Faithful Heroes: Eric Liddell


Eric Liddell was brought to the world’s attention through the 1981 film Chariots of Fire. However, there is so much more to his story and he continued to stand up for his faith

Eric Liddell preparing to run

until the end.

Eric Liddell was born on January 16, 1902 in Tientsin, China. He was the second son of Rev. and Mrs. James Dunlop Liddell, Scottish missionaries to China.

Liddell studied during his formative years in China. At the age of six, he went to Eltham College in London, a boarding school for missionaries.

While at school, Liddell became an “outstanding athlete”.

Eric Liddell

He went on to Edinburgh University, where he became known in the newspapers as the “fastest runner in Scotland”. He was eventually deemed the “Flying Scotsman” after the record breaking locomotive.

He began to spread the gospel through the Glasgow Students’ Evangelistic Union and drew large crowds.

In 1924, the summer olympics was held in Paris. He took a stand when he refused to run in a heat held on Sunday {which is the Christian Sabbath}.

Liddell had trained for the meet for months and was forefitting what he felt was his only chance to run.

One of the team masseurs handed him a message based on 1 Samuel 2:30, saying “In the old book it says: ‘He that honours me I will honour.’ Wishing you the best of success always.”

He then had the opportunity to run the 400 meters race and was challenged the entire race, but won. His record lasted for twelve years.

Eric Liddell at 1924 Olypmics

His experience at the 1924 Olympics is the basis of the film Chariots of Fire.

Eric Liddell graduated from Edinburgh University after the Paris Olympics.

After finishing school, Eric Liddell returned to Northern China as a missionary in 1925.

He continued to compete sporadically and only return to Scotland twice.

When asked if he regretted leaving the fame and glory of athletics, he replied “It’s natural for a chap to think over all that sometimes, but I’m glad I’m at the work I’m engaged in now. A fellow’s life counts for far more at this than the other.”

In 1934, he married Florence Mackenzie in Tianjin, a daughter of Canadian missionaries. The couple had three daughters, the last of whom he never met.

Eric and Florence Liddell

In 1941, life became dangerious due to the Japanese aggression. Florence, preganant with their youngest, left with her two daughters to return to her parents in Canada.

Eric Liddell refused to leaved, although the British Government strongly advised just that.

Eric Liddell accepted a very rural mission station that served the poor and was joined by his brother, Rob.

The Japanese invaded and took over the mission station.
In 1943, Eric Liddell was interned at the Weihsien Internment Camp.

While in prison, ” Liddell busied himself by helping the elderly, teaching at the camp school Bible classes, arranging games and by teaching science to the children, who referred to him as Uncle Eric.” He also refereed a hockey match to stop fighting among players.

One of his fellow internees, Norman Cliff, later wrote a book about his experiences in the camp called “The Courtyard of the Happy Way” described Liddell as “the finest Christian gentleman it has been my pleasure to meet. In all the time in the camp, I never heard him say a bad word about anybody”.

“Langdon Gilkey, who also survived the camp and became a prominent theologian in his native America, said of Liddell: “Often in an evening I would see him bent over a chessboard or a model boat, or directing some sort of square dance – absorbed, weary and interested, pouring all of himself into this effort to capture the imagination of these penned-up youths. He was overflowing with good humour and love for life, and with enthusiasm and charm. It is rare indeed that a person has the good fortune to meet a saint, but he came as close to it as anyone I have ever known.”

Eric Liddell

Liddell wrote to his wife of suffering a nervous breakdown due to overwork in his last letter. Actually in addition to overwork, he had an inoperable bran tumour {only discovered after his death} and suffered from malnourishment.

He died on February 21, 1945, five months before liberation.

Langdon Gilkey later wrote, “The entire camp, especially its youth, was stunned for days, so great was the vacuum that Eric’s death had left.”

According to a fellow missionary, Liddell’s last words were, “It’s complete surrender”, in reference to how he had given his life to God.

On June 5, 1945, the Eric Liddell Memorial Committee was set up in Glasgow to help his widow and children.

Eric Liddell

“Liddell was buried in the garden behind the Japanese officers’ quarters, his grave marked by a small wooden cross. The site was forgotten until it was rediscovered in 1989, in the grounds of what is now Weifeng Middle School.”

In 1991, Edinburgh University set up a memorial headstone to Eric Liddell at Weifeng Middle School. “The simple inscription came from the Book of Isaiah 40:31: “They shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary.” The city of Weifang commemorated Liddell during the 60th anniversary of the internment camp’s liberation by laying a wreath on his grave.”

Eric Liddell Monument at Weifang from Wikipedia

Liddell is considered the most popular athlete “Scotland has ever produced” according to the 2002 Scottish Sports Hall of Fame.

A 2017 film, On Wings of Eagles portrays Liddell’s life after he returned to China following the 1924 Olympics.








After the 1924 Olympics, Eric Liddell made an even greater sacrifice #faithfulheroes #heroesofthefaithul Share on X


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