GREAT Train Robbery mastermind tried to rob a Swindon Railway Works
GREAT Train Robbery mastermind Bruce Reynolds tried to rob a Swindon Railway Works wages train the year before his notorious £2.6m heist.
Reynolds, who died at 81 on Thursday, will forever be remembered as the instigator and planner of one of the most notorious crimes in British history.
In the early hours of Thursday, August 8, 1963, the Glasgow to London mail train was tricked into stopping by a signal that had been tampered with.
Reynolds’ gang swarmed the train, brutalised the two-man crew in the cab and got away with the equivalent of about £40m in modern currency.
What few people realise is that it wasn’t the first train Reynolds had robbed.
According to fellow Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs, there were two earlier plans for train robberies in 1962.
The first involved a train carrying money from Midlands betting shops for banking in London, but was abandoned when it was discovered that the funds were mainly cheques.
“The second target was the Irish Mail Train, the Bristol Express that ran out of Paddington Station,” says Biggs’ website, www.ronniebiggs.com.
“The train, Buster Edwards had discovered, often carried the wages for the railway workers at Swindon. It was also a passenger train so the gang could be on the train to stop it.
“A first trial run went exactly to plan, but the actual train robbery was pure Keystone Cops. It was something of a disaster with the gang getting away with less than £700.”
The Adver splashed the story of the Great Train Robbery across its front page under the headline: “GANG OF 20 IN £1M MAIL RAID.”
Initial official estimates of the haul were highly inaccurate. We told our readers: “An armed gang of between 20 and 30 masked men tricked the Glasgow-London mail into stopping by ‘fixing’ a signal, swarmed on board, attacked and handcuffed the crew and then forced them to take the first two coaches on to a bridge over a lonely road.
“There they threw down more than 100 registered mail bags into a waiting lorry and calmly escaped.”
Most of the gang were captured and given exemplary 30-year sentences. Reynolds’ downfall was famously a fingerprint on a sauce bottle in their hideout.
Biggs became the most famous of the robbers, escaping from prison early in his sentence and spending more than 30 years on the run before returning to Britain in 2001 and serving eight years. He was released on compassionate grounds.