Portsmouth’s ‘wonderful’ heroes of the blitz – Nostalgia 

Sydney John Thomas
Sydney John Thomas

Last Saturday I wrote about two Portsmouth men and a boy who died when they tackled a fire at John Palmer’s brush factory. 

They were later awarded posthumous bravery certificates with a citation from the King and signed by Winston Churchill.

A letter from Whitehall to Sydney confirming his award for bravery.

A letter from Whitehall to Sydney confirming his award for bravery.

I have since heard from Paul Collins who told me about his grandfather, War Reserve Constable Sydney John Thomas, another brave Portsmouth man.

On the night of March 10, 1941 Incident Officer P.S. Donohoe was sent the Queen Street area of Portsea where a squad of constables including 456 Thomas were fighting fires.

To Donohoe’s knowledge Thomas forced entry into the Western Hotel, Queen Street and extinguished a severe fire. 

At 4.06am a casualty from bombing at the dockyard end of Frederick Street reported his mother and sister were missing and it was thought by him that they were under the debris of their house in that street.

When King George VI and Queen Elizabeth toured the city in 1940 Constable Thomas, circled, was on escort duty.

When King George VI and Queen Elizabeth toured the city in 1940 Constable Thomas, circled, was on escort duty.

Donohoe, together with wardens and policemen including Thomas and armed with pickaxes and shovels, proceeded to Frederick Street.

An electrical plant in the dockyard near to the street had become a raging inferno and the heat from it was almost unbearable.

Thomas volunteered to enter the crater along with Donohoe who knew by that time the woman and daughter were buried there.

The two began to dig down in forlorn hope.

The medal and ribbon awarded to Sydney on order from King George VI

The medal and ribbon awarded to Sydney on order from King George VI

The fumes had become severe so oxygen bottles were called for.

It was soon decided all that was humanly possible had been done so far as Donohoe was concerned. 

Thomas refused to give up, despite Donohoe ordering him to for his own safety. 

Donohoe then repeated: ‘Are you going to obey my orders?’ Thomas said: ‘Yes. But I don’t like the idea of giving up.’ With much regret he then left the crater.

Donohoe made a statement saying Sydney Thomas’s conduct throughout was magnificent.

He worked heroically without thought for his own safety.

Rescue squads later arrived with the necessary equipment and the leader decided nothing could be done until the fire in the dockyard had subdued.

In other actions during the war Sydney was buried in debris three times.

From my research I believe the dead were Alice Brown, 50, and her daughter Georgina aged 12. Robert Brown, aged eight, was also reported killed.

The house was 33, Frederick Street. 

After the King’s visit in 1940 he said: ‘You are wonderful people. We are very proud  of Portsmouth.’