A Short Biography of Eric H. Liddell (1902 – 1945)

The Liddell Family in 1920. Back Row: Eric, Rob. Front Row: Jenny, Ernest, Mrs Liddell

Eric Henry Liddell was born on 16th January 1902 in Tientsin (Tianjin) I 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 for the sons of missionaries.  Eric, with his older brother Rob, were left at their boarding school while their parents and sister, Jenny, returned to China.

During the boys’ time at Eltham College, 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, Eric joined his brother Rob at Edinburgh University to read for a BSc in Pure Science.  He graduated after the Paris Olympiad in 1924. To find out more about his life in Edinburgh click here.

Athletics and rugby played a large part in Eric’s University life.   He ran in the 100 yards and the 220 yards for Edinburgh University and later for Scotland.   He played rugby for Edinburgh University and in 1922 played in seven Scottish Internationals with A.L. Gracie.

Eric crossing the Japanese lines in approximately 1938

As a result of having insufficient time for both running and rugby, he chose the former, aiming for the 100 meters in the Paris Olympics.  When he learned that the heats were to be run on a Sunday, he switched to the 400 metre competition as he was not prepared to run on a Sunday.    He won a gold medal for the 400 metres and a bronze medal for the 200 metres at the Paris Olympics.

After the Olympics and his graduation, he returned to North China where he served as a missionary from 1925 to 1943 – first in Tientsin (Tainjin) and later in Siaochang.   During his first furlough in 1932 he was ordained as a minister.  On his return to China, he married Florence Mackenzie (of Canadian missionary parentage) in Tientsin in 1934.  They had three daughters; Patricia, Heather and Maureen, who now all live in Canada.

Dedication of Memorial Stone to Eric Liddell, Weifang, North China 1991

Living in China in the 1930s was potentially very dangerous and in 1937 Eric was sent to Siaochang where he joined his brother Rob.  He was now crossing the Japanese army lines.

In 1941 life in China was becoming so dangerous that the British Government advised British nationals to leave.   Florence and the children left for Canada.

During 1941 – 1943 Eric stayed in Tientsin, then in 1943 he was interned in Weishien camp until his death in 1945.

There are a number of good biographies of Eric Liddell available. Please see our books page for details.

 Our Magic Circle: Reflections of Eric Liddell by His Daughter Maureen

Lecture by Lord Puttnam about Eric Liddell

The life of Olympian Eric Liddell is remembered in a lecture by Oscar-winning producer Lord David Puttnam. Lord Puttnam, who made the Academy Award winning film Chariots of Fire about Liddell’s triumph at the 1924 Olympics, gave his talk as part of the Edinburgh Lectures series.