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Armed Raid on Billesley Branch
 
Miscellaneous
 
The Queen has been graciously pleased to give orders for the undermentioned awards of the George Medal, and for the publication in the London Gazette of the names of those specially shown below as having received an expression of Commendation for their brave conduct.
 
John Leslie Edward EDWARDS, Manager, Birmingham Municipal Bank, Birmingham
 
A junior clerk at a bank was about to lock the doors at closing time when they were pushed open and he was confronted by a masked man who held a revolver in his hand. Behind him was another man similarly masked, also carrying a revolver, who demanded money. Mr Edwards heard the conversation, came forward, and when he saw two men wearing masks and carrying guns, immediately grappled with one of them. The second gunman struck Mr Edwards on the back of the head with the butt of his revolver, but Mr Edwards continued to struggle until he broke away and went behind the counter to protect the money. He held the swing door but the two criminals made a determined attack repeatedly striking him on the right arm with the butt of one of the revolvers until he was compelled to relinquish his grip on the door. At that moment the gun was discharged but Mr Edwards was unharmed and picking up a round ruler he struck at one of the men. At that stage both men decided to abandon the attempt to get the money. As they ran through the door Mr Edwards threw a pair of scales at them. He then followed them out of the bank and saw them leave in a motor car. Mr Edwards was later taken to hospital where he was treated for an abrasion on the right wrist and a deep laceration of the scalp which required two stitches. The men were subsequently traced and arrested.
 
The above is a copy of an entry in the Supplement to The London Gazette of Friday, April 21st 1961; it briefly describes the dramatic events of Wednesday, November 9th 1960 at close of business at Billesley branch. In addition to John Edwards, the other members of staff on that day were Margaret Lamin (cashier) and Roger Bunten (junior).

In fact, two shots were fired during the struggle, but fortunately both missed any member of staff. As the two men fled empty-handed, John Edwards followed them out of the bank and saw them drive away in a cream-coloured car. During the raid, Margaret Lamin acted with great presence of mind and locked herself in the mess room so as to be able to telephone the police. She also saw the cream-coloured Ford Consul, and noted its registration number, but this proved to be a false number plate. Responding to her emergency call, the police arrived quickly, but the two raiders had fled the scene.

Immediately after the traumatic raid, all three staff were sent home on 'sick' leave and their places were taken by Cecil Selwyn (Inspector/acting manager); Norman Worwood (itinerant cashier); and Michael Bourke (junior). Norman Worwood was told not to discuss any aspect of the raid with the curious customers, nor even show them the gunshot holes, in case it should prejudice any forthcoming trial.

The police examination of the branch resulted in the recovery of the two bullets: one was in the ceiling above a window, and the other was in a cash drawer - having passed through the woodwork. No fingerprints were found.

Following up on John Edwards' impression that the men had been drinking, the police visited pubs in the area. The licensee of the Three Horseshoes in Alcester Road South recalled two strangers, fitting the descriptions given by the bank staff, who had left the premises at 2:40pm. They were seen to drive away from the pub in a cream-coloured Consul, and to change into the raincoats and flat caps that were worn in the raid. The publican thought they were Americans.

However, this useful information was soon supplemented by a significant lead resulting from a phone call to the police. A Mr Baker, having seen details of the raid on television that evening, realised he had seen the Consul driving recklessly in the relevant area, at the relevant time. He had been a passenger in a van delivering a vacuum cleaner, and with the intention of reporting the driver for dangerous driving, had written the registration number on the cleaner's carton. But he had allowed the matter to lapse, until he saw the news item on television.

The vacuum cleaner had been delivered to an address in Edgbaston, and the police were relieved to find that not only had the carton not been disposed of, but it was found to bear a genuine registration mark. This was then traced to a car hire garage in Manchester, where the proprietor was able to produce the details of two Canadian driving licences presented when the Consul was hired on October 28th. With these details, the identities of the two men were established, and in fact, they were known to the Birmingham Police, having committed the offence of obtaining goods by false pretences at a shop in Selly Oak in 1957.

Police Forces throughout the country were put on alert, and the Manchester Police put the hire car garage under surveillance. On Friday, November 11th, the Consul was returned and the driver was arrested - and so was another man who was waiting for him in another car. Although at first denying that they were the offenders, a notebook in their possession contained a rough plan of Billesley branch. In addition a railway left-luggage ticket in their ownership enabled a suitcase to be recovered from a station in Wigan. This suitcase contained newspaper accounts of the raid, passports, face masks, a cosh, rubber gloves, a roll of adhesive tape, and two revolvers plus ammunition. The offence was then admitted, but it was claimed that the gun had gone off accidentally in the struggle.

Further enquiries by the police established that the two men had used the revolvers to steal 610 from a Barclays' branch in Middlesex on October 19th. It was also established that one of them had changed a 1 note at Billesley branch on the day prior to the raid, in order to survey the premises. They had stayed at the Grand Hotel in Colmore Row, for two nights commencing November 8th. Both men made written confessions, so that within two days the police's investigation was almost complete. At Birmingham Assizes, on Thursday December 8th 1960, the two men pleaded guilty to Assault with Intent to Rob at Billesley branch and Robbery with Violence at Barclays. They were sentenced to fifteen years' imprisonment, the toughest ever passed at Birmingham Assizes in living memory, for any crime except murder.

At the end of the trial, the judge personally congratulated John Edwards for his wonderful performance, and asked that his admiration for Margaret Lamin's behaviour be conveyed to her.

On Monday, February 20th 1961, John Edwards, Margaret Lamin, and Roger Bunten were presented with awards by the Bank's Chairman (Councillor Seymour Brown) at Head Office. Also present were the General Manager (Mr H J Sutherland) and two members of staff of Duddeston branch (Norman Barnsley and Bernard Edmond) which had been raided in July 1960. Mr Baker received a silver cigarette case from the police, and a monetary reward from Barclays Bank.

In April 1961, John Edwards received letters from the Home Office and the Prime Minister's Office informing him that he had been awarded the George Medal; on Thursday, July 13th, he received the medal from the Queen at Buckingham Palace. The George Medal is the second highest award that can be made to civilians for an act of bravery - a fitting recognition of John Edwards' courageous actions at Billesley branch on November 9th 1960.

The Bank's somewhat inadequate response to this event, was to fit button switches below branch counters, which sounded a buzzer in the staff mess room. It would be some years before security screens and alarm systems were installed.
John Edwards' bravery featured in a series called
Only the Brave, in the Eagle ('the top paper for boys') dated August 25th 1962, which included this image.
John Edwards wearing his George Medal                                                Margaret Lamin with ledger at Billesley branch