“WRAPPED in the dark – with water up to his mouth.”

These were the words from a national newspaper as it recounted the extraordinary story of Tranent man George Johnstone in its ‘How Close Have You Been to Death?’ column in October 1960, the tale even at that point a distant memory.

Ninety years have now passed since George’s heroism saw him save the lives of 50 miners in the local Fleets No 1 Colliery.

Friday, March 1, 1929 saw the 27-year-old George head to work at the coal pits in Tranent as usual, working with his colleague John Harkness to drill a link between the existing tunnel and a disused tunnel directly above them.

The controlled explosion was set just before they took their morning break at 10am to allow time for the fumes to clear from the tunnel, but when George pushed the plunger to set it off, it became clear instantly that something was wrong.

A huge blast of air tore past them, followed by the sound of a rushing, torrent of water.

The explosion had let a massive wave into the pits.

Although George and John could make it to the road outside and were therefore in relative safety, there were 50 other miners working deeper in the pits who were in great danger.

Without a second thought, George jumped into the water, using an overhead insulated electric cable to hold him steady against the strong currents, and made his way further into the pits towards the unsuspecting miners.

The water levels grew in the pitch black around him, almost submerging him completely, and he was only able to take small gasps of air as his face pressed against the roof of the tunnel.

Eventually, while clinging onto the above cable, he reached the point where the tunnel split in two, so the water level dropped and the rivers divided, and he was able to move faster.

Finding the miners was one thing but finding a safe route out of the mines was a seemingly impossible task.

After trying each route and finding it impassable, the group were eventually able to find a roof fall that they could scramble and claw their way through.

After this, they came upon another roof fall, and another, leading them with bloodied hands almost a mile out of the mine, and into the grateful arms of rescuers.

At this point it was 5pm, seven hours after the flooding had begun.

Although not physically harmed, George would never step underground again, choosing instead to stay in the sunlight and drive buses, as well as make a name for himself as a prominent musician, playing with his brothers and father in a dance band, and even performing on the BBC.

For his bravery in the mines, he received a Carnegie Award and Order of St John and a medal for Industrial Heroism, and in October 2012 the building housing the new library was named the George Johnstone Centre in his honour.

George came from a large family, with six brothers and one sister, and is survived by an extensive family.

George’s nephew, Tom Johnstone, 80, of Macmerry, is proud of the legacy that his uncle has left.

“It’s important to remember what he did,” Tom told the Courier.

“Not just as an important part of the town’s history, but he was a brave and kind man. He was unassuming and a very talented musician.

“The whole family couldn’t be prouder of him.”