A memorial plaque marking the birthplace of Mary Reddin, mother of Olympic gold medallist Eric Liddell, has been unveiled in Paxton by her granddaughter Susan Caton.
Mary was not only the mother of one of the country’s most famous athletes, whose story is told in the Oscar winning film ‘Chariots of Fire’, she was also a remarkable woman.
Having been brought up in Paxton where her father Henry Reddin was the village blacksmith, Mary trained as a nurse. She joined her fiancee James, a missionary with the London Missionary Society, in Mongolia, northern China, where they were married and brought up their family. It was a dangerous time for Christians in China - 200 Western missionaries and 30,000 Chinese Christians were massacred - and they often had to flee the missionary compounds where they were working, but they never gave up on their work.
The Liddell children were all born in China and Robert and his younger brother Eric were sent to school in England, spending summer holidays with their Berwickshire relatives.
Eric excelled at sports and in 1923 came close to breaking the 100 yards world record. He seemed on course for a gold medal in 100m at the Paris Olympic Games in 1924, but on discovering the heats were on a Sunday he turned his back on it. His countrymen were furious that the gold medal favourite would not run, but Eric could not be talked into running on the Sabbath, which he felt was sacred.
Instead he started training for the 400m and became the first natural sprinter to win a gold medal in that discipline at the Paris Olympics.
Eric’s place in history as an athlete and missionary is already established, his story capturing the imagination of film producer David Puttnam and the millions who saw ‘Chariots of Fire’. Now Paxton residents are ensuring that his mother is also remembered.
Hutton & Paxton Community Council funded the plaque, assisted by the Scottish Borders Council’s Community Grant Scheme, and community councillors and church board and session members attended the unveiling ceremony on the site next to Paxton Church.
Rev Bill Landale described the historic site as “a place where a big story touches a small place. A place where history touches the present in a way that nobody then could have guessed at, least of all Mary Reddin herself. This memorial will serve not only to mark a past location, but a statement of hope for the future.”