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"One of the classic works of World War II."--London Review of Books


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"One of the classic works of World War II."--London Review of Books

30 review for The Last Enemy (Classics Of War)

  1. 4 out of 5

    JD

    A very moving and honest war memoir of a Battle of Britain ace, that was written during the war by a man with so much promise that did not see war's end. It follows Hillary from his carefree days at Oxford as one of the "Lost Generation" and see him being transformed into a man that understood the meaning of life at a very young age through his own trials and tribulations by being badly burned after being shot down and being one of Dr. Ivanhoe's "guinea pigs" in the early days of reconstructive A very moving and honest war memoir of a Battle of Britain ace, that was written during the war by a man with so much promise that did not see war's end. It follows Hillary from his carefree days at Oxford as one of the "Lost Generation" and see him being transformed into a man that understood the meaning of life at a very young age through his own trials and tribulations by being badly burned after being shot down and being one of Dr. Ivanhoe's "guinea pigs" in the early days of reconstructive surgery. One of the best Battle of Britain memoirs and highly recommended.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jim Coughenour

    This short memoir by a RAF pilot, which I read in an attractive new edition from Vintage UK (not yet on Goodreads), with an intro by Sebastian Faulks (best read as an afterword), impressed me much more than I'd expected. Richard Hillary was a golden boy, educated at Oxford, well-to-do, dashing, handsome, etc. He wrote The Last Enemy in the interval between between being shot down during the Battle of Britain in September 1940 (he was badly burned on his face and hands, and endured multiple opera This short memoir by a RAF pilot, which I read in an attractive new edition from Vintage UK (not yet on Goodreads), with an intro by Sebastian Faulks (best read as an afterword), impressed me much more than I'd expected. Richard Hillary was a golden boy, educated at Oxford, well-to-do, dashing, handsome, etc. He wrote The Last Enemy in the interval between between being shot down during the Battle of Britain in September 1940 (he was badly burned on his face and hands, and endured multiple operations) and his death on a night flight in 1943. It's hard to believe this book was written by a man barely 23. The descriptions of Oxford, flight training, deep friendships with men all killed within the first few months of war – are powerful and unsentimental. After Merchant-Ivory films, the romance of Brideshead Revisited and its innumerable spawn, it's easy to consider the Brits as a bit of Disney. Hillary returns his readers to the harsh horrors of what the war against Hitler meant, and the heroism of ordinary people in Britain's "darkest hour." But the force of the book is centered on a more private myth: a privileged young man "with all the luck" who is disfigured in body but noble in spirit. The book isn't perfect — how could it be? – but it has a surprising kick. This is a forgotten classic which, for all its blasé modernity, has the fierce passion of an Arthurian tale that inevitably ends in death.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Brown

    The memoir of a WWII fighter pilot who was shot down, badly burned, had his face and hands reconstructed, and then somehow managed to finagle his way back into being a pilot, where he was promptly killed in a training accident (I really hope not because he was, in fact, no longer fit to fly); this book came out three months before his death, so at least he got to see it published. Hillary has just gone down in flames: There can be few more futile pastimes than yelling for help alone in the North The memoir of a WWII fighter pilot who was shot down, badly burned, had his face and hands reconstructed, and then somehow managed to finagle his way back into being a pilot, where he was promptly killed in a training accident (I really hope not because he was, in fact, no longer fit to fly); this book came out three months before his death, so at least he got to see it published. Hillary has just gone down in flames: There can be few more futile pastimes than yelling for help alone in the North Sea, with a solitary seagull for company, yet it gave me a certain melancholy satisfaction, for I had once written a short story in which the hero (falling from a liner) had done just this. It was rejected. This excerpt exemplifies the best parts of the book, which are the chapters on flying, pilot training, and recovery. (There's less on the culture surrounding his recovery (The Guinea Pig Club) than I'd hoped, possibly because he wasn't in the hospital anywhere near as long as many people were.) A lot of the memoir is devoted to philosophical conversations and musings which I found less interesting, chronicling how Hillary went from seeing war and life as something purely a matter of individual striving and enjoyment to also having a moral dimension, and from seeing himself as something of a detached observer to being connected with all humankind. The last chapter, in which he has an encounter with a woman he digs out of a collapsed house, brings together the perfectly observed details of the chapters on flying and fighting with larger issues. Hillary was a sharp observer with a great prose style and an understated/dark sense of humor. He wasn't a pilot who wrote one book because he had an extraordinary experience he wanted to record, he was a writer who was also a pilot. I wonder if he'd have gone on to be a noted writer if he'd survived, or a minor writer whose books a handful of people really like. If the latter, I would very probably have been in that handful. An unhappy Amazon reviewer remarks, "Too English," and it is indeed incredibly English in a very specific way, but I grew up reading books like that and for all the flaws inherent in that very specific (colonialist, among other things) outlook, I love the style. A number of writers (J. R. R. Tolkien and Neil Gaiman, just off the top of my head) have imagined that artists continue their work in the afterlife, creating great libraries of books unwritten in life. It's the heaven I'd most like to have actually exist.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Alex Kershaw

    DEEPLY DEEPLY MOVING ACCOUNT OF THE EGOTISTICAL FIGHTER PILOT TRANSFORMED TO AN ARTIST/WARRIOR OF AMAZING PROMISE, KILLED TRAGICALLY WAY TOO YOUNG IN WW2. Best book of Battle of Britain I have read by far...

  5. 5 out of 5

    Erika Schoeps

    This was a tricky war memoir for me to read, and now its gonna be a tricky war memoir for me to rate. Sebastian Faulks is one of my favorite authors. He writes whirlwind romances set in a historical background, and personally, I think he's a genius. For a single novel, he recounted the lives of three men that he found monumental. One of the men he picked was Richard Hillary. Intrigued, I picked up this memoir, which is highly recommended by Faulks. This book starts slowly, and continues slowly. Th This was a tricky war memoir for me to read, and now its gonna be a tricky war memoir for me to rate. Sebastian Faulks is one of my favorite authors. He writes whirlwind romances set in a historical background, and personally, I think he's a genius. For a single novel, he recounted the lives of three men that he found monumental. One of the men he picked was Richard Hillary. Intrigued, I picked up this memoir, which is highly recommended by Faulks. This book starts slowly, and continues slowly. This novel is neither action-packed nor emotional, but it is literary. Philosophical and penetrating conversations unfold between Hillary and his acquaintances, friends, and family, and Hillary adds his own opinion. Hillary was endearing to me, but as a sort of anti-hero, he does not have a wide appeal. Hillary rarely romanticizes the situation, and takes pride in his realistic view of the world. Hillary has not joined the RAF because of a love of country... he is motivated by glory and his own view of man-on-man warfare. The book progresses in this fashion until Hillary is shot down, and begins spending time at various hospitals. The book gets more interesting at this point, as the book finally gains some emotion. Hillary seems to have gained a bit of humanity. He has a poignant encounter with a dead friend's widow, he screws around with the nurses at the hospital, and he observes wartime England. Because I read Faulks' biography of Richard Hillary, I gained vital information on the last relevant event in Hillary's memoir. Faulks, in his research, couldn't verify the last event in Hillary's autobiography... and its obvious from the way its written that it did not happen. Hillary's hands are horribly, horribly injured, and the action he describes himself as doing... likely, not possible. Also, the event is highly symbolic. It really touched me, showed Hillary's changing views on mankind, and wrapped things up sentimentally and elegantly. The last bit of this book really redeemed things for me. Personally, I had trouble getting into this emotion-less memoir that showed the life of someone mostly removed from the heart of infantry battle... but for anyone who wants to read a war recollection with a literary twist, try this one out.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Wendy

    I read this book with no prior knowledge of who Richard Hillary was or what had happened to him after he wrote it. I'd found a copy of this book at a church book stall, a tattered and musty 1943 edition, which once I had read the first few lines of the Proem I was hooked by, I paid my 25p and wandered off to start reading. After the captivating Proem, the book becomes an autobiographical novel which is broken into two parts. Book one begins with the authors charmed days rowing and occasionally st I read this book with no prior knowledge of who Richard Hillary was or what had happened to him after he wrote it. I'd found a copy of this book at a church book stall, a tattered and musty 1943 edition, which once I had read the first few lines of the Proem I was hooked by, I paid my 25p and wandered off to start reading. After the captivating Proem, the book becomes an autobiographical novel which is broken into two parts. Book one begins with the authors charmed days rowing and occasionally studying at Oxford, his joining the Oxford University Air Squadron, his subsequent RAF training and deployment to 603 City of Edinburgh squadron to fly spitfires, up until him being shot down. Book two focuses on life after, his rehabilitation and the pioneering work of his surgeon Archibald McIndoe to repair his fire ravaged body, his coming to terms with life as it will now be and his realisation that some of his firm held beliefs are no longer sustainable and that some of his actions and the treatment of his friends in the past begin to haunt him. my full review here

  7. 5 out of 5

    Alan Morris

    Probably THE classic amongst Battle Of Britain pilot autobiographies. Written by a writer who flew rather than a flyer who wrote, an accurate quote from his biographer. I'm glad this book has been reprinted to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the greatest air battle of all time. It is a pitty that no audiobook or ebook exists. I have created a Kindle ebook from my original 1942 1st edition and have offered it at no charge to the rights holder of the book so hopefully this option will be mad Probably THE classic amongst Battle Of Britain pilot autobiographies. Written by a writer who flew rather than a flyer who wrote, an accurate quote from his biographer. I'm glad this book has been reprinted to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the greatest air battle of all time. It is a pitty that no audiobook or ebook exists. I have created a Kindle ebook from my original 1942 1st edition and have offered it at no charge to the rights holder of the book so hopefully this option will be made available. This deserves to be read by new generations of readers as amongst all the biographies available I think that it is the one which delves most deeply into the psychology of going to war as a young man and how the experience inevitably changes you.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mitchell

    One of the things that’s struck me - looking back at history as an adult with fresh eyes, rather than with the received background wisdoms we get through early schooling or pop culture - is an appreciation of looking at past events through the eyes of people alive at the time, and how those events then compared to their own past. World War I, for example, seems to us like an inevitability, and a rather old-fashioned sort of war compared to the blitzkrieg of World War II; but for those living thr One of the things that’s struck me - looking back at history as an adult with fresh eyes, rather than with the received background wisdoms we get through early schooling or pop culture - is an appreciation of looking at past events through the eyes of people alive at the time, and how those events then compared to their own past. World War I, for example, seems to us like an inevitability, and a rather old-fashioned sort of war compared to the blitzkrieg of World War II; but for those living through it, it was the point at which the future started looking bleak instead of hopeful, the unhappy dark conclusion to the industrial revolution, the optimism of the Gilded Age and the green agrarian fields of Europe turned into the muddy, rusty, mechanical hell of a machine war. It must have felt like the end of the world. Similarly, the Battle of Britain is such a proudly-remembered, immortalised landmark of history that we ironically don’t appreciate it as much as we should. It was the first great air battle in human history. For thousands and thousands of years human beings had killed each other across Europe, and for nearly a thousand years Britain’s geographic fortune meant it was largely protected from foreign invasion by sea. When the British Expeditionary Force packed off to France in 1939, they expected this war would turn out largely like the last one: a stalemate in the muddy trenches of the Low Countries. They certainly never expected that Britain’s sovereignty might be threatened, or that the skies above London – the ultimate home front – would play host to a battle between flying machines that simply hadn’t existed two generations ago. (One of the most striking images of the Battle of Britain, to me, is the contrails in the sky above St Paul’s Cathedral.) The flyleaf of my copy of The Last Enemy has the oldest inscription I think I’ve ever seen in a book I own: “To Les, March 1943.” The worst of the danger had passed by 1943 but it’s still strange to think Les received this book as a gift from somebody while the war was still ongoing, when the outcome was still in play. It certainly makes history feel less far away. Richard Hillary was an Oxford student in the 1930s who signed up to the RAF when the war broke out. The Last Enemy is an interesting first-hand description of what it was like to be one of the men so rightly idolised these days, the fighter pilots who defended Britain against the Luftwaffe and a potential invasion. Hillary was by calling a writer, though it’s fair to say that this is one of those books (like Alive by Paul Piers Read) which is compelling not because it’s told with any particular flair but simply because the events it describes are so compelling. It’s also very much a book of two halves. Hillary was shot down over the North Sea during the Battle of Britain and was badly burned on the face and hands, and the second half of The Last Enemy details his hospital treatment and recovery. In many ways this is the more interesting story: going straight from being a glamorous hot-shot fighter pilot to a pitiable and broken thing, blinded, awash on a tide of pain and morphine in a hospital bed, rendered a helpless bystander in a war he desperately wanted to go back to fighting. It also, at great length, details the kinds of things which put the lie to any notion of glamour. It’s one thing to die for your country. It’s quite another thing to get your eyelids burned off, have crude replacements cut from the skin of your forearm to replace them, spend months immersed in 1940s healthcare, undergo saline baths, listen to the screaming of the other patients, incubate a terrible infection in your burns, and eventually leave hospital disfigured for life to face a society that doesn’t quite want to look you in the eye anymore. Hillary would certainly never say it, and maybe it’s just my own medical squeamishness, but the feeling I got was that this kind of ordeal was a far worse experience than anything active combat could put you through. One remark of [my mother’s] I shall never forget. She said: “You should be glad this has to happen to you. Too many people told you how attractive you were and you believed them. You were well on your way to becoming something of a cad. Now you’ll find out who your real friends are.” I did. Hillary himself is quite an introspective fellow, though strangely for a memoir I couldn’t say I really got to know him. It very much feels like he’s building his own image up. More telling, I think, than any aspect of his personality he shows to the reader is the truth of his fate, which obviously isn’t included in the book. He eventually managed to pass the medical board and go back to flying – not in combat, but still flying for the RAF – even though, by the account of his fellow officers, he could barely hold his knife and fork in the mess hall, got splitting headaches and had trouble reading the altimeter. Clearly there was some burning drive within him to risk his own life (and that of others), to ignore his own medical condition, to go back if not to battle than at least to the skies. He inevitably crashed and died on a night training flight in Scotland in 1943. He was twenty-four years old, which, to me these days, seems terribly young. An interesting memoir written by a hero. A hero who joined the RAF for self-admittedly selfish reasons and was probably a bit of a narcissist, but a hero nonetheless.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Camilla Tilly

    "You should be glad this has to happen to you. Too many people told you how attractive you were and you believed them. You were well on the way to becoming something of a cad". This was said to Richard Hilary, by his mother, after he had been shot down in the Channel and got his hands and face severely burned. She must have been aware that it was not only his looks that made him a cad. This book was written by a 22-year-old cad, looks or no looks. He took nothing for serious including his studie "You should be glad this has to happen to you. Too many people told you how attractive you were and you believed them. You were well on the way to becoming something of a cad". This was said to Richard Hilary, by his mother, after he had been shot down in the Channel and got his hands and face severely burned. She must have been aware that it was not only his looks that made him a cad. This book was written by a 22-year-old cad, looks or no looks. He took nothing for serious including his studies at Oxford. Perhaps if he had, he would have been able to write a better book. Since he died before it's publication, I am sure that the publishers did not dare to touch the text at all. Had he lived, they would have had to heavily edit this book since it feels like a pot luck dinner. I am not saying that the book is all bad. Not at all. It gives the viewpoint of ONE pilot in WWII. The reason it became such a hit in 1942 is of course the fact that Britain was still at war, doing poorly and needed anything that could lift it's spirit including the story of a hero. But was he a hero really? In my view a hero is: a man or a woman, putting aside his/her life for the common good, to save many without regard to himself/herself. Someone that wants to protect, someone that wants to fight for what is right. Hilary was a selfish cad who only did things for himself. He was in the war as a pilot to see what was in it for him, to get material to write about. His discussions with friends are highly offensive and it is amazing that anyone could stand to be in his company. Sebastian Faulks says that he was only 22 and could not write about abstract ideas. He sure is right. He describes certain things in a fun and moving way, even well at times. But other parts are less successful. If one wants to read a contemporary book about the battle of Britain time and the phoney war, this is a semi-all right book. But I would not say that it was written by an ordinary spitfire pilot but by a rebel that thought himself VERY special. He had a head as big as a balloon and because of it, the book is at times offensive. It's nice to know that plenty of pilots have written about this time. The ones that were up there to defend England! I don't care if they wrote years after the fact. Certain memories do not vanish no matter what. The real heroes are found in the silent, humble pilots!

  10. 4 out of 5

    David Lowther

    The Last Enemy is one of the best and best known memoirs of the Second World War. Hillary was a fighter pilot in the Battle of Britain who was shot down and badly burned in the Autumn of 1940. In his own words he tells of his final year at Oxford, his flying training, comradeship, his experiences fighting Germans in the air, his accident and his remarkable recovery under the auspices of the famous plastic surgeon Archibald McIndoe. During his recovery he hears daily news of the deaths of friends The Last Enemy is one of the best and best known memoirs of the Second World War. Hillary was a fighter pilot in the Battle of Britain who was shot down and badly burned in the Autumn of 1940. In his own words he tells of his final year at Oxford, his flying training, comradeship, his experiences fighting Germans in the air, his accident and his remarkable recovery under the auspices of the famous plastic surgeon Archibald McIndoe. During his recovery he hears daily news of the deaths of friends and comrades at the hands of the Luftwaffe and his reflections on life, death, war and friendship make fascinating reading. Hillary's story, like his life, is short but nonetheless very compelling. David Lowther. Author of The Blue Pencil, Two Families at War and Liberating Belsen, all published by Sacristy Press

  11. 4 out of 5

    Pirate

    Very moving on all levels..not just the Spitfires....remarkable account written during the war all the more poignant because the impressive Hillary was killed in a flying accident after somewhat surprisingly being permitted to resume flying after suffering dreadful wounds when he was shot down. The camaraderie, bravery and mixed reasons for the boys in blue are all there of course as are some entertaining anecdotes such as when he and other fellow students from Oxford go on a rowing tour of Germ Very moving on all levels..not just the Spitfires....remarkable account written during the war all the more poignant because the impressive Hillary was killed in a flying accident after somewhat surprisingly being permitted to resume flying after suffering dreadful wounds when he was shot down. The camaraderie, bravery and mixed reasons for the boys in blue are all there of course as are some entertaining anecdotes such as when he and other fellow students from Oxford go on a rowing tour of Germany and Hungary. In Germany they meet up with an elderly coach called Popeye whose English is colourful to say the least: 'My wife she drunk since two years but tomorrow she come'. We hoped he meant the boat and thankfully he did...nevertheless they duly won the Goering Fours gaining in the process the Goering Cup -- a gold shell case -- which they returned a year later out of taste....Hillary is an entertaining cove spiky with his friends especially a train journey with the zen-like Peter Pease where the latter does wonderfully well to keep his calm as Hillary desperately tries to provoke him over the reasons for his going to war -- largely a One Nation Tory style we must care for and protect the less well off -- differing vastly from the more individual one might say selfish reason for Hillary. By the end of the book Hillary is disabused of his reason in a shocking incident and it is not his shooting down. Indeed his handling of his wounds, his treatment by the extraordinary Archibald McIndoe involve little self pity -- one darkly humorous scene entails him being fed a cigarette by a nurse who then goes off only for the fag to fall from his mouth and lodge in his pyjamas leading to frantic cries for help -- and several attest to how much he had changed for the better...in spirit inversely to his physical appearance. Humour peppers the book..the patriotic captain and fellow patient who puts an RASC officer suffering from piles in his place when the latter complains about Hillary's preferential treatment in hospital remarks: "The Government will buy him a new Spitfire, but I'm damned if it will buy you a new arse!" However, never far away is the sense of loss of comrades although Hillary tries to shield himself from showing emotion...perhaps the toll is best exemplified when he writes '24 of us flew down from Montrose (to Hornchurch where they were based for the Battle of Britain) , eight flew back ." Wonderful and enriching book but sadly hard to acquire as is all but out of print but should be remedied as it merits a mass readership.

  12. 5 out of 5

    George Siehl

    The copy I read was the 1983 St. Martin's Press version with an intro by flyer/writer Ernest Gann; sorry to miss the intro by Faulks, a favorite author. Gann noted the quality of Hillary's writing, and he was correct, this memoir is a work of literature. As a memoir it provides a personal perspective, and it is an honest perspective as the author is painted in unflattering terms as not a very nice person. One will not find detailed battle statistics here, but that is not the purpose of a memoir. The copy I read was the 1983 St. Martin's Press version with an intro by flyer/writer Ernest Gann; sorry to miss the intro by Faulks, a favorite author. Gann noted the quality of Hillary's writing, and he was correct, this memoir is a work of literature. As a memoir it provides a personal perspective, and it is an honest perspective as the author is painted in unflattering terms as not a very nice person. One will not find detailed battle statistics here, but that is not the purpose of a memoir. The book is all the more arresting because of the depiction of the man within the war, not the war itself. Fortunately, that man grows less self-centered and detached with more experience of war and the loss of all his early service friends. Hillary aspired to be a writer during his years at Oxford when athletics and fun were his major interests. The war he viewed as a means of providing himself with experience to further his writing. The graceful quality of his writing makes one regret that he did not live to write more. What he does write about here is his fun-filled college days, his friends at Oxford who joined him in entering the Royal Air Force at the start of the WWII, his training, combat in the epic Battle of Britain, his combat crash and severe burn injuries, and slow medical recovery. The book was written as he completed this recovery. The true story is the slow but major change that saw him finally recognize a world larger than himself. He ruminates on the post-war era based on the different background of his eventual squadron mates, men not only from Oxford, but from various trades and even farmers. He wonders if these people will come to play a greater role in governance, taking their place with the gentry. Had he lived, would he have been amazed at the grocer's daughter, Margaret Thatcher, becoming Prime Minister? A classic insight into the flyers who saved Britain.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Bert van der Vaart

    Thank you to Slightly Foxed publishers for resurrecting this classic from WWII days, and in a very attractive edition. The Last Enemy is an autobiography of an Oxford educated member of the so-called Lost Generation, who joins the RAF for its fights against the Luftwaffe over British skies. Hillary not only describes his education and almost drift to the RAF as if writing a letter--so contemporaneous and honest--but also over the course of the book picks at his own life's philosophy. He is a fir Thank you to Slightly Foxed publishers for resurrecting this classic from WWII days, and in a very attractive edition. The Last Enemy is an autobiography of an Oxford educated member of the so-called Lost Generation, who joins the RAF for its fights against the Luftwaffe over British skies. Hillary not only describes his education and almost drift to the RAF as if writing a letter--so contemporaneous and honest--but also over the course of the book picks at his own life's philosophy. He is a firm materialist and egoist, believing in his goal as "self-realization" and enjoying each day's experience for what it is. Initially smug against his more idealistic friends--and no doubt reflecting the academic/upper middle class conventional wisdom of the day--he gradually begins to grow up. In particular, he sees good friends dying all around him, and sees their conviction that the fight against Nazi Germany was important and urgent. After being shot down and badly burned himself, he recovers in various hospitals. A weekend visit to a Oxonian friend, who during his time at Oxford was a committed conscientious objector, was a key chink in Hillary's smug views. In particular, he sees how agitated his friend was as revelation after revelation of how evil what Nazi Germany was doing everywhere it reigned. Evil does exist and not confronting it was naive. Secondly, Hillary begins to sense the presence of good, not to say God, in the lives of his now dead friends, and of his life after their deaths--when memories and inspirational bits of action brought with them a sense of their immortality. Written beautifully, with action far outweighing the important insights scattered throughout the book, I highly recommend this book, but especially for those lucky souls who have attended Oxford and/or have rowed--to them, as for me, the absolute credibility of the first 30-40 pages resounds, and provides a foundation for the rest of this gem of a book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Thom Swennes

    Richard Hillary was born in Sydney, Australia on April 20, 1919. He is the son of a government official. Two years prior to the outbreak of World War II he enters Trinity College, Oxford. There he was the secretary of the Oxford University Boat Club, and president of the Rugby Club. Extracurricular activities played a huge role in a student’s life. In 1939 Richard joined the Oxford University Air Squadron and the RAFVR; an action that would have a dramatic effect on his life. When Britain, along Richard Hillary was born in Sydney, Australia on April 20, 1919. He is the son of a government official. Two years prior to the outbreak of World War II he enters Trinity College, Oxford. There he was the secretary of the Oxford University Boat Club, and president of the Rugby Club. Extracurricular activities played a huge role in a student’s life. In 1939 Richard joined the Oxford University Air Squadron and the RAFVR; an action that would have a dramatic effect on his life. When Britain, along with France declares war on Germany on September 3, 1939, the country was immediately mobilized for war. Men were needed to fill the ranks and trained pilots were particularly in high demand. Richard joins the 603 Squadron as a Spitfire pilot. This is the autobiography of one of the countless young men that fought and died in the European air war of the Second World War. He displays a devil-may-care attitude and a reckless courage that only the young and innocent can embrace. I couldn’t help notice a veil of impending doom that shadowed this story; while knowing that the writer of these words would not survive the war and die, near Greenlaw, Scotland at the age of twenty-three. Countless stories have been written about this war. Most of them are dramatizations of factual events or fictitious exploits. This story is more about a time and the sphere and mindset of the participants of war. I am sorry that Richard Hillary and countless other young men, on both sides of the battle line had to pay the ultimate price for a war not of their doing but I remain thankful for the stories these men were able to leave behind for posterity.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mary Warnement

    I could accept Hillary for what he was, a very young man, writing in his early 20s, with his life's expected course utterly different than what he'd expected. Or maybe not. He writes though not the most privileged, but his experience is so far removed from most. I mean, what's it matter if you're in the top 2% or top 10%. He tries to be self aware but he is what he is. His dismissal of others beliefs seemed so naive. His description (108 ff)of accosting the Christian values as relates to behavio I could accept Hillary for what he was, a very young man, writing in his early 20s, with his life's expected course utterly different than what he'd expected. Or maybe not. He writes though not the most privileged, but his experience is so far removed from most. I mean, what's it matter if you're in the top 2% or top 10%. He tries to be self aware but he is what he is. His dismissal of others beliefs seemed so naive. His description (108 ff)of accosting the Christian values as relates to behavior during war of a very good friend over a long train ride was so uncomfortable. I felt there, in the seat across. But Hillary reflects on that, in his conclusion (215ff) and regrets he was "so arrogant!" Of course this was all written after he was shot down and suffered a long, painful, and life-threatening recovery. A friend was surprised to hear I was reading this, and I recalled a long time ago, over 20 years ago, when friends, a couple, surveyed my bookshelves during a party. Michael commented on his surprise at a biography of Marie Curie, but Raquel was quicker, "Nothing unusual about that, but what is the memoir of a Panzer Commander doing here." I love defying expectations. Hillary loved defying gravity, and authority, and I suspect he rather wanted to die a glorious death in a fiery crash. That is what happened, when he persuaded the RAF to let him behind a stick again, though not of a fighter Spitfire, even though he could not properly use a fork and knife.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Brooke Salaz

    Recommended by Claude Lanzmann in The Patagonian Hare. The male side of the Vera Brittain story, Testament of Youth. Hillary was a student at Oxford, more interested in rowing and goofing around with friends than hitting the books by his account when WWII intervened. He trained as a Spitfire fighter pilot and the book is split between his training and participation in battles in the first half and his grueling treatment for burns sustained in a crash for the second. His writing style is rapid an Recommended by Claude Lanzmann in The Patagonian Hare. The male side of the Vera Brittain story, Testament of Youth. Hillary was a student at Oxford, more interested in rowing and goofing around with friends than hitting the books by his account when WWII intervened. He trained as a Spitfire fighter pilot and the book is split between his training and participation in battles in the first half and his grueling treatment for burns sustained in a crash for the second. His writing style is rapid and merciless toward himself and his own failings. In a completely unsentimental telling which appears to come not long after the events described we sense he has not yet absorbed the full trauma and transformation from a callow, attractive, jokester to a grievously injured young man whose friends have nearly all been killed. At the end, he reaches the decision to write about his experiences to honor those lost. Movingly spare and matter of fact firsthand account of the horror and cost of war.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Charles

    What starts as an eloquent description of arial combat soon develops into an insightful empirical analysis of the the human spirit and its motivation to go towards the brink self destruction and back again. On the surface this book seems like a self-indulgent exercise in introspection by a privileged narcissist. But Hilary takes the reader through a narrative which shows his growth from a boy concerned only with self development to man who finally realises his error, not just through his own inj What starts as an eloquent description of arial combat soon develops into an insightful empirical analysis of the the human spirit and its motivation to go towards the brink self destruction and back again. On the surface this book seems like a self-indulgent exercise in introspection by a privileged narcissist. But Hilary takes the reader through a narrative which shows his growth from a boy concerned only with self development to man who finally realises his error, not just through his own injury but through devastating personal loss. Hilary’s prose is provocative, moving and often blurs the lines of literature and philosophy. His commentary of pre-war British society is both cutting and apt. The modern reader may cringe as the author describes his world-view early on, however the questions he asks of himself and of those close to him constitue a compelling discourse on the nature of fear, loss, grief and collective thought.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lee McKerracher

    It takes a while to adjust to something that was written back in the 1940s. The social norms, practices and beliefs of that time were quite different to what we have today. Putting that aside, this is a wonderful recollection of Hillary's experiences as an RAF pilot during WWII. He is from a very privileged background and over time comes to realise how sheltered and fortunate he has been. However he has to face reality with the hardships of the war, together with the harsh truth about the dangero It takes a while to adjust to something that was written back in the 1940s. The social norms, practices and beliefs of that time were quite different to what we have today. Putting that aside, this is a wonderful recollection of Hillary's experiences as an RAF pilot during WWII. He is from a very privileged background and over time comes to realise how sheltered and fortunate he has been. However he has to face reality with the hardships of the war, together with the harsh truth about the dangerous conditions they were flying in every day. Hillary lost many friends and colleagues and he himself was very badly injured when his plane went down in the sea. His rehabilitation journey at times brings a smile as he vividly recounts his nurse and their ongoing battle about what he can and can't do while in the hospital. It's a journey back to a long gone era but a fabulous read to see this situation through the eyes of someone who lived it.

  19. 4 out of 5

    peregrine nicholls

    What an amazing book. I have read scores of Battle of Britain autobiographies, but none like this. A description of training, dog fighting and squadron parties, this is not! The author is/was an egotistical self-centered individual, who you start off not particular liking, but from his experiences learns a new meaning of life and changes his whole philosophical outlook on the world and more particularly the people around him and his understanding of them. It is also brutal in its portrayal of his What an amazing book. I have read scores of Battle of Britain autobiographies, but none like this. A description of training, dog fighting and squadron parties, this is not! The author is/was an egotistical self-centered individual, who you start off not particular liking, but from his experiences learns a new meaning of life and changes his whole philosophical outlook on the world and more particularly the people around him and his understanding of them. It is also brutal in its portrayal of his life changing injuries, sustained when he is shot down - some of the hospital scenes are very moving. This is amazing book and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the human spirit.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Marcus Bicknell

    This is probably the most important book about the experiences of those that fought in World War II, especially because it is an autobiography and was published immediately in the UK and USA, to great acclaim, before the war ended. I find this book inspirational, both for the real-life details (such as of flying training and of McIndoe's plastic surgery) and for the dark mood and inevitability of Hillary's ending. A fascinating book. Declaration of a special interest... Richard Hillary, knew my f This is probably the most important book about the experiences of those that fought in World War II, especially because it is an autobiography and was published immediately in the UK and USA, to great acclaim, before the war ended. I find this book inspirational, both for the real-life details (such as of flying training and of McIndoe's plastic surgery) and for the dark mood and inevitability of Hillary's ending. A fascinating book. Declaration of a special interest... Richard Hillary, knew my father Wing Commander Nigel Bicknell DSO DFC and mentions him on more than one occasion in THE LAST ENEMY. The topic is attitudes towards the war and lack of respect for authority! Don't miss Sebastian Faulks's take in Hillary in THE FATAL ENGLISHMAN

  21. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    For a war memoir, there isn't much war here. It's mostly about before he was a British fighter pilot in the time leading up to the Battle of Britain and his long recovery after. It reads as a first-person novel, but is limited by sophomoric philosophy of a man intent on not feeling much in life. It needs work. But, it does read genuine about the training, the flying and the recovering from war. For anyone who wants to know what it was like to fly Spitfires in the war, a must read. But there are For a war memoir, there isn't much war here. It's mostly about before he was a British fighter pilot in the time leading up to the Battle of Britain and his long recovery after. It reads as a first-person novel, but is limited by sophomoric philosophy of a man intent on not feeling much in life. It needs work. But, it does read genuine about the training, the flying and the recovering from war. For anyone who wants to know what it was like to fly Spitfires in the war, a must read. But there are much better war memoirs.

  22. 5 out of 5

    David Chantler

    An interesting book to re-read. I first read it about 50 years ago and didn't really understand what he was trying to tell us about his experience of being badly burnt during the war. Now, with more life experience under my belt, I can 'feel' more of the anger and frustration of a writer suddenly pitched from absolute mastery of his world to being someone totally dependent on others and his fight against his circumstances.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Wilson

    Astonishing that this unsentimental but moving war memoir was written by a 21 year old. It reveals his transition from a fairly smug and cynical Oxford graduate to a thoughtful man who learned to value his RAF contemporaries, so many of whom died. The author was horribly disfigured by burns when he crashed, yet was so keen to fly again he conned his way back into a plane, even though he could barely hold a knife and fork. He died on a night flight at the age of 23.

  24. 4 out of 5

    eddie jezierski

    Life is to short This book captures life of a pilot from Oxford University from the beginning to facing the enemy in combat, surviving a near fatal crash rebuilding his life after countless operations after suffering life changing burns.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Alex Taylor

    This is a fascinating and thought-provoking book. How would I have performed in his situation - a 21 year old Spitfire pilot ? The self-analysis and self-criticism coupled with the lack of self pity makes this well worth a read.

  26. 4 out of 5

    John Baddeley

    Our unseen friends. From Glory to Clarity. As Richard follows his passion to fly and fight. He holds onto his opinions of life and people, through human eyes. But it’s through his dead friends, that he finds clarity. A story of the realities of war. An interesting read.

  27. 5 out of 5

    James Perry

    The real horrors of war exposed Amazing story of a British youth who not only saw it all, but could articulate with vivid clarity the entire experience. Spellbinding.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Louise Lowrie

    Why oh why are there wars So sad but could not put this book down. This airman explained the meaning of life and why we die.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Michael D Evans

    Very moving Thought provoking about the needless waste of war and inspiring thoughts leading towards a different and hopefully better way of life.

  30. 4 out of 5

    W

    Interesting account of World War II flying,by a pilot who got shot down and was injured.He flew again, only to be shot down yet again and killed after writing this book !

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