Canadian firefighters who helped Portsmouth in the blitz | Nostalgia

Some two years a ago I wrote a series of features about the Canadian firemen who came over to help the City of Portsmouth Police/Firemen during the dark days of the Second World War.

Sunday, 22nd December 2019, 5:00 pm
Updated Sunday, 22nd December 2019, 5:00 pm
Canadian firemen remembered in Southsea. Tom Johnstone, second from the right with the station mascot Edward Andrews. Is he still with us?

Most were not trained firemen but volunteers who came over during the emergency. One was Tom Johnstone, from Thorold, Ontario.

I received an e-mail from David Thomson, Tom’s son-in-law, who is researching Tom and came across my articles on the Canadians.

Tom grew up in Winnipeg and moved to Thorold in 1938 to work in a papermill. With only a little experience, being a volunteer firefighter in Selkirk, Manitoba, Tom enlisted with the Canadian Army as a Leading Fireman in August 1942. He was sent to Ottawa, where he joined others waiting for transfer to England.

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At Christmas 1948 the Craneswater Snooker Club sent a message of goodwill to Tommy Johnstone back home in Ontario.

By December of that year he was stationed in Southsea at what was known as the Chessington Water Park Station.

In 1944 he took a course in welding at Portsmouth Municipal College and in April 1945 Tom was back in Canada to be discharged. He then returned to Thorold and the papermill. Tom married in 1948 but his wife died in 1951.

David says: ‘Like so many other veterans, Tom did not say too much about his war years. Looking at pictures on the web of the damage done to Portsmouth I do not wonder why.

‘One story he told was of a pub being damaged during bombing. The owner wanted as much removed from the wreckage as possible and made a deal with the fire crews. They received a barrel of beer for their efforts and they rolled it down the street to their station. Not having a set of taps they broke the top and dipped their cups into it.’

Looking north along lit up London Road from Kingston Cross, North End, Portsmouth.

Tom married his second wife, Betty Leininger when she was visiting the area with her mother and sister. They moved to Merritton, close to Thorold, and raised two twin girls and two boys. Betty died in 1988 and Tom in 1994.

In the photograph the firemen are painting a pole with a local boy, Edward Andrews, who became the station mascot.

While in the city the firemen used the Craneswater Billiards and Snooker Club at the junction of Albert Road and Highland Road, Southsea. In 1948 the secretary sent Tom a Christmas message of goodwill saying he was still remembered.

• A Christmas scene looking north from Kingston Cross along London Road. Today’s lights in North End are pathetic compared to past years. The street lights seem a little dim and the cars do not appear to have the best of headlights.

On the corner of Kingston Crescent is Burton Montague, the gents’ tailors, followed by Osborne’s tobacconist