THE death of Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs has renewed memories of those who knew him as an evacuee in Delabole during the Second World War – and brought out more about links others in the gang had with North Cornwall.
Biggs arrived at Delabole railway station with other young evacuees from London in 1940 and went to live with Arthur Blake and his family at 14, Medrose Street, in the village.
He lived there and attended Delabole Primary School until the later years of the war, before returning to London.
However, enquiries have shown that he returned on a fleeting visit around 1948 and also made a more clandestine return to steal gelignite from the Old Delabole Slate Company's quarry shortly before the Great Train Robbery, in August, 1963.
Val Callaway remembers him sitting behind in the class at Delabole Primary. "He was a terror," said Mrs Callaway, 81. "There were lots of evacuees. Some came from London and some from Plymouth. Anyone who had a spare bed had to take one in, and some were put up at the Liberal Club and some at the Methodist Chapel. Ronnie Biggs used to sit behind me in school, and he never did any work. The headmaster, Mr Popplestone, had a cane and one day it was broken. We think Ronnie Biggs did it.
"He used to play down by the quarry and one day he threw a stone which hit another Delabole boy. He still has the scar to this day."
Biggs was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment for his part in the Great Train Robbery in which £2.65 million in cash was stolen – equivalent to £41 million in today's money – from a night mail train on August 8, 1963. He escaped 14 months into his sentence and was on the run for 35 years before giving himself up and returning from Brazil in 2001. Barbara Daly, whose husband John Daly was the only one of the gang to be found not guilty at the trial and subsequently moved to Launceston where he led an honest life, said she met Biggs' wife Charmian, at the trial and they became friendly. Charmian went to Australia on the run with her husband but, suspecting he would be caught there, he made his way to Brazil where he famously evaded extradition by becoming the father of a son with a young dancer.
Mrs Daly also spoke of another North Cornwall link with the robbery as she said that her husband had driven to Cornwall with two other men and hidden his £148,000 stash in the garden of a house at Boscastle. However, one of the men informed the police about Mr Daly and he was arrested at their flat in London a week later. When the case against him was dismissed by the judge and he walked from the court a free man, Mr Daly went back to Boscastle and found that the money was missing, believed to have been taken by the two who had claimed to be helping him.
Nearly £10,000 was found hidden in the house of one of the men after his death, but John Daly never got a penny.
He had been recruited as the gang leader Bruce Reynolds was his brother-in-law – but he never went after the men who had robbed him – he was content to have his freedom.