Shrewsbury School

The Richard Hillary Essay Medal

Friday 28 March 2014

The Richard Hillary Essay Medal was inaugurated last year and ran for a second time earlier this term.  It provides 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.  Twenty-four pupils volunteered to take part, and each competitor opened an envelope on their exam desk to reveal this year’s one-word title, “Time”.

The competition was judged by Professor Patrick Finglass, himself a fellow of All Souls College and also Head of the Classics Department at Nottingham University.  He commented positively on a number of the essays, but felt that two stood out from the rest.  The winner was Daniel Edwards (S LVI), with Esme O’Keeffe (MSH LVI) as runner-up.  Daniel will be presented with his medal at Prize Giving on Speech Day.

The prize is named in honour of Richard Hillary (Old Salopian) and was launched in association with the Salopian Club.   Hillary was born in 1919 and joined Churchill’s Hall in 1931 and he went on from Shrewsbury to study at Trinity College, Oxford.  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.

Hillary 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.

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