The Man Who Wouldn’t Run on a Sunday: Eric Liddell in the SOAS Archives

Key information

10:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Brunei Gallery
Foyle Special Collections Gallery
Event type

About this event

Eric Liddell achieved fame as an Olympic athlete whose life is chronicled in the 1981 film, Chariots of Fire . Liddell’s spiritual convictions had a significant impact on his athletic career. As a member of the British Olympic Team for the 1924 Paris Olympic Games, he refused to run in the qualifying heats because they were held on a Sunday, with the consequence that he was forced to withdraw from his best event, the 100 metres race. He went on to win bronze and gold medals in the 200 and 400 metres events respectively, setting a world record for the 400 metres and causing sensational news headlines. In 1925, at the peak of his athletic career, Liddell chose to join the London Missionary Society and went to serve in Northern China.

The exhibition focuses on this lesser-known side of Eric Liddell’s life, and picks up on the fascinating story of what happened next as he chose to step out of the limelight of Olympic success. Drawing on documents found in the archive of the London Missionary Society, held by SOAS Library, the exhibition looks at Liddell’s family background (he was born in China to Scottish missionary parents), his personal motivation for becoming a missionary, his work as a teacher at the Anglo-Chinese College in Tientsin and his eventual imprisonment and premature death in a Japanese internment camp at Weihsien in 1945.

Material on display will include photographs, application papers submitted to the London Missionary Society and his annual reports and correspondence back to the mission directors in London, which reflect on his work and life in the context of the Japanese occupation of China in the lead-up to and during the Second World War. It also includes letters and medical reports relating to his death at Weihsien Camp, and the impact this had on his family and colleagues.

A selection of the papers relating to Eric Liddell has been digitised as part of a project to commemorate his achievements in the context of the London 2012 Olympics. For further details, contact Archives & Special Collections staff on docenquiry@soas.ac.uk | tel: 020 7898 4180.

Further information on the London Missionary Society archive and other archival collections held by SOAS Library can be found at www.soas.ac.uk/library/archives

The Eric Liddell papers are displayed with the kind permission of the Council for World Mission.