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Watch In Their Footsteps online: Episode 1 Petty Officer Tommy Johnson

Tommy Johnson was an ordinary man who had an extraordinary war. For nearly 70 years, his family never really knew what happened to Tommy a remarkable story of endurance and mateship, of courage and cruelty. Now, his great niece, Julie Bryce, will discover the truth. Julie, a mother of three from Perth, WA, has long wanted to comprehend the full story behind a mantelpiece photo of a young Tommy setting off to sea. As an optimistic 18-year-old with matinee idol looks, Tommy joined the Navy keen to see the world. He was hoping to join a fighting ship and he got what he wated and then much more. Tommy set sail aboard HMAS Perth on Valentines Day 1942, heading into an escalating war: the Japanese had bombed both Pearl Harbour and Darwin and their forces were fanning out across the Pacific. Within a fortnight, a 70-strong Japanese fleet just off the coast of Indonesia would hopelessly outgun the Perth. 353 Australians died. Tommy was one of the lucky ones to survive, but his fortune was mixed: he was picked up out of the water by the Japanese, only to be interned as a POW to build the notorious Thai-Burma Railway. Tommy survived the daily battle against exhaustion, starvation and tropical diseases. With the railway complete, the now weakening Japanese had more in store for Tommy - to ship him and other POWs to Tokyo to bolster its now diminishing war effort. They were crammed into one of the notorious Japanese Hell Ships bound for Tokyo but the rust bucket of a transport vessel would never get there. A US submarine torpedoed it, and again, Tommy was hurled into an angry and oily ocean. Incredibly, Tommy survived and was again rescued by the Japanese. He was lucky to be alive but the blessing was mixed; Tommy was taken to Tokyo. Today, his great niece, Julie, will also travel to Tokyo. What she discovers there will change her world forever.

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