Eric Liddell

Eric Liddell


Eric Liddell, often called the 'Flying Scotsman that could not fly' after the record breaking locomotive, was born 16 January 1902, in Tientsin, in north China, the second son of the Rev. and Mrs. James Dunlop Liddell, who were Scottish missionaries with the London Missionary Society.

The Early Years

Liddell went to school in China until the age of five. At the age of six, he and his brother Robert, eight years old, were enrolled in Eltham College, Mottingham, a boarding school in England for the sons of missionaries. Their parents and sister Jenny returned to China. During the boys' time at Eltham, their parents, sister and new brother Ernest came home on furlough two or three times and were able to be together as a family, mainly living in Edinburgh.

In 1920, Liddell joined his brother Robert at the University of Edinburgh to study Pure Science. Athletics and rugby played a large part in his university life. He ran in the 100 yards and 220 yards races for Edinburgh University and played rugby for the University club, from which he gained a place in the backline of a strong Scottish national rugby union team. In 1922 and 1923, he played in seven out of eight Five Nations matches along with A. L. Gracie. In 1923 he won the AAA Championships in athletics in the 100. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree after the Paris Olympiad in 1924.

His Legacy

This success made Liddell a dead cert for inclusion in the British Olympic squad which set sail for Paris in 1924, and although he was strongly fancied as a contender in the 100 metres event, he was not destined to race in this, his strongest event. Due to his religious principles, Liddell refused to run in the 100m heats, which were held on a Sunday (Liddell instead spent that particular Sabbath preaching in the Scots Church in Paris). Instead, the Scot elected to run in 400 metres, a distance in which he was a good performer, but certainly not his forte.

After his Olympic triumph Liddell threw himself headlong into missionary work, returning to China in 1925, to Tientsin, where he was ordained a minister in 1932. He married Florence Mackenzie two years later, with whom he had three daughters. With the Japanese invasion of China in 1937, Eric was now in Siaochang - occupied territory. In 1941 the British Government advised all British nationals in China to leave and Eric's family moved to Canada, while Liddell himself remained in China. In 1943 Liddell was interned by the Japanese authorities in a camp at Weishien.

His Death

Life in the internment camp was hard, under a brutal regime. Some inmates, mainly oil company executives, managed to bribe the guards into receiving extra rations and luxury goods. Liddell shamed them into sharing these with the rest of the camp inmates. Liddell also, for the first time in his life, indulged in sporting activity on Sundays, refereeing football matches in the camp. Unfortunately, Liddell was not destined to survive the war. He suffered a brain tumour shortly before the war's end, and died in the camp. Upon his death, Liddell's grave was marked by a simple wooden cross, with his name written on it in boot polish. However, the site was identified many years later, and Edinburgh University erected a stone of Mull granite there in 1991.

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