The Robbery

On Tuesday, 6 August 1963, the eve of the day scheduled for the robbery, Biggs, and Peter travelled by train from Redhill to meet Reynolds for breakfast at a café in Wilton Road, next to Victoria Station. Also at the Victoria Station breakfast were John Daly, Jimmy White and Mr Two.

The group travelled from Victoria Station in one of the Land Rovers and arrived at Leatherslade Farm mid-morning. Leatherslade Farm is located 300 yards off the B4001, the Thame Road, close to the villages of Brill and Oakley, between Bicester and Thame.

Biggs prepared lunch while White fixed the generator. More of the gang turned up in the afternoon in the Austin truck. The group included Tommy Wisbey, Jim Hussey, Bob Welch, Buster Edwards, Mr One and Mr Three.

Welch got the truck to stop en route to stock up on pipkins of ale. Fingerprints on the pipkin would lead to Welch’s conviction, and is the only item of evidence from the Great Train Robbery held in Scotland Yard’s own crime museum.

Charlie Wilson and Roy James arrived later in the afternoon in the second Land Rover, while Cordrey arrived on foot carrying a large suitcase.

To pass the time some gang members played Monopoly. Wilson winning most of the time. Early evening Gordon Goody went to the house of Brian and Karin Field in Pangbourne to wait for go-ahead from the Ulsterman. Goody and Field were told by their contact to postpone the robbery for 24 hours. At 11 pm Goody arrived back at Leatherslade Farm to pass on the news.

Overnight Biggs’ brother, Jack, had died. Charmian, Biggs’ wife, had called the Surrey Police and asked them to look for Biggs who she genuinely believed was tree felling in Wiltshire. The call was logged, destroying Biggs’ alibi.

On the morning of Wednesday, 7 August, Mr Wyatt, a neighbouring farmer, called at Leatherslade Farm to meet the “new” owner. Reynolds met him and told him they were just the decorators, but said he would pass the message on to the new owners.

At 6.50 pm the Night Flyer, Up Postal, consisting of an engine and five coaches left Glasgow for London. It arrived at Carstairs at 7.32 pm where four coaches that had left Aberdeen at 3.30 pm were added to the train. It departed at 7.45 pm. The engine and nine coaches arrived at Carlisle at 8.54 pm where three further coaches were added. It departed at 9.04 pm. The train stops at Preston from 10.53 to 11.03 pm; and at Warrington from 11.36 to 11.43 pm.

Mid-evening, Gordon Goody slipped out of Leatherslade Farm to find a local phone box and called Brian Field, who confirmed that the job was on.

Midnight came and went. It was now Thursday, 8 August 1963. It was also Ronald Biggs’ 34th birthday.

The Night Flyer, Up Postal arrived at Crewe Station at 12.12 am and left at 12.30 am with Jack Mills and David Whitby now in charge. Just before 1 am the Gang left Leatherslade Farm dressed as an army detail on night manoeuvres.

Sorters Joseph Ware and John O’Connor joined the Night Flyer at Tamworth at 1.23 am and settled into the High Value Package (HVP) carriage.

At around 2 am the gang arrived at Bridego Bridge (Bridge 127). Bridge 127 takes the rail track over a quiet country road west of the B488, two miles north of Cheddington Station. At Bridego Bridge the gang swapped their army uniforms for overalls to appear as track workers if spotted by a passing train. Markers were placed at Bridego Bridge to show Peter where to stop the train, while Roy James, John Daly and Bruce Reynolds cut the local telephone wires.

At the track, as they waited for the arrival of the Night Flyer, Bruce Reynolds acted as the look out for the train and was located 800 yards south of Leighton Buzzard Station. John Daly was at the Dwarf signal, so called as it is a signal placed at a lower elevation than the others and acts as a first warning for a train to stop. Buster Edwards, Roger Cordrey, Jimmy White, Roy James, Bob Welch, Mr One, and Mr Three were to the east of track at Sears Crossing, 1,300 yards south of the Dwarf signal. It was at Sears Crossing that the train would come to a full stop. Gordon Goody, Charlie Wilson, Tommy Wisbey, Jimmy Hussey, Mr Two, Peter and Biggs were to the west of track at Sears Crossing.

The train arrived at Rugby at 2.12 am and departed at 2.17 am, passing Bletchley at 2.53 am. At 3 am Reynolds warned the gang that the train was arriving having passed through Leighton Buzzard. His warning was simple and to the point: “This is it! This is it! This is it!”

The Night Flyer, Up Postal, was stopped at Sears Crossing at 3.03 am, 38 miles north of London’s Euston Station, its final destination. Fireman David Whitby left the cab to look for a trackside phone to check why the train had been stopped. He saw Edwards, who he thought was a trackside worker. Whitby was grabbed by other members of the gang and unceremoniously bundled down the embankment. James and White started to uncouple the train where more than 70 sorters were working on sorting the mail. Five sorters were also working in the HVP coach. The gang could hear the buzz of the sorters’ conversation from inside the train.

Edwards and Goody tried to enter the main cab. Driver Mills kicked out at Edwards as he was coming up the ladder. Goody, who had entered the cab unopposed from the other side, grabbed Mills and turned him around to hand him to Mr Three who had followed Goody into the cab. He coshed Mills once, for no reason. Mills fell sideways to his knees, striking the back of his head against the cab wall and in the process cutting his head. Wilson entered the cab and helped Mills to stop the bleeding with his handkerchief. The gang were now in charge of the engine and called Biggs to bring Peter to the cab.

An express train, passing on the inside track, nearly hit James and White. The Chief Sorter recollected later that he had heard the noise of the uncoupling and the passing train. Although such stops are a frequent occurrence, he thought he should let the driver know. Being in a sealed carriage he made use of the only means he had of getting in touch with the driver, and pulled the communication cord in the cab that would apply the vacuum brakes, freezing the heavy locomotive to the tracks.

The engine and HVP carriage were now detached from the rest of the train and could be moved south to Bridego Bridge. The time was 3.14 am.

With Peter in the driver’s seat, Goody gave the order to move the train forward. Peter did not react, as he knew he needed the pressure to build so he could release the breaks. Goody pulled Peter from the seat and put Mills in his place. Mills rectified the vacuum brake valve and pumped air out of the system to lift the brakes. The diesel lurched into life and began to roll slowly forward leaving the rest of the train stranded behind.

Roy James riding on outside of train saw the marker at Bridego Bridge first and instructed Goody to stop. Reynolds and Daly were already waiting for them.

As the train stopped at Bridego Bridge the assault started on the HVP coach. Biggs was told to take Peter out of harms way and sit in Land Rover from where they could watch the rest of the robbery unfold.

The assault team was lead by Charlie Wilson and included Hussey, Goody, Welch, Edwards, Wisbey, Mr One and Mr Three. In less than a minute the door was open and the bags started to emerge.

The chain of men moved 120 bags containing 636 packages from the HVP carriage to the lorry. At the end of chain were Hussey and Welch who packed the lorry.

40 minutes after stopping the train at Sears Crossing, and 24 minutes since stopping at Bridego Bridge, Reynolds signalled that the robbery was over. With dawn breaking, eight bags were left behind and Mills and Whitby were moved to the HVP coach with the five HVP sorters. Wilson asked Mills and Whitby if they wanted any money, but they both declined. Wilson then told the group not to move for 30 minutes “or else”.

Wilson and Reynolds did a final check that nobody was left behind as the gang removed their overalls to return to military uniforms. They made a slow return to Leatherslade Farm as the truck and Land Rovers were now heavily loaded.

The gang remember singing along to Tony Bennett “The Good Life” on the radio as night turned to day. At around 4.40 am the convoy turned off the main road on to the trail up to Leatherslade Farm. The gang heard on the local police radio that: “A Train has been stolen”.

New Scotland Yard received a call at 4.24 am from Euston that Cheddington Signal Box was requesting the attendance of police and an ambulance. The first police arrived at the scene of what would be known as the Great Train Robbery at 4.35 am. Malcolm Fewtrell, Head of Bucks C.I.D. arrived at the train at 5 am.

The truck backed up close to the farmhouse door and the mailbags were moved into farm. It took Reynolds, Biggs and Mr Two three hours to unpack the money. The empty mailbags were thrown in the cellar. Goody checked the bags and money for homing devises, and Cordrey and Wilson acted as the accountants. The truck was hidden in a lean-to-shed on the farm, squashing a can of yellow paint in the process.

Another Monopoly game got underway for those not working on the count. Other gang members grabbed some much-needed sleep. Some of the Gang had been awake for nearly 36-hours.

The final tally from the robbery was £2,631,784 of which only £343,448 was ever recovered. The take of the Great Train Robbery at 2011 sterling rates is over £44 million. The money was split into 16 equal “whacks” of £147,000 (approximately £2.5million in 2011 rates). That was 15 “whacks” for the 15 robbers at the track and one “whack” for the Ulsterman. £40,000 went to Peter and £100,000 was split between Brian Field, John Wheater and Leonard Field.

By noon the police reported on BBC Radio that army vehicles had been used and they believed the hideout was “30-miles or a 30 minute drive” from Bridego Bridge. Leatherslade Farm was 28 miles from the bridge by road and 17 miles as the crow flies. The first reports in Thursday’s evening papers suggested £100,000 had been stolen.

At Bridego Bridge the police collected what little evidence there was – a bloody cloth, the coupling. But clues were few and far between. No finger prints, no tyre marks. Fewtrell organised to transfer all the sorters to Cheddington Station where his team would take their statements. From Mills, Whitby’s and the five HVP sorters statements, Fewtrell estimated that there had been around 15 hooded men involved.

By lunchtime on Thursday it was clear that the Bucks police force did not have the necessary resources or man power to work the crime. Fewtrell advised his chief constable to call in Scotland Yard.

The gang made a joint decision that it would be better to abandon the farm rather than sit tight for two or three weeks as planned. Jimmy White started to paint the Austin truck yellow while Roger Cordrey cycled 20 miles into Oxford to get the newspapers and check the lay of the land. Cordrey called his children and then Billy Boal, who was to meet with him on the Saturday to help him transfer his money.

The gang members awoke early on Friday morning, 9 August. The “cleaners” got to work again straight after breakfast. Reynolds encouraged everyone to wipe the place down. “No dabs are to be left”.

Morning BBC Radio news reports quoted the police as saying that they were certain that the train robbers were still in the area. Bruce Reynolds and John Daly left the farm on foot to catch the bus or hitchhike to Tring and organise extra transportation. Mary Manson bought an Austin Healey in Chiswick for Reynolds to use, plus organised another Austin Healey and a van.

Roger Cordrey returned to the farm with the newspapers and a car. The decision was taken to “clean’ the farm and Edwards was given the job of calling in the “dustman” to take care of it, even to burn the farm to the ground. A collection was made to cover the costs. Gang members started to leave the farm. Cordrey, White, and Mr One leaving in Cordrey’s car. White returning later to pick up Mr Two.

As dusk fell Reynolds arrived back at the farm. His and Daly’s share were loaded and hidden in the van, which Manson would drive.

Biggs left Leatherslade Farm with Reynolds in the Austin Healey, while Daly took Peter and his share home. Reynolds stopped close to Heathrow Airport so that Biggs could call his wife to say he was on his way home. The farewell between Reynolds and Biggs took place at Biggs’ house in Redhill. They would next meet 29-years later in Rio de Janeiro.

Brian and Karin Field arrived at Leatherslade Farm to help Goody and Edwards. They returned to Field’s house along with Welch, Hussey, Wisbey and Mr Three.

Leatherslade Farm had now been abandoned. The Great Train Robbery was a fact.

Next: Robbery Aftermath