Richard Hillary was born in Australia on April 20, 1919. While still at school, at Shrewsbury, he had confessed his ambition to become a writer. As an undergraduate at Oxford he joined the University Air Squadron and, on the outbreak of war, the RAF Volunteer Reserve. After training as a fighter pilot he flew a Spitfire in the Battle of Britain, and was shot down in September, 1940. Temporarily blinded, his face and hands savagely burned and badly disfigured, he endured repeated operations involving plastic surgery and skin grafting. It was while convalescing from these operations that he began to write The Last Enemy as a testament to the young fliers of his generation and as an examination of his own character and attitude to the war. It was published in 1942 and was unhesitatingly recognized as a classic. Richard Hillary never completely regained the full use of his hands, but nevertheless was determined to return to flying. Although not really fit for combat, he wangled his way back onto active service and began operational training for night flying. And it was in January, 1943, while on a night training flight that his Blenheim crashed, killing him and his navigator-radio operator. He was just three months short of his twenty-third birthday.