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‘Olympic great Eric Liddell helped me survive concentration camp horror’

SHE grew up behind the barbed wire of a Japanese concentration camp but a Scots hero helped her survive.

Eileen Phillips is close to tears as she sits in her comfortable front room in Prestwick, Ayrshire, and explains exactly why she will forever have a connection with Olympic gold medallist sprinter Eric Liddell.

Liddell, immortalised in the film Chariots Of Fire, won worldwide fame with his record-breaking sporting achievements. And his determination as a devout Christian never to compete on a Sunday attracted the admiration of millions. But his greatness stretched far beyond athletics.

It was thousands of miles from that glory during World War II that Liddell, born in China the son of Scottish missionaries, first held Eileen in his arms. As a prisoner of the Japanese in the stifling heat of northern China, Liddell, known as the Flying Scotsman, christened Eileen in the kitchen of the concentration camp.

Eileen, 65, said: “I feel so proud I was baptised by such a super Scottish hero.

“He had an extraordinary influence on camp life, bringing hope to so many people in their darkest hour. My mum told me I enjoyed the baptism ceremony very much, waving and smiling to our friends.

“I was too young to know the terror of camp life. It was my mother and father who suffered. Now as a mum myself, I know I’d do anything for my children. I know it’s a mother’s worst nightmare for your children to be in danger and to be unable to do anything about it.”

Retired secretary Eileen treasures a poem which fellow inmate, known only as Miss Dyer, wrote to mark her baptism. The words perfectly portray how baby Eileen became very special to the prisoners. She became known as “a little queen” and “our camp belle.”

Full unmissable 1,700 word feature at the Daily Record.

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