OBITUARY: George Johnson BEM, hero firefighter and man of Marlborough
Hero fireman George Johnson who helped rescue the family living over the Polly Tearooms when the building was engulfed by flames in 1966 has died aged 93 following a short illness.
Mr Johnson who lived in Herd Street worked for Marlborough College for more than 60 years and former Deputy Master Bob Pick will be paying a tribute to him at his funeral at North Wilts Crematorium at Royal Wootton Bassett on Friday, 10 January at 12 noon.
He worked for the public school’s maintenance department for most of his long career but later moved to help students in its Norwood Hall dining room where he became a well-known face to pupils including the Duchess of Cambridge and Princess Eugenie, plus the sons and daughters of world leaders and celebrities who passed through the college.
Mr Johnson was born in Marlborough and was a cousin of the late Alfie Johnson, the town’s popular Town Crier who died in May last year. Both attended St Peter’s Boys School in what is now the town’s library.
They were both hugely popular in the town with George Johnson – universally known by his childhood nickname of Chummy – being everybody’s friend as he walked from his home through the town centre to the College and back every day.
Mr Johnson built his own bungalow home where he lived with his later wife, Nan, who died in 2009. They were unable to have children but were adopted by generations of youngsters in Marlborough who became their surrogate family.
He was one of four survivors of nine siblings and at the outbreak of World War 2 he joined the local Home Guard and intended to follow two of his brothers into the Army, training as a parachutist in readiness for call-up. However military chiefs decided two brothers being drafted was enough for one family and sent George to become a ‘Bevan Boy’ working down the coal pits in South Wales.
It was in Wales that he met his wife Nan and although were not blessed with their own children they shared his brother Ernest’s three daughters, Annette, Linda and Suzanne who survive him.
He was one of Marlborough’s fire fighters for many years, serving in the former National Fire Service and then the successor Wiltshire Fire Brigade rising to deputy station commander.
In the 1967 New Year’s Honours he was awarded the British Empire Medal for his part in rescuing members of the West family who lived over the Polly Tearooms that was reduced to a single storey building when fire ravaged the upper floors.
Despite his advancing years Mr Johnson remained young at heart and loved nothing better than partying until recently with his many young friends.
George was a popular figure at the town’s Christmas Day OAP lunch from its inception 18 years ago and liked to help in the preparations at the Town Hall but sadly was too unwell to attend the most recent event three weeks ago.