A few years back, knowing of the interest my husband and I have in historical aircraft, a friend of ours (Andrew Lowry) mentioned a Christmas Eve tradition of his. The CBC Radio show As It Happens airs the Frederick Forsyth novella The Shepherd as read by ‘Fireside’ Al Maitland every year, either on Christmas Eve or on the show closest to Christmas Eve. It’s a tradition dating back to 1979, and if you’d like to listen, just tune in to CBC Radio One tonight around 6:30 pm Eastern. (Or, you can hear the story here.)
The story tells the tale of an RAF pilot flying his de Havilland Vampire home from Germany on Christmas Eve, 1957. He loses all electrical power, becomes lost in the fog, and sees his fuel supply dwindling until a de Havilland Mosquito (a WWII-era plane that was still in use in the 50s in some roles) appears to guide him home. I won’t give away the ending, but suffice it to say, this is an example of a British Christmas tradition – the ghost story. (The most famous example might be Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. )
Yesterday while at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, I took a few photos of our de Havilland Vampire, one of the planes featured in the story. (We, alas, do not have a de Havilland Mosquito, although one visited a number of years ago).
One thing to note: By 1957, the Vampire had been largely restricted to a training role, and had been mostly phased out by the end of the decade. The pilot in The Shepherd was flying an obsolete aircraft. Knowing this, and seeing the actual plane adds something to the story listening experience, I think.