As It Happens

Remembering Dave Barrett, a real-life World War II shepherd

Former pilot Dave Barrett flew with the illustrious Pathfinder squadron during the Second World War.
Dave Barrett was a real-life former pilot who flew with the illustrious Pathfinder squadron during the Second World War. (April Butler)
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This article was first published in December 2014 and updated with news of Barrett's death in 2017.


The narrator in Frederick Forsyth's short story  The Shepherd owes his life to a miraculous encounter with the pilot of a Mosquito aircraft— who, he later learns, flew with the illustrious Pathfinder squadron during the Second World War.

And while Johnny Kavanagh may be both fictional and a ghost, the late Dave Barrett was a real-life former pilot, who flew with this ace unit that earned such an esteemed reputation during the war.

"It was just like driving a Rolls Royce, there was no comparison," Barrett told As It Happens host Carol Off in 2014, about what it was like to fly a Mosquito.

He also explains why he lists the reading of The Shepherd by late As It Happens host "Fireside" Al Maitland among his favourite recordings of all time — one that he replays several times a year.

When I was in a tight spot, I was looking for a ghost. Anything that would get me the hell out of it.- Dave  Barrett, pilot 

He describes a close call in which he was forced to execute an emergency landing in rough weather. And although he was not piloting a Mosquito at the time, he says he can relate to the feeling of despair experienced by the narrator of the story.

Barrett flew the de Havilland Mosquito. (Dave Barrett)

"At that point, I didn't know which end was up, or which way to go. When I was in a tight spot, I was looking for a ghost. Anything that would get me the hell out of it."

Still, Barrett says he always felt that somehow, he would survive whatever ordeal he faced.

"Don't forget, in those days we were invincible," he said. "Nothing could deter us. Did I ever think I was going to get killed or die? Never."

Barrett with his navigator, Bob Moore. (Dave Barrett)

When Off asked Barrett whether he ever had the sense there were guardian angels looking out for him, he replied: "Always. Always. Always."

If you'd like to hear more about the Mosquito and the men who flew it, be sure to check out our interview with April Butler.

She's a documentary filmmaker who chronicled the five-year restoration of a de Havilland Mosquito. Several pilots — including Dave Barrett — are featured in her 2014 film.

Barrett passed away in September 2017. According to his obituary, some of his last words were: "I think my wheels are leaving the ground."

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