Shrewsbury School

Richard Hillary Essay Medal Competition

Friday 18 January 2019

The Richard Hillary Essay Medal competition provides an opportunity for Sixth Formers to spend two hours pitting their wits against a one-word unseen essay title. 

The event was inaugurated in 2013, and is modelled on the historic competition undertaken to select Fellows of All Souls College, Oxford.

This year’s single word was ‘Challenge’ and it was one that over 50 Salopians chose to take up. Pens twitched in feverish haste on a Friday night in the depths of January. This year the essays will be marked by Graham Hoyland, author and mountaineer, who visited the School during the Michaelmas Term to deliver a lecture on Everest. Results will be reported before the end of term and the Medal itself will be presented 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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