Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Big One: Ronald Biggs and the Great Train Robbery

Timed to Perfection

The following day passed quietly enough.  The only exception was an unannounced visit from Mr. Wyatt, a neighbor wanting to make arrangements with the new owner for the use of a nearby field.  Bruce Reynolds managed to fend off the enquiry with a promise to advise the owners of the request.

In the late afternoon the gang reviewed the plan once more and, pending the word, prepared to leave at midnight.  The intention was to masquerade as an army unit on night maneuvers, hence the army vehicles.  To assist in the ruse, Jimmy White distributed army uniforms and also produced fake official papers in case they were challenged.

At 10 p.m. Goody left the farm to call the Ulsterman and returned with the news theyd been waiting for.  Not only was the money on its way, it was an unusually big load.

Several minutes after midnight on Thursday, August 8, the vehicles were loaded and the convoy headed for Leighton Buzzard.  Biggs, whose principle job was to look after Peter the train driver, traveled in the lead Land-Rover with his charge along with Reynolds, Daly and Cordrey.  Mr. Two drove.  The truck, driven by Mr. One, carried most of the others with the exception of Gordon Goody, Roy James and Jimmy White who followed in the second Land-Rover.  Keeping their speed to a respectable level they arrived at their destination less than an hour later.

After arriving at the distant signal, they dropped off John Daly and Roger Cordrey to take care of the signals and continued on to Bridego Bridge where they donned blue coveralls to mask their army uniforms.  Reynolds had added this precaution in case they were seen on or near the rail line.  He reasoned that, if spotted, they would be taken for rail workers doing routine track maintenance. 

The team split up and took up their pre-assigned posts.  Biggs and Peter climbed the rail embankment and walked towards Sears Crossing while tapes were unfurled across the track to indicate where the train was to be stopped for unloading.  Another gang member cut the phone lines at the emergency call box beside the tracks and, to ensure the alarm wasnt raised prematurely, cut the overhead phone lines that serviced the district.

Reynolds drove to his post further up the track where he could see the approaching train and give word of its approach to the others via portable radios.  With the team in place they sat down to wait. 

Within the next two hours several trains came and went until finally, just after 3 a.m., Reynolds gave the word and the false signals were activated.  Three minutes later the Glasgow to London mail train slowed and pulled up right next to where the men lay waiting in the darkness.

Train halted by tampered signals
Train halted by tampered signals

According to Biggs in Odd Man Out, Dave Whitby, the trains fireman, was the first person out of the cabin.  As regulations decreed, he made his way to the emergency call box to phone ahead and seek further instructions.  Finding the phone unusable he turned back to the train and saw a man (Buster Edwards) in coveralls standing beside the tracks.  Assuming he was a line worker and had some clue as to the reason for the stoppage, Whitby walked towards him but was stopped by two other burly men wearing balaclavas who appeared out of the darkness and pushed him down the embankment where he was handcuffed and told not to make a sound.

Mr. Three, the biggest member of the gang, entered the cabin and was confronted by an angry Jack Mills, the driver, who resented the intrusion and tried to resist.  He was quickly overpowered and, according to the Biggs account, hit only once on the head sustaining his worst injury as he fell against the side of the cabin.  Bleeding profusely from a deep gash he was then dragged to the rear of the cabin and replaced by Peter. 

A team led by Roy James uncoupled the rest of the train and Peter was given the word to move the diesel and the remaining mail cars forward to the marked section of track.  When the train failed to move, Goody became anxious and demanded to know what the delay was.  Peter was trying to explain that the train was low on brake pressure and couldnt be moved, when he was unceremoniously dragged off the train and replaced by a still groggy Jack Mills.

Under threat of further injury, Mills released the vacuum brake that Peter had overlooked and soon had the train underway and moving slowly towards Bridego Bridge.  On reaching the pre-arranged spot, the train was stopped and Biggs was ordered to take the disgraced Peter back to the Land-Rover and wait, thus ending his own involvement in the actual robbery.

Train window broken during theft
Train window broken during theft

Alerted by the sound of the train being uncoupled, the postal workers in the High Value coach knew something was wrong but before they could react a team led by Gordon Goody smashed their way into the coach and overpowered them.  Within minutes they were bound, gagged and left lying face-down on the floor of the coach as the unloading began.

A human chain was formed leading from the carriage down the embankment to the truck and the bulky mailbags were offloaded quickly and quietly until a member of the transport crew informed Reynolds that the vehicles were full.  With seven bags remaining in the coach and dawn fast approaching, Reynolds gave the word to move out.  The whole operation, from the time the train was stopped until they made their getaway had taken just 40 minutes.

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