EIGHT soldiers who died in a huge explosion in Savernake Forest near Marlborough more than 75 years ago could be commemorated with a new memorial.

The eight soldiers were killed and another six seriously injured when wagons carrying hundreds of tonnes of Second World War ammunition blew up in Savernake Forest in 1946.

People living up to 30 miles away heard the series of explosions from munitions that had been loaded onto the wagons in a railway siding.

But if it had not been for an amazing stroke of luck and the bravery of a handful of men who moved railway wagons loaded with munitions away from the blazing wreckage, there would have been a much bigger blast.

Now former soldier Ed Newman is heading a £10,000 fundraising campaign to pay for a stone memorial in Marlborough town centre.

Mr Newman said “people's doors and windows were blown open" by the explosion, the cause of which still remains a mystery.

"Some in Marlborough still have memories from when they were children of the explosion, because it was such a big event," Mr Newman added.

The munitions wagons were due to be unloaded at the goods yard at the Marlborough Station just off Salisbury Road.

But, as reports of the subsequent inquiry revealed, at the last moment space was found in the North Savernake military sidings, near the Wootton Rivers turning off the Marlborough-Burbage road.

The wagons, which were bringing both Allied and German shells, bullets and mines back from Europe where the war had ended a few months previously, were being unloaded when an explosion happened, setting off a chain reaction of blasts that destroyed two rail trucks.

Local historian Neil Stevens says it is vital to remember what happened and to commemorate the event, which happened as shells were being removed from a large open-air ammunition storage dump in Savernake Forest.

"It has been forgotten about and I think that has something to do with the fact it was January 1946," he said.


"People were so focused on rebuilding their lives after the war that it has slipped into the depths of society's memory."

He added: "It shouldn't be forgotten, because the generation that remembers it won't be with us that much longer."

During the Second World War the whole of Savernake Forest was used as an ammunition dump.

Only six months before the tragedy, a dump at The Warren Farm in Savernake Forest had exploded, killing one American soldier and injuring four local people.

There were 100 wagons in the Savernake Forest sidings when the explosion on January 2 1946, shortly before 2.50pm, rocked Marlborough.

In the ensuing drama, soldiers and rail workers risked their lives to move wagons away from the blazing trucks and put out the fires.

They included two soldiers, Captain Kenneth Biggs and Sgt Sydney Rogerson, who were both serving in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps.

They led the efforts to detach wagons full of munitions and move them away from those that had already exploded or were on fire.

Capt Biggs, who died in 1998, and Sgt Rogerson, who died in 1993, were both awarded the George Cross.

Two George Medals and five British Empire Medals were also issued to those who took part in the bid to avert more explosions and the subsequent fire-fighting operation.

At the time, there was speculation that holes bored into one of the munitions to admit damp had set off the first explosion.

By the time the fire burned itself out it was estimated that more than 200 tons of explosive had been detonated.