As It Happens’ annual reading of The Sheppard
The Shepherd is a 1976 novel by Frederick Forsyth; created originally as a Christmas gift to his wife after she requested a ghost story be written for her. Written on Christmas Day, and published near that time a year later, the idea came while trying to think of a setting away from the typical haunted homes, and seeing planes flying overhead. Forsyth, a former RAF pilot, relates the story of a De Havilland Vampire pilot going home on Christmas Eve 1957, whose aircraft suffers a complete electrical failure en route from northern Germany to Suffolk. Lost in fog and low on fuel, he is met and led (or shepherded) to a disused RAF dispersal field by the pilot of a De Havilland Mosquito fighter/bomber of WWII vintage, who has apparently been sent up to guide him in. His attempts to find a rational explanation for his eventual rescue prove troublesome. However, some time after he lands at the airfield he learns that his savior was Johnny Kavanagh, a wartime RAF pilot who had been stationed there and who had guided crippled bombers home. The Vampire pilot also learns that Kavanagh disappeared over the North Sea in his Mosquito on his last mission, on Christmas Eve, exactly fourteen years before. Beginning in 1979 the story has been broadcast each year on Christmas Eve on the CBC’s As It Happens, read by the late Alan Maitland.