When Australia was drawn into World War II there were no commandos or SAS-style forces to send on daring and dangerous secret missions.
But a covert unit specialising in reconnaissance and sabotage was set up in 1942 to operate behind Japanese lines: Z Special Unit, which became a forerunner to the elite SAS.
When Billy Brandis enlisted in 1941 he had no idea, after serving with distinction as a signaller, that he would be handpicked to join Z Special Unit. But in January 1944, Sergeant Brandis was deployed to British North Borneo as part of its Operation Python II.
Poorly trained and prepared, Billy was separated from his unit and became lost in the dense and unforgiving jungle. What followed is an extraordinary story of endurance and courage.
Nearly seven decades later, Billy’s niece is retracing his footsteps through the jungle, humidity and mud of Borneo at 6.30pm this Sunday on Channel Nine’s In Their Footsteps.
For Tracy Brandis-Gray, from Beaconsfield in Tasmania, Billy’s fate has remained a secret history – much like the special operation that took him to Borneo.
Now she wants to discover the truth and pay tribute to the uncle she never knew.
In Their Footsteps: Sunday, June 5, at 6.30pm on Nine