I am lucky enough to have as one of my PR clients Chilcotts, an auctioneer in Honiton. Please put David Dickinson and ‘cheap as chips’ out of your mind, the world of auctions is actually a fascinating sector to work in. There are so many human interest stories to delve into, and abundance of interesting objects and artefacts to admire.
I recently visited Chilcotts to discuss a collection that has been given to them for their September Fine Arts and Collectors Items sale. Poignantly, due to the VJ Day anniversary celebrations, this includes diaries written by Devon man Lewis Burfitt, who was interned in the Weishien camp in China by the Japanese between 1943 and 1945.
The handwritten diaries give an intriguing insight into life as an internee, recording living conditions, sickness, deaths and births. They tell how the Chinese tried to help by smuggling supplies into the camp, eggs, chickens and even piglets – even though this put them in danger of punishment by the Japanese.
There were many who didn’t make it out of the camp, including Eric Liddell, the Scottish athlete who on principle wouldn’t run on Sunday. He was made famous in ‘Chariots of Fire’ but I’d never registered that he died a prisoner of war in China.
I spoke to BBC Radio Devon about the diaries, and they interviewed the nephew of Lewis Burfitt along with auctioneer Duncan Chilcott and Jenny Bell, who has been diligently researching the diaries.
As I was writing the press release, the story became even more moving when I realised that the writer of the diaries had lived and worked in Tiensin where the terrible explosions have just happened.
Getting involved in a story like this at this particular time was a real privilege, as was the opportunity to look through the diaries. It’s easy to feel very removed from the reality of a war that took place so many years ago, but this made me stop, think and remember.