It was soon apparent that the torrent was so great that the lives of 50 men working elsewhere in the mine were under threat. Despite being warned that he would lose his life if he tried to save them, Johnstone made his way towards the unsuspecting men but when he got to them they found their escape route blocked. Using their accumulated knowledge they worked their way close to an abandoned underground road and tunnelled, by hand, for five hours to dig their way out.
Calls to reward Johnstone’s bravery did not fall on deaf ears. In April he was awarded the Daily Herald Order of Industrial Bravery certificate and medal, before an audience of MPs, councillors and assorted VIPs. Three months later he was awarded the Certificate of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, and a silver watch from the Carnegie Trust Fund. The watch bore the inscription:
Presented to Mr George Johnstone of Tranent, for saving human life on 1st March 1929
Johnstone and his father and brothers were all talented musicians, playing in a number of dance bands in the 1950s and 1960s. George played a number of BBC broadcasts, and his father Jim had the pleasure of playing with the great Jimmy Shand. They reached such heights despite not being able to read a note of music.