The Not-so-Great Train Robbers

Jack Graham-Parker was convicted of indecent exposure at Edinburgh station on three days in March 1920. He was sentenced to 60 days imprisonment

Jack Graham-Parker was convicted of indecent exposure at Edinburgh station on three days in March 1920. He was sentenced to 60 days imprisonment

Here we are in the centenary of World War One. There have been many ceremonies, many articles on the price paid by those who fought in the trenches.

John Moir, a goods checker at Leith Walk Goods Yard, stole some tea and was fined £3 or 10 days imprisonment in April 1920

John Moir, a goods checker at Leith Walk Goods Yard, stole some tea and was fined £3 or 10 days imprisonment in April 1920

I recently read one on the assassination of Franz Ferdinand – the trigger that led to over four years carnage, and I’m sure I’ll be reading more as we hit the various milestones of terror that form the history of those years.

Private Roy Crooks, of the 2nd Battalion Australian Forces, stole a suitcase from Edinburgh Waverley station in January 1918 and was fined £7 or 30 days imprisonment

Private Roy Crooks, of the 2nd Battalion Australian Forces, stole a suitcase from Edinburgh Waverley station in January 1918 and was fined £7 or 30 days imprisonment

We think of those times and tend to get swallowed up by the epic nature of the events – the battles, the espionage, the life and death moments of individual soldiers, frightened and alone while breathing their last lungful of cordite-tainted air.

It’s all pretty dramatic stuff, but during and after those fateful  days, there were more mundane things happening, too…and some less than impressive foot soldiers of history.

John Yates, alias John Hewitt, Patrick Hines, John Miller and John Roy, was sentenced to six months imprisonment with hard labour in March 1921 for theft of a parcel of clothing

John Yates, alias John Hewitt, Patrick Hines, John Miller and John Roy, was sentenced to six months imprisonment with hard labour in March 1921 for theft of a parcel of clothing

I came across these images quite a while ago. They are mugshots, published courtesy of the British Transport Police’s History Group, of crooks – caught stealing luggage mostly – at train stations in the early part of the 20th Century.

I never wrote about them at the time because I wasn’t sure what could be said. What I like about the images is the level of character that comes through on their faces. One of them (John Yates) I have even included in a new novel that I am writing.

Margaret McConnell, while employed at Edinburgh Waverley station, stole parcels from an office and was fined £5 or 30 days imprisonment

Margaret McConnell, while employed at Edinburgh Waverley station, stole parcels from an office and was fined £5 or 30 days imprisonment

Their crimes, committed, around and about 1920, are unimpressive – pathetic in the case of Jack Graham-Parker – but here’s the thing… it is people just like these who made the history of the Great War.

They were the soldiers and the nurses, the cogs in the wheel that made history turn. It was these people and many others who entered that hellish cauldron and managed to emerge years later, scraping together some semblance of a life in the aftermath of the horror.

I look at their faces now and try to imagine what they saw of the Great War and what scars they took with them when they finally left the front line.

Every picture tells a story… think of the ones you could write from a few forgotten mugshots.

Advertisements

About historywithatwist

I am an Associate Editor with a national newspaper. I have a keen interest in history and in writing. I have published one novel, Tan, and am currently working on a sequel
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to The Not-so-Great Train Robbers

  1. roberthorvat says:

    I am not sure about this, I heard stories about people who were suspected of crimes, either enlisted in the British army during WW1 or were forced to. Any truth to that ?

  2. I love looking at these old photos, especially those of criminals. The ones of children just tear me up though. I used to work in collaboration with BTP and they have a huge amount of crime of all kinds occurring on transport and in stations, much of it organised. They are highly efficient at dealing with it too. They used to tell me some amazing stories. I’ll have to look up this website.

  3. Yes, the children look old before their time in many of those images… Sounds like you had an interesting job, Denise

  4. John L. Monk says:

    Wow, this is absolutely cool. Great, great pictures, great little stories.
    I remember when I was in Malta and had a look through old police files going back to WWI. I remember log after log of “barklori” (boatmen who ferried people around) being fined for “voiding urine into the street.”

    By the way, regarding Franz Ferdinand — that “hardcore history” podcast I told you about tackles WWI, and he gives a gripping account of the whole thing. Highly recommended, even if you can only listen to that part (It’s at the beginning).

    • Thanks John, I’ve been meaning to listen to hardcore history – I’ve been deterred purely because of the time it takes to do so, but I’ll listen out for the bit about Franz Ferdinand

  5. John L. Monk says:

    I love how they’re dressed nicely too. Back when thugs and thieves wouldn’t dream of leaving home without a tie.

  6. John L. Monk says:

    Reblogged this on John L. Monk and commented:
    I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for thieves.

  7. Again, what an interesting post, David. It rings very true to me on many levels. One thing in particular: I am currently reviewing a book about the famous British Train Robbers for the Historical Novel Society and – not having grown up in the UK with the myth around them – I find myself amazed at the huge impact their action had on popular culture, law and politics.

    • That’s funny. I’ve haven’t read much about the train robbers. I only two of them – Buster Edwards and, of course, Ronnie Biggs. It’s ironic, from the little bit I have read, it seems Biggs had a very minor role in the robbery, yet he became the most celebrated. Was it Inspector Kipper who was on the case?

    • That sounds like an interesting book, Christoph. My research into local (Buckinghamshire) highwaymen, who were mainly Royalists impoverished by Cromwell, suggests that these ‘gentlemen of the road’ declined in late 19th century because of (a) the establishment of the Bow Street Runners and (from 1829) the first police forces, and (b) the move to rail travel for the wealthy and their goods. The new generation of English highwaymen, like their colonial counterparts the Australian ‘bushrangers’ and the American ‘road agents’, turned their attention from robbing stagecoaches to robbing trains. Here in Bucks, of course, we had The Great Train Robbery’ of 1963, which netted (at today’s values) £40 million for its bungling train robbers.

  8. The name Kipper has not come up yet, but some of the detectives in the book I am reading are fictional. But there is your point: Fifty years on and you know the names!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s