Just after 3am on August 8th 1963, a 12 carriage Post Office train stopped at a red light in the village of Ledburn, near Leighton Buzzard, Buckinghamshire.
Twenty minutes later, a van, two Land-Rovers and a gang of fifteen robbers fled the scene with £2.6 million in cash. In today's money that would be worth about £53 million.
No firearms were used in the haul, but the train driver, Jack Mills was hit over the head with a metal bar. He never fully recovered from his injuries and the incident led to the end of his career.
At 6.50pm the previous evening, the 'travelling post office' train left Glasgow Central, heading to London Euston via the West Coast main line. 72 Post Office staff worked throughout the night on the train, sorting mail in readiness for unloading at station postage hooks and in London the next morning. The station hooks and bags allowed the train to drop off sorted mail and pick up postbags without actually stopping the train.
Months before the raid a Post Office worker from Salford, tipped off a South London criminal gang using a solicitor's clerk as an intermediary. The Salford worker had detailed knowledge of the sums of money transferred on the front carriage of the train, known as the high value packages carriage (HVP carriage). Ordinarily, these carriages carried in the region of £300,000, but as the previous weekend had been a Bank Holiday, the carriage on the day of the robbery was carrying between £2.5 and £3 million.
To add spice to the story, by chance, the HVP carriage that day was an old style back-up carriage. It had no bars, specialised locks or particular security features on it making entry for the gang easy.
The robbers brought the train to a standstill by attaching a battery to a signal to turn the red signal light on, they boarded the driver's carriage clubbing Mills, rendering him semi-conscious. They had brought a retired train driver with them to shuttle the engine to a bridge half a mile up the line, but he couldn't drive this particular model, so Mills was forced to.
The gang made a human chain and moved the bags into their lorry, which they then took to a farmhouse about 40 minutes away that they had bought as a hideaway.
The police eventually came to the crime scene and one of the victims said that they had been told not to raise the alarm for at least 30 minutes. The police guessed that this meant that the gang would have gone to ground at a distance of about 30 minutes driving. They were right.
The robbers left the farmhouse the following day rather than the original four day plan, and the police found the empty farmhouse, with the abandoned vehicles, wiped free of fingerprints, and a Monopoly board game left in the house.
Famously, the gang had played the game while they were hiding, using real money instead of Monopoly money.
Eventually most of the gang were caught and jailed, but most of the money was never recovered. Some escaped from prison, and flew to South America, most notably Ronnie Biggs and Buster Edwards. The 1988 film Buster, starring Phil Collins can be bought on DVD here.
The robbery changed the lives of many, but today i wanted to give a respectful nod to Jack Mills, a working man, just doing his job.
Thanks for reading.