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The Great Train Heist of 1963: You Know About One of Britain's Most Daring Robberies?

The Great Train Heist of 1963: You Know About One of Britain's Most Daring Robberies?
photo: AP Images, Great Train Heist of 1963: You Know About One of Britain's Most Daring Robberies?
20 / 10 / 2023

In the quiet hours of a summer night in 1963, a meticulously planned ambush on the Glasgow to Euston Travelling Post Office train set the stage for what would be dubbed the "Great Train Robbery." Here's a deep dive into the precision, greed, and ultimate unravelling of a gang that pulled off one of history's most infamous heists.

Stopping at the Wrong Signal

Late on the night of August 8, 1963, the Glasgow to Euston Travelling Post Office train embarked on what seemed like its usual route, with mail and parcels being sorted en route to London. Little did the staff know, they were about to become part of one of Britain's most notorious robberies. When driver Jack Mills noticed a red signal at Sears Crossing, the course of that journey shifted dramatically. A deceitfully manipulated signal led to the halt of the train, making it vulnerable to the awaiting gang.

The Ambush and Robbery

Upon stopping, co-driver David Whitby found the cables from the line-side phone severed, a trap which left him vulnerable to an attack, resulting in him being thrown down an embankment. As the crew faced assault, masked individuals boarded the train, with their prime target being the High-Value Package carriage, usually containing around £300,000. However, due to a Bank Holiday in Scotland, that day it was transporting a staggering £2.3 million, equivalent to about £30 million today. In a meticulously planned move, the majority of the train's carriages were uncoupled, leaving only the first two, containing the treasure, connected.

Plans Go Awry

Despite their precise orchestration, the gang hit a snag. The responsibility to drive the detached part of the train to Bridego Bridge, where the money would be offloaded, proved more challenging than anticipated. The designated driver from the gang found himself overwhelmed by the diesel train's complexity, a far cry from the smaller local trains he had practised on. This hiccup forced the reawakening of the actual train driver, Jack Mills, to ensure the heist's continuation.

Quick Division and the Inevitable Capture

At the designated bridge, a coordinated effort saw 120 sacks, amounting to two-and-a-half tons of money, efficiently transferred to waiting Land Rovers. They then proceeded to their hideout, the previously rented Letherslade Farm in Buckinghamshire. Here, in a mixture of excitement and paranoia, they divided their loot. Yet, their hasty departure from the farm, spurred by the fear of nearby RAF planes, led them to leave behind incriminating evidence. This oversight, combined with other clues like fingerprints on a Monopoly board and a ketchup bottle, played a pivotal role in their capture.

Justice and Aftermath

The subsequent police investigation, spearheaded by Detective Chief Superintendent Jack Slipper, saw the majority of the gang arrested. Bruce Reynolds, the mastermind, remained elusive for five years before his capture. Ronnie Biggs, another significant figure, made a daring escape from prison, altered his appearance, and fled the country. However, even he couldn't escape justice forever, being re-arrested upon his return to the UK in 2001. Despite the vast sum stolen, the culprits couldn't relish their gains, with most meeting grim fates. The meticulous planning of the robbery and its initial success was overshadowed by the gang's eventual downfall, largely attributed to their own oversight and greed.

Source of information:, Wikipedia