Shrewsbury School

The Richard Hillary Essay Medal

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Last Thursday evening saw the inaugural staging of the Richard Hillary Essay Medal, launched to provide an opportunity for sixth formers to spend two hours pitting their wits against a one-word essay title.  The event was modelled on the historic competition undertaken to select fellows of All Souls College, Oxford, and provoked considerable interest around the school.

Thirty-four pupils volunteered to take part, intrigued by the prospect of sitting a paper for which it was impossible to revise, and each competitor opened an envelope on their exam desk to reveal this year’s one-word title, “Luck”.   Essays covered a vast range of references, examples and quotations, from History to Chemistry and from Mathematics to the Bible, passing through languages ancient and modern, and touching also on the observation by the golfer, Gary Player, that “the harder I practise, the luckier I seem to become”.  The essays will be marked by an external examiner, and results are eagerly awaited.

The prize is named in honour of Richard Hillary (Old Salopian) and has been launched in association with the Salopian Club.   Hillary was born in 1919 and joined Churchill’s Hall in 1931.  He went on from Shrewsbury to study at Trinity College, Oxford, and while at Oxford he was president of the university rugby club and secretary of the university boat club.  He was called up to the Royal Air Force in October 1939 to train as a Spitfire fighter pilot.  He joined 603 Squadron and moved with them from Scotland to join the Battle of Britain on 27th August 1940.  Within a week Hillary had shot down five German fighters, but he himself was shot down on 3rd September 1940 and was very badly burned while escaping from his aircraft.

The CardHillary was badly disfigured and never regained full use of his hands.  He wrote the story of his experiences, “The Last Enemy”, which is widely regarded as one of the best books to have emerged from World War Two.   He convinced the RAF that he was fit enough to return to flying in November 1942, even though the damage to his hands remained severe.  On 8th January 1943 his Bristol Blenheim crashed in Scottish woodland during a night training exercise, and he died aged 23.

He is remembered today at Trinity College, Oxford by an annual literature prize, a portrait outside the college library, and an annual lecture in his honour.   At Shrewsbury, his name appears on the War Memorial and his name is also on the Battle of Britain memorial in Chapel.

back to top