The University hosted the former poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion last week for Trinity College’s annual Richard Hillary Memorial Lecture.
Sir Andrew began by linking his own indirect experience of the Second World War with the events of Hillary’s life. The poet remarked how his father, who had taken part the D-Day landings, rarely spoke about his experiences fighting, attributing this both to “elements of decent modesty” and of “not wanting to show fear”.
He then moved back in time to address the First World War and his experience of meeting the last surviving British soldier, Harry Patch, towards the end of his poet laureateship. When the war veteran, who he first met in an interview for the BBC, died aged 111 in 2009, Sir Andrew composed the celebrated poem “The Death of Harry Patch”.
The poet then related his visit to Hiroshima with his Korean wife before addressing the wars which he criticises the most in his poetry – Iraq and Afghanistan.
The lecture is held each year in memory of Trinity alumnus and soldier Richard Hillary who died in 1942, aged 23, while fighting in a Bristol Blenheim plane. He is best known for the book he wrote about his exploits in the army, entitled The Last Enemy.
Hillary, who was of Australian birth, was secretary of the OUBC and president of the OURFC while studying at Trinity. Called up in October 1939, he suffered serious injuries in September 1940 but was controversially allowed to fly again less than three years later.
Since his death, there have been allegations that he was not physically fit to fly and that his death could have been avoided. He is remembered in Trinity with an annual literature prize worth £500, a portrait outside the library, and the annual lecture.
Speakers in past years have included renowned literary figures such as Ian McEwan, Philip Pullman, Tom Stoppard, Julian Barnes, Howard Jacobson, Mark Haddon and Sebastian Faulks.