THE grandson of a man who fought to stop a heavily loaded munitions train from blowing up at Cadley near Marlborough in January 1946 has proudly displayed his grandfather’s George Medal.

Joe Brain was one of two civilian heroes who were awarded George Medals for their bravery in helping to save a catastrophic explosion that could have potentially razed Marlborough to rubble.

His grandson, Nigel Carter, the eldest son of Muriel, Joe Brain’s daughter, inherited his grandfather’s George Medal.

Mr Carter, 77, of Devizes, said: “Joe was at the heart of the action at the Cadley Fire, serving with his Army colleagues to uncouple blazing wagons and enable the separation of the wagons to minimise the damage.

“Joe was born in Ashton Keynes in 1889 and served with 4th Battalion Royal Wiltshire in India and then France with the British Expeditonary Force, where he was captured in Cambrai.

“He served much of the war as a prisoner and was reputed to have chased his camp commandant round the compound with his own sword when hostilities ended.

“An Old Contemptible, he retired as a Company Quartermaster Sergeant before entering the fire service.

“He served as the Captain of the Marlborough Company of the Wiltshire Fire Brigade for much of WWII before retiring to become the Armourer and Drill Sergeant at Marlborough College. He died in 1951.”

Eight soldiers were killed and another six seriously injured when wagons carrying hundreds of tonnes of Second World War munitions blew up at Cadley in the Savernake Forest on January 2 1946.

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


There were 100 wagons in the Savernake Forest sidings when the explosion rocked Marlborough shortly before 2.50pm.

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

Two soldiers, Captain Kenneth Biggs and Sgt Sydney Rogerson, of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, 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 for their bravery.

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.

Local historian Neil Stevens said: “Between one and two thousand tons of high explosives were prevented from detonating by the people involved.

“That equates to approximately one-tenth of the explosive power of the Hiroshima atomic bomb; and that just 2.6 miles from Marlborough High Street.

“We believe the event resulted in the largest collective haul of gallantry awards for a single event outside of times of war.

“Whilst the deaths were obviously appalling and extremely sad, it is marking the gallantry shown and the potential devastation avoided to the town, that is our equal focus in having the event commemorated.”

Mr Stevens has gained permission from Marlborough Town Council to locate a memorial to the men in the town.

“Whilst we still need to raise over £3,000, the project is all systems go and the dedication event is being planned for the afternoon of St George’s Day, Sunday 23 April 2023.

“Contacting the relatives of those lost and those awarded for their gallantry is now one of our principal aims.”