April 20th 1919
- January 8th 1943
Richard Hillary is best remembered for his book , The Last
Enemy, which remains one of the best personal accounts of
the Battle of Britain.
Hillary joined 603 Squadron in May 1940 and briefly saw action
when 603 Squadron was moved to Hornchurch at the height of
the Battle of Britain. Hillary had achieved a tally of five
German planes shot down before he himself was shot down by
a Messerscmitt Bf 109. Unable to escape quickly from his burning
plane Hillary suffered severe and extensive burns to his face
and hands before finally struggling free to parachute into
the North Sea from which he was rescued by the Margate lifeboat.
Hillary burns were treated by the famous plastic surgeon
Archibald McIndoe. Hillary becoming one of the leading members
of McIndoe’s “Guinea Pig” club at th eQueen
Elizabeth Hospital, East Grinstead. Whilst undergoing a long
series of operations to attempt to restore use to his hands
and repair his face, Hillary wrote his memoir The Last Enemy.
At the end of 1942 Hillary persuaded the powers that be to
return him to flying with 54 Training Squadron despite the
fact that his hands were reportedly not capable of properly
grasping a knife and fork, let alone managing the complicated
controls of an air craft. It is possible, although not certain,
that Hillary’s lack of manual dexterity may have been
a factor in the crash which killed him and his radio operator
Wilfred Fison during a training flight on the night of January
Hillary, R. 1942. The Last Enemy
Ross, D. 2004. Richard Hillary: The Definitive Biography of
a Battle of Britain Pilot and Author of The Last Enemy.