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Kenneth Alfred BIGGS, GC

No. & Rank at the Time of Action: 173490 Captain (T/Major)

Unit/Occupation: Royal Army Ordnance Corps

Date and Place of Birth: 26th February 1911, Greenway, Totteridge, Herts;

Family:

Early Life: Husband of Vivienne, b 1915 who he married in 1938

Date and Place of GC Action: 2nd January 1946, Savernake Forest, Wiltshire.

The London Gazette: The award of the George Cross was published on p. 5025 of The London Gazette, No. 37753, dated 11th October 1946

Citation: "“The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the GEORGE CROSS, in recognition of most conspicuous gallantry in carrying out hazardous work in a very brave manner, to the undermentioned:-

Captain (temporary Major) Kenneth Alfred BIGGS (173490), Royal Army Ordnance Corps (London, N. 10)

No. 10536260 Corporal (acting Staff-Sergeant) Sidney George ROGERSON, Royal Army Ordnance Corps (Caterham, Surrey)."

Account of Deed: On 2nd January 1946, men from the RAOC, the Pioneer Corps and the RASC were completing the loading of a train with American and German ammunition in Savernake Forest, Wiltshire. In the same siding another British ammunition train was standing -there were 96 wagons in all. There was a sudden flash and explosion and two railway wagons and a 3-ton lorry literally disappeared, fire swept the yard and more wagons burst into flames. More explosions followed and a total of 27 railway wagons and two lorries had blown up - there was a great risk that fire would spread to all the remainder of the loaded wagons, causing more explosions and widespread damage. Eight men died in the original explosion and six more were badly hurt. Major Biggs was commanding the Sub-Depot and he and his Staff-Sergeant* together uncoupled a burning wagon and extinguished the flames. Although knocked over and shaken by one of the explosions, Major Biggs continued to direct his men in their frantic efforts to prevent the fire from spreading. They worked all through the night and succeeded in preventing any more wagons catching fire. Next day the remains of wagons, lorries, shells, mines, detonators, packages and telegraph poles could be seen strewn all over the countryside and there were two huge craters, but 69 of the wagons had been saved from exploding. (*See also entry for ROGERSON, S.G.)

Remarks: He joined up in July 1940, returning to England in May 1945 after four years in India, Iraq and Persia.

He found out about the award of his Georeg Cross when his wife phoned him at the Bank Office. Invested alongside Sidney Rogerson on the 10th December 1946 by King George VI, he was accompanied by Mrs. K A Biggs (Mother)? and Christopher Biggs (son)?

Major Kenneth Alfred Biggs, (173490) RAOC was awarded the US Bronze Star Medal "for services to the Allies." in the London Gazette of 15th August 1946 (p.4104).

Additional Information: Several other George Crosses have been given to men who displayed great courage when ammunition and explosives were on fire. Two of them belonged to the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and they were Major Kenneth Alfred Biggs and Staff Sergeant Sidney George Rogerson.

In January 1946, Major Biggs was commanding one of the Sub-Depots of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, Command Ammunition Depot at Corsham, near Bath. This depot has existed for a long time and its stocks are safely housed in under- ground tunnels in the nearby hills. During the late war, however, it had to expand and fresh areas for storing ammunition and explosives had to be found. One place that was chosen was the famous beauty spot, Savernake Forest, in Wiltshire. There, in the deep glades of the great forest, it was possible to erect hundreds of little corrugated iron ammunition shelters that were safely hidden from hostile reconnaissance aircraft. This was the Sub-Depot that Major Biggs commanded.

Although the war had been over for nearly six months, Britain still had large forces abroad, and overseas stocks of ammunition had to be replenished. Thus the men of the Sub-Depot were still working hard and regular trainloads of mines, shells, small-arms ammunition and explosives were still leaving the sidings that had been built in the forest.

At 3 p.m. on the afternoon of the 2nd January a train was being loaded there, and, on another line alongside the half empty trucks, stood a full train of ninety-six loaded ammunition wagons. Suddenly there was a violent explosion and a three-ton lorry, used for bringing ammunition from the shelters to the siding, and two railway wagons, literally disappeared. Then fire broke out at a dozen points around the yard. A wagon-load of five-point-five inch shells, some distance off, went up and the fire spread further. Small arms ammunition started to explode in every direction and the scene became more like a battlefield than anything else. Eight men died in the original explosion and six more were badly hurt. There were, in fact, few of the original working party left to do anything about the terrifying situation. However, the noise of the explosions brought men hurrying from all over the area and one of the first to arrive was Staff Sergeant Rogerson.

Rogerson made a quick survey of the scene and, realising that he was the senior non-commissioned officer on the spot, he at once took charge. He collected together the few uninjured men who remained and others who had arrived on the siding. With great calmness and a total disregard for danger, he split the men up into small parties and detailed each party to one of the fires that was burning. He gave one party the terrifying task of unloading an explosives truck that was close to a bad blaze and then he climbed under a burning truck full of shells to rescue two badly injured men. As further reinforcements appeared on the scene he gave them the job of carrying the wounded to safety, or sent them to join the fire fighting parties. Some minutes later Major Biggs arrived and took over command. He remained as cool and calm as Rogerson had done and one of the first things he did, with the help of another officer, was to uncouple a burning wagon full of shells from the rest of the train and push it clear of the other trucks. Then he set to work extinguishing the fire. Next he organised the removal of other wagons to create fire breaks. At about half past four there was a particularly heavy explosion and Biggs was thrown to the ground by the blast and badly shaken. He picked himself up again, however, and went forward to inspect the site of the latest detonation and to see if any further danger had been caused. He went alone to the spot, refusing to let anyone else go with him. Soon after this he decided that everything possible had been done to remove unharmed loaded trucks from the burning ones, and that further efforts at fire-fighting could do little good and might well result in more loss of life. He therefore withdrew all his men from the siding and was the last to leave himself. But he did not go far. He stayed within sight of the siding, ready to deal with any fresh situation, until the last fire had burnt itself out, nineteen hours later.

People who saw the scene next morning have described it as a fantastic piece of devastation. No less than twenty-nine wagons had exploded and there was one crater that measured ninety feet across. A second one was nearly as big. Telegraph poles had been snapped like match sticks and some of them thrown fifty yards. But over a hundred full or partly full wagons had been saved from exploding and there can be little doubt that this was, in large part, the result of the gallantry, deter- mined leadership and high personal example of Major Kenneth Alfred Biggs and Staff Sergeant Sidney George Rogerson.

p>Awards made for the same incident:

Member of the Order of the British Empire (Military Division)

Warrant Officer Class 1 (Sub-Conductor) Frederick Godliman, RAOC

George Medal

Sergeant Douglas Kay, RAOC; Sergeant James Matthews, Pioneer Corps; Company Officer Joe Brain, National Fire Service, (Marlborough) and Section Leader Cecil Vane, National Fire Service, (Ludgershall)

British Empire Medal (Military Division)

Corporal Alfred Adams, Private Frederick Barnett, Private David Gallagher, Private John Prendergast, (All RAOC) and Driver Arthur Baker RASC.

(Civilian Division)

Leading Fireman Laurence Graves, (Ludgershall), Section Leader Frederick Green and Fireman Frank Brennan, (both Marlborough)

Final Rank:

Other Decorations/Medals: 1953 Coronation Medal & 1977 Queen's Silver Jubilee Medal. United States Bronze Star

GC Location/Sale History:

Date and Place of Death: 11th January 1998

Cause of Death:

Burial Cremation: Kenneth Alfred Biggs was cremated on 16th January 1998, cremation number 46105. His ashes are scattered in area of the Crematorium called the Right Glade. There are no memorials for Mr Biggs.

Obituary: (The Daily Telegraph, Saturday 17th January 1998)

KENNETH BIGGS who has died aged 86, won the George Cross in 1946 for action that saved the town of Marlborough from destruction through explosions aboard an ammunition train. As it was, 27 wagons were destroyed by explosions and eight soldiers killed. Without Biggs's prompt, cool action the disaster would have been much worse, and the 5,000 people of Marlborough might well have lost their lives.

On the afternoon of January 2 1946, soldiers were completing the loading of an ammunition train at a railway yard in the ammunition dump at Savernake, near Marlborough. Another ammunition train stood next to it, making a total of 96 wagons. Suddenly there was a blinding flash, a roar, and two railway wagons and a three-ton lorry disappeared. Fire swept through the yard, setting two more wagons alight. Eight men had already been killed and six badly hurt, but there was a clear prospect of the raging fire causing a vast explosion in the remaining wagons.

It was at this stage that Biggs, a Major in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, arrived on the scene and took command. He was assisted by his Staff Sergeant, Sydney Rogerson. Together they uncoupled a burning wagon full of 5.5in shells and managed to put out the fire in it. Biggs was knocked over by another explosion, but, though shaken, carried on directing the frantic efforts of the men to prevent the fire from spreading. At one point he was driven back by fire from clearing a wagon of mines. By then 27 wagons had been destroyed. They worked all through the night and succeeded in preventing any more wagons from catching alight by organising firebreaks to contain cordite fires from spreading. The light of dawn showed two huge craters and the remains of wagons, lorries, shells, mines and telegraph poles strewn around the surrounding countryside. More than 200 tons of explosives had either detonated or burnt. It took until 11am on January 3 to put out the last fire, but 69 wagons had been saved from exploding.

Both Biggs and Rogerson were awarded George Crosses; an MBE and five BEMs went to other men in the operation. Biggs also won the United States Bronze Star.

Kenneth Alfred Biggs was born on February 26 1911. He was working at the Midland Bank when war was declared, joined the Army in 1940 and was commissioned that December. In March 1946, two months after the Savernake explosion, he returned to the Sloane Street branch of the bank and continued in banking for the rest of his working life. Biggs's friends knew him as a private, immaculately turned-out man of quiet charm. Rogerson, who became a bus inspector, died in 1993.

Biggs's wife Jane, whom he had married in 1938, died in 1995; they are survived by their son.

Memorials:

Town/County Connections: Totteridge, Herts; Ewhurst, Surrey & Stockland, Honiton, Devon