Ronnie Biggs' criminal career started in Melksham
The criminal career of Ronnie Biggs, that most notorious of the Great Train Robbers, was first recorded in Melksham, according to a new book by a friend.
Biggs, who died today, aged 84, was part of the gang that stole £2.6 million from a mail train in 1963.
He became infamous after escaping from prison and fleeing to Brazil.
However, according to Kent author Mike Gray, 54, who knew Biggs for 30 years, his first real brush with jail came in 1948, when he was stationed as a private at RAF Melksham, Bowerhill.
Mr Gray said: “He was in Melksham for less than a year and that’s where he received a warning for thieving from the offices and food stores.
“Even then, he was a chancer and would take whatever was available.
“The military in those days didn’t have many prisons, so he was dishonourably discharged and sent to prison in Salisbury.”
Biggs’s Wiltshire connections do not stop there.
He told his wife, Charmain, that he was in the county when he had really been committing the train robbery in Buckinghamshire.
Mr Gray said: “He told his wife he was going tree-felling in Wiltshire, to earn some money, before he went off for four days.
“During that time, his brother, who he was very close with, died, and his wife had no contact details for him in the county.
“She spent all night phoning Wiltshire Police, asking if they had contacted her husband, and they said they had no record of any tree-felling.
“That’s one of the things that undid him at the trial, as they has no records of him anywhere in the county.
“It wasn’t mentioned in a lot of the court reports at the time, so not a lot of people know about it.”
Mr Gray has written four books about Ronnie Biggs and visited him regularly in prison after the robber returned to the UK in 2001.
He said: “He’d been done for stealing a few cars, but was never violent; he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and, before he knew it, he was in too deep.
“I met him when he came back to England and for eight years I visited him in prison every single month, which is why I’ve bought the book out.
“He was very genuine and glad of the friendship from people like me, who stuck by him. I was very sad when I heard the news, though I knew it was coming as he was very ill for a long time.”
Mr Gray’s latest book, The Great Train Robbery Quiz Book, will be released on New Year’s Day.