capture and having to fund lavish lifestyles without having to find paying jobs while on the run. Much of Jimmy White’s money was stolen.
Money Spent by Friends and Relatives
According to Marilyn Wisbey, her father’s share was hidden by his father Tommy Wisbey Snr in the panels in the doors of his home. Butler raided them three times but he never found the train money. The majority of the money was reputedly entrusted to Wisbey’s father and also his younger brother Ron who coincidentally had saved some money of his own that was confiscated by the police although it was returned 3 months later. By the time Wisbey was released from jail all of his share had either been spent or invested. Marilyn agrees with Piers Paul Read’s assessment of how her father’s share of approximately £150,000 pounds was spent. Although the Wisbey share was one that was not stolen again by other criminals, Marilyn Wisbey is still bitter that her relatives got to spend a fair amount of the loot while the overall sum dwindled away. Her grandfather used some of the money to buy them a house in Upper Norwood, however.
Money Spent by Those That Got Away
There were six of the robbers who got away in one form or another – the mysterious “Ulsterman” whose fate is unknown, three robbers who were never caught, John Daly who was lucky enough to get his charges dismissed at the trial and Ronnie Biggs who escaped jail and managed to avoid being taken back to the UK. John Daly had entrusted his money to another crook who had betrayed him to the police and had absconded with the money and died before Daly could recover his money. Upon the release of the others in the mid 70s, “Bill Jennings” got in touch with Buster and “Frank Monroe” got in touch with the South Coast Raiders both to say that they had no money left. “Alf Thomas” had disappeared and John Daly at the time was said to be living on the dole in West Country.Ronnie Biggs quickly spent his share getting a new life (the ultimate goal of some criminals) and loved his new life in Australia, although by the time his family got to Australia in 1966, all but £7,000 had been spent, with £55,000 having been paid as a package deal to get him out of the UK, and the rest having gone on legal fees and expenses.
Details of the Great Train Robbery and the Robbers
Early Books of the Great Train Robbery
These books were written in the immediate aftermath of the 1964 trial and before the capture of several of the gang.
- The Robbers’ Tale (1965) by Peta Fordham and first published by Hodder & Stoughton, London (ISBN ). It told the story of the robbery only shortly after the conclusion of the initial trial. The author was the wife of one of the lawyers involved in the case. The book mostly involves a description of the trial. The author constantly hints that she knew more than she was prepared to write, yet it was written before most of the facts emerged.
Autobiographies and Biographies of the Investigators
These are predominantly the books written by the senior police in the early 1970s after they had just retired from the force, which are largely confined to the story of the investigation, trial and capture of the robbers.
- The Train Robbers (1964) by Malcolm Fewtrell (with Ronald Payne), first published in London by Arthur Barker Limited (ISBN 9B64173210).
- A Detective’s Story (1971) by George Hatherill, first published in London by Andre Deutsch Limited (ISBN 0-2339-6322-7) is part autobiography and part description on what makes a detective. Chapter 14, the last chapter of the book is dedicated to the Great Train Robbery the final major investigation before Hatherill’s retirement.
- Specialist in Crime (1972) by Ernest Millen , first published by George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd (ISBN 0245505075). An Autobiography. When he retired, Millen was Deputy Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard and Commander of the CID. A unique inside story of his career as a detective.
- No Fixed Address (1973) by Frank Williams, first published by W.H. Allen & Co Ltd (ISBN 0-4910-0524-5). It tells the story of the aftermath of the robbery from Williams point of view, in particular describing the mistakes made in the early days by senior officers, and the autocratic nature of Tommy Butler. The book is targeted at Ronnie Biggs in the hope that he will contact Williams for a deal, similar to the one arranged by Buster Edwards. The book mistakenly identifies Bill Boal as a robber (although it concedes his role was a support role), and it also mistakenly identifies Biggs as one of the leaders.
- Slipper of the Yard (1981) by Jack Slipper, first published by Sidgwick and Jackson Ltd (ISBN 0-2839-8702-2). This book is an autobiography of the police career of Jack Slipper, who had retired the year before as one of the most decorated and well known detectives in the Metropolitan Police Force. It includes a chapter on his participation in the Train Robbery Squad hunting for the robbers and has details on the arrests of Roy James, John Daly and Jimmy Hussey. It also has a chapter on the mission to recover Ronnie Biggs from Brazil and denounces the press version of events.
Autobiographies and Biographies of the Robbers
- Slip Up (1975) by Anthony Delano and first published by Quadrangle / The New York Times Book Co. (ISBN 0-8129-0576-8).
- The Train Robbers (1978) by Piers Paul Read and first published by W.H. Allen and Company (ISBN 0-397-01283-7). This book recounts a very detailed version of the story based on an exclusive account given by eight of the then-paroled robbers (Edwards, Goody, Hussey, Wisby, Welch, James, White and Cordrey with contradictory versions by Reynolds and Biggs). Despite revealing more than previous accounts, the book is flawed in that it includes outright lies that the funding source for the heist was former SS officer Otto Skorzeny. As the story unfolds in the book, however, the German connection was proved to be false.
- Crossing The Line: Autobiography of a Thief (1995) by Bruce Reynolds, first published by Bantam Press (ISBN 1-8522-7929-X).
- Odd Man Out (1994) by Ronald Biggs, first published by Bloomsbury Publishing Limited (ISBN 0-7475-1683-9). This book is an autobiography of the life of Ronald Biggs, particularly his life on the run after the Great Train Robbery.
- Keep On Running (1996) by Ronald Biggs and Christopher Pickard, first published by Bloomsbury Publishing Limited (ISBN 0-7475-2188-3). This book is a novel that strongly draws on the events of the Great Train Robbery and identifies what may have happened to the three men who were never caught.
- Gangster’s Moll – Living with a life of crime – from the Great Train Robbery to ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser. (2001) by Marilyn Wisbey, first published by Little Brown and Company (ISBN 0-3168-5208-2). This is an autobiography of the daughter of Tommy Wisbey, and includes details on how his share was hidden and later spent, and the effect of the life of crime on the family of the criminals.
- Killing Charlie (2004) by Wensley Clarkson, first published by Mainstream Publishing Co (Edinburgh) Ltd (ISBN 9781845960353). This book serves as a biography for the great train robber, Charlie Wilson.
Modern Books of the Great Train Robbery
These books are mostly literature reviews of the earlier books, combined with some research of the archival material.
- The Great British Train Robbery (2003) by Tim Coates, first published by Tim Coates in 2003, (ISBN 1843810220). Contains the extracts from the report of Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, which was submitted to the Home Office in 1964.
- The Great Train Robbery (2008) by Peter Guttridge (ISBN 9781905615322). Looks at the big questions: were there three other robbers that were never identified, and what became of all the crooks and the bulk of the money?
- Signal Red (2010) by Robert Ryan, first published by Headline Review (ISBN 9780755358182). A novel based on the Great Train Robbery with a postscript by Bruce Reynolds.
- The Great Train Robbery – History Making Heist (2011) by Brenda Haugen, first published by Compass Point Books, a Capstone Imprint (ISBN 9780756543600). A novel based on the Great Train Robbery with a postscript by Bruce Reynolds.
Movies of the Great Train Robbery and the Robbers
- The 1966 German 3-part TV mini series Die Gentlemen bitten zur Kasse tells a fictionalised version of the story more or less close to the facts, but changes the names of those involved and of locations.
- The 1967 film, Robbery, is a heavily fictionalised version based on the events of 1963 directed by Peter Yates. The movie launched Yates’ Hollywood career after it attracted the interest of Steve McQueen who got the British director to make his next feature Bullitt.
- The 1969 French film The Brain stars David Niven as a British master criminal who perpetrates in France a heist based on the Train Robbery. The script implies him to be the real planner of the 1963 robbery.
- In 1988, Buster Edwards’ experiences were made into the comedy-drama Buster, starring Phil Collins.
In popular culture
- In the 1965 James Bond film Thunderball, a SPECTRE officer states that the criminal organization earned £250,000 as a consultation fee for the robbery.
- A comedy version was staged in the film The Great St Trinian’s Train Robbery
- In the 1965 film, Help!, John Lennon makes a snide reference to The Great Train Robbery in Scotland Yard. “Great Train Robbery, how’s that going?”
- Singer Phil Collins starred in the title role of Buster, a comedy-drama movie loosely based on the life of Buster Edwards.
- Supposedly, Biggs returned to England several times during the making of a documentary about the Great Train Robbery, always in disguise.
- Ronald Biggs recorded vocals on two songs for The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, Julien Temple‘s film about the Sex Pistols. The basic tracks for “No One is Innocent” (aka “The Biggest Blow (A Punk Prayer)”) and “Belsen Was a Gas” were recorded with guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook at a studio in Brazil shortly after the Sex Pistols’ final performance, with overdubs being added in an English studio at a later date. “No One is Innocent” was released as a single in the UK and reached #6 on the British singles charts, with the sleeve showing Martin Bormann playing bass with the group (in actuality this was American actor James Jeter).
- Paul Hardcastle released a song in 1985 titled “Just For Money” which is about the robbery.
- In 1991, Ronald Biggs sang vocals for the song “Carnival In Rio (Punk Was)” by German punk band Die Toten Hosen.
- A popular skit from the comedy revue Beyond the Fringe starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore deals with the efforts to catch the criminals behind the robbery.
- Following the extradition attempt, Biggs collaborated with Bruce Henry (an American double-bass player), Jaime Shields, and Aureo de Souza to record Mailbag Blues, a musical narrative of his life that he intended to use a movie soundtrack. This album was re-released in 2004 by whatmusic.com.
- British group, Alabama 3, recorded a tribute to Bruce Reynolds about the robbery, “Have You Seen Bruce Richard Reynolds” (originally recorded by The Fylde Folk) on which he appears, on their 2005 album, Outlaw.
- In February 2006, Channel 4 aired a documentary about the 1981 plot to kidnap Biggs and take him to Barbados. The programme featured a dramatisation of the attempt and an interview with ex-soldier John Miller, one of the men responsible. In the programme, security consultant Patrick King, who led the team, claimed that the kidnapping may have in fact been a deniable operation.
- American rock band, Mountain, recorded the song “The Great Train Robbery” on their Nantucket Sleighride album, circa 1971.
- In several 1963 episodes of The Navy Lark, the robbery was referred to via expressions of surprise – by various characters – of seeing Chief Petty Officer Pertwee free, and not in police custody for committing the robbery.
- In the online mulitplayer game RuneScape, there is a quest called “The Great Brain Robbery”, with similar plot elements.
- In the computer video game, Starcraft 2, there is a mission that is entitled “The Great Train Robbery”.