We are delighted that our charity is named after an inspiring sporting legend, committed missionary and a devoted husband and father, Eric Liddell. The Eric Liddell 100 will celebrate the Flying Scotsman’s outstanding Olympic Success and his legacy.
Patricia Liddell Russell
I’m Patricia Liddell-Russell, Eric Liddell’s eldest daughter. My sisters and I are great supporters of the work of The Eric Liddell Community. It’s a fantastic place doing amazing work for the people of Edinburgh in Scotland. I have noticed that the pages about my Dad on this website get far more hits than any other pages. Clearly you’re interested in Dad but also appreciate the work the ELC is doing in Dad’s name. Can you please help me support them by giving an online donation to assist their work?
Click here to donate and help The Eric Liddell Community move closer to their vision to live in a community where no one feels lonely or isolate. Any amount you choose to give will automatically get converted into your own currency on your card’s statement.
(16 January 1902 – 21 February 1945)
Eric Liddell was an inspirational Scotsman whose short life is remembered and renowned internationally for his accomplishments in many different ways.
Eric was well known for his abilities as a sporting champion and was capped for the Scotland international rugby team seven times. He is one of a rare few who has had his cap reissued and was inducted into the Scottish Rugby Hall of Fame in January 2022, on the centenary of his first international cap. You can read the story here:
In 2002, when the first inductees were inducted into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame, Eric topped the public vote for the most popular sporting hero Scotland had ever produced.
The champion sportsman is probably even better known for his gold medal win in the 400 metres at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris.
He has been immortalised in the film “Chariots of Fire” and celebrated in Scottish author and broadcaster Sally Magnusson’s book ‘The Flying Scotsman’ and a number of other books have been written about his life.
The Eric Liddell Community (formerly the Eric Liddell Centre) is honoured to have carried his name since its instigation. It is housed in the former North Morningside Church , one of the four churches situated at the intersection between Colinton Road and Morningside Road in Edinburgh – which gave the name ‘Holy Corner’ used by Edinburgh residents.
Eric lived for a short time in Gillespie Crescent before moving to a house in Merchiston Place both addresses in Edinburgh are close to the former church where the The Eric Liddell Community is now based.
Eric is remembered in many ways to different people – as a sportsman, a husband and father, a devout soul who lived his life according to his beliefs, a graduate of Edinburgh University and a missionary in China who refused to leave those he looked after during the Second World War. If he had lived longer than his forty-three years, who knows what more he could have done.
The Eric Liddell Community reflects Eric’s code of ethics, to help and support those who need it and the people who look after them in a spirit of community, inclusivity, diversity and generosity. His legacy is strong and we embrace the close ties with Eric’s three daughters Patricia, Heather and Maureen who live in Canada and his niece Sue who lives in Edinburgh and is a patron of the Community
Other patrons include Sir David Puttnam CBE, HonFRSA, HonFRPS, MRIA producer of ‘Chariots of Fire’ see link here: educator, environmentalist and former member of the House of Lords and Alexander “Sandy” McCall Smith, CBE, FRSE, renowned British writer, raised in Southern Rhodesia and formerly Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh.
Sally Magnusson has strong links with the Community as the author of “The Flying Scotsman” and her book “Where Memories Go: How Dementia Changes Everything” about her mother which resonates with The Eric Liddell Community where much of its work is supporting people living with dementia and the people who care for them. Following her experience with her mother, Sally set up the charity Playlist for Life and you can read about it here https://www.playlistforlife.org.uk/
It is in celebration of Eric’s centenary win of his gold medal at the Paris Olympics in 1924 that The Eric Liddell Community has recently launched The Eric Liddell 100, which will include a series of developments that will commemorate Eric’s life and how he lived it.
Who was Eric Liddell?
Eric Henry Liddell was born on 16th January 1902 in Tientsin (Tianjin) North China, second son of the Rev. & Mrs. James Dunlop Liddell who were missionaries with the London Mission Society.
He was educated from 1908 to 1920 at Eltham College, Blackheath, a school in England for the sons of missionaries. Eric, with his older brother Rob, were left at their English boarding school while their parents and sister, Jenny, returned to China.
At Eltham, Eric demonstrated his ability as an outstanding athlete, earning the Blackheath Cup as the best athlete of his year, and playing for the First XI and the First XV by the age of 15, later becoming captain of both the cricket and rugby union teams.
During the boys’ time at Eltham College, their parents, sister and new brother Ernest came home on leave two or three times and were able to be together as a family – mainly living in Edinburgh.
Although born in China and educated in England, Eric Liddell lived in Scotland at various times during his life.
In 1920, Eric joined his brother Rob at Edinburgh University to read for a BSc in Pure Science. During this period athletics and rugby played a large part in Eric’s University life. He played rugby for Edinburgh University and in 1922 played in seven Scottish Internationals as a wing-three-quarter, scoring four tries thanks to his amazing speed as a sprinter.
Eric ran in the 100 yards and the 220 yards for Edinburgh University and later for Scotland.
While at the University of Edinburgh, Eric became famous for being the fastest runner in Scotland. Newspapers carried stories of his athletic feats and many believed he was a potential Olympic winner.
As a result of not having enough time for his studies and both running and rugby, he chose the running, aiming for the 100 metres in the 1924 Paris Olympics. However, at the 1924 Olympics, Liddell, a devout Christian, dropped out of the 100-metres run—his strongest event—because the qualifying heats were scheduled for a Sunday. Instead, he trained for the 200 and 400-metre sprints.
At the Games, he finished third in the 200-metre run gaining a bronze medal and turned in a stellar performance to win the 400 metres. Starting in the outside lane, Liddell sprinted out of the blocks and set such a speed that two other runners fell trying to keep up. He won the race in a record time of 47.6 seconds which was an Olympic and World Record.
In 1924, Eric also travelled briefly to the USA to compete in an athletics tournament and returned to Edinburgh where he graduated from Edinburgh University.
In 1925 Eric returned to China to follow in his parents’ chosen work to serve as a missionary teacher from 1925 to 1943 – first in Tianjin and later in the town of Xiaozhang.
During his time in China as a missionary, Eric continued to compete occasionally, including wins over members of the 1928 French and Japanese Olympic teams in the 200- and 400-metre races at the South Manchurian Railway celebrations in China in 1928 and a victory at the 1930 North China championship.
Eric’s first job as a missionary was as a teacher at an Anglo-Chinese College where he used his athletic experience to train boys in a number of different sports.
One of his many responsibilities was that of leading the Sunday school at Union Church where his father was pastor. Eric lived at 38 Chongqing Dao (formerly known as Cambridge Road) in Tianjin, where a plaque now commemorates his residence.
Eric also helped build the Minyuan Stadium in Tianjin which was modelled on London’s Stamford Bridge, his favourite sports ground.
During his first furlough from missionary work in 1932, he was ordained a minister of the Congregational Union of Scotland.
Eric returned to Scotland only twice, in 1932 and again in 1939. On one occasion he was asked if he ever regretted his decision to leave behind the fame and glory of athletics.
“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.”
On his return to China he married Florence Mackenzie, daughter of Canadian missionary parents in Tianjin in 1934. Eric courted his future wife by taking her for lunch to the Kiesling restaurant, which is still open in Tianjin. The couple had three daughters, Patricia, Heather and Maureen, the last of whom, sadly Eric did not live to see. The school where Eric taught is still in use today.
In 1941 life in China had become so dangerous because of the threat from the Japanese that the British government advised British nationals to leave. Florence (who was pregnant with Maureen) and the children left for Canada to stay with her family when Eric accepted a position at a rural mission station in Xiaozhang, which served the poor.
He joined his brother, Rob, who was a doctor there. The station was severely short of help and the missionaries there were exhausted. A constant stream of locals came at all hours for medical treatment. Eric arrived at the station in time to relieve his brother, who was ill and needing to go on furlough and Eric himself suffered many hardships by staying on at the mission, continuing to do all he could to help people.
As fighting between the Chinese Army and invading Japanese troops reached Xiaozhang, the Japanese took over the mission station and Eric returned to Tianjin.
In 1943, he was interned at the Weihsien Internment Camp (in the modern city of Weifang) with the members of the China Inland Mission, Chefoo School (in the city now known as Yantai), and many others.
Eric became a leader and organiser at the camp and busied himself by helping the elderly, teaching Bible classes at the camp school, arranging games, and teaching science to the children, who referred to him as Uncle Eric.
One of his fellow internees, Norman Cliff, later wrote a book about his experiences in the camp called “The Courtyard of the Happy Way” in which he described Eric saying
“in all the time in the camp, I never heard him say a bad word about anybody”.
Langdon Gilkey, who also survived the camp said of Eric:
“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.”
In his last letter to his wife, written on the day he died, Eric wrote of suffering a nervous breakdown due to overwork.
He had an inoperable brain tumour and overwork and malnourishment may have hastened his death. Eric died on 21 February 1945, five months before liberation.
Eric 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 Shandong Province, north-east China, about six hours’ drive from Beijing. Read about it here
Eric’s legacy remains strong and he is known and celebrated all over the world.
The Eric Liddell Community (formerly Centre) was set up in Edinburgh in 1980 its aim to act on behalf of four Edinburgh churches; the Morningside Baptist Church, Christ Church Morningside, North Morningside Church and Morningside Congregational Church as an expression of their joint Christian witness to further the provision of community services to all members of the community of whatever age and whatever circumstance, irrespective of denominational life.
The charitable status was granted in July 1981. In October 1981 the Centre purchased North Morningside Parish Church for £20,000. The Sycamore Café was set up in 1984 and it provided teas, coffees, snacks and lunches at reasonable prices. It also sold cards, books and souvenirs.
In 1987 the Holy Corner Church Centre was named as the Eric Liddell Centre to honour Eric’s belief in community service whilst he lived and studied in Edinburgh. Local residents dedicated it to inspiring, empowering, and supporting people of all ages, cultures and abilities.
The Eric Liddell Community is an Edinburgh based care charity and community hub committed to a vision for all people to live in a society where no one feels lonely or isolated.
The charity has a central mission to bring people together in their local communities to enhance health and well-being and have a positive impact on their lives.
Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal has agreed to be the Patron of The Eric Liddell 100 in 2021. This will secure, develop and celebrate Eric Liddell’s legacy and his legendary gold medal win in the 1924 Olympics in Paris.
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.
Here is a link to a BBC article from 2012 describing how Eric is viewed by Chinese people as a hero: BBC Scotland article here:
Eltham College School in London, originally founded for the children of missionaries where Eric and his brother Rob were pupils, renamed its sports centre to the “Eric Liddell Sports Centre” in his memory.
Judson University in Elgin, Illinois, USA has an ongoing partnership with The Eric Liddell Community see here: and its President Dr. Gene C. Crume read here: is The Eric Liddell Community’s North American Ambassador.
Eric’s legacy is also celebrated in Hong Kong and you can read more about it here
Hong Kong has a strong connection to Eric Liddell. In 1991, Charles Walker a Scottish engineer working in Hong Kong, formed the Eric Liddell Foundation which for several years organised athletic events among young athletes from Scotland, Hong Kong and Weifang, Shandong Province, where Eric Liddell is buried. In 1995 and 1996, the “Eric Liddell Games”, organised by the Foundation, were held in Weifang. These brought together many young athletes from schools within Shandong Province to compete in “mini-Olympics” and to learn about the life and lived values of Eric Liddell. The Foundation has also donated funds in Eric’s memory towards a Youth Development and Vocational Training Centre in Zhaojue County, Sichuan Province.
Recollections of Eric Liddell
by Sir Arthur Marshall
The Cambridge University Athletics Club had an invitation from Pennsylvania to take a team of seven to the Pennsylvanian Games in March 1924, and I was one of the seven.
Edinburgh University, the 1923 AAA 100 yards Champion, had been personally invited and travelled with us. We stayed at the very comfortable Pennsylvanian Cricket Club. I am afraid none of, including Eric Liddell, managed to win an event at the Pennsylvanian Games.
We travelled back in a small slow ship of the American United Line called ‘The Republic’ – a ten day crossing. Eric Liddell entered in the fun and games on the boat, including the Fancy Dress Dance. Whilst he was very strict about religion. Eric and I became good friends and saw much of two American sisters, Freddie and Edith, who were travelling to ‘do Europe’, including the UK. They said they were going to be in Paris for the Olympic Games, and we said if we were there at the same time we hoped we could meet.
Harold Abrahams had set his whole life on winning the Olympic 100 Metres – it had become and obsession with him. Liddell’s achievement in winning the 1923 AAA 100 Yards in the record time of 9 7/10 seconds was a devastating blow to Abrahams and shook him to the core. To date Abrahams had been a consistent 10 seconds 100 yards winner but had only slightly broken 10 seconds on one or two occasions. He knew in the Olympics he would be up against overseas competition, particularly from the Americans, but this new and very serious opposition out of the blue and on his doorstep had come at a time when Harold had established his 100 yards supremacy in the UK. To achieve level pegging with Eric Liddell’s new record time, Harold had to improve his performance by two or three yards with the help of his trainer Sam Mussabini. It must have been a tremendous relief to Harold when it became known early in 1924 that Eric had decided to concentrate on the 400 metres and, because of his religious principles, would not compete in the Olympic 100 metres as first heats were always run on Sunday.
Eric had in turn become completely dedicated to winning an Olympic Medal within the restrictions of his faith. He was a famous Scottish international rugger player, and gave up his rugger to enable him to concentrate on his Olympic ambitions, which became very deep-rooted, and his work suffered. Winning an Olympic Gold Medal became a priority, second only to his religion, and the ambition to win this event became part of his religion.
The team travelled to Paris days before the Olympics started and had a big send-off at Victoria Station. The silence at the start of the 100 metres and 400 metres was quite electric. Harold Abrahams won the 100 metres in a new Games record time.
In spite of all that has been said about Abrahams’ 100 metres, the 400 metres in some way provided the greatest thrill of the meeting with the world record being broken by Eric Liddell three times in two days. It was thought that Liddell had some chance of winning, but nobody thought Liddell capable of the amazing performance he achieved in the final. As far as the crowd were concerned they were well informed about Liddell’s dedication to his religion and his refusal to run in the first round of the 100 metres on the Sunday; they also knew of his determination to win this event. The occasion was enlivened by the support given to Liddell by the pipes and drums of the Cameron Highlanders.
The silence and pent-up excitement at the start of the race could be felt. Liddell went ahead at the start and maintained his pace throughout, finishing in what at the time was described as ‘a most lion-hearted manner’ winning by three yards from Fitch, an American. This was probably the greatest achievement of the VIIIth Olympiad, and superlatives were showered on Liddell by the press of the entire world. Liddell was short and not a pretty runner but just pounded along virtually at the same pace all the way, with a finish as if he was making a final dash for a try in a rugger match with an opponent bearing down on him and about to tackle from behind.
After Eric had won the 400 metres Gold Medal, Eric and I made contact with Freddie and Edith, the American sisters, and took them to a Tango Tea Dance in the Champs Elysees.
Footnote: Along with sacrificing his place in the 1924 Olympics 100m, Eric Liddell also gave up two other races in which Great Britain held high hopes of winning gold that year – the 4 x 100m and 4 x 400m, whose finals also took place on a Sunday.
by Eric Liddell
- Eric Liddell – Pure Gold by David McCasland
- The Flying Scotsman by Sally Magnusson
- In Japan the Crickets Cry by Steve Metcalf
- Eric Liddell – Something Greater than Gold by Janet & Geoff Benge
- Eric Liddell – Gold Medal Missionary by Ellen Caughey
- Running the Race – Eric Liddell by John W. Keddie
- Scotland’s Greatest Athlete – The Eric Liddell Story by D. P. Thomson
- Shantung Compound: The Story of Men and Women Under Pressure by Langdon Gilkey
- Eric Liddell (Christian Heroes: Unit Study Curriculum) by Janet Benge, Geoff Benge
- Eric Liddell – Running the Race by John Keddie