The first memorial service for eight soldiers killed in a huge explosion in Savernake Forest has been held on the 78th anniversary of their deaths.

On January 2, 1946, eight soldiers were killed and another six seriously injured when 27 rail freight wagons carrying 200 tonnes of Second World War ammunition blew up just outside of Marlborough in Wiltshire.

People living up to 30 miles away heard the series of massive explosions during the event that would change the lives of many families forever.

The team at the Savernake Explosion Memorial Project have dedicated themselves to remembering those whose lives were lost, and in April 2023, a memorial was put up in Marlborough.

On January 2, the team came together for the inaugural memorial service held on the anniversary of the explosion.

The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald: The explosion on January 2 1946 at the Savernake Forest railway sidings blew up two freight wagons.The explosion on January 2 1946 at the Savernake Forest railway sidings blew up two freight wagons. (Image: Freelancer)

“When in 2021/22 we started to formulate the plan for the memorial, it was the ability to undertake a small annual act of remembrance such as this that really drove our efforts,” said a spokesperson for the memorial project team.

The small service was held at the memorial on New Road in Marlborough and was attended by members of the team and the public.

Wreaths were laid at the memorial, which details the names of the eight soldiers who died, as well as those involved, awarded medals for their bravery, and bugle player Scott ably performed The Last Post.

The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald: The service was a triumph for the memorial project team.The service was a triumph for the memorial project team. (Image: Savernake Explosion Memorial Project)

Speaking about the significance of events like this, Ed Newman, who led the fundraising campaign for the memorial, said: “Some people in Marlborough still have memories of the explosion from when they were children because it was such a big event.”

The wagons which exploded were loaded with Allied and German shells, bullets and mines brought back from Europe after the war ended in 1946.

The explosion set off a chain reaction of blasts that destroyed the wagons and endangered many more.

But as historian Neil Stevens pointed out, had it not been for the bravery of men who moved the railway wagons loaded with munitions away from the blazing wreckage, there would have been a much bigger blast.

“We want to educate people about what happened on that day and how close the town came to significant damage which was averted by the gallantry of those who were commended for their bravery,” he said.