Richard Hillary

Hillary was a fine pilot who came from the young generation who started their flying career in one of the university air squadrons. In his case, the Oxford University Air Squadron. He became famous during the War, having written a memoir describing what it was like to join the RAF, become a fighter pilot, to shoot down enemy aircraft and finally to be shot down himself, in the course of which being terribly burnt. The book was called “The Last Enemy” and it became a best seller during the War. It gave an insight to the general public of what the experience was really like. It is still an amazing read.

Hillary was an extremely good looking young man. He was an athlete and a fine oars man. He served on 603 Squadron. He was credited with 5 kills. He was shot down in a dog fight when, having disposed of an enemy fighter, he was shooting at a second target. Unfortunately by his own admission, he rather foolishly followed this second target down, exposing himself to a lethal burst of fire from another Me109. Like so many fighter pilots, when he tried to get out of his now blazing plane, he found the canopy very difficult to open. That was how he got so burnt. He then had many months as a patient of McIndoe’s East Grinstead unit where they attempted to patch up his face and hands. He underwent dozens of operations. His problem was that he longed to get back to the companionship of the squadron and the flying. By pestering authority, he got their reluctant acquiescence. But, on 8 January 1943, he crashed on a practice flight, killing not only himself, but also his navigator. It was a sad end to a tragic life, but yet one which radiated a certain romantic warmth, mainly because he had written it all down in his remarkable book.