Railway hero honoured 44 years after tackling robbers

Elspeth Watson, daughter of James Kennedy, with his medals. Photograph: John Devlin
Elspeth Watson, daughter of James Kennedy, with his medals. Photograph: John Devlin
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A memorial for a railway security guard awarded Britain’s highest civil honour after being shot dead trying to stop a payroll robbery will be unveiled in Glasgow this month.

The ceremony will take place on the 44th anniversary of James Kennedy’s murder at rail works in Springburn as he sought to prevent the gang escaping with nearly £10,000.

James Kennedy, who was posthumously awarded the George Cross.

James Kennedy, who was posthumously awarded the George Cross.

Kennedy, who was posthumously awarded the George Cross, had run towards the getaway van, after recovering consciousness having been beaten over the head with shotgun barrels.

He was then shot by one of the robbers, two of whom were jailed for 25 years after what was then Scotland’s longest murder trial.

Kennedy was also awarded the Glasgow Corporation Medal for Bravery.

A plaque at the former British Rail Engineering yard – now Knorr-Bremse Rail Systems – will help restore the memory of the heroic guard after a street named after him in nearby Townhead was demolished and a locomotive named in his honour was sold to Hungary.

Kennedy, 43, who had been on duty at the works’ main gate, tackled the first gang member and prevented him from leaving, but then suffered head injuries from being beaten by his accomplices.

The London Gazette reported: “Mr Kennedy recovered consciousness and, undeterred by his injuries, made another attempt to prevent the criminals’ escape by running towards the front passenger door of the van.

“He was killed by two shots fired from the front passenger seat. Mr Kennedy displayed exceptional gallantry and devotion to duty in circumstances of extreme danger.”

Andy Savage, executive director of the Railway Heritage Trust, which commissioned the plaque, said: “A memorial seemed to us appropriate because he is the only one of the seven railway workers to hold the George Cross not to be commemorated.”

Elspeth Watson, 50, one of Kennedy’s three daughters, who are all due to attend the 21 December ceremony, said: “This is a chance for us to commemorate dad and celebrate his life and bravery.

“I knew he had been a hero but had not known how bad the incident had been until I was in my 30s – it was something out of the Wild West. Others had acid thrown in their faces.”