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The Last Enemy (autobiography)

The Last Enemy, published in America as Falling Through Space, is an autobiographical book by Spitfire pilot Richard Hillary. Richard Hillary was born in Sydney, Australia, on 20 April 1919 but was educated at Shrewsbury School in England and Trinity College, Oxford. He joined the Royal Air Force at the start of World War II. It covers his training and his experiences in the RAF, the Battle of Britain and his ordeal after suffering severe burns to his face and hands after being shot down.[1] He underwent plastic surgery, by the famous pioneering surgeon Archibald McIndoe at Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead, and returned to flying at RAF Charterhall in November 1942. He was lost on night training when his Blenheim crashed on 8 January 1943.[2]

The Last Enemy
The Last Enemy.jpg
First edition
Author Richard Hillary
Language English
Genre Autobiography
Publisher Macmillan
Publication date
1942, reprinted April 1998
Media type Paperback
Pages 178
ISBN 1-58080-056-4
OCLC 38073310
940.54/4941 21
LC Class D786 .H5 1997

He wrote the book in New York where he was recovering from his burns and subsequent surgery. He had gone to the United States to raise public awareness of the war in Europe; (The United States did not declare war on Nazi Germany until after Hitler declared war on the United States in the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.) However, he was not allowed to appear in public himself due to fears that his scarred appearance might prove counterproductive.[3]


Publication historyEdit

The book was first published in 1942 under the US title Falling Through Space, with a cover showing an airman plummeting through the sky. However, this was felt to be inappropriate, and for the British edition a line from The Bible "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" (I Corinthians 15:26) was chosen.[4] A television adaptation was produced in 1956.[5]


Hillary's biographer, Denis Richards, writes that the book and its author met with instant acclaim, although the book was unusual in the depth of its storytelling:[6]

The author was acclaimed not only as a born writer but also as a representative of the doomed youth of his generation, although in his constant self-analysis he was in fact a most untypical British fighter pilot of 1940.

J.B. Priestley wrote of it: "The Last Enemy differs from all other books about the RAF because its author, Richard Hillary, is by temperament and inclination, and to some extent training, a writer ... and I hope he goes on writing. Just as once there was a place for him in the air, now there is plenty of room for him on the ground. Welcome colleague!"[citation needed]


  1. ^ "The enemy remains the same for today's RAF pilots" in The Daily Telegraph, 7 January 2003
  2. ^ "The Man Who Makes Faces" in Time, 27 September 1948
  3. ^ "British Writing of the Second World War", Review by Richard Greaves
  4. ^ "Embrace of the last enemy" in The Times, 11 January 2003
  5. ^ The Last Enemy at the Internet Movie Database
  6. ^ "Richard Hillary" in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004

External linksEdit