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Sep 10, 2007 Meeting: The Great Train Robbery & Hudson

7.30pm St. James Anglican Church, 642 Main Road, Hudson


On August 8, 1963 Hudson and area residents picked up the latest edition of the local paper, the Lake of Two Mountains Gazette. Hudson High School graduation results grabbed the headlines, followed by the announcement that Miss R. Mathews was appointed parish assistant to the Parish of Vaudreuil. As a follow-up to the July 18 editorial “Dangerous Weapon,” the paper noted that the weapon, metal fences newly installed around the local post offices, had struck again. A youngster had received a bad gash requiring stitches and another resident had had his slacks ripped. Postmaster L.J. Mullan taped the dangerous edges, and Hudson Heights manager Art Grubert promised he would personally check and re-tape the offending posts until the federal Department of Public Works solved the problem.

Later that day television brought news about the Great Train Robbery in England. Thieves had robbed the Royal Mail Glasgow to London post office train of £2.6 million. Wikipedia estimates that their haul was equivalent to over $80 million today.

In the weeks to come Hudson residents and the rest of the world followed the story of an intricately planned heist by a 15-member gang, their sloppy taking to cover, and the quick capture of 13. Within two weeks Charlie Wilson, one of the ringleaders, was captured. Soon 13 of the 15 found themselves behind bars. Within months after his trial and conviction Wilson escaped and disappeared. The BBC reported that “Wilson is described as one of the masterminds behind the robbery… most of the money has never been recovered, and Wilson is believed to be the robber who knows where the missing money stolen in the raid is hidden.”

Several months later Ronnie Biggs also flew the coop, fleeing first to France, then Australia and eventually to Brazil, where he lived notoriously for decades. He has become the most well-known of the Great Train Robbers. Now very ill, he was transferred from a maximum to a minimum security prison only on July 4 of this year. But Hudson area residents have good reason to remember Charlie Wilson, for he and his family lived for three years in our midst.

On February 1, 1968 the Lake of Two Mountains Gazette headlines shouted, ALLOWAY ARREST STUNS AREA. Ronald Alloway, his wife and three daughters had lived for several months in a house near St. James Church in Hudson before moving to the Mountain Ranches development in Rigaud. The bearded Alloway and his pretty wife Pat were well-known and liked in the community. The Gazette recalled that before moving to Mountain Ranches they invited all the girls in their daughter Tracey’s grade three class to a birthday party at their home.

But their tranquil country lives fell apart when “Ron” invited a cousin over for a visit. Scotland Yard, aided by the RCMP, followed close behind. Ronald Alloway was in fact the notorious train robber Charlie Wilson.

The Gazette noted the “emotional reaction among Hudson residents which is hard to explain. Surprise, admiration, pride and sympathy have raced through us….We are perhaps inclined to believe that they couldn’t have played ‘model parents’ and ‘good citizens’ if they really weren’t so. Yet Ronald Alloway is a criminal.”

Indeed. In 2004 Killing Charlie: The Bloody, Bullet-Riddled Hunt for the Most Powerful Great Train Robber was published. Wilson was described as “the most powerful villain to emerge from Britain's crime of the twentieth century: the Great Train Robbery. Wilson's life story is one of greed, corruption and an eventual descent into a living hell as his rivals decide to wipe him off the face of the earth - with the tacit approval of Spanish, British and US drug enforcement agencies. Although he first made his name in the underworld following the Great Train Robbery, it was as a drug emperor of unquenchable savagery that Wilson came to be regarded as an all-powerful criminal capable of cold-blooded brutality that spelt the end for many of those who crossed him.”

On Monday, September 10 the Hudson Historical Society invites everyone recalling or curious about the story of the Alloway/Wilson family to attend our first meeting of the season. Betty Whiting and many others will share their memories of “Ron,” Pat and their daughters, and what happened after the father’s arrest. The story of the Great Train Robbery and its link with a town where tearing one’s pants made the news has many twists and turns. Everyone attending will learn something new, and enjoy recalling an idyllic time jolted by the outside world.

Time/Place: Monday, September 10 at 7:30 p.m.
Location: St. James Church Hall, 642 Main Road, Hudson
A $5 drop-in fee is requested of non-members.


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