June 27, 2022

Famous Scots. Eric Liddell.

Eric Liddell Biography.

Eric Liddell (1902 –  1945) was a Scottish Olympic champion at 400 m and a famous Christian missionary; his inspirational life was captured in the film ‘Chariots of Fire

Although his parents were Scottish, Eric Liddell was both born and died in China. He was born on 16 January 1902 in the city of Tientsin (now Tianjin) in north-eastern China.

He was sent to Eltham College, a Christian boarding school for 12 years. In 1921, he moved to Edinburgh University where he studied Pure Science. From his school days, he was an outstanding sportsman excelling in short distance running, rugby union and cricket. In 1922 and 1923 he played rugby union for Scotland in the Five Nations. However, it was at running that he really excelled, and after setting a new British record in the 1923 100 yards sprint, he was considered a great prospect for the Olympics in 1924.

Eric Liddell was a committed Protestant Christian. During the Paris Olympics – because the heats of the 100m sprint were held on Sunday, he withdrew from the race – a race considered to be his strongest. Instead, he concentrated on the 400 metres as the race schedule didn’t involve a Sunday.

Liddell was considered to be a strong favourite for the race. Before the final, the US Olympic masseur slipped a piece of paper into his hand. It included the words from the Bible 1 Samuel 2:30 “Those who honour me I will honour”.

Sprinting from the start, Liddell created a significant gap to the other runners and held onto win gold and set a new Olympic record time of 47.6 seconds. He described his race plan:

“The secret of my success over the 400m is that I run the first 200m as fast as I can. Then, for the second 200m, with God’s help I run faster.”  (BBC link)

He also won bronze in the 200m. In this race, he also beat Harold Abrahams a British rival and team-mate.

Liddell’s running style was unorthodox. Towards the end of the race, he would fling his head back, with mouth wide open appearing to gasp for breath.

Life as a Christian Missionary

In 1925, Liddell returned to northern China to serve as a missionary like his parents. In China, he remained fit but only competed sporadically.

Liddell married Florence Mackenzie a Canadian missionary. They had three daughters Patricia, Heather and Maureen.

In 1941, the advancing Japanese army pressed Liddell and his family to flee to a rural mission station. Liddell was kept very busy dealing with the stream of locals who came to the station for medical treatment and food.

In 1943, the Japanese reached the mission statement and Liddell was interned. Aggravated by the shortage of food and medical treatment, Liddell developed a brain tumour and suffered severe ill-health.

Many camp internees attest to the strong moral character of Liddell. He was seen as a great unifying force and helped to ease tensions through his selflessness and impartiality.

In “The Courtyard of the Happy Way“, Norman Cliff, wrote Liddell:

“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”.

A fellow internee, Stephen Metcalfe, later wrote of Liddell: “He gave me two things. One was his worn out running shoes, but the best thing he gave me was his baton of forgiveness. He taught me to love my enemies, the Japanese, and to pray for them.”

Eric Liddell died on 21 February 1945, five months before liberation. He died from his inoperable brain tumour – through overwork and malnutrition undoubtedly hastened his death. It was revealed after the war that Liddell had turned down an opportunity to leave the camp (as part of a prisoner exchange program), preferring instead to give his place to a pregnant woman. His death left a profound vacuum within the camp – such was the strength of his personality and character.

The 1981 Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire chronicled and contrasted the lives of Eric Liddell and British-Jewish athlete Harold Abrahams.

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Scotland and its History. (pooroot)

Hi friends, A tradition in Scotland when I was a lad in the sixties, was called a “poor-oot”

The Royal wedding in April was a thoroughly elegant affair, but there was one thing missing from all the splendour. This was no scatter, scrammle or poor-oot, as it is variously known in Scots – a distribution of coins or sweets to the watching children. Sometimes this is done on the way to the church and sometimes on leaving it. It might be the responsibility of the father of the bride, the groom or the guests. As the Scots Magazine (April 1894) relates: “A marriage was about to take place in a private house in Bristo Street, Edinburgh. Crowds of children round the door assailed the guests as they arrived with the well-known cry of ‘Poor oot!’”

This custom is still observed in some places but is becoming increasingly rare. A reason is to be found in one of the quotations in the Dictionary of the Scots Language illustrating the word scatter. The Church Notes (Nov. 5 1967) for St. George’s West, a church right in the heart of Edinburgh, comments: “The increasing volume of traffic today makes the traditional ‘poor oot’ or ‘scatter’ a hair-raising experience”. Many a wedding party had only pennies and halfpennies to spare but they weren’t mean with them. A lively example comes from Edward Albert’s Herrin’ Jennie (1931): “‘Poor oot! Poor oot!’ yelled multitudes of ragged urchins…Jennie had thought of them…she had a big bag of coppers, and this she emptied with stupendous prodigality into the gutters”. 

poor oot

The better-off people gave according to their means. The Northern Scot (23 Oct 1915) attests “Fu’ mony a merchant I could name Has gien a splendid scatter”. At the other side of the country in Glasgow there is a moment of great excitement in John and Willy Maley’s From the Calton to Catalonia (1990): “Quick! There’s a scramble in Parnie Street! The wee yin there’s away wae a hauf-croon”. Before decimalisation, a half crown (one eighth of a pound) was a fortune to a child. Margaret Bennet’s invaluable book, Scottish Customs from the Cradle to the Grave, adds that children would shout “rusty pockets! rusty pockets!” if they thought the wedding party wasn’t generous enough. Her informants tell us that the children would put a rope across the street to stop the bridal car, or tie up the gate to stop the newlyweds getting out of the churchyard.

There was a civil disturbance in 1558. An account of the Queen’s wedding has survived as a fragment in a book binding. It is reproduced in The Marriage of Mary Queen of Scots to the Dauphin: a Scottish Printed Fragment, ed. Douglas Hamer, The Bibliographical Society, London, 1932 and the National Library of Scotland has put it online here. Here is a taste of the start of it:

[They scattered] gold and silver amang the pepill on every side of the scaffald within the kirke. Whar with qui potest capere capiat was sik yalping and yeoling, sik calling and crying as, as the like (I think) was never hard. Ther gentillmen tint their clokis, gentilwemen ther fartingales, merchantmen ther gownes, maisters in art ther hudis, studentis ther cornet cappis, and religious men had ther scapilliries violently riven fra ther shulders.

They scattered gold and silver amongst the people on every side of the platform within the kirk. Wherewith ‘who could seize, let him seize it’ there was such yelping and yowling, such calling and crying, as the like, I think, was never heard. There gentlemen lost their cloaks, ladies their farthingales, merchants their gowns, masters of arts their hoods, students their cornered caps and clerics had their scapularies violently torn from their shoulders.

Perhaps Prince William and his bride did the right thing in not having a scatter after all.

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