Described by critics as "not a book written by a pilot about the war, but a book written by a writer about a pilot", The Last Enemy
tells the story of a young writer's experiences as a Spitfire pilot in training and during the Battle of Britain, and of the life he led after being shot down.
Richard Hillary begins his story with a gripping account of his flight from Hornchurch on September 3, 1940, up and out over the Channel and into ferocious aerial combat, "a blur of twisting machines and tracer bullets". His plane hit and hurtling towards the water, Richard bails out of the flaming cockpit and parachutes into the Channel where, hours later, he is eventually rescued by the Margate lifeboat.
The Last Enemy then tells the extraordinary and moving story surrounding that September day. It describes carefree days at Trinity College, Oxford, light-hearted competitive rowing in Germany and Hungary, training as a fighter pilot, aerial combat and then, after being shot down and cruelly burnt by the flames, of a slow and painful recovery. Richard tells also of great friendship and of tragic loss and - in yet more sombre tones - of intense and agonizing personal reflection and questioning about his own war experience, which transformed him fromm a gifted and handsome athlete, admired and envied by his contemporaries, into a ravaged figure. Unsure of whether or not he would ever be passed fit enough to fly again, Richard asks himself what he can do for those who have died? As he himself wrote: "Then after a while it came to me. I could write." And so he came to write The Last Enemy.
This commemorative edition of The Last Enemy, with a foreword by D.M.W. to whom the book was originally dedicated, is being published on April 20, Richard Hillary's birthday, and in 2003, sixty years after his death.