Flying Scotsman – Eric Liddell

Athelete Eric Liddell
Athelete Eric Liddell

Eric Liddell, often called the “Flying Scotsman” was born on the 16 January 1902 in the city of Tientsin (now Tianjin) in north-eastern China, the son of missionary parents working for the Church of Scotland. At age seven his parents enrolled him in a boarding school in Britain, and he spent most of his childhood separated from them. But school officials encouraged him to devote himself to sports, and young Eric Liddell soon developed an athlete’s physique. He also began flexing his spiritual muscles, rising early each day to meet the Lord in prayer and Bible study. When Eric entered the university he broke one record after another in sporting events. Eric was known worldwide as a powerful athlete and as an outspoken Christian who refused to race on Sundays. At the 1924 Paris OlympicsEric Liddell won a bronze medal in the 200m and then even greater glory by winning gold in the 400m.  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 meters, a distance in which he was a good performer, but certainly not his specialty.  Eric Liddell had also to compete with some negative press from some quarters of the British camp, who could not understand his placing God above winning a medal for the King. Eric Liddell believed that God was his savior, friend and companion and that everything he did should give gratification to the God.

Eric Liddell

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 Liddell 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 Eric Liddell himself remained in China. In 1943 Liddell was interned by the Japanese authorities in a camp at Weishien. As a runner he was the fastest and had achieved the highest glory, and as a Christian he found that his greatest strength came from God. It was because of this strength that he was able:

  • Remained away from his family for long periods of time( sometimes up to six years)
  • Clandestinely arranged money Chinese people who were living in parts of China occupied by the Japanese army.
  • Taught people “love thy enemy” while they were all imprisoned in a Japanese detention camp.

He suffered a Brain Tumor 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. Eric Liddell’s remains were removed to the Mausoleum of Martyrs at Shih-Chia-Chuang, 150 miles south-west of Beijing, where China honors 700 selected individuals who made the ultimate sacrifice in the liberation of China from the Japanese.


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