- Written by Jack Harvey
Jack Harvey is an Independent Security Adviser with ‘one-and-a-half-score-years-and-a-bit’ as a security professional, during which time he has designed and implemented major – and minor – security systems for all types of Clients including Her Majesty’s Prisons, The Royal Palaces and Mr. and Mrs Normal.
It seems that The Great Train Robbery, which took place over 41 years ago still catches peoples imagination and The Ed has asked if I could provide any more details of what has been described as ‘The Crime of the Century’. I must point out that I am not a crime historian and most of my information comes from memory and noting events that are connected to previous crimes later on This means you’re relying on information from a bloke who may remember what happened thirty five years ago but can’t remember what he had for lunch yesterday - Nuff Sed?
Prior to 1963, the Great Train Robbery title went to the theft of gold bullion en route to Paris from London by train in 1855, however the events of 8th August 1963 displaced this to become the Crime of the Century. When the Great Train Robbers (circa 1963) were finally rounded up they did their ‘Porridge’! (I looked into the origins of the term ‘Porridge’ and came up with a TV series! It seems that in 1973 an Episode of ‘Seven to One’, about one Norman Stanley Fletcher on his way to a remote prison in Cumbria and played by the inimitable Ronnie Barker, which ran for 3 Series, 2 Christmas Specials and 1 Feature film, ended up entitled ‘Porridge’, which has since been adopted as a term for serving a prison sentence. Trust me – I’m a Salesman!). ……but I digress! Late on Wednesday the 7th August 1963 the "Up Special" train left Glasgow en-route for Euston. The train was a Travelling Post Office (TPO) and the second carriage along was a High Value Package (HVP) where registered mail was sorted. Much of this consisted of cash. 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 a staggering Two million, six hundred and thirty one thousand, seven hundred and eighty four pounds, no shillings and no pence!
In the early hours of Thursday 8th August criminal history was made, but despite the huge amount of money stolen none of the thieves seems to have lived happily-ever-after on their ill-gotten gains. The mastermind of the operation, Bruce REYNOLDS took five years to be tracked down and eventually served 12 years imprisonment. Mr. Reynolds – now a Septuagenarian - ‘popped up’ last year as a Guest of honour at a Fete where he presented a talk to mark the 40th Anniversary of the Great Train Robbery in Oakley in Buckinghamshire - not too far from where the crime was committed.
He actually made his appearance for £ 2.50 a head to assist in raising £ 34,000 for a new roof for the village hall – a far cry from his original fund raising venture 40 years previous! When Reynolds was on the run, he stayed in Mexico and Canada before his £150,000 share ran out and he was eventually caught penniless in Torquay. He recently went to see his old partner in crime, Ronnie BIGGS, who received a 30 year term, but escaped from Wandsworth Prison in a furniture van some 15 months into his sentence. His flight to Brazil (via Spain and Australia) and his eventual return to the United Kingdom in 2001 are well documented. During that visit Reynolds was deeply saddened by his old friend’s condition, who – following three severe strokes – can only communicate using a pointer and alphabet.
Another Great Train Robbery team member, Charlie WILSON, (who escaped prison at the same time as Ronnie Biggs) moved to Canada and lived in a large secluded house surrounded by trees in the posh Rigaud Mountain area just outside Montreal. It was here he evaded the police for four years – until (there’s always an ‘until’!) – his wife made the mistake of telephoning her parents in England enabling Scotland Yard to track him down and bring him back to UK to be sentenced. After serving his ‘time’ he moved to the Costa del Sol where it is alleged he became involved in drug dealing. He was shot dead by a hired gunman in 1990 as he relaxed by his swimming pool. Ronald EDWARDS, the Train Robber who was immortalized in the film ‘Buster’, played by Phil Collins also went on the run abroad following the robbery. He moved to Mexico but things didn’t turn out well for him there as his wife didn’t like the food or the weather, got homesick and went home. ‘Buster’ had to make a choice between staying in Mexico on the run or return to his wife. He returned a few years later, gave himself up and went to prison.
After his release in the early ‘70’s he enjoyed minor celebrity status when he opened and ran a flower stall outside Waterloo Station. Clearly the Flower Stall was not his sole means of income and it is rumoured he was involved in ‘van dragging’ (a term used for the stealing of lorries and selling their contents) and counterfeit cash crime. In November 1994 a stolen lorry full of Coffee Beans was discovered by police in Liverpool and ‘Buster’ Edwards name was linked to the stolen vehicle. Convinced the police were closing in on him , he committed suicide by hanging himself in his Lock-up behind Waterloo station. He was 62. Perhaps his life as a career criminal finally caught up with him. So, after all the excitement, the thrill of the crime and the public accolades, it did end like a Children’s Party – in Sick and in Tears! I’ll leave the last words to Bruce Reynolds, who, following ‘Buster’ Edwards’s death summed it up with, "We hated going straight. We were both criminals more for the hell of it than the rewards. "It was very hard for both of us when we quit.
You never stop missing the buzz." …………..I think I’ll leave the ‘Buzz’ to the Bees.