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Thought for the month

Remembering Eric Liddell

This month the Royal National Life Institution is celebrating its 200th anniversary. Over the history of the RNLI a total of more than 144,000 people have been saved, including 389 in 2022. Almost all the operational crew members are volunteers who are ready to put their lives at risk in order to save lives at sea. The RNLI now has a fleet of more than 400 boats stationed around the coast of Great Britain and Ireland, including all-weather lifeboats and inshore rescue boats. The sight of a brightly coloured lifeboat speeding to their rescue, in all conditions, has brought hope to many in danger on the sea.

The RNLI Memorial Books commemorate the 438 people who have died on lifeboat service since 1824. On 19 December 1981 the MV Union Star, a mini-bulk carrier, got into difficulty in heavy seas off the coast of Cornwall. The RNLI lifeboat Solomon Browne, based at Penlee Lifeboat Station, went to the aid of the 5 crew members and captain’s wife and 2 teenage stepdaughters. The powerless ship was being blown on to rocks by hurricane force winds gusting at speeds up to 100mph and was being battered by waves up to 60ft high.

After it had made several attempts to get alongside, four people jumped across to the lifeboat. It reported: “we got four … off … male and female. There are two left on board.” This was the last report received from either vessel. Ten minutes later, the lifeboat’s lights disappeared. Sixteen people perished, including the 8 crew members of the Solomon Browne, who died trying to save people they had never met. Within a day of the disaster enough local people had volunteered to form a new lifeboat crew.

The pilot of a Royal Navy Sea King helicopter, which was assisting the rescue, reported: “The greatest act of courage that I have ever seen, and am ever likely to see, was the penultimate courage and dedication shown by the crew of the Penlee lifeboat when it manoeuvred back alongside the casualty in over 60ft breakers and rescued four people shortly after the Penlee had been bashed on top of the casualty’s hatch covers. They were truly the bravest eight men I’ve ever seen, who were totally dedicated to upholding the highest standards of the RNLI.”

This year is the centenary of Eric Liddell’s success at the 1924 Paris Olympic Games. Eric’s story was told in the Oscar-winning film “Chariots of Fire.” He was born in Tientsin in northern China where his parents were missionaries with the London Missionary Society. In 1923 Eric gave up rugby to concentrate on athletics in preparation for the 1924 Olympics. In 1923 he won the 100-yards and 220-yards races at the AAA championships setting a new British record of 9.7 seconds for the 100-yards which stood for 23 years. He was the favourite for the 100-yards at the Olympics.

As a Christian Eric had always kept Sunday as a special day for rest and worship in obedience to the 4th commandment in God’s Ten Commandments. The 4th commandment says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy to the Lord your God.” So, Eric never competed on Sundays. When the Olympic schedule was published Eric saw the 100-yards heats would take place on a Sunday. He quietly withdrew from that event and from the 4×100 and 4×440 yards Great Britain relay teams because the finals were on a Sunday.

In the months before the Olympics, Eric concentrated on the 440-yards, because the final was on a weekday. Eric’s times in the 440-yards had not been so good, but in the Olympic heats he broke the world record three times in two days. In a thrilling final, he sprinted into an early lead and won the gold medal, setting a European record that stood for 12 years.

Eric knew God had given him the talent to run so well and wanted to honour God in all he did. An Olympic gold medal was not the most important prize in his life. He said, “It has been a wonderful experience to compete in the Olympic Games and to bring home a gold medal, but since I have been a young lad, I have had my eyes on a different prize. You see, each one of us is in a greater race than any I have run in Paris, and this race ends when God gives out the medals.”

After running his final races in Britain in 1925, Eric went to Tientsin in China to work as a missionary teacher. He taught the children of wealthy Chinese parents and trained boys in sports. However, China became more dangerous in the late 1930s as Japanese influence and aggression grew. Eric was sent to a poor rural base at Siaochang, joining his brother Rob, a doctor. In 1941 the situation had deteriorated so much that the British government advised British nationals to leave. Eric’s wife Florence was pregnant with their third child. She and the children left for Canada, but Eric stayed on helping to provide food and medical treatment.

In 1943 Eric was detained in a civilian internment camp where he became a leader, helping the elderly, teaching children, and organising games. While he was in the camp Eric Liddell developed an inoperable brain tumour and died in the camp in February 1945 at the age of 43. He entered into the presence of his Saviour Jesus, whom he loved and who had loved him and died for him.

by Peter Milsom

If you’d like to know more about the Christian faith or how you too could follow Jesus why not go to your nearest church. This thought is taken from Peter Milsom’s ‘Thought for the week‘ site if you’d like to read more.
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