This Day in History: The Great Train Robbers escape in England (1963)

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On this day in 1963, the gang of robbers, who staged in the Great Train Robbery in England escaped. It was one of the most famous robberies of all time. The gang escaped the law in land rovers. These vehicles were the British version of the jeep.  They allowed the robbers to make a quick getaway.

The mastermind of this daring heist was Bruce Reynolds, a bank robber. He was inspired to rob a train by watching old cowboy movies. Reynolds and 14 other criminals wearing masks halted tthe Royal Mail train that was traveling between London and Glasgow. They used a red signal to stop the train and when it stopped they assaulted the driver to gain control of the train.

Inspired by the railroad heists of the Wild West in America, Reynolds and 14 other men wearing ski masks and helmets held up the Royal Mail train heading between Glasgow, Scotland, and London, England. They used a false red signal to get the train to stop, then hit the driver with an iron bar, seriously injuring him, in order to gain control of the train. The train driver was seriously injured and he never recovered his health. The thieves stole 120 mailbags in today’s money seven million in used bank notes into their Land Rovers. The land rovers had all been stolen in central London and had false number plates. The two land rovers that were used in the heist were later found and they provided the authorities with evidence.

The gang then drove to their hideout in Buckinghamshire. Here they divided up their ill-gotten gains.  The robbery caused a sensation in England and it was seen as ushering in a new era in crime in the country.

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Train crossing where the train was robbed in 1963

The train robbers came to be seen as folk heroes by the public for large scale of their crime and their flight from justice. Twelve of the robbers were soon captured and given long sentences in the courts. It took many years to capture the gang members and many fled the country with their new found wealth.

For example, one of them, a small-time criminal named Ronnie Biggs, escaped from prison after a year in jail and underwent plastic surgery to disguise himself. He fled the country and eluded capture for years, finally giving himself up in 2001 when he returned from Brazil voluntarily to serve the 28 years remaining of his sentence. He had lived in Brazil for many years. This country refused to extradite him because he had a Brazillian born son.

Many movies and tv series have been made about the Great Train Robbers.

 

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