Book review: Buster by Will Barrow and Isabel George

Most dogs are special to their owners, but here’s a dog that is extra special.

Buster by Will Barrow and Isabel George
Buster by Will Barrow and Isabel George

Beautiful brown and white springer spaniel Buster is a military hero… he has a nose for danger, a heart of pure gold and during active service with the RAF, he saved thousands of lives.

Described by his many admiring ‘colleagues’ as a best friend in dog’s clothing and ‘a real person trapped in a fur coat,’ Buster served in three separate wars in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, an unparalleled achievement for a military dog.

He retired in 2010 and the following year he was showered with tributes and won the Crufts Friends for Life Award and a nomination for the prestigious Sun Military Award. Buster is also the official lifetime mascot of the RAF Police.

Throughout his long and perilous career, Buster had several handlers but there was one man with whom he built up a mutually adoring relationship – RAF Police Flight Sergeant Michael ‘Will’ Barrow.

Buster, who saw Will through some of his darkest hours in Afghanistan, ‘the most dangerous place on God’s earth,’ now has a permanent home with the RAF serviceman and his family in Lincoln.

Their partnership under fire produced some heroic feats in the dust and desert heat of Afghanistan – and beyond – and now Will’s amazing and moving story of enduring loyalty and a life-saving friendship has been told to Isabel George.

‘With some dogs you share a boil in the bag breakfast and maybe a blanket on a cold desert floor… but, if you’re very, very lucky there will be the one dog you would lay down your life for – and for me that dog is Buster,’ he reveals in a book that will have readers gasping in awe one minute and wiping away a tear in the next.

This inspirational man-dog friendship began in 2007 after Will completed a course as an Arms and Explosives Search (AES) dog handler and was introduced to his new partner, three-year-old Buster who had already completed two tours of Bosnia with two different handlers.

It was an emotional moment for Buster’s previous handler who had the heartbreak of seeing his special dog disappearing off with someone else. ‘It’s like seeing your wife with another bloke!’ jokes Will.

It was tough for Buster too but this dog was a military ‘professional’ … after giving his new ‘master’ a very cool once-over and enjoying a bit of bribery (dog treats), he was the happy, bouncy, proud and confident dog that had already marked him out as the perfect search dog.

Will knew that this tour of duty in war-torn Afghanistan was ‘going to be like nothing else ever’ and he would need a dog that not just coped, but thrived. Buster was that dog, wise beyond his years and a cut above any animal he had worked with before.

Buster got to know Will better than Will knew himself, he was his ‘hairy comfort blanket,’ his closest companion with whom he witnessed Taliban ambushes, dodged bullets, carried out dangerous night searches and endured terrifying rides in the sweaty belly of lumbering Viking tanks.

When their tour of duty ended, the two friends returned home but within a few months Buster was back on duty with a new handler in Afghanistan because another search dog had failed its licensing.

But it wasn’t the end of their partnership… the two were reunited and in 2009 Buster became the last British Military Working Dog to leave Iraq. A year later, he officially became a permanent member of the Barrow household.

The two are still the best of friends, a relationship built on trust and loyalty. Throughout the danger, the heat, the discomfort, the fear, Will Barrow says that he knew that if he died, whether it was that day or that night, he would not be alone – his best pal would be watching over him.

An emotional and uplifting story about a dog in a million.

(Virgin Books, hardback, £9.99)