Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Gail Walker: Why Jack was the hero, not train robber Ronnie

Poor old Jack Mills. You spend your life as a decent working man, living through two world wars, raising a family, getting up every morning to do your job as best you can.

And it's not an easy job. Mid-20th century labour in Britain tended not to be, even the kind of skilled work Jack was trained to perform. But that was a different world. A different world indeed. Heroes were people who’d come back from the war.

It wasn't about skiving or throwing sickies — do that and people you worked with had to take up the slack and that wasn't right. Everyone had to pull their weight. The Second World War had driven home a message — stick together and we'd all pull through.

You might expect that nearing your 60s in the swinging Sixties, it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect a bit of roughness to look forward to, a little of what Harold Macmillan referred to when he said the British had “never had it so good”.

It proved a very unreasonable aspiration for Jack Mills, though, being only a decent working man. Who had the misfortune to get up out of his bed one morning in August 1963, on what was to be his last day of work, to take over as driver of the Glasgow-Watford train. Bludgeoned with an iron bar, he’d violent headaches for what was left of his life. He never worked again. He died in 1970.

I've never seen a photo of Jack Mills as a young man; as a brutalised 57-year-old or even as the 65-year-old he was when he died.

But I know he won't ever have cut the dash Ronnie Biggs did during his life, up to and including the grinning loon leering out of papers at the weekend, keen to get one over on ‘them' again by living until Christmas, a famous 80-year-old surrounded by his family. But I know Jack Mills was a nice man.

And I know the |robber gained so much while Jack, really, lost everything.

Some day, in a different world, we'll raise a statue to Jack Mills; and to those who, like him, became the incidental casualties of violent, greedy men.

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