The Fatal Englishman
In his first work of nonfiction, Sebastian Faulks explores the lives of three remarkable men: airman Richard Hillary, artist Christopher Wood and spy Jeremy Wolfenden. Each had the seeds of greatness; each was a beacon to his generation and left something of value behind; yet each one died tragically young.
The Last Enemy
Richard 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. In 1940, during the Battle of Britain, he shot down five German aircraft and was finally shot down in flames himself, sustaining terrible burns to his face and hands.
There followed months in hospital, where he underwent numerous operations to reconstruct his eyelids, lips and hands by the pioneering plastic surgeon Archibald McIndoe, struggled to come to terms with his defacing injuries, and heard almost daily of the deaths of his friends. He was 21 when, as a tribute to their courage, and as a kind of self-examination he began to write. The Last Enemy was published in 1942, seven months before his own death in a second air crash, after he had, unbelievably, persuaded the authorities to let him fly again, though he could scarcely hold a knife and fork. 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, the harrowing story of a carefree young man who, like many others, was suddenly and cruelly forced to grow up.
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