Devon War Diaries Find a Home

A Devon man’s detailed account of life in a Second World War prisoner-of-war camp has been secured by the South West Heritage Trust. The two diaries give a comprehensive insight into the life of internees at the camp in Weihsien, China, from 1943 to 1945. They were handwritten by Lewis Mills Burfitt from Ilfracombe. The Trust also acquired some photographs of Mr Burfitt and Chinese artefacts he brought back.

 

Life is described in great detail

Mr Burfitt, was taken prisoner by the Japanese while working as a wharf manager in China and was held at the internment camp in Shandong Province. He describes the initial forced march to the train which took them to the camp as being ‘like going to a funeral – hardly a word was spoken marching into captivity for an indefinite period.’  Life in the camp is described in great detail, many diary entries recording events down to the minute.

 

Many aspects of life at Weihsien were run by the prisoners themselves, and the diaries give a first-hand view of how the camp worked including complaints about the distribution of food and allocation of work. Punishment of prisoners is also described, solitary confinement being a common occurrence.

 

A Devon man’s wartime experiences

After the camp was liberated in 1945, Mr Burfitt remained in China for some years.  He later returned to North Devon where he died in 1964.

 

Devon Archives and Local Studies Manager Irene Andrews said: “These diaries give a unique view of a Devon man’s wartime experiences. It is fitting that in the 70th anniversary year of the end of the Second World War they have been secured in Mr Burfitt’s home county.”

 

Supported by the Family History Society and Friends of Devon’s Archives

The South West Heritage Trust purchased the documents with the generous help of the Devon Family History Society and the Friends of Devon’s Archives.  They were sold at auction by Chilcott’s of Honiton.  

 

Lewis Mills Burfitt from Ilfracombe