The Last Enemy by Richard Hillary is one of the great classic memoirs of the Second World War. Hillary was a charming, good-looking and rather arrogant young man, fresh from public school and Oxford, when, like many of his friends, he abandoned university to train as a pilot on the outbreak of war in 1939. At the flying training school, meeting men who hadn’t enjoyed the same gilded youth as he had, his view of the world, and of himself, began to change.
Shot down in 1940 during the Battle of Britain, he suffered terrible burns and was treated by the pioneering plastic surgeon Archibald McIndoe. During those brief and gruelling wartime months this once privileged young man was forced to grow up as he struggled to come to terms with his defacing injuries and mourned the loss of his friends. The Last Enemy, his final tribute to them, was published in 1942, only months before he himself died in a second crash. With its raw honesty, lack of self-pity and its gripping and terrifying accounts of aerial combat and the psychological aftermath, his book is a wartime classic. Its title is taken from an Epistle of St Paul: ‘The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.’
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