4 April 2018



'They shall mount up with wings as eagles.
They shall run and not be weary.'
Eric Liddell's monument, Weifang, China.

'It was the prayers of others that carried me to victory. Let's give them something to pray for.'
Eric Liddell.

'No matter who is a Chinese or a foreigner, we are all a family now.'
Xu Niu, Eric Liddell's friend.

Eric Liddell was a remarkable man, the kind of guy who makes you look at your own life and wonder if you've actually been wasting it, lol. He crammed a hell of a lot into his short time on Earth (1902-1945) and he seems to have been an inspiration to everyone who knew him.

Born in China to Scottish missionary parents, he won a gold medal for running- and winning!- the 400 metres race in the 1924 Olympic Games which were held in China. They don't just give 'em out for participation, you know. Like bleedin' Smarties...

Although his preferred race was the 100 metres, he famously refused to run it because it was scheduled for a Sunday, the traditional day of rest for the Christians. He won his 400 metres anyway, becoming Scotland's most popular athlete along the way.

The 1981 historical drama film CHARIOTS OF FIRE (yeah, that's right, running in slow motion to the music of Vangelis!) is about Eric Liddell's, and also Harold Abrahams', experience at the 1924 Olympics. Eric is described on Wikipedia as 'a devout Scottish Christian who runs for the glory of God' and Harold Abrahams as 'an English Jew running to overcome prejudice.'

I mention this film in case you're thinking, hey, I've already seen a film about Eric Liddell! This was the first film about Eric and it concentrated mainly on his Olympic experience. The running-in-slow-motion scene has been lovingly parodied in various media many times since.

WINGS OF EAGLES is a 2016 movie about the same man, but it concentrates on his missionary work in China after he'd more or less given up the athletics and not on his Olympic period and the win that brought him, and Scotland, so much glory.

The story is told from the point of view of a Chinese friend of Eric's, Xu Niu. Here's a selection of some of his comments about his friend Eric:

'I would only run from a nest of hornets, or to escape a man who would put me in jail, but I would run with Mr. Liddell.'

'Running helps you find peace. I was struck by his (Eric's) fearlessness as he ran to find peace in the face of an escalating war. He was running not just for himself, but for us.'

'Eric Liddell's unwavering faith in the essential goodness of man had cracked the coldness of my earthly soul.'

'I had received many gifts from Eric Liddell that had made me a worthy person, but the greatest of these was hope.'

Yeah, this guy really hated Eric's guts, lol. If you're starting to think, by the way, that this Eric Liddell chap sounds like a bit of a saint, well, yes, he's been referred to as such in some quarters and I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear someday that a bid for his canonisation had been made. 

I wonder how you apply for sainthood. Would there be an online form or something or would you have to write a letter to the Vatican...? I wonder if you'd have to put a stamp on that. Surely you could get away with FREEPOST if you were writing to His Holiness the Pope.

Anyway, the film tells the harrowing story of Eric's missionary work as a teacher of English, Chemistry and Athletics in a China that was still occupied by Japan. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour in 1941, it meant that the Japanese were at war with the United States and things were about to change big-time.

The Japanese rounded up all the foreign nationals and put 'em in internment camps, supposedly for 'their own protection,' and sort of as guests of their Emperor's. Guests who were locked up in prison camps, that is, with shite food and not enough medical supplies or warm clothing. That kind of guest...

Eric, as you've already guessed, was unfortunate enough to be one of these internees. Luckily his family, consisting of a preggers wife and two young daughters, had already been safely packed off to Canada to stay with Florence's, the wife's, family.

Florence came from missionary stock herself and she was for the most part understanding of her husband's devotion to the children he taught. It's really obvious, however, that here she wants her husband to come with them. She's going to have his third child, for crying out loud.
'We've made a family together, Eric. Not just God's family. Our own family.' Ouch.

But a tearful Eric packs her off with the words 'We'll all be together soon.' Then he settles down, or tries to, to life within the confines of the camp that has the words 'Courtyard Of The Happy Way' inscribed ironically over its entrance. A little lighter in tone than Arbeit Macht Frei, maybe, but still...

Eric Liddell spent his period of incarceration teaching the kiddies in the camp Science and English, and he took 'em running every day as well for fun and exercise. He kept up the spirits of his fellow inmates, raced against the Japanese commander for extra food and medical supplies, and gained the respect and friendship of everyone in the camp. He was known as Uncle Li to the kiddies, who by all accounts worrshipped the ground he walked- sorry, sprinted!- on.

He even turned down a chance to go home under the Repatriation Act in order to let a pregnant fellow prisoner get out instead. I bet his wife wanted to throttle him when she heard about this, lol. She had to have their third child while her beloved husband was halfway across the world. It can't have been easy for either of them.

The film's not all running and people going without things so that others can have a better chance of survival and people being nice to each other. The Japanese commit some pretty heinous acts of cruelty in it and there's no doubt that malnourishment and cold wreaked their own brands of havoc among the poor internees as well.

It's a hard film to watch at times. But it's definitely worth it. And I wouldn't have missed out on the chance of meeting Eric Liddell (so to speak) for all the tea in, um, China, lol. He was a great bloke and, who knows, maybe one day he'll have the word 'Saint' before his name. As a devout Irish Mammy who prays nightly to forty-seven Saints, two Archangels, one Virgin and a Holy Ghost, I'd gladly pop him on the list.



Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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