IN THEIR FOOTSTEPS GAINS GROUND

The fourth episode of In Their Footsteps, aired on Sunday 29 May 2011, edged ahead in the ratings, up 3% on the previous week, equalling 60 Minutes on 987,000 viewers in an extremely competitive timeslot and evening.

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The story of 21-year-old Nathan Folkes’ search for his great-great uncle, Salvation Army officer Major Albert Moore who served on the Kokoda Track, was a wonderful exploration of the wartime journey of a man of compassion and courage.

Albert Moore was one of the best loved of all the characters in the Kokoda campaign. He was the subject of one of the great cinematographer Damien Parer’s finest images. Parer captured Albert lighting a cigarette for wounded Digger Lt Val Gardner.

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In that image, Parer immortalised Albert Moore’s character and work. Many experts have likened the photograph to Michelangelo’s Pieta, where Mary cradles Christ’s body after the Crucifixion.

Albert Moore won the Diggers’ acclaim for his courage in setting up his tea and coffee stand just behind the frontlines. At Gona, when the Australians confronted a deeply-entrenched Japanese force intent on fighting to the death, Albert silently handed out coffee and chocolate to Diggers literally metres away from the enemy.

Nathan Folkes proudly walked in Albert’s footsteps and gained a powerful insight into the man and his unshakeable belief in peace and God in the midst of war and carnage.

Next week, Footsteps features the story of Billy Brandis, one of our remarkable Z Specials commandos, who fought in the Pacific War in WWII.

IN THEIR FOOTSTEPS BUILDS AUDIENCE

The second episode of IN THEIR FOOTSTEPS consolidated the program’s excellent premiere and increased its viewing audience in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, to total 1.06 million.

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Episode Two featured the short but extraordinary life of RAAF fighter pilot, Tony Boyd, who fought and died at just 22 in the crucial Battle for Malta in the Mediterranean in World War II, as the Allies desperately tried to break the Nazi siege of the island.

Tony Boyd’s great niece, Queensland mother of three, Megan McDonald, shares his love of flying and is training to be a pilot. We joined her as she retraced Tony Boyd’s footsteps and tried to understand what it must have felt like as each day he put his life on the line as a fighter pilot flying Hurricanes and Spitfires against the dominant Luftwaffe in the skies over Malta.

A heady amalgam of historic footage, computed-generated re-creations and breathtaking aerials (in which Megan takes to the skies in a Spitfire) gave us a chilling impression of the thrills and dangers of combat flying.

We learned that Tony Boyd was a heroic pilot - one of the finest of that brave band of young individuals who fought man-to-man above Malta against enormous odds to keep the Luftwaffe at bay. Such was the bravery and resilience of the Maltese people in withstanding the Nazi siege that the entire nation was awarded the George Cross, the civilian equivalent of the Victoria Cross.

Megan McDonald was surprised to find that the people of Malta have never forgotten Tony Boyd and his sacrifice.

Next Sunday’s episode features an enthralling story centred on Gallipoli, in which a father and son head off in search of their forebears, another father and son team, on the tragic Gallipoli peninsula.

In Their Footsteps hits the ground running

In Their Footsteps premiered last Sunday on the Nine Network at 6.30pm with an outstanding ratings performance against very strong opposition.

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Despite facing a two-and-a-half hour special of Dancing With the Stars, Footsteps pulled over a million viewers and ended as the day’s fifth-ranked program overall, eclipsing 60 Minutes, Merlin, Blood Brothers and Hawaii Five-O

The first episode featured the remarkable story of Tommy Johnson, one of the survivors of the sinking of the HMAS Perth.

Perth Mum, Julie Bryce, had grown up with the photo of her great uncle, a handsome, smiling sailor, but never knew what happened to him. Last Sunday she took us with her as she embarked on an emotional quest to find out what happened to Tommy after the Perth went down in early 1942, taking 353 of his shipmates to the bottom with it.

Tommy and a handful of his mates survived the sinking but they were picked up by Japanese ships and forced to endure the nightmare of the Thai-Burma Railway. When the railway was completed Tommy and his pals were crammed on board one of the ‘hellships’, rusting transports used to take POWs to work as slave labour in Japan.

Once again, Tommy’s ship was torpedoed, this time by an American sub, which mistook it for a Japanese troopship. Once again, Tommy and his mates survived, only to be rescued by the Japanese and taken to Tokyo.

Julie Bryce follows Tommy to the site of the Burma Railway in Thailand, where she walks part of the melancholy trail of death, she visits the site of the Perth’s sinking and lays a wreath, and finally she takes us to Tokyo for the conclusion of her journey of discovery.

Julie hears Tommy’s story through the eyes of one of his best mates, still alive in his 90s. She learns the remarkable sacrifices made by her great uncle and her life is changed by her quest. We are all enriched by following in Tommy Johnson’s footsteps.

This Sunday, we travel to Malta for Tony Boyd’s story. He was one of the bravest of the brave, a fighter pilot in the Battle of Malta in WWII.

Spare a thought for Peter and the others

As the reactions to the death of Osama Bin Laden rebound around the world, spare a moment for those who lives have been irreparably changed by his beliefs and by the actions of his followers.

Peter Hughes was one of them He was one of hundreds holidaying in Bali on the evening of 12 October 2002. He had arrived in Denpasar late that afternoon and had been out for dinner. Just after 11pm he arrived at Paddy’s Irish Pub at Kuta Beach with a group of friends and was waiting for his first shout when he found himself propelled through the air by a massive explosion.

After coming to his senses, Peter helped other victims to find the exit. They staggered out of the firestorm into the street only to be swept almost back inside Paddy’s Pub by a second explosion from the nearby Sari Club.

Peter had instinctively looked left as he exited the bar. Had he looked right he would almost certainly have been killed by the lethal shower of shrapnel from the second blast.

In the shocking first hours of the ensuing media coverage of the tragedy, Peter Hughes’ blistered and grossly swollen face was the image that symbolized the spirit of the Australian victims. Millions of Australians saw him tell rescuers that he was OK and to concentrate on those worse off. We instinctively knew he was gravely injured.

In fact, he was at death’s door. He had burns to almost 60% of his body: full-thickness burns to his arms, legs, stomach and back and serious shrapnel wounds to his stomach and legs. Doctors gave him a 5% chance of survival. They were forced to place him in an induced coma for a fortnight. During that eternity for his family and friends, Peter died three times and was revived each time by his heroic medical team.

He fought and survived this nightmare but ahead lay a world of pain: years of grafts and rehab and long nights of lonely doubts and depression.

But Peter Hughes never gave in. He outlasted the pain and the depression and the doubts and now he has outlasted Osama Bin Laden. More power to him and his spirit.