On This Day: Great Train Robbers stole £2.6million in heist that gripped the nation

Julian Gavaghan
On This Day: Great Train Robbers stole £2.6million in heist that gripped the nation

AUGUST 8, 1963: The Great Train Robbers stole 2.6million from a Post Office locomotive on this day in 1963 in a heist that gripped the nation.

The 15-strong gang, which included Ronnie Biggs who later broke out of jail and went on the run for 36 years, beat driver Jack Mills unconscious with an iron bar.

The thieves uncoupled the engine and front two carriages of the Glasgow-to-London train and drove them a mile to Bridego Bridge near Mentmore, Buckinghamshire.

There they broke into the second carriage and restrained four postal workers while loading 121 mail and money sacks into a lorry waiting on the road beneath.

The gang, whose ringleader Bruce Reynolds told his team to cut telephone wires and railway signals, escaped in the truck within 30 minutes after beginning the robbery.

They headed to an abandoned farm 17 miles away, where they divided their loot, weighing 2.5 tons, into 15 shares of £150,000 for the gang members.

Two key informants also got an equal share and the remainder was split into smaller “drinks” for other criminal associates.

[On this day: 'Great Train Robbers' sentenced to more than 300 years]

Their 48-hour hideout – along with their truck and some fingerprints - was discovered five days later by police following a tip-off by a neiherdsman.

A year later British Pathé newsreel filmed John Maris with his cows after he was given a £10,000 reward for the information that ultimately led to 12 convictions.

Reynolds managed to evade capture until 1969 – but eventually served a decade in jail – while most were caught around a year after the robbery.

Two in the gang of mostly Londoners escaped from prison.

Charlie Wilson escaped in August 1964 and was eventually re-arrested in Montreal, Canada in 1968 and later extradited.

But the most famous of all the Great Train Robbery fugitives was Biggs, who was sprung from Wandsworth Prison 11 months later.

[Great Train Robber Biggs defiant on 50th anniversary]

He remained on the run – first heading to Australia and then Brazil - until voluntarily returning to Britain in 2001.

While in Rio de Janeiro  he married a Brazilian citizen and had a son, which barred him from being extradited under the South American country’s law.

[On This Day: Ronnie Biggs escapes jail]

He goaded British police by making a living by hosting drinks receptions, giving newspaper interviews and even recording a song with punk band The Sex Pistols.

But, with his health worsening and following years of financial difficulty, Biggs returned to Britain and was ordered to serve the remaining 28 years of his sentence.

[Related: Britain's most infamous heists]

However, he was released on parole in 2009 after suffering a series of strokes.

He remained defiant right up to the end of his life.

He was photographed several times since his release, including giving the V-sign while at Reynold’s funeral last March.

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