During World War II, a young soldier named Ian Mac-Horton fell into the hands of the Japanese in Burma and became a prisoner of war. Emaciated, very seriously wounded, entirely cut off from all contact with his fellow British soldiers and desperately weak, it seemed impossible that he could live. Certainly he posed no threat to his guards, for even if he had been able to muster the energy to escape, they were surrounded by dense jungle – the home of carnivorous animals and deadly snakes. But he was inspired by the words of Minnie Louise Haskins (made so memorable by King George VI) which his mother had sent him in a Christmas letter:
I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year; ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown’. And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than a light and safer than a known way.’
Against all odds, escape he did. He dragged himself along a path for a few days and then, too ill to go on, lay down to die. Suddenly his eyes were drawn to a boot mark – a regulation British army boot with thirteen studs. Gazing in wonder, he felt the imprint and, yes, it was fairly fresh. He looked on, and there stretching ahead as far as he could see were more boot marks. Suddenly, hope sprang up. He was jubilant as he dragged himself along the path following the footmarks. For days he followed them up hill, down dale, skirting round a treacherous swamp in complete safety. As he stopped to rest one day, he looked back over the path he had followed and the hairs on the back of his neck began to prickle. There were no boot marks!
He crawled back a few yards and, sure enough, all the imprints of his own naked feet were there – but no boot marks at all! Panic stricken, he looked ahead – and there they were, the boot marks stretching on as far as the eye could see. Utterly dumb founded by the mystery of it all, he could only but follow. He began to build up a relationship with the footprints – talk to them, laugh with them, share his hopes and fears with them. One day they stopped abruptly. He felt devastated and let down. He was hopelessly lost, stuck in the middle of nowhere without chart or compass. He had simply followed those footmarks in complete trust. Then he heard the sound of water close by, and parting the tall grass to one side of him, he saw that he had come to a river. He knew enough geography of the area to realise that there was only one river of that size in that part of the world, and that the British base of Tamu was only a relatively short distance up-stream. The miraculous footprints had delivered him from his enemies!