ERIC LIDDELL IN WEIHSIEN CAMP - 1943 - 1945
By Norman Cliff
1. His arrival in Weihsien Camp some five months before me.
the Japanese raid on
March, 1943, all enemy nationals in
Westerners arrived at the chosen meeting place at the Recreation Grounds in
the Japanese inspected the luggage, and then the ragtag group moved
slowly along the street with their awkward burdens to the beginning of the
French Concession, then on to the Bund, and across the
Allied prisoners were crowded into third class carriages, and the train left at
There was nothing to eat or drink, and the adult passengers sat
awake all night while the younger ones slept fitfully. After changing trains at
(Main source for the above - an account by C.H.B. Longman in Eric Liddell - Athlete and Missionary D.P. Thomson)
2. My memories of Eric Liddell from Aug.1943 to May 1945.
August 1943 the Chefoo group arrived in Weihsien Camp after a difficult journey
by ship and train from Chefoo, where we had been interned since November 1942.
I was 18, and the senior
arrived on lorries from the Weihsien station, and were
driven through the front gate of the camp with its three Chinese characters,
meaning "Courtyard of the
We were lined up the camp church while the Japanese Commandant read out the regulations, warning us that any non-compliance would be severely dealt with.
Then we were surrounded by dozens of the local internees who had already been here for five months. They were tanned, thin and barefoot, looking like creatures from another world. We realised that it would not be long before we would have a similar appearance. They spoke with British, American and Continental accents.
Within a few days of arriving a fellow Chefoo boy pointed to a man standing nearby in a group of people, and said, "That's Eric Liddell, the man who refused to run on a Sunday at the Olympics". The man in question was bald and tanned, had a friendly smile, and wearing khaki shorts and was barefoot. We had been brought up on this story of his stand on Sunday sport, which coincided with our own strict Sabbatarian upbringing.
seemed to be ubiquitous - he was all over the camp, holding friendly
conversations with all kinds of people. The
Eric Liddell gave Science classes to the school groups in the camp, although he had no equipment or blackboard. Among those whom he taught were the Chefoo scholars, who sat on beds in their dormitories, and took notes in pencil on paper which was used again and again by rubbing out earlier notes. Some of these students made notable achievements in science after the war, and looked back to the sound foundations which Liddell had given them.
from his own girls, whom he keenly missed, Eric Liddell took a fatherly
interest in the Chefoo boys and girls, some of whom had not seen their parents
first personal contact with Liddell was a Sunday School
teacher with him in the small
A Salvation Army officer, Fred Buist, kindly taught me how to play the trombone, and I became a 2nd trombonist in the Salvation Army Band, which in Weihsien had become an "ecumenical" group. Every Sunday afternoon we played hymns and marches at various points in the camp under the baton of Brigadier Stranks.
It was in February, 1945, (which was to be five months before the end of the war) that we were playing outside the camp hospital. The nurse on duty passed a note out of the window "Eric Liddell would like you to play Finlandia". We gladly obliged, and played it thinking of the words:
Be still, my soul. The Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul - thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
During the week which followed - 21st February, 1945 - Eric Liddell died.
The sad news spread rapidly through the
camp. The camp church was crowded for the funeral, for he had been everyone's
friend. I helped to carry the coffin up
Soon after Liddell's death I was asked to leave my small room at the top of the hospital and move to the corner of the bachelor dormitory which he had occupied. My bed consisted of wooden boxes with a mattress on them. In the beds next to me were some of Eric's close friends - Josh McChesney Clark, Eugene Huebener and Marcy Ditmanson.
Moving into Liddell's former position in this room also brought with taking over his position as Rollcall Warden for Blocks 23 and 24. Rollcall took place twice a day, and the procedure was as follows. I would stand outside the Guard Room near the entrance of the camp, and would be given the signal to ring the bell for the entire camp to go to their rollcall groups, of which there were five. I then walked to Block 23 and 24, where the internees were waiting in two long lines in front of each building. When the Japanese guard arrived the internees numbered off in Japanese, and then I gave the guard statistics as to how many in the group were on shift work or in hospital.
I then walked back to the Guard Room, and watched the guards chalking up on a blackboard the numbers from each group. As soon as they were satisfied that the figures were correct they signalled to me, and I rang the bell again, and could then break up. When I took over this task from Eric Liddell it was evident that he had won the confidence and respect of the Japanese guards.
Humanly speaking, it was tragic that Eric Liddell died five months before the end of internment. How he would have loved to have joined in the excitement of our liberation in August by American airmen, and to have reunited with the family whom he dearly loved. But God called him home.