“WHEN I arrived, there was still a layer of gun smoke in the room, just like you see in the old cowboy pictures,” says Charles Robinson as he relives the Great Darlington Bank Robbery.

“The bank clerk was on the floor, flat out, white as a sheet, and I saw another body in the corner with a man holding it in a half-nelson.

“It was dressed as a woman, with a Mother Riley wig on and it had make-up only a man could have put on – bright red cheeks and lips. I said to the policeman: ‘I know him’.”

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Charles, who now lives near Kendall, was one of the first on the scene of the armed hold-up at the Barclays sub-branch in North Road on March 10, 1964.

Lying on the floor was clerk Brennan Cran, who had been shot in the chest – and through his Old Barnardian school tie – by the man-dressed-as-a-woman who was being pinioned in the corner by a 17-stone passer-by.

The Northern Echo: FINGERTIP SEARCH: This appears to be from the same mid-1960s Barclays bank raid as our big graphic. You don't see policemen on bikes like this anymore and you certainly can't get two tins of Farrows processed peas for 10½d as you could at L&N Sto

POLICE INVESTIGATION: Combing North Road on March 10, 1964, outside where the post office is today

Charles had been working in Barclays’ head office on High Row when a call came telling of the shooting. He rushed over, took immediate control of the sub-branch, counted up and ruled off, showing that the bank was £285 10 shillings short.

“The policeman handed me a bag from the floor, full of money, and it was all there, apart from 25p,” says Charles. “While I was counting up, an ambulance came in and took Cran out on a stretcher. I’m not religious but I did say a little prayer for him – and that’s the last I ever saw of him.”

The identity of the man-dressed-as-a-woman was still puzzling Charles.

“I couldn’t remember his name, but I had worked at the branch seven years earlier and I remembered the fellow coming in and opening an account – his address was Girsby, which I had never heard of before,” he says. “So when the dust settled, I went through the cards looking for my own writing and found it. I handed it to the policeman and said: ‘That’s your man’.”

The man-dressed-as-a-woman was Dennis Cree Turnbull, a 35-year-old motor engineer with a workshop behind the bank, who lived at Church House, Girsby – a hamlet in Over Dinsdale with a little church overlooking the Tees towards Sockburn.

When Turnbull appeared in court the next day, his wife and the mother of his two young children “broke down and wept”, according to The Northern Echo, as Detective Inspector Joe Truelock of Darlington CID outlined the charges against him: armed robbery and the attempted murder of the clerk Cran, 25, who was “still very ill” in the Memorial Hospital.

Det Insp Truelock said that in custody, Turnbull had told him: “I am on the wrong side of the fence, Mr Truelock. I must be mad to do what I did. I don’t know why I did it. The whole thing is foreign to me.”

The case reached Durham Assizes three months later, by which time Mr Cran had recovered from an operation to remove the bullet from his back, and the full extent of his heroism, aided by two other men, became clear.

The raid occurred at midday when Turnbull, “wearing a red dress, nylon stockings and a dark wig which came off in the fight”, entered the branch on the corner of North Road and Albert Road. He brandished a .32 gun, saying “this is a hold-up”, and ordered bank guard James Greenwood, 65, under a table. He then demanded money which Mr Cran began slowly handing over while Mr Greenwood set off an alarm from under the table.

When Turnbull’s bag was full, he turned to leave. Mr Greenwood, a former police officer, sprung from under his table and pulled the wig from the robber’s head, and then Mr Cran hurled himself over the counter at the fleeing robber’s back.

“This man of tenacity who would not be trodden down, even by a gunman, is a judo expert, rugby player and a crack rifle shot,” said the Echo. “He was educated at Barnard Castle School, and his father is a Middlesbrough surgeon.”

In the melee, the gun went off, piercing Mr Cran’s old school tie and missing his heart by two inches.

Mr Greenwood later said: “In all my 31 years in the police, I never witnessed courage like Mr Cran showed. I watched him go for the gunman and close with him when he had been shot.”

The three men stumbled out into the street, where Fred Scott, a 33-year-old, 6ft tall, 17-stone Binns furniture remover, was on his way to the doctor as he “felt queer” with flu.

“I did not have time to think – I just dashed across the road,” he said. “The chap was very stubborn and even after I got his arms pinned behind his back, he still struggled a lot.

“We managed to drag him inside the bank, and I noticed a gun lying on the floor.

“I had no idea that the manager had been shot, but he did look very pale and as if he was about to faint.”

Mr Scott held the robber, who by now had lost his high heeled shoes as well as his wig, until the police arrived, shortly followed by Charles Robinson from High Row.

The Assizes was told that Turnbull, whose workshop was making only £5-a-week, admitted defrauding a Darlington finance company out of £270 for a car which did not exist. He pleaded guilty to armed robbery, which was a desperate attempt to pay off his debt.

However, he denied the attempted murder. He said that the gun had become cocked during the struggle and had been accidentally discharged.

Judge Mr Justice Stable told the members of the jury: “You have to be satisfied the gun was intentionally loaded, pointed and fired at Mr Cran.” After 40 minutes deliberation, they decided that Turnbull was not guilty of attempted murder.

The judge said the armed robbery was “of the gravest possible kind”.

The judge told Turnbull: “But for the great courage and presence of mind of these two bank officials, you might well have got away with it. In the shape of a woman’s disguise, you might well have escaped detection. You went there armed with a pistol which you knew was capable of being lethal.”

He sentenced Turnbull to ten years in prison.

“His wife, who was sitting at the back of the court, collapsed and had to be carried from the building,” said the Echo.

After Turnbull was taken away, Mr Justice Stable turned to Mr Cran: “May I say that this was an act of sustained and high courage. If anybody deserves some decoration, I think it is young Cran.”

The judge returned his old school tie, with a neat bullet hole in it, as well as the blood-stained shirt he had been wearing on the day of the raid.

“I’ll probably keep the tie as a souvenir,” Mr Cran, of Great Ayton, told the Echo afterwards. He was photographed sitting at the wheel of his white MG, and said he was planning “a motoring holiday in Europe”.

Barclays covered the cost of the three-month convalescent vacation – it was believed to come to nearly £1,000 – and Mr Cran returned to work on October 9.

Cyril Roberts, Barclays’ district manager, told the Echo: “You can tell your readers the bank will offer Mr Cran, in further recognition of his bravery, a gold watch.”

The following day, it was announced that he had been awarded the George Medal for gallantry, but then he seems to have slipped from the headlines.

“About 20 years ago,” says Charles Robinson, whose retired from Barclays as manager in Kendall, “I was working in the garden when an old colleague came down the path after his holiday to Canada. He said he a message for me from a man called Cran who was in real estate over there and doing really very well.”

THE other hero that day was James Greenwood, the bank guard, who was also commended by the judge – “he acted with great courage and presence of mind” – and who received the Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct.

He was also photographed by the Echo the day after the raid in his home in Sedgefield with a large coal scuttle.

“He was my father-in-law,” emails Keith Walshaw who, like Charles Robinson, had spotted the little piece mentioning the raid in Memories in June, “and his Queen’s Commendation is framed and in his son’s house in Lincolnshire.”

Mr Greenwood was born in Gurney Street in 1898 and so was 16 when the First World War broke out. He enlisted almost immediately, giving his age as 19, and was sent to the trenches.

He told the Echo in 1964: “When you peeped over and saw Germans coming in a block, shoulder-to-shoulder, and you knew your line was thin, you wondered how you were going to get through. That was the first time I knew fear.”

He was wounded when his dugout was blown up, and he finished the war suffering from shellshock. He joined the police, and served in Chester-le-Street, Jarrow and Easington Lane, ending as a sergeant in Darlington, from where he became a Barclays bank guard.

“When the woman entered the bank and produced a gun, my father-in law went to tackle her and seized her hair – but it was a wig worn by a man,” says Keith. “When he was asked why he didn't get the George Medal when he took the lead role, he said it was just part of his job as a security guard.”

TO complete our story: Turnbull was released after serving eight of his ten years, but we do not know if Fred Scott ever stopped “feeling queer” with the flu after pinning down the robber in drag. By all accounts, Brennan Cran really did prosper in Canada, although there is a suggestion that despite his unquestionable bravery, behind the scenes, Barclays was not happy that he had broken company guidelines by deliberately endangering his own life by tackling a man with a gun – even if it was a man-dressed-as-a-woman.

So many people got in touch following the mention in Memories 332. Thanks to them all, including Derek Lindsay, Tony Young, Dave Catleugh, Pauline Moses, Mike le Roi, Herbert Terry, Fred Thompson and David Lewis. If you have any more to add, please email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk