SOAS University of London

Daughter of Eric Liddell visits SOAS

18 June 2012
Professor Paul Webley and Patricia Russell
Professor Paul Webley, Director of SOAS, with Patricia Russell, daughter of Eric Liddell

The 14th June saw SOAS Archives & Special Collections hosting a visit from Patricia Russell, eldest daughter of British sporting hero, Eric Liddell.

Eric Liddell achieved fame as an Olympic athlete whose life is chronicled in the 1981 film, Chariots of Fire. Having won the gold medal for Britain in the 400 metres event of the 1924 Paris Olympics and at the peak of his athletic success, Liddell chose to join the London Missionary Society and went to serve in Northern China.

This lesser-known side of Eric Liddell’s life is the subject of a forthcoming exhibition, ‘The Man Who Wouldn’t Run on a Sunday: Eric Liddell in the SOAS Archives’, which opens at the Brunei Gallery on 13th July. The exhibition showcases documents and photographs relating to Liddell found in the archive of the London Missionary Society, held by Archives & Special Collections (on loan from the Council for World Mission).

Joanne Ichimura and Patricia Russell
Joanne Ichimura, Archivist, and Patricia Russell viewing documents relating to Eric Liddell from the London Missionary Society archive

Patricia, who was welcomed by SOAS Director Professor Paul Webley, is currently visiting the UK from Canada, and is taking in a number of places associated with her father’s legacy, including the Eric Liddell Centre in Edinburgh. She was also planning to see a performance of the current West End stage production of Chariots of Fire. Her visit to SOAS was a rare opportunity to see her father’s papers in the archives.

Patricia Russell and Nigal Havers
Patricia Russell, daughter of Eric Liddell, meets actor Nigel Havers (Lord Lindsay, Chariots of Fire)

Patricia was only 10 years old when her father died in Weihsien Internment Camp in occupied China, in 1945. The family had been evacuated to the safety of her mother’s native Canada in 1941, weeks before the bombing of Pearl Harbour. Eric, who had planned to join his family, was placed under house arrest shortly afterwards and interned along with fellow missionaries and other foreign nationals in 1943. Her visit was emotional, and she spoke openly of her early memories of family life in China, the harrowing journey across the North Atlantic in a wartime convoy where she witnessed torpedo attacks, and parting from her father, who she never saw again.

Visitors also included Guardian journalist, Maev Kennedy, Nigel Havers (who starred in Chariots of Fire) and a crew who were filming for an ITV1 documentary, ‘Chariots of Fire – Running for Glory’, which will be broadcast on 2nd July.