On This Day

great train robbery, royal mail train
PA/PA Wire
In 1963, police officers taking
measurements at Cheddington Station,
on one of the coaches of the
involved in the
Great Train Robbery.

On This Day: “The Great Train Robbery” Is Carried Out by 15 Thieves

August 08, 2011 05:00 AM
by Haley A. Lovett
On Aug. 8, 1963, robbers boarded the Royal Mail train and made off with 2.6 million pounds (equivalent to $50 million today). The crime took only 15 minutes and led to a nearly 40-year manhunt.

“Up Special” Robbery Was Largest Heist at Time

The Royal Mail train, nicknamed the “Up Special,” traveled from Glasgow to London and carried postal staff, mail and money.

The Great Train Robbery was masterminded by former convict Bruce Reynolds. The group decided to commit the robbery following a bank holiday and the train would be carrying more cash than usual.

In the time leading up to the robbery the group had acquired a farmhouse near Cheddington, where they planned to rob the train. The plan, according to HowStuffWorks, was to have one of the robbers rig the railway signals so that the train would encounter a red light and would stop. The robbers would then board the train.

The plan went off nearly as expected until someone in the group hit the train’s driver over the head, badly injuring him. The robbers detached the cars with the money from the rest of the train and moved them to a location where their getaway cars were parked. There they unloaded nearly 120 bags of cash adding up to about 2.6 million pounds.

The group then returned to their farmhouse hideout to split up the cash. After which, according to Time magazine, they attempted to burn the house to remove any evidence. Unfortunately they did not do a very good job, and it was through fingerprints left on a game of monopoly as well as on old beer bottles that police were able to identify some of the men involved.

Many of the robbers were caught in the weeks that followed, and all of those apprehended were convicted of at least conspiracy to rob, although the length of their sentences differed. Bruce Reynolds was not captured until 1969.

In all, 12 men were caught after robbing the train. There were three unnamed accomplices who were never identified.

Wilson and Biggs Escape from Jail

On Aug. 12, 1964, Charlie Wilson managed to escape from a maximum-security prison with help from three outsiders who broke in and freed him. He remained at large until four years later, when he was captured in Canada. Wilson served the rest of his sentence and later moved out of the country. In 1990 he was killed by a hit man; according to the BBC, he was thought to have been involved in the drug trade.

Another of the train robbers, Ronnie Biggs, had been sentenced to 30 years in jail, but after only 15 months managed to climb over a prison wall and escape to Brazil. Over the next few decades he became infamous for eluding Scotland Yard, and he cashed in on his notoriety by recording a song with the Sex Pistols, charging tourists in Brazil to see him, and by writing an autobiography. In 2001 Biggs returned to the U.K. due to failing health, and in 2009 was released from prison for medical reasons.

Read more about Ronnie Biggs.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines