Richard Hillary was a Spitfire pilot in the Battle of Britain, and was shot down in the summer of 1940 while on active service over the English Channel, The Last Enemy begins with a graphic account of his flight on September 3, 1940, the aerial combat during which his plane was hit, his escape from the flaming cockpit as he hurtled towards the sea, and his eventual rescue some hours later, horribly wounded and disfigured, specially in his face and hands, by the burns he suffered while trapped in his cockpit. This is followed by a flashback to his carefree and rather self-centered life at university, where he joins the RAF Volunteer Reserve. He tells the story of adventures at university, travelling in Europe just before the war, his early air training, his posting to a squadron on the outbreak of war, wartime flying and the loss of friends, and ends with the dogfight during which he was shot down. He wakes in hospital and begins a gradual and partial recovery, and describes the pain and frustration of the operations and the horror of his burnt features.
He undergoes extensive plastic surgery -- then in its infancy -- to his hands and face, which is largely successful although his use of the former remains limited and the latter remains badly scarred. An encounter in London with a dying woman during an air raid leads him to reflect on his life and attitudes, and he doesn't entirely like what he sees when he compares himself to all his other contemporaries, young fliers who have been killed. He asks himself what he can do for those who have died now that he cannot be sure that he'll ever fly again, and decides to try to tell the story of their courage -- which results in The Last Enemy. Richard Hillary was killed on January 8, 1943, when his night fighter crashed on a training mission. He was just 3 months short of his 23rd birthday. This edition of The Last Enemy, illustrated and with a foreword by DMW, the woman to whom he dedicated the book, is published 60 years after his death as a limited commemorative edition.